The Makers of Scotland

Full Title: The Makers of Scotland: Picts, Romans, Gaels and Vikings
Author: Tim Clarkson
Publisher: Birlinn Ltd
Published: 2011, This edition 2013
ISBN: 978-1-78027-1736
Pages: 255 pages including Further Reading, Appendices and Index

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Synopsis:

Covering a thousand years of Scottish history, this account incorporates both historical and contemporary research into old theories and controversies. During the first millennium AD, the most northerly part of Britain evolved into the country known today as Scotland. The transition was a long process of social and political change driven by the ambitions of powerful warlords; tribal chiefs and Roman generals, at first, followed by dynamic warrior-kings who campaigned far beyond their own borders. From Lothian to Orkney and from Fife to the Isle of Skye, fierce battles were won and lost, but, by AD 1000, a dynasty of Gaelic-speaking kings, the Picts, and Scots began to forge a single, unified nation which transcended enmities. With maps to illustrate the history, this chronicle brings to life the great warrior-kings of early Scotland.

Review:

The Makers of Scotland has 11 chapters that begin in Scotland in the time before common era and end in medieval Scotland. The book also has a “Further Reading” section, maps, some black and white pictures two appendices that provide genealogies and a time-line and finally, an index. The objective of the text, which the author shares in the Introduction, is to give a history of Scotland from the beginning of the Roman invasion to the last phase of the Viking Age. The author tries to accomplish his objective by providing a linear history of the time as opposed to talking about themes like economy or warfare though those too are mentioned when appropriate. The Introduction also has a section that provides the sources that the author draws on and another section on terminology.

I’m not sure what to say about this book, on the one hand I enjoyed reading it, on the other I found myself wondering where all the information came from and which of the sources discussed in the introduction were used for what information. There is a veil over the history of Scotland which is pretty impenetrable. And while Clarkson makes his own guesses I’m not always sure where they came from. This is more of a layman’s history than an academic one but it also has some ideas that could be hard to justify or prove. I’m not sure I would recommend this to a beginner or someone who wants a deeper understanding of Scottish history.

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The Cult of the Sacred Centre

Full title: The Cult of the Sacred Centre – Essays on Celtic Ideology
Author: Proinsias Mac Cana
Publisher: Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies
Published: 2011
ISBN: 978-1-85500-219-7
Pages: 344

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Synopsis:

In this series of essays the author deals with the concept of unity – geographical, cultural, and political – in Irish, Welsh, and Gaulish tradition. He draws on his profound knowledge of the languages and literature of the Celtic speaking peoples as well as on the Roman accounts of continental Celtic society. He also provides a comparative study of traditions regarding unity in Indian and south-east Asian societies.

Review:

The Cult of the Sacred Centre is made up of four parts: The paradox of Irish history, which has three essays. The sacred centre in Comparative traditions, which has seven essays. The ideology of cultural unity in Ireland, which has seven essay, and finally Reflections, which has two essays. The book has no bibliography or index, but it is heavily footnoted.

    The book starts with a preface by Fergus Kelly. It explains how it was published after the death of its author and all the work involved in getting the book to the publishers and then out to the public.

     Next comes the Introduction, in which the author talks about what is going to come in the essays in a general way. He also defines terms like nation and nationality and how he is going to use them when they come up in the essays.

Part One: The Paradox of Irish History

As I was saying above, this first part has three essays. They should be read together as if they are one chunk because in essence they talk about myth, legend, history, nationalism, politics and culture. They also talk about the revisions of history and myth that happened and the people who pioneered them and why. However, I think the jewel of this part is the third essay about the Irish culture and how pre-Christian traditions may have influenced Christian Ireland. It also talks about what we could possibly learn from the writing left behind by the monks even from the historical point of view.

Part Two: The Sacred Center in Comparative Traditions

In this part the author talks about the sacred centre in many of the I-E daughter cultures (even devoting one whole chapter on Gaul alone), as well as the four quarters and ritual circumambulation. He isn’t afraid to talk about the Christian bits of the subject mater either which was interesting.

Part Three: The Ideology of Cultural Unity in Ireland

In this part I show my bias because it was the part that I read, and re-read a couple of times. This was my favourite part of the book. It talks about Ireland and its unity. This included talking about the Celtic religion, the culture of the country (including literature and the laws) with a focus on the Fianna in one of the chapters. Also, because this book is about the sacred centre there is a whole chapter on the five provinces of Ireland and their centre, and Tara.

Part Four: Reflections

The last two chapters of the book discuss Medieval Irish nationality and the mismatch between political and cultural unity.

My Conclusions:

This book is not an easy read. I’ve had it for a while, and I’ve been reading it one essay at a time in between reading other books mainly because MacCana can be a dry read and at times. I’ve had to put the book away to give my brain a rest. It was worth it though. This book had one part that I am probably going to go back to time and again for certain things. It talks about something that it usually mentioned in passing in history books (unity) and it does it from the point of view of the sacred centre and Celtic ideology. All in all, an interesting read even if it wasn’t an easy one.

Stalking the Goddess

Author: Mark Carter
Publisher: Moon Books
Published: June 16, 2012
ISBN: 978-1780991733

Stalking the Goddess

Synopsis:

In 1948 Robert Graves published The White Goddess. His study of poetic mysticism and goddess worship has since become a founding text of Western paganism. As Wicca emerged from what Graves called, a few hopeful young people in California, to over two million strong, The White Goddess has achieved near liturgical status. This rising appreciation brings all the problems of liturgical texts. Many pagans consider Graves’ work like the goddess herself; awe inspiring but impenetrable. Stalking The Goddess is the  extensive examination of this enigmatic text to come from the pagan community and guides readers through bewildering forests of historical sources, poems, and Graves’ biography to reveal his unorthodox claims and entrancing creative process. Relentlessly perusing each path, it explores the uncharted woods and reveals the hidden signposts Graves has posted. The hunt for the goddess spans battlefields, ancient manuscripts, the British museum, and Stonehenge. En route we encounter not only the goddess herself but her three sacred animals; dog, roebuck, and lapwing. Perhaps the muse cannot be captured on her own grounds, but now at least there is a map.

Review:

I have to admit, that I would never have picked up this book if it wasn’t for the recommendation of a trusted friend. I was never interested in The White Goddess or Robert Graves after reading it, but after reading the synopsis for Stalking the Goddess, I decided to give it a try.

The author of Stalking the Goddess is trying to explore the myriad of historical sources, poems and Robert Graves’s own biographical details to show the reader what the The White Goddess was based on, and maybe along the way the reader may learn a few things that they didn’t know. I’ll say that the book has a good bibliography at the end and in-line citations.

The book starts with the Preface, where the author talks about why he decided to write this book and the impetus behind it, which I think is actually interesting, and why it plays such an important part of many people’s spiritual practice. He also gives us the aim of the book which is to explore where it came from.

I would say that the author of this book pretty much delivered the goods. Anyone who is thinking of reading the White Goddess should absolutely read it, and use this book as a companion and a reader’s guide into the mind of the author and the subject matter of the book itself. As with every book that I have read I didn’t agree with all his points and conclusions but it did not detract from the value of the book at all.

This book is absolutely brilliant.