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Book Review: The Druids by Peter Berresford Ellis

Author: Peter Berresford Ellis
Genre: History, Celtic
Pub. Date: May 2002
Format: Paperback, 324pp
Publisher: Avalon Publishing Group
Series: Brief History of Series

Often have I read books by one Peter Tremayne. His ancient Irish mysteries are superb. But did you know that Tremayne is actually a pseudonym for Peter Berresford Ellis, the noted Celtic scholar? The Druids is one of his academic works. Although written for the layman, it is still an academic work.

Ellis� argument is that the New Age conception of who and what the Druids were is just that, new. The historical druids are something other than what popular literature and the New Age movement has led us to believe. In this work, Ellis show us, both from external and internal sources, who the historical druids actually were.

For the most part, they were and intellectual class in Celtic culture, akin to modern day professors, priests, and other intelligentsia. Interestingly, the closest modern equivalent we have is in India in the caste of the Brahmins. Much of The Druids is taken up with showing these similarities of cultures, Celtic and Hindu, traced back to the hypothesized Indo-European language (and cultural) root.

Ellis also does not fall into the trap of taking the ancient sources at face value. He recognizes that human nature is little changed in its history and that the sources we must rely upon might be simply propaganda either for or against a particular culture. Just as we moderns demonize cultures we do not understand, so too did the Romans to the Celts. And of course, the Celts tried to make themselves look better in their own writings.

Ellis is mistaken in some of his statements about Christianity. I don’t think he understands evangelical Christianity at all. His statements about Christianity seem to be rooted in knowledge of Anglican and Catholic theologies. This does not in any way harm, the work as a whole, as these statements are few and far between.

The Druids is an excellent primer for those interested in Celtic culture, particularly the druids. Readable without being too pedantic, the work presents Celtic culture objectively and argues its point succinctly. I would recommend it for history buffs and the casual reader alike if one wants to know the real druids.