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Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Book Review: The World of the Druids

  I haven't done a book review since last month so I thought it was about time to do another. This review will look at Miranda Green's book The World of the Druids, which was published in 1997. The book is divided into 10 sections that cover everything from what we know about ancient Druids to the Druidic revival and modern Druids. Of particular interest may be the sections on Celtic cosmology and theology, female Druids, and evidence of ritual sacrifice. At 192 pages the book is fairly short and very easy to read, with an impressive selection of images (291 to be exact) that support the text.
    Green's strength is archeology so it should come as no surprise that she spends more time discussing archeological evidence than many other similar books do. This is something of a catch-22 in a book on Druidism as there is very little definitvely "Druidic" material that can be identified from ancient sites, leaving much up to guess and supposition. The advantage to the reader however is the material covered that relates more broadly to Celtic culture and can provide insight into dress, jewelry, and lifestyle as well as religion (broadly) while remaining in an easily accessible format. Unlike books that are intended to focus on archeological evidence this book largely avoids being dry or overly complicated, and is fairly easy to read and follow.
     I also liked that Green is very clear about the difficulty with many of the sources, including archeology, before offering that material. She doesn't downplay the issues that we have with the sources available to us that provide the only real information we have about the Druids. She is also clear that even defining who was and wasn't "Celtic" historically is complicated, saying, "...defining the world of the ancient Celts depends upon three categories of evidence, all of which need to be used cautiously because they are incomplete and sometimes ambiguous." (Green, p 11, 1997). She does provide a solid amount of literary references from Greek and Roman writers, as well as native Celtic myth.
     Green approaches defining the historic Druids by establishing who the Celts were at that time and what their beliefs were, and then uses that context to describe the Druids and their role in soceity. She uses archeology, Greek and Roman writings, and Welsh and Irish myths to do this. I can appreciate the value of this approach as context is vital to understanding any group functioning within a larger society, such as the Druids. The book is honestly worth reading just for the insight into Celtic culture that Green provides, but she does do a fair job of explaining the Druids' place as well.
    The book finishes up with chapters on the Druid revivial and modern Druidism, both of which are fascinating. Although not nearly as in depth as other works, of course, it does provide a good overview of more recent Druidic history and would serve as a good introduction to the topic. The focus here is on Druids in England specifically, so anyone looking for information about the Druid revivals in other areas will have to look elsewhere.
     I think that as a book on Druids this one is of moderate value, but is a better resource on Celtic culture. I can think of other books on historical and modern Druids that I would recommend first, but this one is nice in its brevity and inclusion of both historic and modern practices. I would, however, recommend it more highly as an introduction to ancient Celtic culture and religion, which is more of the book's strength than strictly Druidism. For someone just venturing into this area of study this book is a good place to start.


  1. I used to recommend it to people who aren't sure who the Celts and Druids are and what they do lol. Kind of like a beginner book to test the waters. Now I recommend Barry Cunliffe's The Druids: A very Short Introduction. More up to date, compact and pretty easy to read.

  2. I like this book because of the pictures (not kidding, pictures are nice) and the layout. I do agree with Maya that Cunliffe's book is more up-to-date.

  3. I like Cunliffe's book as well, but like Sean I must admit that I find the pictures in this one valuable. I'm a very visual person and I enjoy seeing the evidence as well as reaidng about it : )