There is, perhaps, no pre-Christian tradition that is more misunderstood, often intentionally, than the Celtic religions of the ancient British Isles. No tradition, it seems, has undergone more distortion and misinformation than that of the Celtic gods and, more to the point, goddesses.
Such a confusion of political and social nonsense has been written about the Celtic "old ways" that it is refreshing to find a scholarly work that attempts to set the record straight.
That there are those in England, Wales, Cornwall, Scotland and Ireland who still practice the "auld ways" is undeniable. That their practices have little or nothing to do with modern Neo-Paganism is not surprising.
The engine that runs Neo-Paganism is feminist politics, not, in itself a bad thing, but hardly the stuff of religion. It is, in fact, a rebellion against the perceived oppressiveness of "patriarchal Christianity." The concept that comes up most frequently among them is that of "the evils of Patriarchy and the goodness of Matriarchy," and so, the ancient gods are reduced to the position of lap-dogs in the service of the goddesses.
The Matriarchy/Patriarchy dichotomy is as far from the ancient world as one can get, but it does result in large book-sales for those who promote it.
Without malice, David Clarke and Andy Roberts debunk these modern charlatans. Most telling is the existence of "Guardians" of the old ways, who run interference with strangers inquiring about them. Every village, it seems, has at least one. They will smile, serve tea, tell a little about folklore and say good-bye. The guests will go away feeling as if they have learned much while actually being told nothing of any importance. "..Local informants take pains to point out 'Witchcraft' and 'New Age' are words that have no place in the local tradition ... It is a worship of God, not of pagan idols or anything funny like that, and it seemed we had to give them back their respectability to know that they were doing right."
Having established what the old ways are not, Clarke and Roberts go on to describe in great detail, what they are, how ancient traditions weave themselves into contemporary Celtic culture in ways that are not adverse to Christianity but, in fact, entirely harmonious with it, giving it great depth and beauty, an interpretation quite different from that of Asia, Africa or America.
The ancient gods and goddesses of the Celts were, in fact, not universal, but specific to locations: this rock, this brook, this hill.
"It was not a theology or philosophy or any kind of organized religious thing. It was more like the fairy faith in Ireland, all to do with genii loci - spirits of the place."
That these spirits have been abducted in the modern world by a made-up political religion based on the texts of a few Victorian Bad-boys, is a dishonor to them. In "Twilight of the Celtic Gods," Clarke and Roberts try to set the record straight and succeed wonderfully. It is scholarly while still being readable. It is an accurate description of the way in which the ancient world influences the present without a lot of New Age gloss.