Caesar’s Druids: Story of an Ancient Priesthood by Miranda Aldhouse-Green

Synopsis: Ancient chroniclers,  including Julius Caesar himself, made the Druids and their sacred  rituals infamous throughout the Western world. But in fact, as Miranda  Aldhouse-Green shows in this fascinating book, the Druids’ day-to-day  lives were far less lurid and much more significant. Exploring the  various roles that Druids played in British and Gallic society during  the first centuries B.C. and A.D.—not just as priests but as judges,  healers, scientists, and power brokers—Aldhouse-Green argues that they  were a highly complex, intellectual, and sophisticated group whose  influence transcended religion and reached into the realms of secular  power and politics. With deep analysis, fresh interpretations, and  critical discussions, she gives the Druids a voice that resonates in our  own time.

Review: In this book the author, a professor of Archeology at Cardiff University, used her tremendous expertise as a scholar of ancient religious culture, her intimate knowledge of the classical sources and her archeological and anthropological background to put together this book on the Druids.

Professor Miranda Aldhouse-Green used the preface to tell us why she wrote the book and what she hoped to focus on in it.  Her focus is to be on the Druids encountered by Greek and Roman writers and travellers at a time when they were flourishing, and on the time of their decline and possible reconfiguration under the Roman occupation.  She also tells us that she will be combining close scrutiny of the Classical records with the archeological and anthropological material findings.  She acknowledges that there are problems with all of these sources.

The book is divided into 12 chapters and an Epilogue and each chapter is then further divided into subsections depending on what the chapter is talking about.   This book is well organized and indexed.  The sheer amount of research and documentation in this book is worth the read.  All that was ever said or written about the Druids is presented here supplemented by archeology, anthropology and some of the vernacular records too.  As usual with Prof. Miranda, I don’t agree with all her conclusions BUT most of them are sound.   It does read a bit like a thesis paper but it is interesting enough to keep you going till the end.  I like Prof. Miranda’s writing style as she does not talk down to her readers even if they are laymen.

This is a great edition to the library of any person interested in the Celts and by extension the Druids.

 

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Druids: Preachers of Immortalityby Anne Ross

Synopsis: Druidism was the religion of the Celts and the Druids themselves were all-powerful, taking precedence over the Celtic kings. Over and above the evidence of classical texts and of archeology, the richest source of information about the Druids is the vernacular material from Ireland and Wales. It is the author’s unparalleled familiarity with the Gaelic texts, and her ability to see Druidism through Celtic eyes, that marks out this study from earlier books and strips away modern myths about the Druids.

Review: This is not about “preachers” of any kind, and the ideas of immortality is barely mentioned in this book. It is, however, a great study of the Druids, using folklore, archeology, and classical and vernacular sources. The author is clearly deeply fascinated with the topic and offers a wide range of original insights into various Celtic topics. Some of her insights are deeply fascinating.

I did feel though that the author was trying to write this book for the layman and because of her extensive scholarly background in the subject she failed miserably. It was a hard read mainly because I wanted her to go back to her old style of writing. I was, however, very impressed with Dr. Ross’ research into the subject which is quite evident as the reader moves through the chapters.

I have yet to find a book that discusses the Druids in this sort of detail so the book is very much worth the read, if only for the sources she sites and some of the gems she has uncovered. The book of course is outdated in some aspects of its research but that is to be expected since it was first written in 1999.

Old Gods, New Druids by Robin Herne

The main reason I decided to buy this book is that I had already read the author’s Polytheist Druidry Lessons on The Druid Network which can be found at the following link:  (http://druidnetwork.org/learning/courses/online/polytheist).  This book is an expansion of these lessons.  You will find when you read the table of contents of the book that they follow the exact same lesson plan on the link above.

The author in his introduction explains to us how this group of twenty lessons came about (by the way this is only level one of the study program he hopes to put together, there are 6 more levels to go each boasting 20 lessons), and that far from being the beginning and end of all Druidry this is just what his own group is using as study material.  He makes it very clear that this is his vision for his group developed for and by them.  If you would like to use them that is up to you if you don’t that is fine too.  From the very beginning you are put at ease as to the goals of the author and why he wrote the book and his easy going and fun way of delivering the information makes it that much easier to read through it.  He also told us that each lesson/chapter ends with some questions and a practical exercise to help you or the group you are working with to get the most of each lesson/chapter.

I have to say I am very impressed with chapter one or lesson one if you like.  It is a snap shot of the early Insular Celts and a very factual one, which presents ALL the theories on the subject.  It is short enough to let the student/reader do his or her own research on the subject but long enough to give them an understanding of the subject matter and a starting point.

