BOOK REVIEW The Strange World of Human Sacrifice

Full Title: The Strange World of Human Sacrifice

Series: Studies in History and Anthropology of Religion 01

Editor: Jan N. Bremmer

Publisher: Peeters

Published: 2007

ISBN: 978-90-429-1843-6

Pages: 268 including Index of names, subjects and passages that starts on page 259


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Human Sacrifice: A Brief Introduction: this introductory essay sets up the rest of the book very well. It gives a brief introduction into what this book is about, a little introduction to each essay and the controversies surrounding Human Sacrifice.

Aztec Human Sacrifice as Expiation

– Human Sacrifice in Medieval Irish Literature: I was very interested in reading this essay and though it was a little limited in what it discussed because of space constraints it was still an informative read.

– Myth and Ritual in Greek Human Sacrifice: Lykaon, Polyxena, and the case of the Rhodian Criminal

– The Early Christians and Human Sacrifice

– Child Sacrifice in Ancient Israel: The Status Quaestionis.

– Human Sacrifice in Ancient Egypt

– Retainer Sacrifice in Egypt and in Nubia

– Human Sacrifice in India in Vedic Times and Before

– Human Sacrifice (Purusamedha), Construction Sacrifice and the Origin of the Idea of the “Man of the Homestead” (Vāstupurusa)

– Human Sacrifice Among the Konds

– Human Sacrifice in Japan

– Human Sacrifice and Self-sacrifice in China: A Century of Revelation

The book pretty much circumvented the globe with its study of human sacrifices. It was really interesting to read about the differences and similarities for the reasons behind human sacrifices. This book held my interest until the very last minute.

If you are looking for a book about human sacrifice but not focused fully on the Celts then this is a great resource to have.

BOOK REVIEW Sacred Histories: A Festschrift for Maire Herbert

Full Title: Sacred Histories: A Festschrift for Maire Herbert

Editors: John Carey, Kevin Murray, and Caitríona Ó Dochartaigh

Publisher: Four Courts Press

Copyright: November 6, 2015

ISBN: 978-1846825644

Pages: 460 including

Synopsis: Sacred Histories is a collection of essays that focuses on the historical subtext of narrative (in Latin and Irish) from medieval Ireland. Contributions engage with this topic across numerous genres, such as hagiography, apocrypha, ‘historical tales,’ and the literary portrayal of women. Such sustained interrogation results in numerous fresh insights and new perspectives. The volume is a festschrift in honor of Maire Herbert, and the contributors are among the foremost experts in their disciplines. [Subject: History, Irish Studies, Medieval Studies, Literary Criticism, Cultural Studies]

Review: As the description says, this text is made up of a collection of essays in honour of Máire Herbert. It focuses primarily on the textual culture of Ireland (both in Latin and in Irish) in its historical context from the medieval period to modern times. Contributions are made in different genres such as poetry, saga, hagiography, apocrypha, and ‘historical tales’, and with themes that range from the cults of the saints in early medieval Ireland to the literary portrayal of women. The essays provided fresh insights and new perspectives on their subject matter.

There are many amazing writers/experts that have contributed to this volume and they deserve to be listed.

Duine dár laochra
Seán Hutton. (This is in Irish)

Keening in the poems of Blathmac
Alexandra Bergholm

Observations on the Book of Durrow memorandum
Edel Bhreathnach 

Senchas Gall Átha Clíath: aspects of the cult of St Patrick in the twelfth century
Elizabeth Boyle and Liam Breatnach 

Comhar na mban
Pádraig A. Breatnach (This is in Irish)

Cethri prímchenéla Dáil Ríata revisited
Dauvit Broun

Yonec and Tochmarc Becfola: two femaile echtrai
John Carey 

Táin bó Cúailnge, hagiography and history
T.M. Charles-Edwards

‘An t-éitheach; is an fíor? …’: a note on two late poems by Máire Mhac an tSaoi
Patricia Coughlan

