celts

The Fates Of Princes Of Dyfed * Kenneth Morris (Cenydd Morus) (ISBN: 1417980214)

Morris was an early Welsh Theosophist who was also a writer. He met a group of Irish writers who where interested in their past. Morris took up the idea to rewrite the Mabinogion to one story using elements of other Celtic myths. The result saw the light of day as early as 1914. Yet, the Dutch translation was only recently released. This book is published very luxery. A hard cover, wonderfull colour drawings.

The story is about the testing of mankind to become immortal. I think the book is meant to be read to children, because it is too difficult for them to read it themselves (many Welsh names, for example) but the book is a bit too ‘fairyish’ for adults. On the other hand, however I seldom read novels or books with stories, I found this one quite enjoyable. Obvious Celtic themes, dreamy pasages and when I couldn’t remember who was who, I could just look it up in the back. Also I do have a translation of the Mabinogion, I don’t remember much I read. This may mean that I either didn’t read that little book too well, or it didn’t capture my imagination enough for me to remember them. I think this book may, if I can remember the names!

This book is highly recommended to people who like books with Celtic themes (it is rather ‘Arthurish’), especially people with children who want to read them stories with native themes.

Le Secret Des Keltes * Lancelot Lengyel (1969)

I realise that this is one of my ‘impossible reviews’. I ran into the 1976 German translation (1981 second printing) of this book in an Amsterdam bookshop. The title in French means “the secret of the Celts”, the German title is more promising: “Das geheime Wissen der Kelten”, or “the secret knowledge of the Celts”. Looking for the book on the internet I only found a few references, not totally clear if it is this book for sale. Still I want to bring it under your attention.

The book has a strange format, square. There are many books about the Celts, but this one rose my interest because it has a lot of symbols in it. The writer investigated Celtic coins and their symbolism and only after that Celtic mythology and the like. There is a lot information in this book which was new to me, but the writer literary gives meaning to anything, triangular eyes, dots and spots, cracks and the form of a haircut. Often I have the idea that Lengyel goes way too far in his minutious investigations, but of course everything can be taken into concideration and does not necessarily have to be believed. A fact is that the coins may be rich in symbolism, but they do not tell us too much about gods, goddesses and mythology, or do they…?

The writer continues with short chapters about subjects such as ‘the not-rational’, ‘the sun-hero Finn’, ‘the dear-god’, etc. More towards the end pieces of continental, Irish and Welsh mythology with (sometimes) interesting explanations. At least to me, unconventional!

Less good about the book is that I found it almost impossible to read. I read in German quite a lot and I don’t know if it is the construction of the sentences, the use of words, the density of information or maybe the ‘unexpectedness’ of the information, but for some reason I really had a hard time reading the book. I’m planning to put it aside (I have paged through it all, read most of it) and reread it in small parts of so.

One thing is for sure, this is the most informative book about Celtic symbolism and mythology that I have read so far. There is a staggering amount of images and highly detailed descriptions of coins, so if you want to learn more about this side of Celtic culture, try to locate a copy of this book.

Die Kelten * Alexander Demandt (ISBN: 3406447988)

In set-up this book holds the middle between the other two books that I reviewed in this series, “Die Germanen” which is a scholarly book about this ancient peoples and “Götter und Kulte der Germanen” mostly based on archeological findings. Demandt deals with the Celts and mostly uses archeological findings for his ideas, but also uses the scriptures of especially Ceasar about the Celts. The book mostly speaks about the history and also political history of the Celts. A hard-to-answer question is who the Celts exactly were and where they came from. Demandt supports the idea that they originally came from south-west Germany, but quickly went to north-east Germany and from there, northern France, the Brittish isles and the rest of Europe. Unlike the Germans, the Celts were good enough warriors to make the lives of the Romans miserable. They even managed to take in Rome for a short while. At the peak, the Celts inhabited an area from Great Brittain to Romenia. When the Romans regained power, the Celts were drawn back. Also the (quite similar, but not quite the same) upcoming Germans took (back) much land.

Even more contrary to the Germans, the Celts were a flexible folk who adjusted to new surroundings. They took the good things from the Romans, blended well into the Italian and near-Eastern peoples just to name two examples. Still this couldn’t prevent them to become parias in the Roman empire and being pushed back as far as Ireland and Scotland. There they met a new treat: Christianity and also here (as we all know) the Celts (outwardly) adjusted their convictions and way of living.

The worldview, myths, religion and folklore is shortly dealt with. At the end you can read a bit about the Celtic revival in the Romantic periode and in our own day and time.

De Godsdienst Der Kelten * J.P. Boosten (1950)

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.

Celtic Myths * Miranda Jane Aldhouse-Green (University of Texas 1994 * isbn 0292727542)

Green has written quite a few books about the Celts. I was certain that I had at least one book of hers, but apparently I don’t. I probably had one in my hand some time and for some reason decided to not buy it (yet). I started these series with her wonderfull book Celtic Myths. The book first says where our information comes from, then explains the difference between Irish and Welsh mythology and texts and in the rest of the book, keeps these two apart. I loved reading her rewritten tales and myths with explanations throughout. Green makes you familiar with the main characters, gods, styles of writing, texts, etc. in a very easy-to-read fashion. The book speaks about both mythological as historical subjects which makes this book a marvelous insight in the world of the Celts, especially for ‘beginners’ but also for those who have already read some more. There is an index and a short bibliography to makes this book complete.