BookMusings: (Re)Discovering Pagan Literature

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Book Review: The Celtic Goddess



Title: The Celtic Goddess

Publisher: Moon Books

Editor: Trevor Greenfield

Contributors: Morgan Daimler, Rachel Patterson, Mabh Savage, Elen Sentier, and Jhenah Telyndru

Pages: 57 pp

Price: 99 cents US (ebook)

Elen. The Cailleach. Brighid. Rhiannon. The Morrigan. Badb. They are Celtic Goddesses, ancient, powerful, often feared and often misunderstood. Some of their names are well-known within the Pagan community, while others are barely known. The information that has been passed down about them is sometimes questionable, sometimes authentic, sometimes a combination of the two. In this short introductory text, a handful of modern devotees explore the complex natures of these Goddesses, the information that has been passed down to us, and how it (and they) are relevant to the modern world.

The anthology opens with a brief discussion of the place of Goddesses among the ancient Celts. As Daimler explains, there was no "single cohesive Celtic pantheon" (5). Instead, there were multiple Celtic cultures linked together by a common language and customs. There were some pan-Celtic Deities -- such as Brighid -- but most were localized; it is important to bear that in mind while studying and getting to know the Goddesses. 

Six essays make up the body of the text. In the first, Sentier discusses Elen of the Ways, the reindeer Goddess of the Boreal Forest. Little known outside of Great Britain, "Elen is old, old, old" (9) and has much to teach us about living responsibility on and with the Earth. Patterson then offers an essay on the Scottish hag Goddess, The Cailleach, "bent over with long white hair and a wizened face" (18). Fearsome and powerful, The Cailleach is the crone of winter, and she has much to teach those who are willing to listen and learn, but she does not suffer fools. Daimler returns with a piece on the well-known Brighid, who -- despite her popularity -- is an enigma. Is she an individual, a trinity, or a triad of sisters? And are the stories about her truly ancient, Christian gloss on old tales, or modern invention? Next, Telyndru looks at the Welsh Rhiannon, a horse Goddess also connected with motherhood, love, and sexuality. No ancient texts or stories survive about Rhiannon; instead, most of our information comes from the Y Mabinogi of the 11th and 12th centuries. Trying to figure out what Rhiannon meant to the ancient, polytheistic Welsh -- and what she can mean to modern Pagans -- takes Telyndru and the reader on a fascinating tour through Welsh history, custom, and literature. Daimler returns again with an essay on The Morrigan, a much-maligned and truly complex Deity who "inspires fear and awe as well as love and devotion" (39). A Goddess of the battlefield, incitement, and prophecy, The Morrigan also has links to magic and sovereignty; and where older books on Paganism often warned people away from her, more recently Pagans have begun to appreciate, rediscover, and invoke her. The anthology closes with Savage's essay on Badb, a Celtic Goddess of war, fear, wonder, and battle frenzy. As Savage explains, Badb may be understood as "the red mist of anger, the desire for vengeance, and blood lust itself" (46) -- an important ally when fighting internal battles (such as depression) and external battles (as for social justice).

I thoroughly enjoyed The Celtic Goddess. I have very few books about Celtic mythology or reconstructionism, so I learned a great deal just from these few essays. The information was presented in an engaging style: just enough to keep me reading, but not so much that I felt overwhelmed. (Additionally, each essay closes with a link to further resources, inviting readers to continue learning on their own.) My only complaint is that many of the essays featured long, run-on sentences. I'm not sure of that is due to a difference between British English and American English, or to editorial and writing styles.

I heartily recommend The Celtic Goddess to anyone with an interest in the topic, and I hope to see more such titles from Moon Books in the future. A whole series of The ... Goddess books -- Egyptian, Greek, Roman, Norse, Middle Eastern, Hindu -- would be wonderful.


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Rebecca Buchanan is the editor of the Pagan literary ezine Eternal Haunted Summer. She is also the editor-in-chief of Bibliotheca Alexandrina. She thinks it is incredibly unfair that she must work for a living rather than being able to read all day. In her next life, she would like to be a library cat.


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