Miranda Aldhouse-Green’s Druids

magnifying glass over a blue finger printAs a bit of an off-topic introduction, Salon ran a piece on literary detection this week . The article, by Patrick Juola, is about how J. K. Rowling was outed as Robert Galbraith, but it starts by citing a study in which the authorship of the Federalist Papers was determined by comparing the literary styles of James Madison and Alexander Hamilton. (The article originally appeared in Scientific American.)

One of the clues cited is the word “whilst.” Madison used it; Hamilton did not. Therefore, articles that contained “whilst” were written by James Madison. Elementary.

Miranda Aldhouse-Green is a scholar who uses the word “whilst.” Few Americans do; I’m an American so I always notice that about her.

Introduction over–although the above-referenced article and its links are fun and I highly recommend it.

51MYqgmdAhL._SY300_And if you like academic musings about druids, I highly recommend Aldhouse-Green’s Caesar’s Druids: An Ancient Priesthood. I guess that makes this a book review.

The format for the book seems to be:

  1. Bring up a topic (Were the Druids priests? for example)
  2.  Have a go at it from all angles.
  3. Finish up by shrugging and admitting, “Who knows?”

THAT IS NOT A CRCITICISM!  I love that someone knowledgeable across many disciplines is doing this!

Were the Druids priests, she asks, then quotes Caesar (yes) and Nora Chadwick (no), discusses the function of priests and shamans on several continents, explains why no archaeological evidence could exist that might satisfy Chadwick (a temple used by those who disdained writing is not likely to have “temple” inscribed over the doorway), talks about animal sacrifice and who did the cooking, lists the other functions assigned to Druids . . . all in two pages, I think.

I’m having so much fun reading this, but I doubt I’ll retain much. I honestly just do not have the scholarly background to keep track of it.

Aldhouse-Green is all over the place–in a good way–dragging  in folklore and rituals from all over the world because her encyclopedic knowledge sees links in  the soul travel of holy men in Greenland and Caesar’s comment that the Gauls worship Mercury most; or the Plains Indians’ Sun Dance and ritualistic healing. She is not saying that the Celts are in any way related to North American Indian tribes, mind you–she is looking everywhere she can for clues as to why people might believe this or do that.

And when she finds those clues–or at least, a passing thought that might be a clue–she can’t resist throwing them into the mix so that we can all try and make sense of them. I am thankful that she does, because now other scholars can sort through her work like playing with a jigsaw puzzle, fitting things together. She’s assembled a lot of pieces for everyone to play with.

I read her book. The Quest for the Shaman: Shape-Shifters, Sorcerers and Spirit Healers in Ancient Europe while I was writing Death Speaker,  and her new book echoes a lot of the research contained there.

This is an academic work, thick with footnotes and professorial language, so it’s not for everyone. And from what I can tell, your best bet finding it is university libraries–at least in the US.  The print is small though the pages are nice and thick, so if you’re dependent on reading glasses, find a bright light and read it in small bursts.

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