BOOK REVIEW: 2 books

Irish Text Society Books: The Book of Rights and Lebor Na Cert Reassessment

BOOK 1: Lebor Na Cert (The Book of Right)

Series: Volume XLVI

Edited by: Myles Dillon

Publisher: Irish Text Society

Published: First published 1962, Reprinted 1984, 1994, 2012

ISBN: 1 870 16646 9

Pages: 198, with 2 Appendices, Index of names and places, a map, and notes on it.

Review: There is no way I’m going to review The Book of Right of course but I will be discussing some points about it.

The book has 4 chapters: Introduction, Lebor Na Cert, Appendix A- Timna Chathaír Máir, and Appendix B – Tables of Stipends and Tributes.

The Introduction is VERY informative. It talks about what the Book of Rights is all about, and how it was written (its structure, prose and poems), who may or may not have written it, how old it really is, the value of the Book of Rights as a historical document, and how the book was edited, when and by whom and from which manuscripts. (Pages ix – xxv)

The chapter that contains the Book of Rights has both the Irish and the English translation. The Irish text is on the left page and its English translation is on the right. It has both prose and poems. The prose explains the poem to come after it. (Pages 1 – 147)

Appendix A is a chapter that contains The Testament of Cathaír Már. There is an explanation of what that is and then similar to the Book of Right there is an Irish and an English translation. (Pages 148 – 178)

Appendix B is literally a bunch of tables of stipends and tributes from Cashel, Connachta, Ailech, Ulaid, Temair, Lagin, Cruachain, and Mide. (Pages 179 – 189)

Lebor Na Cert (The Book of Rights)

BOOK 1: Lebor Na Cert Reassessment

Series: Subsidiary Series No. 25

Edited by Kevin Murray

Publisher: Irish Text Society

Published: 2013

ISBN: 1-870166-74-4

Pages: 126, with Bibliography and Index

Review: The book has 5 very interesting essays by Fergus Kelly, Thomas Charles-Edwards, Catherine Swift, Edel Bhreathnach, and Kevin Murray.

Essay 1 by Fergus Kelly is all about Myles Dillon the editor of the Book Of Rights. Kelly talks about his scholarship contributions and the importance of his work, and his reputation as a nativist.

Essay 2 by Thomas Charles-Edwards talks about the organization of Ireland in terms of clientship as seen through the lens of the Book of Rights. It is a detailed analysis of the different types of clientship found in the text.

Essay 3 by Cathrine Swift looks at the broader historical context of som of the customs and practices that are important to the Book of Rights. Especially customs involving taxes, trade and trespass. This essay was really interesting because it discusses the interactions of the Norse and the Irish population.

Edel Bhreathnach’s essay talks about the Testament of Cathaír Már. Especially the genealogical traditions of Leinster.

Finally, Kevin Murray’s essay builds on what Dillon did and looks at the language and date of the Book of Rights.

I can’t choose a favorite between the essays as each one has interesting information from a different perspective. If you read those two books together you will get a comprehensive understanding of the Book of Rights.

Lebor Na Cert Reassessment

Understanding Celtic Religion

Full Title: Understanding Celtic Religion – Revisiting The Pagan Past

Series: New Approaches to Celtic Religion and Mythology

Editors: Katja Ritari and Alexandra Bergholm

Publishers: University of Wales Press

Published: 2015

ISBN: 978-1-78316-792-0

Pages: 181 including Index, Bibliography, and notes after each paper.

Synopsis: (From back of the book) Although it has long been acknowledged that the early Irish literary corpus preserves both pre-Christian and Christian elements, the challenges involved in the understanding of these different strata have not been subjected to critical examination. This volume. Draws attention to the importance of reconsidering the relationship between religion and mythology, as well as the concept of “Celtic Religion” itself. When scholars are attempting to construct the so called “Celtic” belief belief system, what counts as “religion”? Or, when labeling labeling something as a “religion” as opposed to “mythology”, what do these entities entail? This volume is the first interdisciplinary collection of articles which critically reevaluates the methodological challenges of the study of “Celtic religion”, the authors are eminent scholars in the field of Celtic Studies representing the disciplines of theology, literary studies, history, law and archaeology, and the book is a significant contribution to the present scholarly debate concerning the pre-Christian elements in early medieval source materials.



