Celtic Cosmology: Perspectives from Ireland and Scotland


Title: Celtic Cosmology: Perspectives from Ireland and Scotland

Editors: Jacqueline Borsje (Editor), Ann Dooley (Editor), Séamus Mac Mathúna (Editor), Gregory Toner (Editor)

Publisher: Pontifical Institute of Medieval Studies

Published: April 1st 2014

ISBN: 0888448260 (ISBN13: 9780888448262)

Pages: 324 including Bibliography.

Synopsis: From the deep sea to the waters above the sky, from the world beneath our feet to the promised land across the ocean – this volume represents a search for traces of cosmologies in Celtic sources, especially those of Ireland and Scotland. These cosmological traces are investigated for their Indo-European and Semitic parallels and influences. The broad world orderings – Celtic tripartition (earth, water and sky) and Christian bipartition (this world and the next) – are explored, and the cosmological meaning of specific demarcations in the landscape is analyzed. The world was mapped with words, as signposts for contemporary and future generations. These written “maps” are not only geographical, they also constitute ethical and mythological guidelines. Through storytelling, landscape and social space are processed in a framework of cosmic good and evil. In a Celtic mental world roads, rivers, mountains and hills are vital markers. Hills and caves were used in rituals and were seen as entrances to a subterranean otherworld where supernatural beings dwell and knowledge of the cosmos was believed to reside with these supernatural or subterranean beings. This knowledge is connected with protection and violation of the landscape and waters, and is often associated with the king, truth and justice. In the socialized landscape features of periphery and centre are closely related to kingship: thus, looming tragedy can be deduced from the route that a mythical king takes; royal capitals are outlined in landscape and architecture as ritual centres. The naming of significant places is a human act of creating order. In the Celtic literary tradition of explanatory and etymologizing stories, place-names serve as signifiers and warning signs (taboos) and some Celtic narratives on naming places appear to function also as performances of atonement for disruptions of the cosmic order.

 

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Review: I honestly thought long and hard before writing this review. I don’t feel like I have absorbed enough from the essays to actually talk about them confidently. It is not because the essays were not well written but because there was just too much to take in at once. This book needs to be read REALLY slowly with the stories that the essays are referring to at hand to see context. I was also not really all that familiar with the Scottish material and felt like I needed more time to absorb those parts.

So let me tell you what I thought in general. FINALLY, a book about Celtic cosmology that pulls in examples from mythology and folklore then throws in some Info-European material for some comparative analysis. The introduction itself was a beautiful treasure of definitions and thoughts that needed to be said. The essays themselves were written by people who know their stuff and edited by people who are experts in said stuff. The book is not a read it once kind of book. It is one that you must dip into time and time again to tease out all the information you need to understand Celtic Cosmology. It should be a staple in any Celtic scholar’s bookcase!

 

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