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Pagan Celtic Britain: Studies in Iconography and Tradition Hardcover – 19 Oct 1992
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About the Author
Anne Ross --This text refers to an alternate Hardcover edition.
Top customer reviews
I personally found it fasincating as it listed many ancient Godforms which typically arent bandied around as buzz words in modern Neo-pagan trash books.
A scholarly book written by a true scholar, highly recommended.
Sancturies, Temples and Cult Sites: This Chapter deals with the archaeological evidence, from both Pre-Roman and Romano-Celtic sites. Sites linked to water are discussed such as the temple at Lydney and Llyn Cerrig Bach. Her work on the sites follows the excellent work done in the field by Professor Stuart Piggott.
The Cult of the Head: The Cult of the Head describes its use in iconography and folklore. The head was seen as the seat of the soul, it is seen in countless carvings and in various mythological tales. Reverence for the head is also seen in the folklore pertaining to sacred wells.
The Horned God in Britain: Sometimes linked to (C)ernunnos, sometimes linked to Mars, Mercury or Silvanus in the interpretato Romano. This section deals mainly with the iconography of the various cults of horned deities in Northern Britain.
The Warrior God in Britain: The Warrior God in Britain is a difficult subject to cover, particularly during the Roman period, as the interpreto Romano would have been biased towards the warrior aspects of deities, whilst in a highly volatile militarized area. Ross lists the myriad of deities in this group including Camulos, Nodens, Segomo, Cocidius and Belatucadros and shows how, no matter what their 'main function' all these deities have strong martial qualities, due, no doubt, to the 'heroic' nature of Celtic Culture.
The Goddesses: Ross shows that the main functions of Goddesses within Celtic Culture - 'Mother' Goddesses, River Goddesses, Goddesses of Sovereignty, protectress, granter of fertility and prosperity.......
Sacred and Magic Birds: Using iconography and mythological sources Ross shows how important birds were to the Celts. The beliefs attached to Swans, Ravens, Geese and Cranes are all explained, as well as demonstrating the frequency of bird-forms been used by various Deities.
Divine Animals: Animals feature a great deal in both the myths and iconography and here Ross describes both animals linked to particular Deities and animals venerated in their own right. The work includes the Divine Bull, the boar, the dog, the horse and the stag.
Aspects of Native Cults in North Britain: This Chapter brings the book to a conclusion, as Ross explains how Celtic religion in northern Britain was affected by the Romans, and how aspects of it survived not only the Romans but the coming of Christianity. She describes aspects of the cults of Mabon, Belatucadros and other 'northern' Gods to provide us with an insight into Pre-Christian Celtic religion.
Most helpful customer reviews on Amazon.com
The book is dated in a number of key areas, including reliance on outdated archaeological and mythological theory. In particular, the mythological and iconographic analysis relies too much (IMO) on typological analysis and not enough on looking at the internal structure of the myths themselves. As a result I would not recommend this work to beginners, but rather to advanced students interested in additional information which could be used to fill in gaps.
On the whole, this book is irreplaceable yet it is not something that should be read as an authoritative textbook. The author clearly intended this to be read as a set of iconographic and mythological studies rather than as an authoritative summary of the topic. In this regard it's very, very good, but not something to simply hand an inspiring student who has not yet learned enough to address the work critically. It's still a book I would highly recommend to folks who have read other materials first.
Books to read first:
The Druids (Ancient Peoples and Places Series)
The Ancient Celts
At times this is a bit of bore to read, as there are pages that can go by where you feel you are reading nothing more exciting than a museum catalog. The limited analysis at times seems hesitant, leaving me to wish that the author was less concerned about saying the wrong thing and offending academia, and instead had the courage to state bold opinions about possibilities of what some of these things mean. For instance, there is the recurring image of the ram headed serpent. It is minimally described as being a fertility symbol but this is never explained. For instance, is it because the horns are associated with the horned god who symbolizes fertility? Why do horns symbolize fertility in the first place? And why is this image combined with a serpent? I realize there are some things we can't know without getting into someone's head (obviously an impossibility) but at the same thing a lot can be inferred and more ideas can be presented, with the caveat that the theories are inferential and stated as such to give the reader food for thought.
Reading this I also realized how important it is to study the Gaulish material since it equates with the insular studies and specimens are much more numerous and analyzed. I am also further reminded of the fact that the Celts have over 300 named god/desses which we know of, most of which are named only once. This is apparent in this study with the huge amount of material which is catalogued. Also included are numerous gods and goddesses for which we have names but no epic. It is curious to contemplate these and wonder what their "stories" were.
However, speaking of ideas, I did like the theory that the Druids were perhaps attempting, in their last years, to codify and perhaps homogenize Celtic pagan ritual and belief. This allows for interesting speculation about what kind of networking they might have done, what institutions or systems they might have created. This impetus was stopped by the Romans, leaving you to wonder what might have happened otherwise. And, lastly, I was somewhat bothered by the author's slight contempt for the Druids. She rather looks down on the whole idea of Druids as philosophers, putting it off as classical author's romantic ideas towards the "noble savage", and in fact savage and barbarian are terms she uses for them. I thought this was a bit of the old imperialist and colonialist attitudes of the British, still vaguely coming through.
In the end though, I thought this was a very worthwhile read (despite the negatives I have written about here.) It provided depth and detail regarding the pagan Celts of Britain that would certainly be worthwhile for the student to read. A bit on the dry side, but with useful information and knowledge.