Ireland’s Immortals

Full Title: Ireland’s Immortals – A History of the Gods of Irish Myths

Author: Mark Williams

Publisher: Princeton University Press

Published: 2016

ISBN: 9780691157313

Pages: 578 including index, works cited, and a list of medieval materials used in the book.

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Synopsis:

Ireland’s Immortals tells the story of one of the world’s great mythologies. The first account of the gods of Irish myth to take in the whole sweep of Irish literature in both the nation’s languages, the book describes how Ireland’s pagan divinities were transformed into literary characters in the medieval Christian era–and how they were recast again during the Celtic Revival of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. A lively narrative of supernatural beings and their fascinating and sometimes bizarre stories, Mark Williams’s comprehensive history traces how these gods–known as the Tuatha De Danann–have shifted shape across the centuries, from Iron Age cult to medieval saga to today’s young-adult fiction.

We meet the heroic Lug; the Morrigan, crow goddess of battle; the fire goddess Brigit, who moonlights as a Christian saint; the mist-cloaked sea god Manannan mac Lir; and the ageless fairies who inspired J.R.R. Tolkien’s immortal elves. Medieval clerics speculated that the Irish divinities might be devils, angels, or enchanters. W. B. Yeats invoked them to reimagine the national condition, while his friend George Russell beheld them in visions and understood them to be local versions of Hindu deities. The book also tells how the Scots repackaged Ireland’s divine beings as the gods of the Gael on both sides of the sea–and how Irish mythology continues to influence popular culture far beyond Ireland.

An unmatched chronicle of the Irish gods, Ireland’s Immortals illuminates why these mythical beings have loomed so large in the world’s imagination for so long.

Review:

I have to say up front that if you are expecting a retelling of the myths or a book that gives you a fact sheet about the Gods then don’t buy this book. However, if you are looking for a book that will make you think, will give you an analysis of the myths and the Gods, will make you angry at times but smiling at others then this is the book for you. But have an open mind because this book will challenge the idea that the myths were lore that was disguised as Christian and then written down by monks. The author seems to be saying that actually the Christian monks may have made a lot of it up or changed the lore so much that it was no longer what it was…at least this is what I got out of reading the book.

There is a lot of information to digest from this text. Intended audience, comparative mythology, divination or lack thereof…so many things to even try and list. It is a text that will put you into the mind of the people writing these myths and what might have been running around in their minds while writing. You will also get a glimpse of the later poets/bards who also contributed to this literature.

I won’t lie and say that this book was easy to read, not because the concepts were hard but because it was challenging a lot of ideas I had in my head. This is the sort of book that you need to read more than once to really appreciate and maybe read it in chunks. I also recommend that you know a little about the Irish myths and their history before you read it.

I think this is a “must have book” in any Celticist’s library especially if they are interested in myths. And whether you agree with his analysis or not it is still a valid point of view that you need to read and understand.

Witchcraft and Magic in Ireland

Full Title: Witchcraft and Magic in Ireland (Palgrave Historical Studies in Witchcraft and Magic)

Author: Andrew Sneddon

Publisher: Palgrave Macmillan

Published: 2015

ISBN: 978-0-230-30272-3 (Hardcover)

Pages: 220 including Notes, Selected Bibliography, and Index.

Synopsis: This is the first academic overview of Irish witchcraft. Based on a wide range of sources, it is a highly original and innovative study of beneficial and harmful magic, from the later medieval period up until the twentieth century. It examines the dynamics of witchcraft belief and accusation in the early modern period, and offers new explanations for the lack of sustained witch-hunting in Ireland. It demonstrates that during the eighteenth century sections of the educated elite backed away from witchcraft belief for largely ideological reasons, while the witch figure remained a strong part of popular culture. Witchcraft and Magic in Ireland also offers a new interpretation of the role of cunning-folk and popular magic in Irish society, along with a re-assessment of the attitudes of religious authorities, both Protestant and Catholic, to their activities. The way in which suspected witches and cunning-folk were treated by the Irish legal system, both before and after the repeal of the 1586 Irish Witchcraft Act in 1821, is also explored for the first time.

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Review: I didn’t realize how short this book was. If you take out the Notes, Selected Bibliography and Index, you are left with only 148 pages. These pages a re full of good information (though sometimes a bit dry) on a complex issue.

