Pagan Celtic Britain, by Anne Ross. Published by Academy Chicago Publishers, 1996. $17.95 paperback..
PAGAN CELTIC BRITAIN, Anne Ross’ comprehensive study of pre-Christian religion, originally published in 1967, has been re-released as the second book in a new Celtic series by Academy Chicago publishers.
This book serves as the perfect complement to Kevin Duffy’s Who Were Those Celts? (see review above). In fact, Ross’ book is one of several that Duffy cites in his bibliography. Whereas Duffy’s book avoids overwhelming the lay reader with excessive historical detail in his introduction to the history of Celtic Britain, Ross’ study delves into specific aspects of pre-Christian Celtic culture and explores them in great depth.
The book’s subtitle, ‘Studies in Iconography and Tradition’, indicates that Ross intends to present a serious academic discourse on the topic. She begins her study by examining the sacred sites of the Celtic peoples and uses this topic as a jumping off point for her further investigation of Celtic deities. Further chapters explore ‘The Cult of the Head’, ‘The Horned God in Britain’, ‘The Warrior God in Britain’, ‘The Goddesses’, ‘Sacred and Magic Birds’, and ‘Divine Animals’. Throughout these chapters, copious illustrations enhance Ross’ discussion of these often unfamiliar concepts.
Ross concludes with a regional analysis of native cults in North Britain; in particular she chooses the area north of the Humber. Ross explains that she focuses on this region because of the fascinating contrast it provides to the south; differences due primarily to geography caused the south to rely on agriculture while the north turned to more pastoral occupations such as sheep-rearing.
While the discussion is decidedly more academic than that found in Duffy’s book, it is by no means too technical to be enjoyed by a novice student of Celtic culture. If, after reading Who Were Those Celts? you feel you’d like to explore the question further, move on to Pagan Celtic Britain.
Leigh Ann Berry