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Author Topic: Matthews' Encyclopedia of Celtic Wisdom  (Read 9600 times)
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« Topic Start: January 02, 2010, 04:47:36 pm »

As a novice who feels drawn to Witchcraft and the Celtic pantheon in particular, I thought the best place to start this journey would be with some research. I am reading the requisite 101 books (Hutton, Adler, Starhawk, Cunningham, etc.) but am also looking at more topical works about Celtic myths. I found Caitlin & John Matthews' Encyclopedia of Celtic Wisdom: A Celtic Shaman's Source Book and from a quick scan of the works cited, it seems like a fairly reputable book. Has anyone read this? Thoughts? Thank you in advance.

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« Reply #1: January 02, 2010, 04:55:29 pm »

Note: I changed this post a little because there are quite a few posts already recommending books for the Celtic path, and there are a few posts I found alluding to the Matthews' work in a positive way (forgot the first rule of forum posting, search other posts first! lol) . I'm still curious what others think about this book in particular, though, if it isn't too repetitive to ask. Thanks!
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« Reply #2: January 02, 2010, 04:58:26 pm »

Any other works you would recommend for those interested in the Celtic path instead of/in addition to this one? Thank you in advance.

I haven't heard of the book in question, but the word "shaman" is telling me that it's probably not on the academic side.  A good place to start is our Celtic Polytheism SIG and TC's Celtic Reconstructionism page has a pretty decent suggested reading list.
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« Reply #3: January 02, 2010, 05:15:43 pm »

I found Caitlin & John Matthews' Encyclopedia of Celtic Wisdom: A Celtic Shaman's Source Book and from a quick scan of the works cited, it seems like a fairly reputable book.

I haven't read this, but the Matthews tend to write popular press books and (from what I've read) John is usually less concerned with historical accuracy than Caitlin.
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« Reply #4: January 02, 2010, 05:24:53 pm »

As a novice who feels drawn to Witchcraft and the Celtic pantheon in particular, I thought the best place to start this journey would be with some research. I am reading the requisite 101 books (Hutton, Adler, Starhawk, Cunningham, etc.) but am also looking at more topical works about Celtic myths. I found Caitlin & John Matthews' Encyclopedia of Celtic Wisdom: A Celtic Shaman's Source Book and from a quick scan of the works cited, it seems like a fairly reputable book. Has anyone read this? Thoughts? Thank you in advance.

I haven't read this book in particular, but I don't generally recommend the Matthews. They tend to take a very Romantic view of the Celts, and rarely differentiate between the different Celtic cultures. The TC link Mel offered is good; I also recommend taking a look at the Reading List at the CR FAQ, which is a good resource for anyone interested in the Celts.

Also, keep in mind that there is no "Celtic pantheon", as there is a Greek or Egyptian; the Celts are linked by cultural similarities but each culture had their own gods.
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« Reply #5: January 02, 2010, 05:58:22 pm »

I haven't read this book in particular, but I don't generally recommend the Matthews. They tend to take a very Romantic view of the Celts, and rarely differentiate between the different Celtic cultures.

What Juni, Mel, and Randall said.

I also have not read this particular book, but I have a couple of others of the Matthews' books.  My understanding is that their books about the *mythology* are OK (not great, but OK), but their *history* leaves a lot to be desired.  In addition, as Randall said, they write for a popular audience, which means their "inspirational"/"spiritual" work tends to be less than ideal.

Definitely check out the links above.  Also take a look at http://www.imbas.org and http://homepage.eircom.net/~shae/.  Both sites have good articles (the second link is actually a book, Land, Sea, and Sky), as well as good reading lists.  You'll notice a good deal of overlap among the reading lists, but that's usually a good sign.  Wink
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« Reply #6: January 02, 2010, 06:21:57 pm »

I found Caitlin & John Matthews' Encyclopedia of Celtic Wisdom: A Celtic Shaman's Source Book and from a quick scan of the works cited, it seems like a fairly reputable book. Has anyone read this? Thoughts? Thank you in advance.

I actually have this book. I think it makes available a lot of primary resources to the average reader without access to university libraries that would otherwise be difficult to find in a hard copy (the Internet has good primary resources as well), and for that it is not too bad a resource to have handy. I, however, would question their commentary on the texts and their interpretations. I find the Matthews' work to be best when they are collecting together primary materials and leaving their own commentary out.

That said, I freely admit that I've read several of their works and have found several of them enjoyable reads and inspiring, knowing full well their faults and their questionable scholarship. I never take their commentary at face value, and I am suspicious about their conclusions, but I always find something new to think about.

So definitely look at other stuff, but this is harmless enough to be read and enjoyed.
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« Reply #7: January 03, 2010, 08:53:37 am »

I haven't read this book in particular, but I don't generally recommend the Matthews. They tend to take a very Romantic view of the Celts, and rarely differentiate between the different Celtic cultures.
Just to elaborate on this a little, because it's an oft-neglected point in Pagandom that can cause a great deal of confusion - and since the other books Foxfire mentions relate more to Wicca/Wiccish/neoPagan religious Witchcraft, she's right in the midst of where it's relevant.

