September 14, 2012
Sacred Mushrooms: Secrets of Eleusis by Carl A. P. Ruck
Thesis that psychotropic mushrooms were used in the Eleusinian Mysteries.
There is a more in depth version by same author called Road to Eleusis but I thought I’d get the main gist of it by reading shorter version since it ties in with Mysteries of Demeter: Rebirth of the Pagan Way
I thought that while Ruck made some interesting points about the role of mushrooms in ancient religions, he went too far. He incorporated everything that remotely resembled a mushroom including crosses. It just became ridiculous. The fact that the publisher seems to be focused on drug-related books (as advertised in the back of the book) did not add to his credulity. Obviously he was more motivated by the promotion of psychedelic drugs than the search for the truth about the role in ancient mystery religions.
I think the use of mushrooms or other entheogens in Eleusis may have been possible, but I would rather see this explored by a less biased and more academic source.
December 18, 2009
Robin Hood by J.C. Holt
Who was Robin Hood, if the man existed, and how has the lore surrounding him evolved? J.C. Holt traces the legend of Robin Hood back to the area of Wakefield and Barnsdale forest in 1225.
One of the key things that I learned from this book was the distinction between tales taking place in Barnsdale vs. Sherwood forests. I realized that growing up, I heard the Sherwood stories, in which Robin and his Merry Men fight against the corrupt Sheriff of Nottingham. Whereas the older Barnsdale stories had an abbot and others as enemies.
Holt pieces together evidence of the geography of the legends, the audience they were directed at- originally yeomen, a class of household servants and how they spread and developed later on. He bemoans the obscuring of the older tales and their in his opinion, debasing.
Though it was quite informative, I also found parts of it to be rather dry. I think it’s better to read this if you’re more familiar with the Robin Hood legends. As I have just begun studying them, I realized I kind of jumped into the deep end of the pool with this one!
Read in April 2009
December 15, 2009
The Red-Haired Girl in the Bog: the Landscape of Celtic Myth and Spirit by Patricia Monaghan
Fantastic! In Patricia Monaghan’s various pilgramages to Ireland, she explores the landscape with dindsheanchas, traditional stories associated with places, many of which I’d never heard of. The anecdotes she shared of her adventures and people she encounters were interesting. She also includes many insightful commentaries about history and modern issues facing both Ireland and the rest of the world- from ecology and economics, to the survival of language and culture. Her descriptions of the land make you feel like you’re there. I can’t wait to travel to Ireland!
One critique I do have to give though, is that Monaghan cites a variety of sources, many of which are good but the scholarship of some are questionable. However this is more of a fun, casual read than a scholarly book, but there is a wealth of information here.
I’d also love to see similar books about Scotland, Wales, and Cornwall as well as non-Celtic nations.
Read July 2009
March 9, 2009
Pagan Christianity by Frank Viola and George Barna
Where do church traditions like preaching sermons, the practice of Communion or even having a church building and a paid minister come from?
If you’ve ever wondered about the origins of these things, read this book to find out! Most of these practices are of pagan origin, absorbed from the broader culture or added in intentionally to increase the status of the church. Viola believes these practices should be rejected not only because of the non-Christian origin, but also because they are harmful to building Christian communities. He supports his claims with Biblical citations.
Before you pick up “Pagan Christianity” there are some things to keep in mind- it is focused on Protestant traditions, and aimed at an evangelical Christian audience. Despite this, I think it would be of interest to anyone curious about where various aspects of institutional Christianity come from.
Frank Viola is a prominent organizer in the house church movement, and he is upfront about that. George Barna, founder of the Barna Group,
The book was quite well researched, with plenty of footnotes. It may not go into as much depth on each as an academic work would, but I think it’s great that the authors brought this information to a mass audience.
July 10, 2007
Lady with a Mead Cup: Ritual, Prophecy and Lordship in the European Warband from La Tene to the Viking Age by Michael Enright Four Courts Press, 1996
Lady with a Mead Cup is an analysis of the social/religious significance of a ritual in which the wife/lady/queen of a warlord offers a cup of mead to the members of a warband in Germanic and continental Celtic (Gaulish) culture. Actually that kind of relates to the previous book in that it’s focussed on warbands and their connection with seership, though it doesn’t discuss the Fenians.
