This book was a surprise to me--I expected a book of mythology, and instead it was a book of psychological, sociological, and philosophical theory with Celtic mythological overtones. Its structure reminded me of Simone de Beauvoir's _The Second Sex_, a book which Markale quotes often. _Women of the Celts_ begins with a historical discourse on the role of women in ancient Celtic society, and then studies myths centered around female characters in a search for subconscious attitudes about women. Reading _The Second Sex_ may be helpful to understanding _Women of the Celts_; having read De Beauvoir's book first gives the reader a sense of "OK, I know where this is going."
Markale discusses the role of women in the various Celtic societies without generalizing or idealizing; he spends many pages on each of the Celtic lands, and focuses on specific legal codes that concerned women's rights and limitations. His studies reveal a people caught somewhere between equality and sexism; women still held nearly equal rights with men but were losing ground.
He then launches into several chapters of comparative mythology, seeking common archetypes that can be found in many Celtic stories, such as "The Submerged Princess", "The Great Queen", "Our Lady of the Night", "The Rebellion of the Flower-Daughter", and "The Lady of the Orchard." He draws parallels between the various stories and looks for the psychological undertones. The conclusion he finally draws is that men both desire and fear a deep union with a woman; and that this union leads to a true understanding of what is truly important in life. When a person is truly in love, the workaday world loses the meaning it formerly held.
In the third section of the book, Markale outlines his new vision for a more sexually equal society, based on some of the ideas held by the ancient Celts. His theory would take too long to explain here, but it is interesting and thought-provoking.
I give this book four stars for its scholarship, the interesting nature of the Celtic stories, and for the very thought-provoking social theories suggested at the end. I have only two gripes. (1)Markale can get very long-winded and "high-falutin" at times, leaving the reader wondering, "Where is he going with this?" (2)I think Markale may be overgenerous in his application of Freudian "Oedipal complex" theory. After a while, the reader also wonders, "Can every last Celtic myth really be about man's desire for sexual union with his mother?" But, in the end, the focus is not on incest, but on the union-in-love that returns the lover to a state of bliss and understanding.