This book began as a two day colloquium in 2008. It is made up of an Introduction and seven essays, each one dealing with a different aspect of the Celtic religion.

Introduction: The editors in the Introduction try to put into perspective what this text is trying to present and that is the answer to the following questions: When scholars attempt to construct the belief system of the Celts, what counts as “religion”? Or, when something is labeled as “religion” as opposed to “mythology”, what do these entities entail? To what extent is it possible to attain the pre-Christian stratum through the extant textual sources which themselves present us with a mediated understanding of the religious traditions of the past? And what theoretical viewpoints or analytical tools could help towards a better understanding of the essence of the different strata usually labeled as “pre-Christian”, “Christian”, or “Celtic”? (p. 3) The Introduction then goes on to discuss the contents of the essays and what to expect from from the book.

There are seven essays in this book, each one is written by a scholar in the field they wrote about.

Celtic Spells and Counterspells by Jacqueline Borsje: The author of this essay begins by defining the term “Celtic Religion” from the point of view of Celtic Studies, and outside Celtic Studies. Then she gives her definition of the term and tells us that she will be focusing on the Irish forms of “Celtic Religion”. The author also explains how she is looking at the Celtic religion. Her field of study is religious phenomena in medieval Irish texts and the lens she is looking through is the methodologies and analytical tools she learned during her training as a theologian interpreting biblical texts.

I think the importance of this essay is not just with the uncovered content ( for example, Fír Fer, charms, and aspects of the Lorica) but how that content was uncovered and the methods used. The author gives us three methods and gives examples on each one. Another thing that is important about this essay is that it shows that you can’t just stop at one source to learn about the Celtic religion. You need to look not only to mythology for knowledge but also to Christian texts (like the lives of the Saints for example) as well as anthropology and other cultures that are relevant.

The Old Gods of Ireland in the Later Middle Ages by John Carey: The author of this essay talks about how the Irish Christians compromised to include pagan elements into their writings. He gives three example from three different texts as to how this happen. Carey discussed, using the three examples, the way Irish Christians dealt with the old Gods. The first was that they were humans with magical skills and that made them seem supernatural. The second was that people of the síde may have been “half-fallen Angels”. Those were the Angels that sided with Lucifer but didn’t fight God. And finally, they may have been an unfallen branch of humanity.

To me the importance of this essay is in the fact that the Irish Christians seem to want to include the old Gods into their traditions, and not just simply demonized them (though that also happened). It shows that the conversion from Pagan to Christian really did happen slowly and bloodlessly with elements of Paganism clinging till the Later Middle Ages at least.

Staging the Otherworld in Medieval Irish Tradition by Joseph Falaky Nagy: This essay is really about two things; the whole nativist/anti-nativist debate and performance in the Otherworld. Nagy used the first half of the essay to discuss the nativist and anti-nativist views of Irish and Welsh literary traditions. His idea is that we really can’t (and shouldn’t) dismiss either view, even thought he is obviously a nativist. He explained what each view can contribute to the study of the literature and how important it all is to the over all picture.

The second half was about music and poetry and how it was portrayed in the literature, and how it seems that the traditions seem to be saying that they come from the Otherworld.

I have to admit that the second half of this essay was just a tad confusing to me and I had to read it a couple of times to understand what exactly the author was getting at and I’m still not sure if I got it right entirely.

The Biblical Dimension of Early Medieval Latin Texts by Thomas O’Loughlin: In this essay the author argues that the biblical texts of the Early Medieval period should not just be studied only by theologians and historians of biblical exegesis, instead they should be studied by different disciplines and details teased out of them.

I agree with O’Loughlin that these texts need to be studied not just by the theologians and biblical historians but also by people in other disciplines. However, I’m sorry to say that that was pretty much all I got out of this essay. Either I just was not ready to read about this yet (which can and has happened before) or the essay was a bit above my pay grade.

Ancient Irish Law Revisited: Rereading the Laws of Status and Franchise by Robin Chapman Stacey: Stacey in this essay studies three Irish status tracts, Críth Gablach, Uraicecht Becc, and Míadshlechtae. She examines issues of gender, political space and symbolic landscapes.

This is a good study of how things were perceived compared to how they really were.

