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The Mysteries Of Britain: Secret Rites and Traditions of Ancient Britain (Senate Paperbacks) Paperback – 29 Jul 1994
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A book by Lewis Spence on secret rites and traditions of ancient Britain.
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Some would say that 'Celtic revivals' are problematic, and 'Neo-Celtic' fads even more so. Peter Berresford Ellis - a contemporary authority on Celtic culture, has asked how we can re-invent an unknown past, without substituting fantasy for reality? How far can the 'Celtic' tag can be stretched, before it becomes meaningless. It cannot be coined with intrinsic meaning, if simply a hook for frustrated urbanites to hang their 'pagan' wish fulfilments upon. Still, regressive questioning of this kind can go too far. Even the 'serious' revivalists of the late 19th c. have been viewed with suspicion.
Without being naive, Lewis Spence was confident with his sources. Keen to savour Celtic culture in all its forms, be it that of his native Scotland, Ireland, the Isle of Mann, Cornwall etc., Spence felt that the Druidic/Bardic tradition had been preserved - at its best, in Welsh sources. Thus, he esteemed the work of Iolo Morganwg/J. Williams ab Ithel/Llwelyn Sion - e.g. the Welsh triads, the Barddas etc. - as genuine, even though this had been viewed with suspicion by some of his peers, and remains controversial to this day. Spence regarded such material as genuine, adducing his reasons in chapter III - the 'Mystery of Celtic Philosophy,' and chapter IV,titled 'Barddas.' This is but one aspect of Spence's book - but, given the seminal importance of the Barddas in the Celtic revival , and the often careless remarks heaped upon it by detractors, it is pleasant to hear the book appraised in positive terms. For his own part, Spence claimed that he had seen transcripts of material - attributed to Llywelyn Sion, which pre-dated Iolo's sources, thus demolishing the notion that Iolo had fabricated the material. Some of this material was in Raglan Castle. The manuscript of Llywelyn Sion, transcribed by Edward Davydd, was still extant in the Library of Llan Haran, Glamorganshire. Hence, - 'What' Spence asks, 'is there improbable in all this? He goes on to note that much of the mytho-poeic imagery involved, mythical cycles etc., also appear in the Mabinogion and other such sources, which are beyond dispute. Hence, Spence says: 'It seems to me, indeed, highly improbable that (Llywelyn) Sion 'invented' this mystical progression . . .
I have singled this material out, and Spence's remarks about it, because texts like the Barddas have, in effect, served as handbooks to sustain the 'Celtic revival.' So far as Spence was concerned, its 'triads' etc., preserve the 'mysteries of Britain' - understood as an inner doctrine. The external factors - megalithic sites, such as Stonehenge, or so-called 'burial chambers' such as 'New Grange' etc., are or were, merely the external vehicle through which such inner principles unfolded in a deeply symbiotic relationship. Spence also looks at the empirical aspects, discussing the possible function of megalithic sites, underground chambers etc. Once viewed as crude edifices, presumably tokens of a crude culture, modern archeologists now know that such megalithic sites embody a very precise knowledge of the stars and their movements, with exact allignments and progressions to mark the procession of equinoxes, solstices etc. In short, mathematical precision of a very high order. Believe me, it is a moving experience to await the Winter Solstice inside a 'beehive vault' such as that found at New Grange, watching the fingers of the dawning sun work their way along the narrow passage, until they strike the central altar (owing to a phenomenon called 'precession,' and the lapse of time, this no longer happens exactly on the solstice day ). It is science - plus magic. Spence had his own theories about the origins of British/proto-Celtic culture, citing sources in N.W. Africa, Berber and Basque people etc., sources strangely confirmed by genetic research, decades after Spence wrote his book. In other respects, almost in defiance of his own findings, Spence had the urge to celebrate the 'mysteries of Britain' as a kind of nationalistic - or at least, highly indigeneous trait. In other respects, he referred to Morien O. Morgan, another 'Druid' revivalist from Glamorgan, who ultimately linked the Druidical system with a kind of parent Indo-European source. Peter Berresford Ellis has noted the links between classical Indian and ancient Irish music. Phoneticaly, certain elements of ancient Irish are virtually the same as Sanskrit (e.g. 'madhya'= middle/mean; 'san scroight' - 'holy writ' etc.) If anything, what we now call 'Celtic' culture finds reverberations and echoes world-wide. There are definite correspondences between the Ainu language and Celtic. Prof. Barry Fell (Harvard) has found Celtic (Ogham) inscriptions in N. America, dating back before the Christian era. This upsets all the comfortable ideas about absolutely distinct cultures. We may have to accept the fact that centuries before Christ, there was a kind pan-Celtic culture, linking the 'mysteries of Britain' with far flung places like Hokkaido, and ancient artifacts found in Vermont etc.