Monday, 9 January 2012
Celtic Religion in Pre-Christian Europe - Edward Anwyl
As the very happy owner of a new Kindle, I made use of the many free books that can be downloaded from such sites as Amazon and Project Gutenberg. One of these was Celtic Religion in Pre-Christian Europe.
Sir Edward Anwyl was a Welsh academic, specialising in the celtic languages, and this book was published in 1906, to be republished in an online format some hundred years later.
It's a fairly short book, so not as arduous as some others of the age. The material in it is fairly familiar to me, as I have studied celtic history and druid history, but I still learned some new things. Like the reason why the pig is sacred to Ceridwen is because of its connections with the earth (or mud) and therefore Underworld.
He talks through the slow, steady integration of the celtic race into the indigenous populations, and how their ideas spread throughout the peoples we now refer to as the Celts. He discusses how the deities we recognise now, were probably descended from tribal totems and earth spirits, gradually becoming humanised throughout the centuries. He describes their perceptions of the Underworld, or after-life, and of reincarnation.
He refers to several of the ancient scripts recording details about celtic society, though these are generally more of the Gauls than the British or Irish celts. The ancient Greek and Roman historians and philosphers noted the celtic attitudes to live, death, the earth and their clansmen.
He also writes about the druids, how their roles and organisations. The Druids, made up of the three divisions of Bards, Vates (seers) and Druids, were highly respected and exempt from military conscription. There is only one area where I slightly disagree with him - where he seems to place a great deal of emphasis on human sacrifice. I don't necessarily disagree with the fact that it happened, but he reasons that the Romans weren't ordered to carry out the genocide of the actual druid orders, but only to stamp out their heinous traditions of human sacrifices. When we think of the Roman traditions in the Arenas and Colliseums, I wonder who really held the most barbaric practices.
On the whole, for a free book, it's well worth a read, the first couple of chapters are a little dry, but after that it was throughly enjoyable.
Image from http://www.aon-celtic.com, a site of Celtic Artwork including some free clipart