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De Godsdienst Der …

De Godsdienst Der Kelten * J.P. Boosten (1950)
De Godsdienst Der Romeinen * J.L.M. de Lepper (1950)
De Godsdienst Der Germanen * R.L.M. Derolez (1959)
De Godsdienst Der Slaven * F. Vyncke (1969)

I was looking for descent books about the religion/worldview of the traditional peoples of my native area (North-West Europe). There are many cheap books with many pictures about the Viking and Celtic mythology and the like, but serious books? There are a few classics about the Germans/Teutons in German of course, but like I said in my review of the “Altgermanische Religionsgeschichte” of Richard Meyer, they are out of print and almost impossible to get. Besides, something in my own language would be welcome too, because my German surely isn’t bad, but I definately miss information when reading in that language. A while ago I was in my usual and local second hand bookshop and saw the first two books from the series “De Godsdiensten Der Mensheid” (“The Religions Of Mankind”) of which “The Religion Of The Celts” seemed very interesting (the other is “The Religion Of The Primitive Peoples”). A whole range of upcoming titles was anounced, under which “The Religion Of The Germans, Slaves, Lithouanians and Lets” and “The Religion Of The Romans”.

The first title about the Celts is so far the only serious book about the Celts and their religion that I know. It was released in a softcover, while from number three on, the series come in a hardcover. J.P. Boosten did a wonderfull job explaining how he got his information, who the Celts actually were, he gives a lengthy explanation about the religion with an historical overview, speaks about the temples, rites and magic, druids, afterlife, folklore, etc., etc. The book is only 240 pages, but extremely informative. I am not familiar with the subject enough to know if in the last 50 years information has been disproved or enlarged, but I am very satisfied with this book, also because it has many wonderfully-looking pictures, which seems to be characteristic to the series.

So I decided that I also needed the other two titles that are of interest. On the internet I found secondhand versions of “The Religion Of The Germans” and that of the Romans. The last seems to be published not too long after the book about the Celts. It was the third that I read and it speaks about old information and new (classical writers versus modern scientific (archeological) investigation), that religion for the Romans was something personal, but also a matter of the state, feasts around the year, the many gods, the way they were worshipped, priests and priestesses, mystery-cults, the high level of tolerance towards other religions and so on. Also very informative with many wonderfull photos and a good index.

After reading the massive “Altgermanische” by Meyer I didn’t really know if a similar, but much thinner, Dutch book would bring anything new. Well, it does and it doesn’t. Derolez seems to have made a readable summery of the different “Altgermanische”s that had appeared in his time. He of course read the more modern books such as that of Jan de Vries. Also he is very familiar with (also then of course) more modern investigations in comperative religion like those of Dumezil. Derolez did a fine job and however his book has by far not as many pages and the “Altgermanische” that I have, it seems that most information and theories are dealt with. Also Derolez proves himself critical towards the authorities that most people based themselves on in that (and this!) time and shows their flaws and insecurities, but highlights the goods points. This makes this book not only interesting from informational viewpoint, but also for those who want to study the available information critically. Of course -again- the book is 45 years old.

Of the books in these series that I now have I find ‘the religion of the slavs’ the least good. The structure is about the same as the others. First something about the peoples and their history, then the sources of the investigation and then a rather structured part with information and at the end a good index and a long bibliography.
Vyncke has split the books in a part about the East Slavs (Russians) and the West Slavs (from halfway nowdays Germany towards the Baltic area). It appears that the history and the convictions are about the same. For sources there are mostly Christian writers, a little bit of archeology, folkore and comparison with other Indo-European religions. According to Vyncke the Slavic religions were “not polytheistic, nor monotheistic, but had elements of both”. The writer (or editor) keeps repeating that there was probably one god who was worshipped under a variety of names in the different tribes. He calls them “clannumina”. Also the writer says several times that the Christians who wanted to convert the Slavs said that they “worshipped creation, not the creator”. On a few occasions he says that the Slavs worshipped nature (trees and animals) and that the clannumina originally had fertility-functions. “The cult of nature was an essential part of this religion because the numina did not trancendent matter.” (p. 120). Vyncke gives four stages for the development of both Slavic religions. 1. Animism (belief in spirts, etc.) and manism (worship of ancestors); 2. clan-gods; 3. more individual gods for protection of families; 4. forming a counter-balance against Christianity (making of idols and temples, etc.).
Not the best in the series, but still an informative book about Slavic paganism and a good reference book with descriptions of gods and holy places.

I was in doubt whether or not to review these titles. They are no longer in print and you will have to search for them second hand. I can advice the website for that. Also because the books are 50 years old, they may very well be surpassed by newer investigations, but on the other hand, Jan de Vries’ “Altgermanische Religionsgeschichte” is still an authority while the reworked version is of the same time. Also as far as I know, these are the only good books about the subjects in Dutch and there haven’t been much basic books made available after them (as far as I know). So when you are also still looking for something serious about the Celts, Germans/Teutons and Romans, and you can read Dutch of course, these are titles that you may want to look out for.

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