Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Anne Ross' "Pagan Celtic Britain" (Thank the Gods for Big Fat Books!)

Here is a very brief excerpt from Anne Ross' Pagan Celtic Britain (which I am reading now - but I've only made it through the first chapter, which is still almost 100 pages):
We cannot accept the the view that, with the coming of Christians, paganism died. In Britain, as in Ireland, the old faiths, the old remedies, and the old names spelling comfort and protection must have continued to be resorted to long after the spreading of the message of the one God, and this can be demonstrated, amongst other things, by the penitentials which refer to dark practices, and the castigations of the militant saints denouncing the pagan pursuits of their sometimes unwilling adherents. But there would be no reason to end with the establishment of the Christian faith either, for even in the twentieth century in the Celtic countries, echoes of the old pagan world can be detected and beliefs, furtive and uneasy, but nevertheless strong, as well as oral tradition of an entertainment nature, persist among the people who derive more than their linguistic traditions from the barbarian past.
[p. 28]
And here are a few reviews found scattered about teh internets (some with accompanying excerpts):

At Celticscholar's blog from July, 2009
Everyone who studies Celtic beliefs knows that many aspects of pre-Roman and pre-Christian beliefs remain shrouded in mystery. Ann Ross in this comprehensive book is trying to convince us, the readers, that neither the Roman invasion of Britain nor the coming of Christianity eliminated pagan religious practice....

The book is a great reference when it comes to what evidence we have of the Celtic religion, and a good starting point for more research. The kind of book that you can refer to from time to time to find evidence of sacred animals and what kind of cults can be found in Britain. A good reference book to have.
Another very positive review, this one by Andrea S. Garret at the website.

A 1996 review by Ellen Evert Hopman at
Pagan Celtic Britain is one the foundation stones of modern Druid scholarship and anyone aspiring to the title of Druid should own a copy. The book's greatest value is the solid archaeological evidence Dr. Ross provides to support her statements.
1999 review by J. Craig Melia at the Druid Order of WhiteOak website.
Originally published in 1967, Pagan Celtic Britain is one of the most important studies on the subject, despite the tendancy in some circles of viewing the work as out-dated.


Neorxnawang said...

Any explanation on why an image from one of the very Germanic Golden Horns of Gallehus is showcased on the cover rather than, say, something to do with pagan Britain? I hope the book itself fares better than this poor decision...

Apuleius Platonicus said...

I have no idea if Dr. Ross had any role in the design of the cover, which was done by Julia Anderson-Miller.

The figure appears and is mentioned briefly by Ross on p. 112. It is incidental to her discussion of the Cult of the Head, and to "tricephalic" figures in particular.

Ross first discusses all known cases of insular tricephalic figures that can be clearly dated to pre-Roman times. Then she discusses two other cases of less certain, but still "early", dating. When she finally gets around to mentioning the figure from the shorter horn of Gallehus it is only in passing.

So how the figure ended up on the cover is anyone's guess.

Neorxnawang said...

"It's all pagan mumbo-jumbo anyway. Looks wild, put it on the cover!"

Bo said...

God, this is a bit archaic. She needs to be taken with a big pinch of salt---just because the work's now dated, as academic work of this kind tends to. Unfortunately no one in Celtic Studies (my field) has seen fit to replace it yet...! But in particular, our view of pagan and Christian in early Irish literature has been blown open by the likes of Kim McCone: Ross's approach now seems totally outdated.

Apuleius Platonicus said...

Gee, that's a bit vague, Bo. Could you, perhaps, cite one single thing that Ross said in that book that has now been "blown open" and cite what it is that McCone has said that provided the explosives for the job?

Personally I am completely unimpressed by the need that academics have to follow whatever the latest fad is and to automatically dismiss any work that is more than 10-15 years old (like it was something expired at the back of the fridge).

In fact, I am much more likely to dismiss anything that has only very recently been "realized" or "discovered". If it has any merit it will still be around 20 years from now.

genexs said...

Looking over the comments, I see this book as angered at least one person. That means it must be a great book! :) I just recently developed an interest in Celtic numsimatics, and this book looks like just the thing to give me some background.

Nick Ritter said...

Apuleius wrote: "Personally I am completely unimpressed by the need that academics have to follow whatever the latest fad is and to automatically dismiss any work that is more than 10-15 years old...."

I quite agree. I got shouted at once by a friend of mine (he was drunk) over the fact that I give Eliade's research quite a bit of weight in my understanding of religion. The gist of his point was that ELiade was outdated because he'd been writing in the '50s. When I asked my friend what view of religion superseded Eliade's, he didn't have an answer.

It is important, on the other hand, to try and keep up with newer scholarship, if only just to know what people are saying and what evidence they back themselves up with; also to know when older scholarship actually has been superseded. I don't know about other Pagan traditions, but heathenry has a tendency to become the filter in which outdated scholarship is caught and given undeserved credence; the recent celebrity of Viktor Rydberg is a case in point.

Apuleius Platonicus said...

Critical thinking/reading are key. But wider reading is really the antidote. Scholars like Eliade and Kerenyi should be on everyone's short list.

Of course there is some excellent current scholarship being done. Sarah Iles Johnston has cranked out half a dozen books over the last 20 years, from Hekate Soteira in 1990 to Ancient Greek Divination in 2008.

And Anthony Kaldellis has written five major books in the last 10 years that are directly relevant to Hellenic Paganism.

But old-school scholars like Kerenyi and Eliade should be on everyone's short list. People will still be reading them 50 years from now!