Celtic spirituality seems to be a buzz word among Christians and pagans alike, and efforts to define it abound. I recommend this book to readers who are more willing to be challenged rather than soothed by things Celtic. P.B. Ellis states his mission as "an introductory argument about the reality and the legend of the Druids" (p 21). He succeeds quite well in this mission, distilling what can be known from primary sources with very thorough research. Ellis also asks the questions that we would dearly like to ask of these mysterious people, who unfortunately seem to have had a prohibition against committing their scholarship to writing, leaving historians to piece together their philosophy and practices from the works of other observers. Ellis does an exceptional job of revealing the probable biases of these secondary sources, although his style of argument becomes somewhat convoluted at times.
Ellis pulls no punches in criticizing the scholarly positions of other writers on the subject -- an approach which can seem abrasive or refreshing, depending on one's taste. His obvious disdain for the New Age, soft-focus and romaniticized view of Druids may seem harsh as well. But his genuine love for and fascination with Celtic peoples perhaps justifies the contempt he displays for those who call themselves "New Age Celts...preaching harmony with nature, who have stared in incomprehension when it has been pointed out to them that the Celtic civilization itself is struggling in a last ditch attempt to survive" (p 280). Ellis concludes his work by pointing out the "uncomfortable reality for those who would conjure Druids and ancient Celts to their new concepts of 'spiritual enlightenment'" while ignoring the fact that Celtic languages and cultures are in decline in our increasingly homogenized modern world.
Above and beyond the obvious short-comings of the human ego as well as humanitie's collective will to amnesia especially in terms of the actual histories of the conquered, Mr Ellis's book while, well researched and superbly written takes the initiate student of Celtic studies to the next level with his work "The Druids". While roughly outlining the history and many cultural contributions of the Celts, Ellis dives into the matter of the caste or intelligentsia of the above group with an objectivity I, as of yet have not come across in most of that which passes itself off as scholarly and autoritative historical research in this area. In this work, Ellis cleaves this group from the theatrical-gothic misrespresentations that have colored popular opinion concerning them and has rightfully repaired and restored to them a more realistic and humane image. What many seem to either have forgotten or, more aptly (and ignorantly) choose to disregard is the fact that the Celts were the first wave of Indo-Europeans to enter into Western Europe and as such were to also be the first to incorporate the various customs of those they replaced and/or supplanted. Now there is still an enormous amount that is not known concerning those who came from the steppes during the great migrations from that mystcal homeland of the I.E. peoples though much more has miraculously survived as they came to be organized in what we now call Civilization. Ellis rightfully points to the caste and it's system functions throughout the Celtic areas of influence (read:not-empire) and faithfully alludes to the society in which they operated while taking into consideration the reports of such classical experts as Posidenus, Strabo, Ceasar(et.al.) as well as their obvious negative biases towards these people and their society which by virtue of its structure and philosophy left that of the experts above choking in the dust. What one needs to remember when dealing with the Celts is that while they were agrarian, with a defined caste structure (roughly equivalent to that of post-Aryan India) the culture was interestingly enough, devoid of such stifling aspects as primogeniture as well as the extremely poor position of women, children, the aged, property rights and community welfare which have been downplayed or ignored or commodified with the likes civilization founded on Greek and Roman models and their descendents. And as such, Ellis heroically takes the rather skewed and dehumanized view that has been proffered and correctly gives weight to the actual functions of the subcastes (of druids) and incorporates them into the greater societal umwelt smashing the myths that have have been put down in order to keep the descendents of these people in the same place, Ellis writes an enlightening and autoritative book that will make the soul of any Celtophile light. He eschews the path that others have taken especially in the New-Age community by weilding facts against the nebulous darkness of ignorance and to a degree, intolerance that surrounds any group that has a bona-fide original opinion of life or the universe not in line with a Civilized or Mono-lithic control scheme or its hokey, Spun-down or denatured pseudo-equivalents. This book does justice to these people and in particular the Druids by destroying the blood thirsty image with finely researched, bias-corrected descriptions of a caste who, in a modern modern sense would have serve the same functions today as doctors,lawyers,astronomers, psychologists,poets, musicians and philosophers. Incidentally my opinion is that their standards probably could not be eclipsed even now. To get an idea of the mindset that can perpetuate the poor image these people have recieved we only have to look back to Columbus' early reports on the Arawak people, what happened next is already history. Also keep in mind, that on the opening day of the Colliseum, upwards of 15,000 people and about 5,000 animals were slaughtered in front of a packed house of 80,000. Yes, and this was just opening day in the Civilized city of Rome. As any student of life, history or polit-science knows we tend to dehumanize our enemies in order to justify any or all methods necessary to separate them from their identity as well other material items. This is done by the extirpation of their culture as well as those responsible for maintaining it. This book is a must have for anyone interested in the Celts, their intelligentsia as well as the insight Mr. Beresford gives the reader as to the mindset of a much freer as well as maligned culture that now unfortunately exists only in the hearts and sad smiles of the hidden. If nothing else, throw an eye at this book, it will lighten the hearts of those who contemplate "the truth angainst the world" and if nothing else gives all of us, as students of life a peek into a world that now is on the ropes of existence. Read, enjoy and understand.