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Monday, August 22, 2011

Book review - The 21 Lessons of Merlin

I've decided to dedicate Monday's blog to book reviews. These will be fairly short and to the point, and try to focus on books relating to CR Paganism, Druidism, and Heathenry.
  To start, here is a basic book review of the (notorious) 21 Lessons of Merlin  by Douglas Monroe:
   21 Lessons is allegedly based on the secret teachings of Merlin, as revealed through the Welsh Book of Pheryllt; however this is nothing but a ploy to draw the reader in - the Book of Pheryllt is a well known forgery and there aren't any existing "ancient" lessons of Merlin. Rather the author seems to use these claims to set up his own authenticity as a teacher of true ancient Druidry while actually inventing a system almost whole cloth. I say almost because the author does include at least one "ancient" chant stolen from the 1981 movie Excalibur; anyone familiar with the movie should recognize it right away.
   I found this book was not worth reading as well because it was poorly researched and is full of historical inaccuracies and anachronisms. There is little to no actual Celtic mythology or material in the book at all, which is clearly a problem. Monroe at various points asserts that the ancient Druids were vegetarians and that Easter was a Druidic festival to the Goddess Ishtar, neither of which is either true or even possible. He mentions pumpkins as if they were a native European plant when they aren't and also talks about using pumpkin flowers at Samhain, long after the plant has stopped flowering. Worse than all of that though is Monroe's deep-seated misogyny which is displayed throughout the book. For example in 21 Lessons the Druids are divided by gender based on the theory that men generate magical power but women can only gain it by taking it from a man, something that not only makes no sense but goes against basic Celtic cosmology which says that all beings have their own power and which tends to see women as specifically holding the keys to sovereignty and the power of the land.
   It may well have spiritual value for some people - as does The Mists of Avalon, another Arthurian novel - but it loses credibility with me for trying to pass itself off as nonfiction. The argument put forth by some supporters of the book that anyone who criticizes it is not enlightened enough to truly understand it is typical of books that can't back up what they claim - since there is no "ancient" document or tradition of Merlin's lessons, which are entirely the author's invention, the only possible defense is to denigrate the spirituality of the books detractors.  It might have been alright as an Arthurian novel except for the fact that by passing itself of as legitimate "ancient Druid" teachings I feel that it is actually hurting modern Druidry and Celtic spirituality by misleading people who are new to the spirituality. This book, in fact, has little to do with any actual ancient Druidry and even less to do with modern Druidry, and is worth reading only as a poorly written novel.
     If you like Arthurian fiction I'd recommend the The Mists of Avalon series and for studies on ancient Druidry try Hutton's the The Druids or his Blood and Mistletoe or Markale's  The Druids: Celtic Priests of Nature. For modern Druidry Brendan Meyers' Mysteries of Druidry, Bonewit's Bonewits's Essential Guide to Druidism or Carr-Gomm's Druid Mysteries: Ancient Wisdom for the 21st Century would be a good start.

3 comments:

  1. It turns out that the word "Pheryllt" is/was really "Virgil" who was believed by the ancients to have the key to all wisdom! Really!

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  2. Insert 'cat having hairball noises' here

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  3. for more indepth reviews of ths book:
    http://www.digitalmedievalist.com/reviews/21-lessons/
    http://www.maryjones.us/jce/21lessons.html
    http://www.neopagan.net/21-Lessons.html
    http://library.druidry.org/reviews/21lom.html

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