Many Worlds, Many Portals II: “Anything is possible in the fabulous Celtic twilight.” (J.R.R. Tolkien)

November 18, 2007 at 3:00 am (Anglophilia, Art, books, History)

A while back, I ended a post with a reference to Celtic mythology, which had nothing to do with what I’d been writing about. I said I’d get back to the subject of the Celts and never did. Well – here it is again…

celts.jpg celtic-myth.jpg I have in my possession two wonderful Pitkin Guides on this subject. One is simply called The Celts; the other is Celtic Myths & Legends. What are Pitkin Guides? They are booklets on various topics related to Great Britain. Here are some other titles: The Black Death, Britain’s Kings & Queens, Dissolution of the Monasteries, Dungeons & Torture, Coats of Arms, King Arthur, and Jack the Ripper. As can be seen, they will, and do, tackle just about anything.

The Guides run to about twenty pages a piece. They are lavishly illustrated. Some, not all, provide brief bibliographies. The text is lively and accessible; I think they would be great for classroom use. Fleet Street Press* charges $6.00 a piece for most of the guides. So far I’ve amassed about thirty of them!

Anyway – back to the Celts. Here’s a quote from Celtic Myths & Legends: “In Ireland, there still exists a huge collection of ancient topographical stories, known as Dindshenchas (Landlore), that relate the mythology of the land itself – its trees, hills, rivers anf cliffs, each with its own tale of magic – and of the gods, goddesses and heroes of the Celtic people.” One of the beliefs was that there was another world, the Otherworld, to which one may gain entry at certain secret places, at certain times of the year. In ancient Rome, some believed that Britain itself was the actual location of the Otherworld:

“When the historian and geographer Procopius describes the island that he called ‘Brittia,’ he makes it clear that this is no ordinary place and tells how the fishermen of Brittany are called upon to ferry the dead across the sea to Cornwall. Although they can see nothing of their passengers, their boats are heavy on the way out but light and empty on the way home.”

And finally, there is The Matter of Britain

waterhouse_shalott.jpg beguiling.jpg rossetti_damsel.jpg

[Left to right: The Lady of Shalott, by John Waterhouse; The Beguiling of Merlin, by Edward Burne-Jones; The Damsel of the Sanct Grail, by Dante Gabriel Rosetti. For more art based on Arthurian legends, see the King Arthur Art Gallery]

druids.jpg I recommend Philip Freeman’s book The Philosopher and the Druids: A Journey Among the Ancient Celts. The author relates the history of this endlessly fascinating tribe through the eyes of the Greek philosopher Posidonius. A bold and resourceful traveler, Posidonius journeyed deep into Gaul in search of the truth about the Celts. In antiquity, they were thought to be savages, possibly even cannibals, but the truth that Posidonius uncovered was something else altogether: “…the Celts were not barbarians, but a sophisticated people who studied the stars, composed beautiful poetry, and venerated a priestly caste known as the Druids.”

freeman.jpg Philip Freeman, currently the Qualley Professor of Classics at Luther College in Iowa, has an interesting CV. He was the first person to earn a Ph.D. at Harvard in the combined fields of classics and Celtic Studies. He is also a former visiting scholar at Harvard Divinity School.

I read The Philosopher and the Druids last year, and I’ve had the Pitkin Guides for several years. What has revived my interested in this subject is the discovery of some marvelously imaginative paintings by the Scottish artist John Duncan (1866-1945). Duncan is renowned as the foremost painter of the late 19th century’s Celtic Revival movement.

masque.jpg sidhe.jpg saint-bride.jpg

[Left to right: A Masque of Love, The Riders of the Sidhe, Saint Bride]

What, I wonder, accounts for the spell that Celtic lore and legend continues to cast over the collective imagination of the Western world?

boa-island-two-headed-idol.jpg Two-headed idol, Boa Island, Lough Erne, County Fermanagh, Ireland

alderley1.jpg Alderley Edge, Cheshire, England. The face of Merlin?

gundestrupkarret1.jpg Gundestrup Cauldron

*The address for Fleet Street Press is: Fleet Street Publications, PO Box 32510, Fridley, MN 55432. Fax number is 763-571-8292

3 Comments

  1. BooksPlease said,

    Fascinating books. Coming from a Celtic background (my mother was Welsh) I love myths and legends. I haven’t come across these books but they look beautiful. Standing Stones are also one of my interests Have you read Scott Pecks’ book In Search of Stones? He travelled round Britain visiting sites – my husband and I are thinking of doint the same – on a smaller scale, maybe.

  2. Roberta Rood said,

    Thanks for your interesting comment. This is a huge subject, obviously, and I just scratched the surface, but I really do find it fascinating. I probably knew about Scott Peck’s book but have forgotten. Now I’ll look for it. And I think a trip to those sites would be wonderful – especially as it touches on your heritage!

  3. BooksPlease said,

    Hi Roberta – I got your email and tried to reply, but keep getting a failure to deliver notice – it’s being blocked I think. Anyway, thanks for replying and yes I do think we’re are on the same wavelength – even if I can’t email you! Margaret

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