‘Pé rí bheas i gcoróin’: Seán Caoch Ó Cearbhaill agus an tiarna talon
Pádraig de Brún (This is in Irish)

Murchadh Ó Cuindlis and Aided Muirchertaig Meic Erca
Clodagh Downey 

The shield of Fionn: the poem Uchán a sciath mo rígh réigh in Leabhar Ua Maine
Joseph J. Flahive

St Patrick and Antaeus: two bardic apologues
Margo Griffin-Wilson 

An Early Irish category of swindler: the mindach méith
Fergus Kelly

Colum Cille and the lorg bengánach: ritual migration from Derry
Brian Lambkin

De initiis: Apacrafa, an Bíobla agus léann luath-eaglais na hÉireann
Máirtín Mac Conmara  (This is in Irish)

Na taoisigh Ultacha agus an Veronica
Mícheál Mac Craith  (This is in Irish)

Maoil Mhuire agus a shinsear
Gearóid Mac Eoin (This is in Irish)

The paruchia of St Lúrach of Uí Thuirtre
Kay Muhr 

The dating of Branwen: the ‘Irish question’ revisited
Kevin Murray 

The bells of the saints
Próinséas Ní Chatháin 

The Hectors of Ireland and the Western World
Máire Ní Mhaonaigh

Tús na heagna omhan Dé: penance and retribution in a poem by Aonghus Fionn Ó Dálaigh
Emma Nic Cárthaigh

On the genealogical preamble to Vita Sancti Declani
Tomás Ó Cathasaigh

Véarsaí ó oirthear Chorcaí ar an ngorta a lean sioc mór an gheimhridh 1739–40
Breandán Ó Conchúir (This is in Irish)

A cult of Saint Theacla in early medieval Ireland?
Caitríona Ó Dochartaigh

‘Ceasta Fhíthil’: buaine agus ilghnéitheacht na gaoise i litríocht na Gaeilge
Pádraig Ó Macháin (This is in Irish)

Saint Cataldo of Taranto: the Irish element in the Life of an Italian saint
Pádraig Ó Riain

Maidenhood, mourning and Old English meowle
†Lísi Oliver and Andrea Adolph

Columba at Clonmacnoise
Jennifer O’Reilly

Librán as monastic archetype
Katja Ritari 

O’Friel’s ghost
Katharine Simms

Leprechauns and Luperci, Aldhelm and Augustine
Patrick Sims-Williams

Each essay has its own notes either at the end or as footnotes. The Irish essays took the longest for me to read and comprehend because my Irish is still not up to par. (I read it well, understand it for the most part, but speaking it is another story) Another thing that you need to know about this volume is that it is not for beginners. I am familiar with Máire Herbert’s work but I had to look up a few things while reading the essays. You also need to be familiar with Irish mythology and how scholars analyze it. It is a great book but you need your brain to always be present. Though some essays might seem simple they still have a lot to offer and information that makes you think. All in all I liked it but it took me a long time to finish reading it, so be aware.

The Bell Beaker Transition in Europe

Full Title: The Bell Beaker Transition in Europe – Mobility and Local Evolution During the 3rd Millennium BC.

Editors: Maria Pilar Prieto Martínez and Laure Salanova

Publisher: Oxbow Books

Published: 2015

ISBN: 978-1-78297-927-2

Pages: 214, with each essay having its notes and bibliography at the end of the essay.


Review: This text brings together 17 articles that were initially presented in the 15th International Bell Beaker Conference “From Atlantic to Ural”. It was organized in May 2011 in Spain. The theme for the conference was “Could the circulation of objects or ideas and the mobility of artisans explain the unprecedented uniformity of the material culture observed throughout the whole of Europe?”

This is the second volume to come out of this conference; the first was in 2013 and was concerned with new excavations or item analyses. The papers in this volume were selected for their interest in the Bell Beaker phenomenon in Europe and for the differing perspectives they offer. The chapters are organized mainly geographically and they start with Eastern Europe then move to the Mediterranean and end in the Iberian Peninsula.

