The ancient Bards believed they had powers of divination, shape changing and the ability to travel to the 'Otherworld'. They encoded their knowledge into stories that could only be sung or spoken, for the druids forbade them to be written down. In Tales of the Celtic Bards Claire Hamilton captures the enchanting and often strange beauty of the mysterious bardic tales. She recreates the experience of the Celtic listeners of long ago by framing the myth with the teller and the teller with his or her audience, who would have listened spellbound as this higher knowledge was handed down. By putting the stories into the mouths of the bards, Claire teases out the spiritual truths that glitter within their tales.
Claire Hamilton is a writer on Celtic and Arthurian mythology and spirituality. She runs workshops, which explore the dramatic presentation of myths through narrative, poetry and music. She lives in Monmouthshire, Wales.
REVIEWS & ENDORSEMENTS
Here is a wonderful collection of the famous 'Celtic' tales, retold by a druid who magically breathes fresh life into them. We meet again Tam Lin, Finn, Cuhculainn, Morrigan, Lugh and Pwyll. The author's intelligent interpretation brings them alive in a 21st century way, yet the stories loose none of their integrity. The re-tellings are not 'updated' nor spun for political correctness. However, the focus of these old familiar tales is sharpened. The stories are presented as if being told by a bardic storyteller to a listener or audience, and this reviewer found it easy to slip into the scene, as if actually there, listening.
There is a useful and fascinating introduction, looking at the archaeology, the literature and Druid philosophy. Here the influence of Greek thought on the Druids, Pythagorean in particular, is discussed. Thus the stories are contextualised. Recommended. ~ Caroline Wise, Mirror of Isis
Over the years there have been many tellings and retellings of the myths of the Celtic people, and this boom is another retelling. As the author (an MA in The Bardic Tradition in Ireland from Bristol University) notes "If this story is new to you then you must hear it. But even if you know it well, listen again, for there is always new wisdom to be found in it."
She is an accomplished harpist, and has produced a CD to accompany this book. The initial tales are told by a bard, Bruach, to a young man and his village. Although the details surrounding the telling are sketchy, the stories themselves grab and hold your attention. They are told simply, as would have been appropriate to a rustic setting. Greater depth could have been achieved, but the simplicity increases the appeal and provides inspiration for further exploration.
After dealing with the Irish tales she moves on to the Scottish tales that share some stories with the Irish since, in ancient times, they were linked. These stories are drawn from the Finnian (or Ossian) Cycle. There are differences in these tales, especially noted in this telling of the story of Diarmaid and Grainne.
The tales conclude with stories from the Welsh collection known as the Mabinogion, ending with the story of Taliesin, drawn from the Hanes Taliesin (13th century), and the story of the lost city of Ys from Brittany.
The book is completed with some notes on the stories, a short glossary, an extremely short (14 entries), and a guide to Irish and Welsh pronunciation. None of these are extensive but they all contain enough information to be helpful.
My one regret is that I did not receive the CD of music which accompanied the hardcover edition of this book. The book has just been released, and they have not yet arranged the packaging of the book and CD. (CD now available from www.livingmyths.com) I am awaiting arrival of that CD and can honestly say that, if Ms. Hamilton plays a harp as well as she tells a bardic tale I am sure it will be a joy, and would add greatly to setting the mood for the various tales.
Although this is not the most extensive collection of bardic tales I have ever read, it is easily the most enjoyable. I was swept away and carried along by the images and pacing. I most heartily recommend this book. Since the holiday season is approaching I feel good saying that it would make a nice Yule gift.
For Mike's review of CD see www.livingmyths.com ~ Mike Gleason of Beverley MA United States, Mike Gleasons reviews can be found on: http://www20.brinkster.com/gleasonreview
Hamilton first offers brief and informative view of who the Celtic peoples were, what they believed, with the best explanation of their being like the Pythagorians I have thus far encountered. She then goes on to recount some of the key stories from Ireland, Wales, Scotland and Brittany. The tales are framed, offered to us as though they are being told by a bard, with little asides and descriptions. Normally I dislike such frames, but Hamilton uses them to flag up symbols and meanings that might otherwise go unnoticed, and so opens the tales up to her readers.
The tales themselves are nicely retold, and very accessible. They suffer a bit from being fragments of larger stories - some, but not all of The Tain. Pwyll in Annwn, but not Pwyll and Rhiannon. Gwydion and Llew Llaw Gyfess, but no Bran or Branwen, and only one story from Brittany.
While many of the stories expressed here were first recorded by Christians, Hamilton makes an interesting attempt to remove those elements, where possible, such that Gronwy makes his spear on holy days, not Sundays for example. Some of her interpretations were entirely new to me, and have given me a great deal to think about.
If you already know your way round these stories, then this isn't the book for you, I suspect â€“ lovely though it is. However, for someone setting out to explore the riches of the myths ascribed to the Celts, this book would make a fine place to start. It would certainly be suitable for younger readers. ~ Bryn Colvin, Druid Network
An original and compelling retelling of some wonderful stories by an accomplished mistress of the bardic art. Unusual and refreshing, the book provides within its covers the variety and colour of a complete bardic festival. ~ Ronald Hutton, Professor of History, University of Bristol
Claire has captured the essence of the 'Otherworld' held within these old tales and spun her own wonderful spell out of them. The result takes the reader on a completely captivating and magical journey - ~ Philip Carr-Gomm, Chief of OBOD (Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids
Of all the books I have ever read that retell the ancient myths this one is my favourite. It is as if the Bards themselves are whispering words from the past, rekindling the fire beneath the Awen's brew for a new generation. ~ Damh the Bard
An important work that offers new insights into the role of the archetype in present-day spirituality. ~ Professor John Clarke, Kingston University, London.
Brings the Celtic and Druidic narrative alive ~ Scientific and Medical Network