A Dirty Window on the Iron Age? Recent Developments in the Archaeology of Pre-Roman Celtic Religion by Jane Webster: In this essay Webster looks at the study of the Celtic religion through the lens of archaeology, and Irish and Welsh literature. She discusses how this approach needs to be modified with all the new archaeological finds of today and the finds from the Romano-Celtic period.

I think this would have to be my favourite essay of the whole book. It looks at things like archaeology and literature and new methodologies that can be employed to the study of Celtic Religion.

Over all this book is really interesting, and gives a lot of food for thought. This was my first read through of the book and I see a few more in my future. It was also in parts not an easy read, but well worth soldiering through.

The Celtic World Edited by Miranda J. Green

Synopsis: The ancient Celts, in their heyday, inhabited much of Europe north of the Alps. This new and exhaustive study examines this fascinating people from the first evidence of Celts in the archaeological and historical record to the early post Roman period. The Celtic World is one of the most comprehensive studies of the Celts in recent years, with new research material from leading Celtic scholars from Europe, Britain and America. The book includes chapters on archaeology, language, literature, warfare, rural life, towns, art, religion and myth, trade and industry, political organization, society and technology. It also looks at the Celts in Italy, Spain, France, Eastern Europe, the Rhineland, England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland and concludes with a survey of modern Celts and how they view their Celtic identity. The Celtic World will be invaluable for students and academics of Celtic studies, and of interest to anyone fascinated by the Celts.

Review: This book was a surprise for me.  It was recommended to my by a friend and based on this recommendation as soon as I found it I just snapped it up.  When it arrived I just couldn’t figure out why it was so heavy!  So you can imagine my surprise when I opened the package.  I also thought that Miranda J. Green wrote this book but the truth is Miranda J. Green EDITED it.

This book is based on a good historical and archaeological research and it makes for a good reference book for Celtic studies. It covers many different and important topics and is very well written and edited. The book is a collection of essays centered on different topics and written by such names as Daphne Nash Briggs, Jeffery L. Davis, D. Ellis Evans, Proinsias Mac Cana, Ruth and Vincent Megaw, Stuart Piggott, Barry Raftery, David Rankin, Ann Ross, Miranda Green and many others.

This book is copyrighted to 1995 and 1996 so it is a little out of date but not by much I would say.  The information in it was a delight to read, the essays are well thought out and easy to get into.  The information is very interesting and encompasses every aspect of the Celtic culture and life and it looks at all the Celts that lived in Europe. I consider this book a little Encyclopedia (not so little with 839 pages).

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.

Everyday Life of the Pagan Celts by Anne Ross

Anne Ross is a well-respected writer on the Celts most of her books are on the Celtic Reconstructionist lists and that tells you a lot because as a rule they are very picky.  This book is a part of a series called Everyday Life Of…The other two books in the series are The Everyday Life of the Vikings, and The Everyday Life of the Anglo-Saxons.

The book is copy righted to 1970 so right off you know it is an old book, with outdated information, though not much of it is.  People who are not new to the Celtic history will probably not find anything new in this book.  What impressed me though is the fact that she not only talks about the history of the Celts but their culture, society, and religion too.  She starts her survey when the Celts first burst onto the scene, and ends it at 500 CE.  Up front she tells you the limitations of the book and the aim she hopes to achieve with it.  The limitations are as follows: limitations in the evidence available (this of course has changed from the 1970s to now), and limitations of space.  The aim of the book is to find out something about the pagan Celtic world; about its origin; about the people who lived in it, what they did and how they conducted their day-to-day affairs.

Like all other writers on the subject of the Celts she starts her book with how we know about the Celts.  She discusses the sources, which ones are good, which are bad, and which are acceptable and how to combine them all to get a good picture of the Celts.

Then comes the substance.  She starts out with the structure of the society, how they looked, what they wore, their weapons and the way they conducted warfare, their roads, fortifications, houses, the games they played, their music and entertainment, their food and drink, their laws, their religion, and their artistic styles.

I loved all the details she provided for things that most scholars would have over looked like what they wore, and what they might have ate or drank.  It is a well-rounded book.  And it has it all. You learn exactly what the Celts have done in their everyday life, in war, and what they did for entertainment or for their worship.  You learn about their art and music, and it provides a vivid picture that you can carry of the people you want to study.

I highly recommend it.