While I enjoyed reading all the essays, the ones that interested me the most besides the final essay that summed up the book, were essays 5 and 12. Essay 5 talks about the migrations to Britain and Ireland. The part about Ireland was short but interesting. The Bell Beakers introduced copper mining to Ireland in the 24th century BC directly from continental Europe. In essay 12 the authors investigated the traces of exchange and circulation processes in the archaeological record on gold working craftsmanship. All in all, it was a really informative read.

Playing the Hero

Full Title: Playing the Hero – Reading the Irish Saga Táin Bó Cúailnge

Author: Ann Dooley

Publisher: University of Toronto Press

Published: 2006

ISBN: 9780802038326

Pages: 298 including notes, Bibliography, and Index


Review: I have never been utterly confused by a book as much as I have been confused by this one. I don’t know if it is because the author like to complicate things, or it is the subject matter, or it is just above my pay grade.

The book is supposed to be a series of thematic essays grouped around the main saga representation of the Irish martial hero Cú Chulain. The study conducted is about the relation between Recension I and II. It is not a study that gives a complete picture of the entire saga so if you are looking to see what this saga is then this is not the book for you.

In this study the author is more interested in all the complex and varied aspects of how texts reveal themselves of how it is that they came to mean. This bit was copied word for word from the Introduction. I am not sure exactly what is meant by “come to mean”. And the whole book is like that. This was just a taste of what the writing in the book is like.

Like I said in the beginning this book is confusing to me. And based on a few reviews I read online it seems like it is confusing to a lot of people. So here is my verdict. Stay away from this book if you are : (a) a beginner, (b) an intermediate or, (c) looking for an analysis of the actual text of the Táin because this is not it.

Tracing the Indo-Europeans

Full Title: Tracing the Indo-Europeans – New Evidence from Archaeology and Historical Linguistics.

Edited by: Brigit Anette Olsen, Thomas Olander, and Kristian Kristiansen

Publisher: OXBOW Books

Published: 2019

ISBN: 978-1-78925-270-5

Pages: 184

Synopsis: Recent developments in aDNA has reshaped our understanding of later European prehistory, and at the same time also opened up for more fruitful collaborations between archaeologists and historical linguists. Two revolutionary genetic studies, published independently in Nature, 2015, showed that prehistoric Europe underwent two successive waves of migration, one from Anatolia consistent with the introduction of agriculture, and a later influx from the Pontic-Caspian steppes which without any reasonable doubt pinpoints the archaeological Yamnaya complex as the cradle of (Core-)Indo-European languages. Now, for the first time, when the preliminaries are clear, it is possible for the fields of genetics, archaeology and historical linguistics to cooperate in a constructive fashion to refine our knowledge of the Indo-European homeland, migrations, society and language. For the historical-comparative linguists, this opens up a wealth of exciting perspectives and new working fields in the intersections between linguistics and neighbouring disciplines, for the archaeologists and geneticists, on the other hand, the linguistic contributions help to endow the material findings with a voice from the past. The present selection of papers illustrate the importance of an open interdisciplinary discussion which will gradually help us in our quest of Tracing the Indo-Europeans.

Review: I was honestly very excited for this book to come out. I pre-ordered it and waited for it and read it as soon as it came in, even though I had promised myself I was not going to buy any books until I finished the ones on my to-read list.

The book sports contributors like J.P. Mallory, and David W. Anthony. It has eight essays besides the Introduction. The text aims to get a more precise grasp of who the Indo-Europeans were, where they came from, and how their language and essential elements of culture came to dominate Europe and large parts of Asia.

The Introduction sets up the rest of the book by talking about the two positions about who the Indo-Europeans were: pastorialists from the Pontic-Caspian steppes or they emerged several millennia earlier as the first agriculturalists from Anatolia.