Much of it was rather dry and hard to get thru so I skipped parts (mainly the big chunk in the middle about archeology), but there was some good info in there, especially about the role of sibyls/prophetesses in warbands, and later on in the book, the cult of the “Gaulish Mercury”, Rosmerta, and the connection between Mercury, Lugh and Odin and how the cult of Odin evolved in relation to the rise of the warband.
Whew! Now I’m going to take a break from all this heavy nonfiction and finish up His Dark Materials trilogy by Phillip Pullman. 🙂
(This is an older post- I just hadn’t finished it)
May 29, 2007
Wisdom of the Outlaw: the Boyhood Deeds of Finn in Gaelic Narrative Tradition by Joseph Falak Nagy
This is a fascinating analysis of stories about the childhood of the great Irish (and Scottish) hero Fionn MacCumhail. Nagy relates the themes in the Boyhood Deeds to other Fenian tales, revealing their structure and symbolism. Finn is a complex figure- an outsider who lives on the edge of society, in the wilderness, as well as a poet and seer- positions that were highly regarded, even fairly central to ancient and medieval Irish culture. Nagy examines the role the fennidi- bands of outsider warriors play by serving as gatekeepers to the otherworld- they protect civilized society from human and supernatural invaders, as well as gaining knowledge from the Otherworld. Finn’s family and foster-parents have an interesting influence on the path he takes- Finn’s father was a fennid as well, and his mother was the daughter of a druid- these opposing identities coalesce to create Finn. His foster-parents raised him in the wilderness, and taught him how to fight and hunt.
I found Wisdom of the Outlaw to be quite readable & accessible to the layperson for a scholarly work. I learned a lot about Fenian cycle of Irish mythology and how it relates to the culture, mythos and ideology as a whole.
January 11, 2007
The Sacred Isle: Belief and Religion in Pre-Christian Ireland by Daithi O hOgain
I thought this was a very good explanation of ancient Irish religion. It would serve as a good introduction to those who are new to this area of study, as well as add to the knowledge of more experienced readers. O hOgain discusses the evidence beginning with preCeltic cultures, and gives his own interpretations. One caveat to keep in mind however, is that he has a tendency to emphasize solar mythology, which is a rather outdated Victorian conceit that most Celtic scholars have since rejected. While the sun was undoubtedly important to the ancient Irish, it was not the be-all and end-all of their religious worldview. He also likes to make arguments that various mythological figures are the same being. These points aside, there are a lot of interesting insights on the deities to be found and intriguing interpretations of the myths. He devotes Chapters 3 & 4 to the druids, giving detailed information on the evidence we have of their practices and teachings as well as reading in between the lines with comparison to other cultures.
September 6, 2006
Cattle-Lords and Clansmen: the Social Structure of Early Ireland by Nerys Patterson was one of the Celtic books that was recommended to me by online scholarly types. Even though I’m pretty used to reading academic books, this one was rather difficult and tedious to get through. She starts by reviewing and critiquing previous scholarship on what ancient/medieval Irish society was like. She notes that earlier scholars used innacurate translations, and until recently modern scholars did not like to use ancient Irish law as a source for evidence of social structure. Patterson takes a multi-disciplinary approach- using evidence from law tracts, other texts, linguistics and archeology. If like me, you are not interested in the nitty-gritty of law and social rank, skip the first couple chapters to get to the good stuff.
Ch. 3 is about the economics and material culture, and there are some interesting tidbits on the cultural associations of various animals, as well as their uses and roles.Ch. 4 is about how the Irish divided up land , which has some cosmological implications.
Ch. 5 Seasonal Rhythyms of Social Life, was very interesting and informative- it discusses how the cycles of agricultural, military and courtship/marriage/family activity interrelated to the seasons and festivals. The festivals, it turns out, are less solar than they are agricultural and tribal in nature.
This is probably better to read after getting through more of the earlier scholarship. One book you should read first is Celtic Heritage by Rees, which she cites a lot. Though it’s a difficult read, it is useful for understanding how ancient Irish society worked, how they related to the land, how they saw the world they lived in.