A lot of people just assume that because witchcraft was a dangerous practice in Europe and America, that the issue was the same for Ireland (I mean look at Scotland right?) The truth is Witchcraft in Ireland was a very complicated issue. It wasn’t condemned in the same way as in Scotland or Britain or in America. The level of condemnation also depended on how close you were to Britain and whether you were Catholic or Protestant. And even then accusations rarely ever made it to court. If it did, it was under very specific circumstances and lots of other issues were involved.

I highly recommend reading this book.

 

OGMA

Full Title: OGMA- Essays in Celtic Studies: In Honour of Proinseas Ni Chathain

Editors: Michael Richter, Jean-Michel Picard

Publisher: Four Courts Press

Published: January 1st 2002

ISBN: 9781851826711, Hardcover

Pages: 329 pages including Index

Synopsis: Ogma, divine champion, god of eloquence, inventor of the alphabet, and personification of the power of speech, has been chosen to epitomize this collection of essays. Through their interpretation of texts, letters, words and signs, a group of scholars of international renown present in this book a close study of specific aspects of the multifaceted culture of medieval Ireland. There are twenty-eight studies, divided into four groupings – Celtic Languages; Early and Medieval Irish History; Literature and Culture; Archaeology and Art History. Each essay is brief and presents new insights in its own field.

 

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Review: This was an interesting read, I started and stopped reading it a few times since I bought the book. In the end I decided that I wanted to finish the book once and for all.

The essays presented are certainly by some of the most respected names in their fields and the information they presented was certainly note worthy…I think the problem was that I just was not interested in the topics presented…mostly saints.

There was one essay that I found very interesting and it was the very first essay in the book. It talks about the strong women in myths. The author divided them into categories of warriors, queens, advisors and so on…giving examples for each category. Definitely worth getting just for that essay alone.

Fairycraft Following the Path of Fairy Witchcraft

Author: Morgan Daimler

Publisher: Moon Books

Published: 2016

ISBN: 978-1-78535-051-1

Pages: 257, including appendices, bibliography and endnotes.

Synopsis: An in-depth manual for practicing Fairy Witchcraft, including theology, fairy-lore, rituals, holidays and magical practices. This book aims to pick up where Pagan Portals – Fairy Witchcraft leaves off and teach interested people the comprehensive practices of this system of honoring the Fairy Folk and liminal Gods by blending the old Fairy Faith with modern Paganism.

Review: *DISCLAIMER* I’m not a follower of the Fairy Faith but I am very curious to see whether the practices are the same as the ones I use here when dealing with what I call the Land Spirits here in Kuwait. (The closest translation of the Arabic name)

I think this book is the usual Morgan Daimler book. Meaning that it is the perfect blend of research and practice. Anyone interested in Fairy Witchcraft can pick up this book, read through it and immediately get the basics of the practice then go on and make it their own. Daimler talks about all aspects of the practice from theology, to practical things like divination and feast celebrations. And as usual the chapters on prayers, rituals, and dreaming and meditation all have Morgan’s personal touch. 

I really appreciate the personal touches in all of Morgan’s books. This one is no different.

In Search of the Irish Dreamtime

Full Title: In Search of Irish Dreamtime – Archaeology and Early Irish Literature

Author: J.P. Mallory

Publisher: Thames & Hudson

Published: June 14, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-500-05184-9 (Hardback)

Pages: 320 including some colored pictures, notes, bibliography and index.

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Synopsis: Following his account of Irish origins drawing on archaeology, genetics, and linguistics, J. P. Mallory returns to the subject to investigate what he calls the Irish Dreamtime: the native Irish retelling of their own origins, as related by medieval manuscripts. He explores the historical backbone of this version of the earliest history of Ireland, which places apparently mythological events on a concrete timeline of invasions, colonization, and royal reigns that extends even further back in time than the history of classical Greece. The juxtaposition of traditional Dreamtime tales and scientific facts expands on what we already know about the way of life in Iron Age Ireland.
By comparing the world depicted in the earliest Irish literary tradition with the archaeological evidence available on the ground, Mallory explores Ireland’s rich mythological tradition and tests its claims to represent reality.

Review:

This is the second book from J.P. Mallory which shows a different, lighter yet scholarly writing style; the first was his book on Irish origins.

The book is just what it says in the synopsis an investigation of the native Irish retelling of their own origins. In it he uses two techniques: the first is excavation of literature and the second is archaeology. By comparing the two the author was able to tell us a little about when these tales might have been written.

The author by the end of this book is clearly in the “this was written by Irishmen but it does not depict the Irish Iron Age and has some foreign influences” camp, though I don’t think he is a staunch anti-nativist like Kim McCone.

