Robert Van De Weyer has written and edited extensively in the area of Celtic literature and lore. In fact, he has two book entitled Celtic Parables, one longer one (approximately 250 pages) with full stories, arranged by categories, with an introduction and a good bibliography. The shorter one (64 pages) is more of a gift book, with brief excerpts from parables, done with an interesting graphic layout. This is a review of shorter book -- please also see my review on the longer book.
The shorter Celtic Parables bears the subtitle Hospitality, Humor and Holiness. Lavishly illustrated (as befits the designation of being a gift book), the categories are different here. After a brief introduction on the stories of the Celts, the arrangement is by person, not by topic:
Within each broad division is a short collection of parables and stories attributed to or about the person in question. These are, like in the larger collection, short and to-the-point stories, wonderful for inspiration. My favourite comes from the collection of Columba, and had particular meaning for me as I sought to discern whether or not I should be a priest.
In central Scotland Columba converted a young farm labourer called Molluch. Although the young man could not read or write, he wanted Columba to ordain him as a priest.
'If I were a priest,' Molluch said, 'I would be able to care for the other Christians in this are, and I could also win new converts.'
Columba decided to test Molluch's vocation. He took Molluch to a neaby lake, and found a coracle. 'Go out in the coracle,' Columba said, 'and try to catch fish.' Molluch was mystified, but did as Columba instructed. For two days and nights Molluch sat in the coracle, holding a rod over the side, but caught nothing. Then at dawn on the third day, a fish bit on the hook, and Molluch hauled the fish aboard. But as soon as Molluch saw the fish with the hook in its mouth, he took pity. Carefully he extracted the hook, and threw the fish back into the water. Then he rowed back to the shore.
When he had explained to Columba what had happened, Columba smiled and said: 'You have proved that you have the three qualities necessary for the priesthood. First, you are patient. If you are willing to wait two days and two nights to catch a fish, you will wait two years, even two decades, to catch a soul. Secondly, you are compassionate. If you can take pity on a fish, then you show far greater pity for humans in need. Thirdly, you are humble. Even though you were the cause of the fish's distress, pride did not prevent you from saving it.'
So Columba ordained Molluch, who proved an excellent priest.
The stories included in here are meaningful, touching, and very grounded in the human experience, while reaching for higher spirituality. As Van De Weyer states in his introduction,
Like all good stories, the Celtic parables can be enjoyed simply as entertainment. But if their spiritual meaning is heeded, they are profoundly challenging, with disturbing lessons for the modern world.
Robert Van De Weyer has written extensively on topics of prayer, liturgy and spirituality, from traditions as diverse at the English Book of Common Prayer to Rumi and Sufi prayers to Buddhist prayers and stories, and other literature from cultures all around the world.
This book is excellent for both brief inspirational reading, as well as a wonderful gift book.
This book contains only one chapter than can appropriately be called "parables" - the various stories attributed in this publication to Comgan - attributed for convenience according to the introduction.
Rather than parables, the book consists of short biographies of Celtic saints - biographies that stress the signs of holiness rather than factual place / time events. The saints explored are Patrick, Brigid, Brendan, Columba, Aidan, Cuthbert, Iltut, David, Mungo, Piran, Kevin, Colman, Owen and "Comgan". The stories are well-told, common tales of the saints with an emphasis on the animal-saint relationship.
The book itself is a well-designed "gift" book with lavish Celtic borders and illustrations of the saints - usually in stained glass. It may serve as an enticing introduction but for the stories themselves there are better sources - see, for example, the much broader collection in Wholly Animals : A Book of Beastly Tales (Cistercian Studies Series, No 128) - an equally readable collection.