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.

29452496

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.

Magic of the Celtic Gods and Goddesses by Carl McColman and Kathryn Hinds

This is not the first time I’ve read this book. There is a lot of thought that went into the organization of the book. I’m going to start from the back then go to the front and then to the middle.

The book has three appendices. The first recommends books on the retelling of Celtic myth and lore, translations of tales and poems, interpretations of the traditions, and reference titles. Appendix B is recommended listening and Appendix C is all about the Celtic Fire festivals; the information there is to the point and 99% accurate. The bibliography of the book is an extensive and very impressive one. All the books there are well known for their scholarship. And the index is very good.

Now back to the beginning. I found the first chapter to be pleasant if a little flowery. They talk about their sources and how they used them to write the book. I also liked the fact that they say that this is THEIR practice, but that it is based on scholarship in other words UPG. They caution the reader about any book that claims to have all the answer and they answer the question of why anyone should bother studying, let alone honoring or venerating, the old gods and goddesses of the Celtic Tradition. The second chapter starts by defining what the authors mean when they say Celtic, which is always important as the term could mean different things to different people. Then they discuss the exact sources they will be using and why. They also end the chapter with general principles of Celtic mythology, which in my opinion is very helpful and very much true. Chapter three sets out their goals for the book, they have three and they also tell you what this book is NOT. The main one that I think is very commendable of them to mention is that this book is not an “academic” approach to deity. They do promise (and deliver in my opinion) to give just enough “academic” information on each deity to help you to get to know them but also they ask that you do your own search too. Two people after my own heart. This is something that I feel is not stressed enough in books, whether academic or UPG. The chapter ends with deity and the question of belief. They explain the different approaches to deity. The ones they mention are; the Transpersonal approach, the Euhemerist approach, the Monistic approach, the Henotheistic approach, and the Polytheistic approach.

The middle portion of the book I’m going to divide into two parts. The first part is about the different gods and goddesses that the authors have chosen to talk about. They chose the most famous of the Irish, Welsh, and Gaulish deities. This information in the chapters is 97% accurate as far as I can see (bear in mind I’m not an expert), but what I loved the most is the ideas on how to honor these gods and goddesses at the end of each chapter. Simple things that anyone can do . The second part of the middle portion, which consists of the last three chapters, discusses a deeper Celtic spirituality. These chapters discuss mysticism, virtue, what the gods expect from you and how to put everything into practice with meditation, devotion, prayer, ritual, study and virtue. The final chapter discusses the importance of reading myths, and how to do it in a way that gives you the maximum benefit on your path.

I totally enjoyed this book the first times I read it and I have enjoyed it now that I have read it again. It is what UPG should be all about. The foundation is made out of fact and the rest is based on an educated guess. It has the practical side of spirituality explained in a way that even people who are sticklers for detail will love. It does not tell you what to do but makes informative suggestions. This is a book that I plan to return to over and over again.