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CELTIC-L  March 1994

CELTIC-L March 1994

Subject:

Re: John and Caitlin Matthews

From:

Tom Harbold <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

CELTIC-L - The Celtic Culture List.

Date:

Fri, 25 Mar 1994 08:25:12 -0600

Content-Type:

text/plain

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Parts/Attachments

text/plain (90 lines)

>> I was just wondering if anyone had an opinion on the scholarly-merit
>> or worth of the works of John and Caitlin Matthews (ex: _Gawain:
>> Knight of the Goddess_ and _Arthur and the Sovereignty of Britain_).
>
>  My own opinion is this: they bring together some interesting ideas
>from many sources, and are colourful and creative -- however, they're
>a bit too NewAge'y to be taken too seriously.  I could be wrong --
>but it seems to me as though they were probably English mystics who
>were looking for something exotic, and tripped onto Celtic lore.  They
>seem to know Welsh, according to their books.  I wonder if they are
>native Welsh speakers -- I would doubt it.
 
Having never actually _read_ one of their books, from cover to cover, I am
perhaps stepping out of bounds.  But a discussion on the same topic on
another mailing list turned up the interesting tidbit that some of the
translations in their works (particularly the one about Taliesin, a
favorite figure of mine) are plainly incorrect.  While anyone can slip up
on a non-native language, the fact that they screwed up on translations
calls into question (for me, at any rate) the accuracy of their scholarship
in other realms -- particularly since so much of that book, at least, was
based on "The Song of Amergin," was it not?
 
>and other Celtic Bards were Shamans.  Yet never in the book did he
>explain what a Shaman was.  I have the impression that it's just the
>latest trendy image of the New Age fashion, and they feel a need to
>import it to Celtoids.
>  Now, don't get me wrong, I think first of all that practices like
>Shamanism are pretty universal in archaic societies and are part of
>the spirital ethos of basic living (see the chapter on Paleolithic
>societies in Oelschlaeger's "The Idea of Wilderness, for example).
 
"Shaman" _does_ seem to be the New Age buzzword of the moment.  I agree
with you on the universal nature of shamanistic practices, and suggest that
the line between "shaman" and "priest" (see Joseph Campbell's
_Primitive_Mythology_) is sometimes drawn too tightly; there are aspects of
both in either one, and I suspect they exist on a continuum, rather than in
separate circles.  But right now shamanism sells books, and I therefore
tend to look at it with suspicion when applied to cultures not typically
seen in scholarly consensus as "shamanic."
 
>it would surprise me if we didn't find traces of shamanism and totemism
>in Celtic myth
 
The association of both tribes and individuals in Celtic sources with
animals seems to suggest totemism, at least in their not-too-distant past;
the bard's quest for inspiration, wrapped in the hide of a white bull,
seems to possess echoes of shamanism.  Which is a different thing from
saying that the Celts "where" shamanic or totemistic!  Look at Ward
Rutherford's _Celtic_Lore_ (ignore the cover blurbs, which seem to have
little to do with the contents of the books) for an interesting take on
shamanic/totemistic practices among the Celts.  And let me know, folks,
please, what you think of _his_ scholarship!  Especially anyone with
degrees in the field...
 
>  Second, I think that many people are looking towards such mythos
>and ethos as a reaction against the kind of mass society, mass
>destruction, ecological suicide and cultural monotony that industrial
>society has created, and as a recognition of the "wisdom of the
>ancients" they should be applauded.
 
Amen, brother!
 
>  However, I take as suspect people reinterpreting the scraps of
>debris of another civilisation and claiming to speak for it and its
>Truths, particularly when their semantics are so fuzzy.
 
Yup.  My sentiments exactly.  Especially when they don't admit that that's
what they're doing, or try to portray it as "graven in stone," absolute,
objective "TRVTH." This is something the ancients probably _wouldn't_ have
done, although here I may be extrapolating on the basis of insufficient
evidence, myself!  Still, a quest for "TRVTH" in an absolute sense seems to
me to be a legacy of Judeo-Christian monetheism, and not typically
characteristic of polytheistic/pantheistic cultures.
 
Bright blessings,
 
Tom
----------
Thomas H. Harbold
Vanderbilt Divinity School
[log in to unmask]
----------
Neither Vanderbilt University nor the Divinity School thereof own or
operate my brain, and are therefore not responsible for my comments.
Please don't blam them!
----------
A vein to the blood of the old song, the moon's rim, daybreak, and a candle
end.  In flint to this tinder!  A glint at the kindling.
                                --Robin Williamson

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