Thursday, July 4, 2013

Druidry, Books, and Reflections

"Berrymore" by Kylie Stillman

This reflection spawned from trying to answer a crowd-sourcing question and spiraled into analyzing what I have so far read regarding Druidry and Celtic neopaganism. Coincidentally, Agora's columnist Nimue Brown wrote a related article yesterday called "Books for Druids." I highly recommend reading Brown's article to get an understanding of what books are relevant to aspiring and current Druids as well as a short overview on how to evaluate books about Druidry. 

However, this article is instead my own reading and what I was able to take out of it. A reflection, if you will, on books and articles.

Firstly, some general notes about Druidry, Celtic practices, and the books about both/either. Modern Druids who are knowledgeable understand they are not the same as the Ancient Druids. There are many reasons for this, but the primary reasons is that the Ancient Druids are almost completely unknown entities of history. Thus, when someone talks about how they are a Druid or practice Druidry, understand they are basing their practices around either a Revivalist standpoint or the archetype created from the 19th and 20th century Revivalist Movement. 

Secondly, any book that claims historical certainty when discussing the Druids and/or Celtic people is an immediate redflag. I like how Brown worded it in the article above: "As a rule of thumb, the more confident a writer is about telling you, ‘This is how it really was in ancient times,’ the less reliable they are."

Thirdly, read three different authors on Druidry and you will get three different interpretations. Even if these three books focus on current Druidry opposed to trying to uncover ancient Druidry, the viewpoints still shift. Take for instance how both ADF and OBOB differ--and they are two of the prominent organizations who call themselves Druids! 

Thus, it is important to read as many sources and viewpoints to get an accurate understanding of the modern Druid movement. Equally important is to read as many credible scholarly books and articles that try to piece together the ancient Celtic and Druid culture.

Moving on, here are the books I've read and my thoughts on them:

First off, Ellis is an academic scholar of history and not a New Age author. Thus, he is not writing from a religious standpoint but a historical one. He also is the most referred author I have come across. Secondly, this book is amazing piece of literature--the level of detail and resources used to try to recapture the Celtic myths is inspiring. It is the book that made me like Celtic myths over Greek!

I haven't read it yet, but he also wrote The Druids, which is suppose to be an anthropological, historical look at who the Druids were without the misinformation from the 19th and 20th century cluttering the analysis.

I haven't finished this book as of yet, but from the index it seems this book is primarily concerned with the deities more so that Ellis' book was. There are also similar, popular stories in each (eg: The Children of Lir.) From reading about the author, Young was part of the revivalist movement of the 19th and 20th century who lived in Ireland. The stories the author collected from oral sources, which means (to me) that these are only one oral tradition and one that morphed into what was heard in the late 19th century. Keep that in mind that Young is a storyteller and not a secular historian. But when mythology is concerned, I do not mind the lack of historical evidence. Especially when I understand the stories to be the versions told in the 19th century.
Not a terrible book, but not a great one either. The author isn't necessarily wrong but it fills in the gaps of knowledge with speculation without informing the reader. In other words, presenting the stories and interpretations as understood fact instead of speculative knowledge. A big tip-off to me is that the author pushes the wrongful narrative that Lugh is a Sun God, when there is not any primary sources backing up that claim.

Over all? I'd read it, but compare it to other mythology books like...

As hinted in the title, this author is a New Age author and thus has the perspective of a practicing neopagan--not historian. That said, this book brings that added bonus of taking the Gods and Goddesses and relating them to ritual and magic(k.) Unlike Cotterell, McCoy distinguishes if the deities mentioned are Irish, Welsh, Anglo-Celtic, etc. Which is helpful in figuring out how they may relate to one another.

But a big problem is that McCoy conflates a lot of Celtic practices with NeoWiccan practices, citing the Wiccan Rede as the "Pagan Rede" and claiming pagan religions are earth/nature based. I would not recommend reading this book as an end-all answer to understanding ancient or modern Celtic practices.

So like with Cotterell's book, I would give this book a critical look while comparing it to other sources.

To be honest, I didn't make it far reading this book before I ditched it to pick up the next book on this list. I had issues with the prolonged arguments toward environmentalism. While I am for environmentalism, I did not pick up this book to be shamed for living in a technological age or to be guilty of not always recycling.

The author was a student of the founder of OBOB. When founded, this organization based itself off a lot of inaccurate historical knowledge as well as misguided intentions. So while many OBOB members acknowledge their understanding of Ancient Druids is wrong, those core principals still make up the organization and are hard to discard. Therefore, understand this book is more than likely an OBOB misunderstanding of Ancient Druids but an accurate view of the modern OBOB Druids. Which can be valuable if someone is looking into joining OBOB and can read with a critical eye.

Just realized that the forward of this book is written by Carr-Gomm! How interesting.

But this book is my favorite book and the primary reason I have decided to start learning how to shape my life in a way that I can call myself a Druid. Greer is a former member of OBOB and a current member AODA. What I like about this author is that he is completely well-read on historical information both about the Ancient Druids, the Revivalist movement, and the current Druidry. He even takes the time to explain how Wicca and Druidry are conflated with each other without demeaning either religion. I also appreciate how explain when he is using a personal point of view, a point of view of AODA, or another's point of view.

Unlike Carr-Gomm, he is able to address the issues of environmentalism without making me feel like I should be ashamed for living with modern conveniences. I also appreciate that, while his bias is obviously with AODA, he frames this book for anyone interested in modern Druidry--whether that be as a solitary Druid or part of an organization. He also goes into the progression of how modern Druidry came to be.

This book is an EXCELLENT starting place for someone interested in modern Druidry. After each section, the author gives a list of further readings pertaining to that section. I highly recommend this book to anyone who wishes to follow a Druid path.


This is just so far the specific books I have read about Druidry and what I took out of them. Perhaps another day I will continue this line of reviews with web articles and sites I have found useful.

My question for you, reader, is this:
What book(s) has influenced you the most about your current spiritual philosophy?

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