Motherfoclóir

Full Title: Motherfoclóir – Dispatches from a not so dead language

Author: Darach Ó Séaghdha

Publisher: Head of Zeus Ltd.

Published: 2017

ISBN: 9781786691866

Pages: 225

Synopsis: From Goodreads.

Review:

I think this is the best book I read on the Irish language in a long time. Not only am I learning Irish vocabulary and all the different peculiarities it has but I’m also learning about the Irish culture, way of life and the Gaeltacht.

Also, all the fun bits that are found in the twitter account are found in the book. The fun bits include “A fada can make all the difference” and all the interesting side information that are included along with the definitions of the different words.

If you want a fun book to read on the Irish and learn from about language and culture then this is the book for you.

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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!

 

Blood of the Celts

Full Title: Blood of the Celts – The New Ancestral Story

Author: Jean Manco

Publisher: Thames & Hudson

Published: 2015

ISBN: 978-0-500-05183-2

Pages: 240 including illustrations, end notes, Appendix, Bibliography, and Index

SynopsisBlood of the Celts brings together genetic, archaeological, and linguistic evidence to address the often-debated question: who were the Celts? What peoples or cultural identities should that term describe? And did they in fact inhabit the British Isles before the Romans arrived? Author Jean Manco challenges existing accounts of the origins of the Celts, providing a new analysis that draws on the latest discoveries as well as ancient history.

In a novel approach, the book opens with a discussion of early medieval Irish and British texts, allowing the Celts to speak in their own words and voices. It then traces their story back in time into prehistory to their deepest origins and their ancestors, before bringing the narrative forward to the present day. Each chapter also has a useful summary in bullet points to aid the reader and highlight the key facts in the story.

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Review: I honestly don’t know if I should be reviewing this book or not. By the end of it I was just skimming the chapters than reading the round up of important points at the end of each chapter.

I will say that the book has an extensive Endnotes section and a very long bibliography which is a good way to get more information of books to read. I also think that the author really tried. They did try to add in the latest research linguistically, archaeologically (like the Tartessian language and the Celtic from the West hypothesis) , and genetically, though I feel like the genetic part was sort of added in at a later date and honestly, their conclusion in the Introduction to the book really negated any need for that part of the book.  “As we shall see, there are three main components to the modern European gene pool. They came from ancient hunter-gatherers, early farmers and a Copper Age people. The modern Irish have a mixture of all three, as do the modern Germans and Italians. Any genetic differences are far too subtle to talk in terms of a Celtic race.” (p.9)

I felt like the author sometimes jumped to conclusions without really explaining their train of thought and the whole book felt at times like a compilation of what other disciplines said about parts of European pre-history without any real tie into to how that effected the Celtic culture.

I’ve had this book for at least a year and finally decided to read it…now I know why I’ve been hesitant to do so…

 

Celtic Mythology

Title: Celtic Mythology – Tales of the Gods, Goddesses, and Heroes

Author: Philip Freeman

Publisher: Oxford University Press

Published: 2017

ISBN: 978-0-19-046047-1

Pages: 272 including Notes, Bibliography and Index

Synopsis: Most people have heard of the Celts–the elusive, ancient tribal people who resided in present-day England, Ireland, Scotland and France. Paradoxically characterised as both barbaric and innocent, the Celts appeal to the modern world as a symbol of a bygone era, a world destroyed by the ambition of empire and the spread of Christianity throughout Western Europe. Despite the pervasive cultural and literary influence of the Celts, shockingly little is known of their way of life and beliefs, because very few records of their stories exist. In this book, for the first time, Philip Freeman brings together the best stories of Celtic mythology.
Everyone today knows about the gods and heroes of the ancient Greeks, such as Zeus, Hera, and Hercules, but how many people have heard of the Gaulish god Lugus or the magical Welsh queen Rhiannon or the great Irish warrior Cu Chulainn? We still thrill to the story of the Trojan War, but the epic battles of the Irish Tain Bo Cuailgne are known only to a few. And yet those who have read the stories of Celtic myth and legend – among them writers like J. R. R. Tolkien and C. S. Lewis – have been deeply moved and influenced by these amazing tales, for there is nothing in the world quite like them. In these stories a mysterious and invisible realm of gods and spirits exists alongside and sometimes crosses over into our own human world; fierce women warriors battle with kings and heroes, and even the rules of time and space can be suspended. Captured in vivid prose these shadowy figures-gods, goddesses, and heroes – come to life for the modern reader.

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Review: I was really excited to get this book. I know Philip Freeman’s work and it usually very scholarly. This book…tried. I’m not going to discuss the simplification of the myths through retelling them. I knew this book will include the retelling of the myths, but I also expected a little about the history of the books the myths were found in or at least an introduction of how and why these books came into being. There was none of that. Even the little bit of history that he included about the Celts seemed to be a bit one-sided in that he mostly quoted Caesar.

This book, however, is a good place for people who want to read the myths in a simplified and easy form. They can be a good way to understand the myths before reading them in their longer forms…and that is about it.

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.