The Encyclopedia of Celtic Myth and Legend by Caitlin and John Matthews

I read this book in 2005 and then just put it away, not because it wasn’t any good but because at the time I wasn’t really looking at the myths and legends as anything more than entertaining stories. When I decided to write about the Celtic myths and legends critically I got out all the books I thought I would read and this one was among these books.

The aim of the book is to bring together the most famous of the mythic traditions from their source materials, without retelling but with new translations mostly from respected Celtic scholars like Whitley Stokes, Myles Dillon, Kuno Meyers, and Mary Dobbs. The Matthews decided that they wanted to use myths as opposed to folklore. Most of the myths come from Ireland because they have a huge corpus of myths. Wales has an abundant poetic corpus but not many myths, and Scotland, Cornwall and Brittany have many folk traditions but again no texts of deep myths. The authors, decided to divide the book into sections using not chronological order but topics the same way that the old poets and story tellers used to divide their material. The divisions of the book are as follows: invasions, conceptions and births, cattle raids, voyages, hero tales, dreams and visions, battles, wisdom and lore, sieges, burnings, and curses, love and longing, wooings, adventures, feasts and visitations, exiles, and deaths.

The book makes for a great read of course, the stories are very understandable and the chosen translations are among the best I have read. However, the main treasure of this book is the introduction that the authors have before each story. They give you the name of the story of course, then they tell you whether there are many versions of it, how old is the oldest version as well as the age range of all the versions, and they also tell you where these versions are housed currently. Let me give an example. The Book of the Takings of Ireland (Lebor Gabála Erenn), they are using a version that comes from the five volumes edited by R.A.S. Macallister between 1938 and 1956, the main manuscript sources are contained in the collections of the Royal Irish Academy and Trinity College, Dublin. They date from the 12th – 15th century. This is the kind of information that makes reading the myths so much fun (at least for me). Another thing that I loved about the book is the Appendix which has a story list of all the stories that go under the classifications of the book and that they could not include because of the limited space. This way if I wanted to read more I at least have a list to look up from. The glossary at the end of the book is a great help. It includes a list of the more important terms used in the text and the names of the most important people mentions with a pronunciation key and definitions of what the term is or who the person is. The bibliography is a beauty too, and makes it easy to look at where they got their sources as well as further readings should the need arise. A very impressive book and one that definitely should be read by anyone interested in Celtic Myths and Legends.

Celtic Myths and Legends By Michael Foss

Celtic Myths and Legends was first published in 1995 and it is a book of myths from Scotland, Ireland, and Wales.  The book is divided into six sections each one dealing with a subject matter.  The first section is about who the Celtic are, the second is about the physical world, the Otherworld and the fate of mankind, the third section is about fables and talking beasts, the fourth is about Cuchulain, the fifth is about love, and the last section is about Finn Mac Cool and the Fenians.

So what do I like about the book?  The ease with which the stories are told, and the retelling of sometimes confusing myths in a way that us human beings can understand.  The fact that the stories are grouped in a way where subject and not origin that matters, and the fact that in the table of contents the stories have the places from which they originate clearly marked.

What don’t I like about the book?  There is no background story to the myths presented.  I don’t know which books they come from, how old these stories are if they are pieced together from different versions or if they all come from one single version.  I don’t know if I am asking too much here.

I recommend this book to anyone who wants to read great stories to themselves and their children.  I really enjoyed the retelling by Michael Foss, the way he grouped his stories to give a sense of continuity to the text as a whole and I loved knowing whether a story was Irish, Scottish or Welsh, but I also wished for…well more…

Celtic Myths and Legends by Peter Berresford Ellis

Celtic Myths and Legends is a collection of Irish, Scots, Welsh, Cornish, Manx and Breton tales brought together by Peter Ellis in one volume.  Ellis, tells the tales in his own words, from manuscripts that he has read.  Now you can say what you will about Ellis’s loyalties but he is a great storyteller.  He may idolize the Celts, but the stories are worth telling and he certainly brings them to life.

He begins the book with an introduction to the Celts.  He gives a short abridged history both of the people and the language.  He compares them and their mythology to that of the Indians to show that they come from the same mother language, that of the Indo-Europeans.  He also gives an overview of the sources from which he got his stories (read myths), and how old those sources are, though he didn’t do a very good job of that because I ended up being confused about it all.  The first chapter after the Introduction was termed The Ever Living Ones and it is the myth of how the Tuatha De Danann had come to Ireland.  It is most likely from the Book of Invasions though the author never told us so.