The author explained his “excavation of literature” technique in the book (chapter 4) which I think is the real treasure of this text. He also made a point of discussing which tales he will be “excavating” and then put them in a timeline using the Annals of the Four Masters as a guide (Chapters 1 and 2).

Whether you agree with his analysis of the tales or not, he clearly has a lot of respect for them and it shows in the way he writes about them and how he shows his evidence. I loved reading this book and following his train of thought on why he concludes what he does.

One final note, Mallory in the Introduction of his book defends his use of the word “Dreamtime” which is clearly an aboriginal word and says that he is sorry to be using it but that it is the best word he could find to describe what he is writing about. I think the fact that he acknowledges where the word comes from and discusses why he is using it was a good way to put the CR in me, who cringed, at ease…just a tiny smidge. I still would have been more comfortable with him using something from the Irish tradition.

Gods and Goddesses of Ireland

Full Title: Gods and Goddesses of Ireland – A Guide to Irish Deities (Pagan Portal Series)

Author: Morgan Daimler

Publisher: Moon Books

Published: 2016

ISBN: 978-1-78279-315-1

Pages: 84 including Bibliography

Synopsis: A concise guide to the Gods and Goddesses of pagan Ireland, their history, mythology, and symbols. Rooted in the past but still active in the world today, the Gods and Goddesses of Ireland have always been powerful forces that can bless or challenge, but often the most difficult thing is to simply find information about them. This short introductory text looks at a variety of different Irish deities, common and more obscure, from their ancient roots to the modern practices associated with honoring them in, an encyclopedia-style book with entries in easy-to-use sections.

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Review: Morgan Daimler has written another great book for Pagan Portals, this time about the Irish Gods and Goddesses.

The book has an Introduction, four chapters and a Conclusion. In the Introduction the author talks about who the Irish Gods are, and in chapters 1, 2, and 3 she gives a summary about them. Chapter 4 is very short but also very necessary as it helps the reader learn about how to honor the Irish Gods. In the Conclusion she tells us why she wrote this book.

Now let me talk about what I liked about this book. Morgan divided the chapters into one on the Gods, one on the Goddesses and one on the Gods that are not part of the Tuatha Dé Danaan exactly but are still Irish Gods. I love that she included Gods and Goddesses that are not the usual suspects, along side the usual suspects. I love that she differentiated between the Gods and Goddesses that are part of the TDD and the ones that are not and might actually be older. I also love that she includes a list of books that she recommends people read along side her book, and she acknowledges that her book is a jumping point from which you can start your own research into the Gods of Ireland.

So what did I hate about this book? Nothing but my usual gripe about the Pagan Portal books I WANT MORE!!!!

The Celtic Evil Eye and Related Mythological Motifs in Medieval Ireland

Author: Jacqueline Borsje with a contribution from Fergus Kelly (Studies in the History and Anthropology of Religion #2)

Publisher: Peeters

Published: 2012

ISBN: 978-90-429-2641-7

Pages: 387 including 3 Appendices, bibliography and index.

Synopsis: If looks could kill… They can, according to medieval Irish texts – our richest literary inheritance in a Celtic language. The belief in evel, angry or envious eyes casting harmful glances that destroy their target is widespread. This is the first comprehensive study of ‘the evil eye’ in medieval Ireland. We follow the trail from Balor the fearsome one-eyed giant and other evil-eyed kings to saints casting the evil eye, and many others. This study surveys a fascinating body of Irish literature and also examines the evidence for belief in the evil eye in the daily life of medieval Ireland, where people tried to protect themselves against this purported harm by legislation, rituals, verbal precautions and remedies. Related mythological imagery is tracked down and a lost tale about a doomed king who follows a sinister-eyed woman into the Otherworld is reconstructed on the basis of surviving fragments. The edition and translation of a medieval Irish legal text by Fergus Kelly and two sagas in English translation conclude the volume.

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Review: The aim of this book is to explain the medieval Irish beliefs on the notion of the evil eye. It is made up of six very enjoyable essays. The first essay is an explanation of what the evil eye is, its types, examples of each type from Irish literature and comparisons from other cultures when applicable, and how to ward it off. Essays three to five look at related mythological imagery. They analyze the meaning and function of the evil eye. They discuss the term túathcháech and its symbolism and they draw conclusions from all the motifs discussed. The final essay weaves all the previous essays together to give you the author’s final thoughts on the subject.

Although I enjoyed all the essays my favorite would have to be the first. It sets up the book perfectly giving the reader the background needed to read the rest of the book. The examples given were perfect to back up her divisions of the evil eye and they make understanding it easy.