Thursday, December 23, 2010

Book Review: A Brief History of the Druids

Growing up, my first introduction to "Druids" was through Advanced Dungeons and Dragons. They were portrayed as some sort of priest of the forest. I now understand why after reading A Brief History of the Druids. This is an excellent book of scholarly work. I learned so very much from it. It's not to difficult to read and the Author, Peter Berresford Ellis, does a good job of pulling guiding the reader through his thought process and explaining his interpretation of the supporting or refuting evidence. His style of writing was very readable and is not "text book". I know because I never found my mind wandering while reading his book, unlike when I read my Anatomy and Physiology book. One of the things I liked about this book was how Ellis is sure to first give an overview of what we know about Celtic culture. This is important to know so that one can understand druids more fully. They did not exist outside of their culture, but were integral to it. Ellis looks at all that has been written in the classical world of the druids via the Greeks and Romans, then not taking anything as truth looks to substantiate their claims by finding what corroborating evidence he can find from within Celtic cultural sources, such as Celts writing in Latin or Greek, or from the Gaelic languages. I find it fascinating all the similarities in language and culture that the Celts and Druids share with Vedic culture.

Ellis gives female druids their own entire chapter. He could have simple proved that there were in fact female druid, of which there is plenty of evidence, and left it at that. He expounded on the idea though, and went on to theorize about how woman were viewed in Celtic culture and some of their roles. He gave some great stories that I had never heard before, and a quote that I won't soon forget. After killer her Roman capture and rapist, Chiomara says "Woman a fine thing is good faith. A better thing only one man be alive who had intercourse with me." I can't say I fully understand her meanings, but I get the jist.

One of the most striking things I learned was about my wife's heritage. It was a joyful surprise to find my wife's family name talked about a good bit in the book. Though my wife knows a lot about her history, we both learned things. Namely that it was her family that started the tradition of handing out Torcs as rewards for bravery in battle. (On a side note my wife has decided that she needs a Torc. I told her I EARNED a Torc. When she asked why I told her it was because I was brave enough to marry her.)

It was in the 8th chapter "Wisdom of the Druids" that the book bogged down for me. Some of the info was new, some not so much. Much of this I had already learned in previous studies and if felt a bit tedious. Here is also where we run into one section that I question the ideas drawn. That is Ellis uses early Celtic Church philosophies as a basis for theorizing what druid moral philosophy would be about. Though I find the idea insightful, and intriguing, I have strong reservations about making any such correlations. Again the written Christian material came LONG after the druids were gone. I am not saying that it should not be done at all, but that it must be taken with a serious pinch of salt.

The author finishes up with a discussion on revival druidry. I found his work accurate and insightful and in line with other such information I have read.

I really enjoyed this book and took away so much from it. I learned a great deal that will give me insight into the Celtic gods, spirits, and ancestors, and not least of all myself. I would recommend any serious student of Druidry to give this book a read.

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