Foxfire, here's an old TC convo that you might want to take a look at,  There's Celtic, and then there's Celtic, that talks about the Romantic sense of the word "Celtic", which is where the "Wicca is Celtic" idea originally derives from (as distinct from the historic sense of the word, which is how many modern Celtic Pagans, especially Celtic Recons, use it).  I was really happy to see Hutton on your booklist; his Triumph of the Moon has quite a lot of info on the influence on Wicca of Romantic ideas.

The Matthews are among the soundest writers, if what one is looking into is neoPaganism with a "Romantic Celtic" feel; many of the other writers of "Celtic" pop-paganism are mostly spouting nonsense.  But if what one wants is a historic Celtic paganism, they're better avoided.

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« Reply #8: January 08, 2010, 10:53:27 am »

Foxfire, here's an old TC convo that you might want to take a look at,  There's Celtic, and then there's Celtic, that talks about the Romantic sense of the word "Celtic", which is where the "Wicca is Celtic" idea originally derives from (as distinct from the historic sense of the word, which is how many modern Celtic Pagans, especially Celtic Recons, use it). 

Thank you for pointing that out - that thread was partially in response to a question from me, and I somehow missed it originally.
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« Reply #9: January 09, 2010, 12:14:46 am »

Thank you for pointing that out - that thread was partially in response to a question from me, and I somehow missed it originally.
Ha - better late than never!

IIRC, while there was a specific convo that spurred it (as evident from me linking back to it), I'd been thinking for a while that I wished there was a thread talking about that, that I could link to from time to time, so I made one.  I'm now thinking of possibly turning it into an article (and possibly broadening its scope, since "Celtic" isn't the only instance of this), but gods know when I'd get to it.

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« Reply #10: January 21, 2010, 10:57:59 pm »

The Matthews are among the soundest writers, if what one is looking into is neoPaganism with a "Romantic Celtic" feel; many of the other writers of "Celtic" pop-paganism are mostly spouting nonsense.  But if what one wants is a historic Celtic paganism, they're better avoided.

I think this is a good distinction to make with Celtic books. For some folks (myself often included), this level of detail is fine for our work. I'm not looking to be any sort of recon, after all... I'm looking to cobble together a Celtic Wicca that isn't "Wicca with Shamrocks where the ancient Irish worshipped the potato).

The real question is what to call that category of book without diminishing the value. Not suitable to be "hard" CR, but maybe "soft" reconstructionist? NeoCeltic? Popular academic?

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« Reply #11: January 23, 2010, 07:23:44 am »

The real question is what to call that category of book without diminishing the value. Not suitable to be "hard" CR, but maybe "soft" reconstructionist? NeoCeltic? Popular academic?
I'm not keen on any of those.  Since it's not reconstructing anything that existed in history before (even in its earliest manifestations) the Early Modern era, I don't think it counts as recon, even "soft" (though soft recons are among those who'd find it most useful).  If it's "popular academic", what academic field is it in, since it's not history (again, other than Early Modern/Modern)?  NeoCeltic, possibly, though it seems potentially confusing within a (neo)Pagan context, since it predates neoPaganism as a movement by many decades - OTOH, it echoes "neoclassical", which could be useful since neoclassicism is also connected to Romanticism.

I'm mostly satisfied with the "historic vs Romantic" terminology - admittedly there's some devaluing connotations attached to the idea of "romanticizing", but I don't see a way to eliminate that without whitewashing the origins of that definition of "Celtic".  People (Yeats being a well-known example) really were constructing a starry-eyed and ahistoric view of Celticism, that had a lot more to do with what seemed appealing from within their own cultural assumptions than with either the ancient or contemporary culture of the peoples in question.

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« Reply #12: January 23, 2010, 09:51:13 am »

The real question is what to call that category of book without diminishing the value. Not suitable to be "hard" CR, but maybe "soft" reconstructionist? NeoCeltic? Popular academic?
Pagan/spiritual workbook with a Celtic leaning/touch or presenting a modern practice drawing and altering celtic stuff maybe?

The exercises and whatever in there may work even if it isn't historically correct. So that's a value of the book even if it's not valueable for academic or popular history.
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« Reply #13: January 25, 2010, 08:22:08 am »

People (Yeats being a well-known example) really were constructing a starry-eyed and ahistoric view of Celticism, that had a lot more to do with what seemed appealing from within their own cultural assumptions than with either the ancient or contemporary culture of the peoples in question.

I could live with "romantic" then, as a category, though I'm sure we'll all get tired of explaining how that doesn't mean "romance novel" to the less educated. =P

One thing I am keely aware of, though, is how the different pagan circles I move within view different books, authors, etc. And I think it's important for folks who take a more academic viewpoint towards paganism to beware of becoming condescending to folks who take more of a UPG track.

Which is not to say I think we should let folks spout off crap facts without gently correcting them. Just that I think there needs to be a place at the table for all ranges of belief. I don't spend a lot of time on Celtic Recon lists any longer because as a Wiccan who hasn't spent half her life researching obscure Irish texts I felt unwelcome. And it takes a lot to make me feel uneducated.

Thankfully I've never felt that way on TC.

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« Reply #14: January 25, 2010, 11:51:51 am »

I agree on a lot of things you said. I think things shouldn't be masked as history when they are really UPG, but I don't think history is more valuable than UPG or modern approaches. So there isn't any obligation to learn much history to be pagan IMO. If someone doesn't he/she just shouldn't meddle in a field they've not much of a clue about.
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