Lesson two is another delightful and factual lesson on Druids both ancient and modern.  Robin quotes classical writers on the ancient Druids giving us all the theories put forward by them and what sort of bias they had for or towards them.  He also gives a short history of revivalist Druidry and what modern druids are like.  He also talks about the problem that I think is major in the Pagan Community and that is real, researched and factual knowledge.

Lesson three is about the Gods and Goddesses.  It is a look at how people perceive deity and some common theories about them.  He also names a few deities and gives us a little bit of information about them.  Interestingly, he didn’t choose the most famous of the deities in his list.

Robin then covers ancestors, and the different kinds of land spirits in lessons four and five and except for a few instances where I disagree with his thoughts they make for good informative reading.

Next he talks about the structure of the Gaelic society, ethics and ideals, the festivals and rites, the afterlife, herb lore and sacred trees, the Ogam alphabet, storytelling and sacred space.

For the most part this book is a very well researched one.  I enjoyed it very much and though it is not strictly Celtic Re-constructionist many elements of it come close.  It is still a book intended for people who want to be druids; though it presents a great place for someone who wants to learn about the Celtic path to start.

Arianrhod’s Dance: A Druid Ritual Handbook by Julie White and Graeme k. Talboys

This is a companion to the book The Path Through the Forest.  While the first one is the theory behind the Druid Way this one is the practical side of things.  It talks about the importance of rituals and prayers, and discusses all the different cycles of life, from the cycle of the sun to the cycle of the moon to the cycle of life.

It is in this book that you find the ritual outlines that you need to perform your own rituals (again keep in mind they are using the Welsh tradition here).  They talk about the significance of each of the rituals they present and then give you an outline of how to perform these rituals.

The ceremonies are easy and they tell you what you might need for each one. It is a very useful book for those who are just new to the path and want a place to start.

The Path Through The Forest: A Druid Guidebook by Graeme k. Talboys and Julie White

As you can see from the title this book has two authors.  The first is Julie White, a druid for many years and she was a teacher at an order before leaving to form her own grove, and the second is Graeme K. Talboys who is a Hedge Druid and holds degrees in Philosophy and education.  I think the combination of these two authors was a great one and it comes through in the book because the book itself flows very easily.

The book is divided into three parts, each one dealing with something different and yet they flow together extremely well.  The first part sets the stage by giving some background on the Celts and the druids as well as describing to the reader what the authors’ idea of Celtic Vision is.  The authors see the Celtic Vision as an interweaving of three things; cohesion of family, tribe and grove, balance in all things, and truth.  This is something that anyone following a Celtic path can relate too.  Part two talks about the three druidic paths of bard, vate and druid, cycles and celebrations and it becomes obvious that the authors are basing their path on the welsh branch of the Celtic culture with their explanations of Arthur and Awen.  The third part is about the practical side of things like rituals and meditations as well as trees, plants, herbs, and animals.  This book though has a companion Volume (which I will be reviewing next) that goes into more practical application of the information in this part.

Even though I am not very drawn to the Welsh branch of the Celtic path I found this book interesting to read, and very informative.  To the person who is just starting out the authors offer a comprehensive (but by no means the be all and end all, as they themselves admit) way of life.  In their introduction they ask you to answer some questions before you start out to see if you really want to go on in this path and they are very important questions that should be asked.  Like I said this is a great book to have in your library if you are going to follow the Druid path and do it with the Welsh branch of the Celtic culture.

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 Druids: A History by Ronald Hutton

Back when this book was being publicized just before it came out I was itching to get it. I even pre-ordered it, because I had read all of Ronald Hutton’s books and I knew the kind of scholarly study that goes into them. I couldn’t wait for the day it arrived and when it did, I dropped all the other books that I was reading and started to read it.

What first struck me was the introduction. It seems that this book was written with people who thought that his other books were “too hard” for them to read. So the book was made “simple”. He also said that another book was forthcoming with academic people in mind and more information then this book. I didn’t like that. I had expected that this book would be like his other books, full of scholarly information and proofs, still it was fun to read at times and had some good information.

Then I was hit by the way he had divided his book. The division was not based on chronological divisions but rather on “types of druids”. As a result you had information that was recycled in every chapter. Not everything was recycled of course and some chapters had new information that the other chapters didn’t, still it got me a little bored.

There was also the fact that he ignored written works by the Celts that came after Christianity, and while I agree that not everything written about the Druids after Christianity came is accurate, it is not a basis to ignore it completely.

Still the book does go into the history of the Druids that came after the 1700s to the present which is ignored by most of the well respected authors in the druid field or if not ignored marginalized. That in my eyes was a redeeming quality.

If you are a beginner in the field of Druidry then please do not read this book until you have read the others by Miranda Green, Peter Ellis, and Barry Cunliffe.  If you would rather read a book on Druids which is up to the standards of Hutton’s older books then get his new one (which I will be reviewing as soon as I finish it).