Stuart Piggott probably did not realise at the time of writing this book that it would remain the finest and most scrupulous record of all the evidence we have on the Druids for the next 37 odd years. The study of Druids is restricted to the evidence available, which is, given a background knowledge of Iron Age European societies, fragmentary enough to be covered completely in one decent reading session. The only time this book strays away from historical references is to detail some of the archaeological evidence for religious or spiritual practices of the period without doing anything so rash as to immediately link anything considered 'ritual' to the Druids themselves. If you can get past chapter one, which deals with the self imposed limitations of interpreting such fragmentary data, and is a little hard going if you're looking for immediate facts and figures, you will learn a great deal about the current state of knowledge about the Druids even if, as I said at the begining, the data is a minimum of 37 years old. More books should be written with the same level of self imposed rigidity.
This is an excellent introduction to the druids. It is a serious but enjoyable book for anyone interested in the druids or the Celtic world. It is not a new-age mystical book and therefore deserves reading by all who take this area seriously.
Stuart Piggott, a widely respected and authoritative archaeologist, sets out to produce a book which will act as a scholarly survey of druidism for the intelligent layman. Just over half the book is taken up with the druids of the late Iron Age.
The first chapter sets out the sources and discusses their reliability and the problems in relating them to one another. Piggott then methodically takes the reader through the archaeological record, in a survey generously illustrated with photos and maps, all helpfully keyed to the text by margin numbers. He is at pains to point out the difficulties in assessing how far the wealth of monuments and artefacts can be tied to druidic ritual. Then we are taken through the contemporary written sources. Here he emphasises the problems in separating the classical authors' own political agendas from their description of druidic practise, especially in relation to human sacrifice. Though the prose is dense, we are left with a complex and rewarding understanding of the subject.
The last 40% of the text is taken up with the "afterhistory" of druidism, from the rediscovery of druidism during the antequarian enthusiasms of the 16th and 17th centuries, through the neo-druidism of Iolo Morganwg (Edward Williams) and Dr William Price, to the 1960s. As an archaeologist, Piggott finds the claims of neodruidism to represent the true spirit of ancient Celtic religion irritating and self-deluding, and in describing the later proliferation of sub-cults he is reduced to occasional outbursts of exasperation. In the intervening years since publication, neo-druidism has come on leaps and bounds, and a whole sub-culture of paganism has evolved. Readers coming from this background will probably hate this book, although the scholarship in the first part is not contaminated by the author's distaste for later developments.
This would perhaps have been a better book if Piggott had restricted himself to the Iron Age Druids. He could then have taken the space to make the text more accessible for the general reader, and indulged in and more illustrations. There is enough material in the subject for a whole book to be written on the rise of modern druidism from the antequarian movement on, but Piggott is probably not the best man to write it, and it asks for a different kind of scholarship to do it justice.
This book (successfully) seeks to give as much insight as possible into the Druids and their world within the parameters of the very limited archaelogical and textual evidence available. Chapter one is a scholarly (yet sensitive) essay detailing the problems encountered by the conventional historian seeking to find out about the Druids. The following chapter proceeds to create quite a fascinating picture of the Celtic world based on very few archaelogical clues. The next chapter, drawing from (again limited) literary evidence - Roman, Greek and Celtic - goes on to build up a picture of the Druids and their beliefs, practices and social role. Piggott makes the basis of his speculations quite clear, which allows the reader to either agree or disagree with the author's viewpoint, or even interpret the evidence in her/his own way should (s)he so wish. Chapters two and three - the core of the book - stretch to just under 100 pages, such is the scarcity of scientifically acceptable evidence. We then have 60 pages worth (almost a third of the book) reviewing the mythology surrounding the Druids over the centuries. There is more detail here then many non-scholars might be looking for I feel and the organisation of the abundant material could be better. So too could the tone, which is invariably dismissive, humourless and at times pompous. The book contains 130 excellent plates of artwork and other relevant data such as maps and photos of sites. Overall this is an essential book scientifically though not very entertainingly written.
Good in parts. Stuart Piggott was an archaeologist, so it should come as no surprise that the best parts of the book are those that deal with archaeology. Here, Piggott is sure-footed and has much of interest to say. Unfortunately, he wastes the second half of the book being rude about contemporary Druids. Why? Apparently because he encountered some at Stonehenge in the 1950s and didn't like them, partly because he was an atheist and therefore disliked any manifestation of what he regarded as irrational belief. Fair enough, but was it really necessary to devote almost half an otherwise sober book to describing modern Druidry as 'almost unbelievably fatuous speculations and fantasies' or 'a compelling magnet for many a psychological misfit and crank?' Hardly the measured tones of a temperate scholar. First published in 1968, this book retained its place largely by being virtually the only book on Druids available for many years. Fortunately, it has now been superseded. For ancient Druidry, try Miranda Green's Exploring The World Of , " The Druids " :, and for modern Druidry, try Ronald Hutton's Blood and Mistletoe: The History of the Druids in Britain