The Celtic Shaman: A Handbook
Element Books, 1991
I’m in the middle of reading (or re-reading) all the books on shamanism and related topics currently in my home. I wanted a light read, so I pulled this one off the shelf. It’s one that I “inherited” through marriage, and while my husband normally has impeccable taste, I wasn’t so crazy about this particular book.
I suppose the main theme of this book could be “Where’s the Shamanism?” The author is apparently attempting to reconstruct the Celtic shamanic tradition; thankfully, he doesn’t try to say that the druids were all shamans. However, what this book ends up being is Celtic neopaganism with some shamanic techniques and concepts thrown in for flavor.
The book *is* well-written, though there are some typos in there. And as a book on shamanic-flavored Celtic neopaganism, it would actually be pretty good. Maybe not entirely historically accurate, but it would be functional for those who are quite happy in a modern paradigm. The author covers a lot of ground for the basic to lower-intermediate practitioner, particularly in introducing hir to this magical/spiritual system. While a lot of the material is Celtic neopaganism 101, there are some exercises which would have the potential to help the reader start on a more intermediate path.
One of the biggest problems is that the mixture of components isn’t well-blended. There’s information on Celtic mythology, including various dictionary-style lists of gods, “totem” animals (animals found in Celtic myth, but with no proof as to whether they served as clan/family totems or not), and correspondences for the directions that don’t seem to have any actual foundation in Celtic culture. (I’ll touch more on this in a minute). The shamanism portion is mainly a sprinkling of techniques, and the idea that the shaman is primarily an eco-pagan, with not too much focus on the community service. The two areas of study do not sit well together.
The issue is that there’s too much *neo*paganism and *neo*shamanism mixed into this. I can see elements of Harner’s core shamanism in there, particularly the focus on healing (as opposed to other shamanic functions), and it seems that the author has a rather incomplete understanding of what *traditional*, indigenous shamanism(s) is. Additionally, the bulk of the exercises are very heavily scripted guided meditations; shamanic journeys tend to be *much* more free-flowing and individual.
My other complaint is that while he seems to have a lovely bibliography in the back, the fact that there are no internal citations, either in-text, footnote or endnote, means that I had no idea how he used them (other than asterisks denoting which sources were particularly useful–but not why). This meant that there were a LOT of times when I sat there, scratching my head and wondering “Oooookay, where did he get THIS piece of information? Where is this COMING from?”
I don’t really feel the author accomplished his stated intention with this book. If he wanted to reconstruct the shamanic practices of the ancient Celts, then he needed to be looking at older forms of shamanism, not neoshamanism.
Two pawprints out of five.