Originally published July 15, 2012
Book Review – A Brief History of the Druids by Peter Berresford Ellis. You’ll have to hunt for one with a reasonable price – try bookfinder.com.
While browsing my memory and my bookshelf for something of interest, I bumped into this little book about Celtic history and the Druids. It too has a special story. I found it one afternoon when I retreated to the bookstore for solace because, after maybe 4 or 5 different shoe stores, I couldn’t find something for my feet. Thus, I looked for something for my head and, there it was, on the bargain shelf.
Mr. Ellis is described by some as a “popular historian,” which sounds somehow not quite, well, right with the world. As it happens it simply means that it is not a technical article written under the authority of peer-reviewed research. I find this interesting since Mr. Ellis, among other academic accomplishments, holds a degree from the University of East London in Celtic studies. A review of his biography indicates a lifelong devotion to all things Celtic. The book under discussion includes eleven pages of bibliography. So, whether or not we wish to classify his prolific writing as popular history or academic history the fellow has enough background to grant some authority to his writings. To set the tone I would like to quote from the Introduction:
The French anthropologist, Claude Levi-Strauss, once said: ‘There are no final truths. The scientific mind does not so much provide the right answers as to ask the right questions.’ In no field is it more necessary to ask the right questions than when attempting to discover the Druids.
This is so very true. Because we know so little of the Druids, and especially from the Druids themselves, they have become history’s fantasy dump taking on whatever roll someone wishes to assign to them. Ellis’ book probes the record left through tradition, anti-Druid writings and cultural evidence to weave an interesting outlook on a segment of Celtic society that was peopled with not just priests, but the doctors, lawyers, statesmen and scientists of the Celtic age. Seeking clues in traditions as old as Europe itself, Ellis builds the case for an elite within a culture that stretched from ancient Ireland to the farthermost reaches of Turkey and Iberia. It is a very interesting read.