I chose A Brief History of the Druids by Peter Berresford Ellis as my title for Ethnic Studies book review because there is very little known about the Druids and I was interested in seeing Ellis’ take on the information that is available. Ellis’ thoughts on the information, or lack there of, is summed up in this quote from the Introduction; “Everyone is wrong, but everyone has glimpsed a tiny part of the reality, so everyone is right and we all get a prize (Ellis 12).” Early on Ellis reiterates the warnings about the vast amount of questionable sources and the Romanization and Christianization of information and tales regarding the Druids and the cultures they served.
I truly enjoyed this book and found it to be a fast read. It is full of information, but is written in less academic language and format than A History of Pagan Europe. I think this book would be a good choice for just about anyone wanting a more in depth look at Druids and their history.
He begins the book proper by explaining that Indo-European is a linguistic group, and then takes a more in depth look into the Celtic language and how it spread. He does mention castes briefly and adds a “menial” caste category to the standard three of Dumezil.
I appreciate that Ellis addresses the lack of good sources of information and how most of them have a decidedly Roman or Christian bent. Ellis also spends quite a bit of time talking about how other cultures saw the Druids so that we can see how they may have been biased towards or against them. These people are our main source of information and knowing their biases is extraordinarily important when we try to separate myth and truth.
I also like how Ellis compares different sources to develop a more complete and accurate picture. If only one source was relied on, that sources bias would color the entire work.
One feature of Celtic society addressed in this book that really caught my attention is the relative freedom that women enjoyed. I also found it intriguing that they saw the Gods not as creators, but as created, just as humans are. They are more powerful and older, but did not create humans or the world they live in.
I would definitely recommend this book to anyone interested in the history of Druidry. It is a relatively easy read and once you get going, you won’t want to put it down until you’ve finished.