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Taliesin: The Last Celtic Shaman Paperback – 1 April 2002

4.2 out of 5 stars 31 ratings
Edition: 2nd ed.

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Product description

Review

"As with all of John and Caitlin's work, this book is well researched and has a wonderful bibliography." ― Lise Quinn, TBP Review, Winter 2003, Issue 31

"There is something raw and essential here, something lost in modernity." ― Robert Baldwin, The Bloomsbury Review, Sept/Oct 2003, Vol.23 Issue5

". . . this is a deeply intriguing book and should be on the reading lists of all seekers of the Celtic ways, especially aspiring bards." ― Belladonna's Book Shelf, Feb 2007

About the Author

John Matthews has authored over 60 books, including The Grail: Quest for Eternal Life and The Encyclopaedia of Celtic Wisdom. A foremost expert in the Arthurian legends and esoteric wisdom of the Celtic traditions, he teaches and lectures around the world. He resides with his wife, Caitlin, in Oxford, England.

Caitlín Matthews is internationally renowned for her research into the Celtic and ancestral traditions. She is the author of 36 books, including The Celtic Tradition, The Encyclopedia of Celtic Wisdom, and Sophia: Goddess of Wisdom. She is co-founder of the Foundation for Inspirational and Oracular Studies, which is dedicated to oral, shamanic, and sacred arts. Caitlin Matthews has a shamanic practice in Oxford, England, and teaches worldwide.

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Product details

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Inner Traditions; 2nd ed. edition (1 April 2002)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 376 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 0892818697
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-0892818693
  • Dimensions ‏ : ‎ 15.24 x 2.03 x 22.86 cm
  • Customer Reviews:
    4.2 out of 5 stars 31 ratings

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4.2 out of 5 stars
4.2 out of 5
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greentemplar
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating assessment
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on 25 March 2013
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2 people found this helpful
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Didji Gymru
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent treatment of the work and myth of the druid bard of Wales
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on 16 April 2021
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Ars.amero
5.0 out of 5 stars Best book on Taliesin!
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on 7 June 2019
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witchygirl
5.0 out of 5 stars Taliesen tales
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on 17 April 2014
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Kevin A. Fulsom
3.0 out of 5 stars Promising, insightful, but flawed
Reviewed in Canada on 5 September 2018
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3.0 out of 5 stars Promising, insightful, but flawed
Reviewed in Canada on 5 September 2018
Being familiar with the original Book of Taliesin text in middle Welsh and Celtic mythology more broadly I find John Matthews has many insights which traditional academics have missed but which are seemingly obvious to those who approach these things from a mystical angle. As a polytheist myself I take the material very seriously.

However, Matthews' approach is flawed on several levels. First, by restricting himself to attempts to fit everything into his shamanistic framework he seemingly invents material and translates very, very loosely from middle Welsh. In some cases the translations I believe convey the original intent, but in other cases it veers so widely from the original middle Welsh that it borders on invention. He omits many Christian references, claiming they were added latter with no proof whatever that this is the case, and thus potentially alters the meaning of several important poems. Remember, I am a "pagan" but I believe we should approach this material in an honest way, and I do not believe that Matthews does this. He alters words to suit his conceptions and omits things which are not convenient to his narrative. That isn't to say that I disagree with Matthews' conclusions in most cases, but he tries to get there through subversive means which are not even necessary.

The second fatal flaw in this work is that it takes far too much "scholarly" work for granted. Much research into Celtic mythology, especially in relation to the nature and character of deities, is fundamentally flawed and extremely simplistic. Take the idea that Lugh or Lleu is the god of light or the sun as a prime example of this. This erroneous claim is made repeatedly in much older "scholarly" work and has completely inundated the modern conception of the deity with no bases whatever that this is the case. More recent research disputes this idea. While I believe that Lugus is directly related to the proto-celtic Lug-ra (moon) and is thus, like his Germanic, Slavic and Vedic counterparts a male lunar deity, he is also highly synchronous with Hermes and Mercury, which has long been observed. It is certain that in Gaul and Britain that Lugus simply became Mercury, so similar were their attributes. Gwydion is also directly linked to Mercury in a Roman period alter dedication to Mercury-Uiducus. Hermes is most often associated with the night, not the day, with wind and speed, cattle, sleep, dreams, prophetic birds, dogs, the arts, music, combat arts, etc. None of these are traits of a god of light. Mercury or Hermes has never been interpreted as such, and unless we are to say that the people who actually worshipped these figures at a time when they had direct access to their ancestral conceptions of these deities somehow confused a sun god or light god with Mercury is a sure sign of modern arrogance. The Celts themselves, and the Romans, were in a much better place than we are to judge the deities that were worshipped at the time. Yet Matthews repeats these false conclusions, upon which only more false conclusions can be reached.

While he has many good insights related to the shamanistic nature of druidic knowledge and practice, as well as the importance of astrology, his own preconceptions and his method lead to a fundamentally flawed work which one serious about reclaiming our ancient ways should look at with a very careful eye. His translations are favourable for a pagan interpretation but are not necessarily accurate. We shouldn't be afraid to engage with Christian material but so many people try to run from it as if it wasn't part of our heritage and Matthews appears to be a perfect example of this negative tendency.
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