Carl McColman has successfully done the improbable - he has synthesized the pith of Celtic Spirituality in all its branches into one volume. Often I find Celtic spirituality texts to be poorly researched and too far out. Not so in this one - a gold mine of cultural gems. Presented in a clear and straight forward manner, this book speaks to me on many levels. Buy it for its clean review of Celtic history, wisely conveyed versions of traditional myths, and gentle guidance along your own personal path. A real find for the novice or advanced seeker alike.
The Idiot's Guide to Celtic Wisdom is what it is. All of the Idiot's Guides, whether dealing with computers, meditation, Feng Shui, or Celtic Wisdom, set out with a singular task in mind: to make a wide brushstroke in such a way as to educate the reader to the variety of facets that they might not otherwise have known about in a particular area. In this case, the area is Celtic tradition, and in this regard I think the author has taken on a monumental task: to attempt to give voice and shape to a tradition of multiple expressions that not only defy being pinned down, but also often contradict one another.
To make an attempt at such a thing might be described as pure folly, or a fool's task, and yet McColman has succeeded in describing the multiple perspectives in which Celtic tradition is perceived, and he does so in such a way that is rather hands-off, meaning he leaves it up to the reader to decode and decide for themselves. Whether we as readers agree with all of those perspectives presented (such as Ogham being a divination system, the existence of "Celtic Wicca", etc.), one cannot debate the fact that the author has done an immense job of speaking about the various camps that do exist.
The Idiot's Guide is not a book for purist Celtic scholars. I do not believe its author held that intention. What readers will find with the Idiot's Guide to Celtic Wisdom is a work that seeks to give due diligence to the various manifestations or expressions that the Celtic spirit has taken over time, including in the now. Its author is someone who sought to give voice to these various expressions, even though he himself may not be an adherant of all of the expressions and perspectives articulated.
The Idiot's Guide to Celtic Wisdom is a good book for someone who comes to the realm of Celtic tradition with absolutely no idea of how to make heads or tails of the Celtic phenomenon. Is Celtic considered shamanic? By some, yes. Is Celtic considered to be Christian? By some, yes. Is Celtic considered to be Wiccan? Though not by traditionalists, there are others who relate to Celtic tradition in that way.
Although I personally take issue with the Celtic-Wicca connections that people seem to make (Wicca is an Anglo-Saxon tradition), what I value about Carl's treatment of the subject is that he has not alienated anyone by his writing style. He has attempted to describe how the Celtic spirit manifests with contemporary Druids, contemporary Celtic-Christians, contemporary shamanic practitioners, and, low and behold, yes, even Wiccans.
Contrary to the negative reviews of this work I do not perceive The Idiot's Guide to Celtic Wisdom to be "New Age". Indeed, if anything it is the author's valiant attempt to wrap language around a sociological and cultural phenomenon, to offer some sense of how he works with his own spirituality as a Celtic descendent, and to point toward how the Celtic spiritual stream is rather "Old Age" but is re-forming and re-shaping itself in the contemporary milieu.
Another valuable aspect of McColman's efforts is that he has attempted to also dispell many incorrect notions regarding Celtic spirituality, such as that there is some kind of homogenized Celtic culture, and therefore a homogenized Celtic spirituality. This is a profound error in viewing Celtic tradition and McColman illustrates this.
In his writing he has attempted to describe elements of the continental (Gaulish) tradition, such as the idea of druid orders or the supposed 20 years required for the making of a Druid, while also discussing other facets and features that arise from the Irish and Scottish fold (which do not adhere to a continental or Gaulish framework).
On the matter of faeries, it cannot be lorded over the author of this book that New Age bookstores have become rather prolific dispensers of little sprites and gossamer-winged Victorian English garden variety of faeries. To the contrary, the author of this book makes an important point: such notions of the Faery People or faery beings in Ireland, Scotland, and Wales depart radically from these Victorian or New Age versions of the faeries, or rather that Victorian and New Age notions depart radically from the authentic, empowered, and primal experience within Celtic tradition. The Faery People are empowered spirits in such contexts, often appearing human-size and larger, and continue to be a tangible reality for many rural people in Ireland and Scotland. Any dismissal of these dimensions or beings as a phenomenon of continuance in Celtic spirituality is only done by those who stand outside an animistic perception.
Probably the greatest difficulty in producing a book of this nature is its breadth and because of its breadth the by-product being the inability of the author to delve into the true depth of the tradition as much as he might like.
In this work McColman has strived to give the reader a bit of both. In the end, however, an important distinction to make is that there are two ways to go about reading this book: within the context of a living animistic perception, or outside of such a perception. This book seeks to invite you into such an animistic perception. However, if a reader from the outset has a defined resistance to such things, or denies the spirit-realities that form the bedrock of Celtic spirituality, then, like most things in life, the true gifts to be discerned herein will be closed to you.---Frank MacEowen, author of The Mist-Filled Path: Celtic Wisdom for Exiles, Wanderers, & Seekers