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Qualified Recommendations

Celtic Goddesses, Dictionary of Celtic Myth and Legend, Gods of the Celts, Symbol and Image in Celtic Religious Art, and The World of the Druids by Miranda Green

While many consider these books to be accessible introductions to matters Celtic, and we do generally recommend them, there are some definite drawbacks to bear in mind. The author is an archaeologist who, at the time these books were written, had little or no facility with the Celtic languages. So while the archaelogy is generally sound, the lack of any Celtic language can create problems, especially in the author’s interpretation of the old myths and tales. These books generally promote the “Solar God” hypothesis, which is an outmoded and non-Celtic conclusion. Similarly, the Deities are generally seen through a non-native, Classical view, which other authors (such as Sjoestedt) stress is an inaccurate way to approach the Celtic mythologies.

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The World of the Celts by Simon James

While generally useful as an introduction to the various Celtic cultures in antiquity, the author, Simon James, subscribes to a point of view known as “celtoskepticism”. This is the idea that discussing “Celts”, as such, is fruitless due to a supposed lack of continuity between the various peoples collectively known by that term. The view has its origin among some archaeologists and arises from a lack of perfect continuity of style between the artifacts left by various ancient Celtic peoples. The celtoskeptics also point to genetic studies which show no genetic basis for thinking of the groups as unified. From these, the celtoskeptics make the leap to dismissal of any continuity of culture, mythology, and religious practice. However, this celtoskeptic position is not generally held among folklorists, linguists, Indo-Europeanists, or most others who study Celtic cultures, all of whom note a distinct continuity of ideas among the various Celtic peoples (and, indeed, to a lesser extent a certain continuity with other Indo-European cultures, especially the Germano-Scandinavian ones).

The celtoskeptic view would be of no particular consequence to most living Celtic communities except that it has been used by some (though James has not, himself, used the stance in this manner) to undermine the efforts of members of Celtic cultural communities to take control of their own affairs.

It is ironic, of course, that a celtoskeptic would write a book which purports to discuss “Celts” as a single class. James does not explain his reasoning in the book, and for the most part the book seems to avoid at least the excesses of the celtoskeptic stance. However, because of the very real political danger that the stance holds to living Celtic cultural groups, we feel that some caution should be given in regard to this book, as well as the author’s other writings on matters Celtic.

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The Apple Branch by Alexei Kondratiev

Although some people like this book a great deal, and it is sometimes treated by some as though it were a definitive book on CR Pagan practices, most CRs note that it was composed before the CR community existed, and at a time when a more purely CR work had no appreciable market. (Though published in the late 1990’s, the book was actually written in the mid 1980’s.) As a result, many elements of the book make use of more general Neopagan ideas, and other elements which are not a part of CR belief or practice. In addition, the purpose of the book was not to present a CR method of practice, or to be about CR at all, but rather to present a form of culturally-based religion which was practical for groups including Neopagans, Wiccans, Christians, and others. The author himself has stated that it is not a CR book.

Furthermore, some interpretations of Celtic theology in the book are questioned by CRs, as is the ritual structure popularized in the book (and it is the latter which is the more important criticism.) While it is often included on some broad-based, CR-related reading lists, most CRs do not consider it a CR book. A significant number of CRs actually consider the book to be more misleading than helpful to those looking for information on CR.

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A Handbook of the Scottish Gaelic World by Michael Newton

The authors of this FAQ believe Michael Newton’s Handbook of the Scottish Gaelic World can be useful to CRs, especially for its emphasis on the importance of poetry and language in Gaelic culture. We also believe the book offers a degree of insight into the culture that is lacking in some other books. However, some of us, even though we otherwise recommend the book, have problems with some areas of the text. We are concerned these areas could be interpreted as sounding misogynist or racist, and could further be interpreted as saying that Gaelic culture is inherently misogynist and/or racist.

Those of us with these concerns feel that some readers may get the impression that Newton focuses on some of the most misogynist bits of lore he can find in the cultures, or worse, that such misogyny is totally reflective of the cultures. In some places he balances these sections with other, less offensive examples, or examples that even cast women in a neutral or positive light. However, in a number of cases his writing could be interpreted as if he’s actively promoting a woman-hating view. The concern is that the reader may decide misogyny is seen as acceptable in Gaelic culture and in the CR community. They may also mistakenly believe that by recommending this book, we are somehow promoting those views.

Newton’s writing can also be internally inconsistent. On one page, he’ll lambaste the Victorian-era revivalists for their Noble Savage approach to the field of study (and all the attendant problems that causes), then elsewhere in the book he’ll appear to take exactly the same romanticized approach himself. In one place he’ll have a brief disclaimer about racism, then in other places he’ll say some things that may appear to the reader to subtly promote the racist tendencies of “pride of the blood” which elsewhere he notes is an inaccurate concept.

We have absolutely no problem with authors accurately reporting the problematic parts of our ancestors’ beliefs and behavior. It would be wrong to leave those things out, especially in cases where one is attempting a thorough overview. However, every author makes choices about which areas to focus on and whether to leave things uncommented-upon or to attempt to put them in some sort of context. The particular choices Newton made in a number of these areas make some of us uncomfortable with recommending this book without noting our concerns. We do generally recommend it, but parts it have made some of us uncomfortable and we are concerned others might draw the wrong conclusions about our community and beliefs were we not to express these concerns.

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Pagan Celtic Britain, The Pagan Celts and The Folklore of the Scottish Highlands by Anne Ross

Anne Ross is a respected Celtic scholar with a strong background in archaeology. There are some concerns, however, as Ross is another proponent of the outdated “Solar Gods” theories. This would not be of much concern, as most readers know to ignore the “Solar Gods” thing, except that she is often very determined in her attempts to offer proof, which can mar otherwise good information. However, The Folklore of the Scottish Highlands shows less tendencies towards this, perhaps because the material is primarily from the Christian period.

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The Fairy-Faith in Celtic Countries by W. Y. Evans Wentz

While this is a tremendous piece of work, incorporating folklore, mythology, and more, it also suffers from the limitations of its time. Perhaps the most significant limitation is in its use of alien knowledge frameworks to “explain” the phenomena it records (such as its use of Theosophical speculations to give fairy-lore a “scientific” bent). Wentz is also, arguably, too credulous of his sources, sometimes accepting a single informant as authoritative. To be fair, no less a figure than Margaret Mead would later fall victim to the same error, but that doesn't save it from being potentially problematic (and, in fact, even Mead’s work suffered from that mistake).

That said, as long as one bears those caveats in mind, this is considered by many to be an essential work, especially if one is working to develop a spiritual practice based on interactions with the spirit worlds. It provides a variety of accounts of the surviving practices of the ordinary Celtic peoples, and primary research not available in other books.

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