REVIEW: Celtic Spirituality (2021)

A book by Philip Freeman

NOTE: I received a free preliminary, and likely unedited copy of this book from Netgalley for the purposes of providing an honest, unbiased review of the material. Thank you to all involved.

“Translated from their original languages—Gaulish, Latin, Irish, and Welsh—the passages and stories in Celtic Spirituality are true artifacts of the Celts’ vibrant and varied religion from both the pre-Christian and early Christian period. From a ritual of magical inspiration to stories of the ancient gods and adventures of long-forgotten heroes, Freeman has unearthed a stunning collection of Celtic work. The translation is accessible to the modern reader, but maintains the beauty and vibrancy of the original. Celtic Spirituality includes material that has never been translated before, offering a new glimpse into the wisdom and wild magic of the Celts.”

I’ve read a few other books on Celtic Paganism, but most were trying to create a narrative interpretation of the mythology of the Tuatha dé Danann or the Celtic “Gods”. I put that in quotes because the Celts themselves did not necessarily treat them as such, as they were described as legendary magical people more often than not. This book, however, has this same material that those books build from as well as editorialized contemporary accounts of rituals and practices translated form of their original fragments from church leaders and the like.

Of course, The Celts did not write anything down themselves as this was seen as a way to ruin one’s memory among the Druidic class; many of which studied for up to twenty years to memorize ancient stories. As a result, what we have is through the lens of churchmen who often felt that the Celts were summoning demons and other dismissive ideas.

The material is presented as a series of short passages with a header paragraph describing the fragment, followed by a translation of the millennia old writings. examples include rituals, both described and copied, heroic stories, scathing rebukes, fantastical slander, and even humorous asides. I liked the structure of the book for this very reason, as it kept everything as true as possible without shoe-horning a modern eye on the material, or an attempt to make these ideas practical. There’s a time and place for that, but many of the introductory Pagan books include stuff like that as filler, and it generally fogs up the books that contain it.

I will admit, I’m not really drawn to Celtic mythology as much as I should be despite being of considerable Irish descent. For me, there’s a huge barrier with my ability to pronounce many of the Celtic words, and having to constantly look things up or risk fumbling through it slows me down a lot. That said, this was a well-done book and I enjoyed reading it. It’s a quick read and sets a steady foundation for anyone that wants to venture into the more practical stuff afterwards.

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