Author: Alan Ward
Published: March 21st 2011
Synopsis: An application of Georges Dumézil’s tripartite diagnostic for Indo-European to the primary sources of Irish mythology (medieval manuscripts but also folklore collected in the 20th century). Comparison is made not only with the structures and remains of other traditions but also with structures in the wider field of Indo-European linguistics. Where this study differs from others in the same field is the “pincer attack” used – the author is a native speaker of Irish and so checked out all the texts in the original but is also a linguist with considerable experience of other Indo-European languages, including Vedic Sanskrit. If the reader finds that, despite its undoubted shortcomings, this analysis helps to situate the myths of the Irish gods in their wider, Indoeuropean, context, then it will have served its purpose.
Review: I decided to write this review as I read the book because I had so much to say and I was worried that I’d forget it all. So here it goes.
Chapter One The Irish Pantheon: The first thing that struck me as odd was the fact that the author has these neat little boxes that he put the Irish Gods in. Boxes like Shaman God, Sky God, Wind God, etc., and that is not something that anyone who knows the Irish Gods can say about Them, that They fit into neat little boxes. The other thing that struck me as odd was that he equated Gods with each other just because in different manuscripts they seem to be put into the same role or put into a trilogy with other Gods, forgetting that the myths are not perfect, written by Christian Monks, and are in some cases fragmented. To my mind he is also not taking into account that different Gods were worshipped by different tribes and just because they may have similar functions that does not mean they are equal. Some of his classifications actually boggle the mind…
Chapter Two Structure of the Irish Pantheon: In this chapter the author takes George Dumézil’s three function theory and applies it to the Irish Pantheon or rather his representation of it (Shaman God, Sky God and so on). I think that George Dumézil’s theory is a good one when applied generally to the Indo-European Pantheon but for the Irish Pantheon…I’m not so sure it works. To add to that he uses the associations of the four elements, which isn’t particularly Irish or Celtic for that matter.
Chapter Three The Celtic Pantheon: In this chapter he seems to think that just because some Deities are similar in name across the Celtic World then they must be the same Deity (Lugh and Lleu for example), I’m not sure how he came across this thought and by this point I’m starting not to care really. We know that the ancient pagan were HARD POLYTHEISTS and that means that each God or Goddess was a distinct Deity in His or Her own right…Add to that the fact that because we don’t know much about the Gaulish Gods he seems to think that using “interpretation Romana” helps with that, and to a certain degree it does, but not to the extent that he seems to have used it.
Chapter Four The Indoeuropean Pantheon: In this chapter the author uses the word Indoeuropean (yes unhyphenated) to mean the Indo-European daughter cultures rather than the reconstructed Indo-European Pantheon. The chapter is short and again uses the Shaman God, Sky God, etc., analogy to discuss in VERY brief terms the Vedic pantheon among a few others like the Norse, Roman and Greek pantheons (with the Roman and Greek he points out that they don’t fit in very well with the structure he has set up).
This ends Part One The Pantheon. You are probably wondering if there was anything I liked about this part, the truth is, yes there is something that I did like about this part. With every mention of a God or Goddess the author tells us from which manuscript he gets the name or story about the Deities he is using. This gives me a good build up of places to look if I am looking for a certain God or Goddess that I have not studied yet…
Chapter Five to Nine: I have to say I’m pretty impressed with the way the author interprets the myths to fit in with his pantheon structure. If you accept the structure, the myths he chose and the way he interprets them make perfect sense. I do see a few chinks in the armor, for example, when he talks about Nuadu and Ogma being alter egos even though they are together in one of the myths and he says this is the only time that happens as if that makes perfect sense.
Part Two The Myths was actually a delight to read. Putting some of the interpretations aside again the draw is that the author mentions exactly where he got his myths from and from what manuscripts. In some cases his interpretations are really good minus the attempt to box in the Gods. If you were ever confused by some of the myths this would be a great part to read, just to get a “clean” chopped up into little pieces that make sense version of these myths. This is part of the reason I’m giving this book a good grade. Read it only after you’ve studied the Gods enough to know when he is making sense and when he is not and read it only after you have read enough myths to know where the chinks in his armor occur.