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Saturday, 2 October 2010

The Religion Of The Ancient Celts

The Religion Of The Ancient Celts Cover

Book: The Religion Of The Ancient Celts by John Arnott Macculloch

Originally published in 1911 MacCulloch uses various texts as a source to piece this tome on the religion of the pre-Christian Celts together. Overall a good work, especially when you consider this was written before most, if not all, of the major archaeological finds that gave great insight into the ancient Celts. I love reading historical books that were published in the 1800's and early 1900's because the authors are not chained by political correctness and were often willing to think outside the box instead of toeing the line of mainstream academia.

Well worth its price, the work is suitable to the general public, while still valuable to those interested in the Celts from an historic, linguistic, mythological or ethnological standpoint. MacCulloch covers his subject matter clearly and thoroughly (referencing such things as parallels with Greek mythology and Sumerian religion) and writes in a style that will satisfy the expert without mystifying or losing the attention of the amateur.

The main text is 390 pp, is fully referenced in footnotes, and is fully indexed. Chapter titles include: Gods of Gaul - The Irish Cycle - Tuatha De Danaan - Gods of the Brythons - Cuchulainn Cycle - Fionn Saga - Gods and Men - Cult of the Dead - Nature Worship - River and Well Worship - Tree and Plant Worship - Animal Worship - Cosmogony - Sacrifice, Prayer & divination - Taboo - Festivals - The Druids - Magic - Etc...

Although the book may be "dated", it is not "outdated". Given the scholarly standards of its time, this may be more of a virtue than a drawback. More recent results in the area are naturally not addressed. But the work is consistent with comparative methods, and considers the consensus without neglecting competing accounts. There is neither neo-Druidic nonsense nor needless pedantry. While the study is generally limited to the culture of the British Isles, as opposed to that of the Continent, this is due to the lack of Continental oral tradition rather than to lack of attention on the author's part.

MacCulloch is judicious. Yet he addresses issues such as the pre-Indo-European origins of the Mother-Goddess cult of Brigid, as the legends of the faerie-folk known as the "Side,"* (as in banshee) and as the stories of "Isles to the West" now sunk below the sea.

Fans of J.R.R. Tolkien will find this work enthralling and familiar, as it shows some of the sources for his magnificent "Middle-Earth." Avid youngsters, Celtophiles, students of Irish poet W.B. Yeats, followers of Marija Gimbutas (Civilization of the Goddess) and admirers of Robert Graves (The White Goddess) will likewise be pleased.

(Consider a search for MacCulloch's 1918 "Celtic Mythology" at Google Books which will return the entire public domain text. It can be browsed or downloaded in lieu of a preview here of his style.)

I can recommend this work unreservedly for readers of all persuasions. (reader's review)

Download John Arnott Macculloch's eBook: The Religion Of The Ancient Celts

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John Arnott Macculloch - The Religion Of The Ancient Celts