What follows the introduction are the myths from Ireland, the Isle of Man, Scotland, Wales, Cornwall, and Brittany.  He prefaces each section of the myths with a little history and some of the works that he is getting the myths from.

The best point of this book is that the myths are recounted in a very easy way, which can be understood by anyone.  Peter Ellis is a great storyteller.  Here is where I think he went wrong, first I don’t know why he chose these specific myths (other than some sentimental reasons) and he didn’t tell us exactly where he got these myths from and a short history of these manuscripts would have been nice.

This is a good book to read if you want a good storytelling of some of the myths from each Celtic country.

Celtic Mythology by Proinsias MacCana

For a book written in 1970 it is still very much relevant today.  I’m not sure what that says about our study of Celtic mythology.  The book talks about all three branches of Celtic mythology, which are Gaulic, Irish and Welsh.

The introduction of the book starts out with a recounting of the history of the Celts, the conservation of their traditions, the sources used to make the study and the diversity of Celtic mythology.  The problems we encounter in studying Celtic mythology are pretty much the same as the ones that we encounter while studying the Celts themselves.  The Celts are not a one unified block, but they do share language, and cultural similarities, so the similarities in the mythology is also there even though on the surface they don’t seem to be similar.

The first chapter of the book discusses the gods as noted by Caesar.  The most important information of this chapter is in the analysis given by the author when he says “Caesar’s account has been impugned on two main grounds: first, that it implies, erroneously, the existence of a pantheon of gods worshipped more or less universally throughout Gaul, and, secondly, that it enunciates a clear differentiation of divine functions for which there is no evidence in Celtic tradition.” And those two points are the most important points of the chapter because they can be applied to the gods in Ireland, and Britain as well.

The next chapter is about the Tuatha De Danaan, and the stories around them like the Book of Invasions and the Second Battle of Magh Tuired.  What was interesting about this chapter was the author’s presentation of the Dumezil’s three-function theory and superimposing it on the Second Battle of Magh Tuired.

Chapter three is about the British gods or the gods of Wales and the stories surrounding them.  Chapter four discusses the goddesses of the insular Celts, and chapter five discusses the heroic tradition of the Ulster cycle and the stories associated with it.  In Chapter six sacral kingships is discussed, mainly when it comes to Ireland.  The chapter on the Otherworld discusses the feast of Samhain and the land of the dead when it comes to references in Ireland and Wales.  The final chapter of the book rounds up the topics discussed in the book and asks the question of how relevant that is today.

This book is a good starting point to learn about the important topics in Celtic mythology and some of the main stories and characters in them.  It is however, only a starting point.  I was a little disappointed as I thought this book would contain a little more when it comes to the Mythology of the Celts.  I thought a little more would be said about the cycles in the Irish mythology and more about the stories in the Welsh mythology.  I thought it was too brief for the subject matter and the author could have said much much more.

Celtic Myths (The Legendary Past) by Miranda Jane Green

Celtic Myths is a tiny book (only 80 pages including index) but it makes for an interesting and informative read if you are just beginning to read Celtic mythology.  Much of the information in the book deals with Irish and Welsh mythology.  The thing that I appreciate the most about this book is the Further Reading page at the end of the book just before the Index.

As with everything dealing with the Celts the author starts by telling us how we know about Celtic myths.  She starts out with a definition of mythology and myths and then moves on to discuss the time period that the Celtic Myths is discussing mainly from 600 BCE – 400 CE.  She also discusses the sources for the myths, which is always important.

The topics discussed in the book are the Tuatha Dé Danann, the Ulster Myths, some early Welsh myths, fertility, land, water, druids, sacrifice ritual, death, rebirth and the otherworld.  Then the book also discusses groupings of myths like the divine lovers, the sun and sky myths, as well as animals in cult and myths.

This book is not meant as the be all and end all of books on the Celtic myths, but rather a beginning.  It can be used by people who just want a glancing look at the Celtic myths, as well as people who are just starting out in reading the Celtic myths and want easy and understandable background on the subject.  So if you are interested in Celtic mythology (especially Irish) and want to know some of the main players in these myths this is a great place to start.