Through out reading this book I felt that the editors chose mostly the views that sided with the Pontic-Steppes hypothesis. However, these essays gave good reasons for going against the Anatolian hypothesis.

My feelings on this book are a little confused. There were parts of it that I enjoyed, especially the first essay which set up the problem of the IE Homeland beautifully. But for the most part I was a little confused as to what was the new information that we were supposed to get out of this book. It just felt like we were getting disjointed information about different things but the common thread seems to be “Pontic – Steppes”. I really wanted to give this book more than 3 stars…but in the end I just couldn’t. I don’t regret buying it if only for that first essay by Thomas Olander on the problem of the IE Homeland.

The Otherworld Voyage

Full Title: The Otherworld Voyage In Early Irish Literature – An Anthology of Criticism

Editor: Jonathan M. Wooding

Publisher: Four Courts Press

Published: 2000

ISBN: 978-1-84682-556-9

Pages: 290, Includes an Appendix, Bibliography, and Index


Prominent in the literature of early Ireland are the tales known as echtrai (adventures) and immrama (voyages), stories telling of journeys to the Otherworld of Celtic legend. These tales have long held a fascination for both scholars and general readers, but there is no satisfactory, comprehensive treatment of them in print. This anthology presents a selection of the most important studies of the subject, to which is added a number of new essays representing the current state of scholarship. A general introduction is provided and an extensive bibliography.

Containing the most important critical materials for an understanding of the Irish Otherworld Voyage legends, this anthology will be of interest and use to teachers and students of early Irish history and literature, comparative literature and mythology.


The idea for this book came during a conference at Maynooth in 1995. The attendees noted the need for a guide to Hiberno-Latin and early Irish voyage literature. They wanted a work of reference for the subject, because this kind of work was not yet available. This text is a selection of past and present criticism concerning the voyage tales and their context. “The articles are to be understood as artifacts particular to their era, though it is to be noted that nothing has been selected for purely historical interest: all the items in this volume has in some way or other provided a perspective, which has not been entirely superseded by later work” p. ix The selection of articles span nearly a century, and they discuss Irish voyage literature, its social and religious context.

Some of these articles were really short (4 pages) like “Two Observations Concerning the Navigatio Brendani” and “The Location of the Otherworld in Irish Tradition”, while others are really long like “Subversion at Sea: Structure, Style, and Intent in the Immrama” (32 pages).

I think my favorite out of all the articles was the one by John Carey, “The Location of the Otherworld in Irish Tradition.” I have to admit, I don’t have a lot of exposure to the Immrama or the Echtrai, but I found this volume very interesting. I’m going to read this book again after I read and digest that part of Irish Literature. I feel like I missed a lot because of my limited exposure to these stories. This is a must have book if you have an interest in Immrama and Echtrai.

The Wisdom of the Outlaw

Title: The Wisdom of the Outlaw: The Boyhood Deeds of Finn in Gaelic Narrative Tradition.

Author: Joseph Falaky Nagy

Publisher: University of California Press

Published: 1985

ISBN: 0-520-05824-6

Pages: 338 with Appendix One starting at 209; the book includes Appendix One, Appendix Two, an extensive notes section as well as an index and bibliography.

Picture of the cover of the book with the title and the author.


Picture of the synopsis from the book jacket

Review: It took forever to get my hands on a copy of this book and even then it was lightly used. Still it was better than waiting for a new edition that never materialized.

This is like the seventh or eighth time that I read this book and every time I read it I discover something new.

The book discusses Finn as a poet and an outsider. It talks about the terms Fénnid, Fían, and Rígfénnid and discusses Finn’s parents. Once that is all done the author starts analyzing Finn’s life.

This is a great book if you are following the path of the Outlaw in Irish tradition. It is also a great analysis of the Finn tradition as a whole so if you are interested in it from the standpoint of literature this is one of the best books on the subject.

There is also a great Appendix one in the back with some translations of the text which are very useful. And the notes section is quite extensive.

I see myself reading this book a few more times in the future and still discovering something new.