Posted by: Nyxks | October 23, 2007

The Druids

The Druids
by Jean Markale © 1985, 1999
(Translated from the French) Inner Traditions
ISBN 0-89281-703-8
288 pages Includes Notes and Index
paperback
$16.95 (U.S.)
Reviewed by: Mike Gleason

This is the second work by Monsieur Markale that I have read. Like the preceding work this one is very well researched. The writing is concise and easily understood which is not always the case with translated works. He makes you work for your understanding, but he achieves that by virtue of scholarship and not by unnecessary verbiage.

His premises and conclusions will undoubtedly be disconcerting to a large number of people, including quite a few modern followers of the druidic path. Given the penchant some have for mixing and matching cultural ideas, the idea of druidism being an important aspect of Celtic culture ONLY may seem elitist. Elitist is often considered to be bad. The author does his best to downplay that perception.

Unlike many of the books on this topic, Monsieur Markale bases his writing on linguistic and other scholarly source, and not on wishful thinking. He sees the Druids within the cultural milieu in which they flourished, not as an idealized system which can be adapted and used by anyone. In his perception one must be immersed in Celtic culture to avail oneself of druidism.

Monsieur Markale makes assertions which are not necessarily supported by evidence. However, when he makes these assertions he makes sure that the reader knows they are unsupported. And, unlike many other writers on the subject, he does his best to keep such assertions to a minimum. Living in an area which is still heavily influenced by its Celtic roots (Brittany) he is, in many ways, better qualified than many others to explore the linguistic roots of druidism. Being a poet and a philosopher adds to his abilities as a storyteller, and his qualifications as a historian. He is, in many ways, a living embodiment of druidism himself, although he makes no such claims himself.

His explanation of the magickal effect of sound (spoken, chanted, and musical) and the importance of gestures should be required reading for all would-be modern magicians. In recent years these aspects of magick-working have been sadly neglected by many students, and more than few teachers. Knowing the words of a spell is important (especially for those which have been passed down through the years), but if you don’t know how to recite it and what gestures need to accompany it, it is merely an intellectual exercise, and nothing more.

His purpose is not to teach magickal techniques, although he manages to point the way. His purpose is not to show how to perform rituals like a Druid – no one knows that for certain. His purpose is to show how the religion of the Druids was an integral part of Celtic life. Sacred and profane did not, in his understanding; exist as separate realms of action. Each action resonated on all levels and, until that fact is fully integrated into your life as a reality and not just as an intellectual understanding, druidism is unknowable. It is the difference between “believing” in magick and “knowing” that magick works. Once you know it, you stop believing in it and simply accept it.

His dismissal of modern neo-druidism is sure to offend the myriads of readers who consider themselves to be followers of the druidic path. He does not doubt their sincerity. It is only their honesty which is questioned. Since there is an abundant lack of do*****entary evidence and an over abundance of conjecture regarding druidic ritual, any attempt to categorize ANY ritual as authentic is at best questionable and at worst dishonest. He asserts that the principles of druidism may live on, even though the religion died with the passing of the Celtic society.

For me, the latter part of the book was the most interesting, as it related to speculations on religious developments. This may not be the case (and probably won’t be) for others. The good thing about this book is that it really does contain something for everyone. Not necessarily something agreeable for everyone, but something thought provoking for everyone. We learn more by expanding our consideration than we do by agreeing with all that we encounter.

Do yourself a favor and expand your view of Druids and Celtic culture. Buy this book and read it. Decide for yourself if you agree with the author’s premise. Then take the time to think about it in depth and see if your opinions change.

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