The 21 Lessons of Merlyn: A Study in Druid Magic and Lore
by Douglas Monroe, Llewellyn Publications, ISBN: 0875424961
Philip Carr-Gomm: One of the most widely read books on Druidry is unfortunately
the worst - Monroe's 21 Lessons of Merlyn. We get many emails asking
our opinion of this book...
Ellen Evert Hopman:
Here is my review of the 21 Lessons which I wrote right after it came out. The female head of Monroe's order never responded to me (I doubt she even exists) and Monroe's response was that he could counter every thing I had said but decided not to. The review was published in the Keltria Journal and has appeared all over the web. I am sure it could use some slight editing, feel free to use it. Also look for the new issue of Gnosis magazine. Their review is priceless and would make an excellent companion piece to this one cheers
a Druid initiate I am always interested in new interpretations of my religion.
I became aware of your recent book " The 21 Lesson of Merlyn " when
several people recommended it to me as a "genuine" text from antiquity.
Knowing that the Druids never committed their teachings to writing I was determined
What I found was a well crafted work of fiction, one worthy to stand as a companion piece to Bradley's " Mists of Avalon ". The magical systems that it contained seemed to have an inherent consistency that would make them useful ( though a fluent Welsh speaker I know says that your phonetic breakdowns of the word-spells are impossible ).
What troubles me is that people are accepting your writing as a true " ancient Druid " system. You do much to encourage that belief by your constant reference to " The Book of the Pheryllt " which you describe as part of a triad of volumes along with " The Gorchan of Maeldrew " and " Song of the Forest Trees ". What you fail to mention is that all three of these works are blatant forgeries perpetrated by the notorious romantic Iolo Morganwg. Further I find that your book is the second from Llewellyn that presents Druidism in a strangely misogynist light. As you insist on presenting the work as a religious text I feel compelled to point out its many inconsistencies and problems.
First are the historical inaccuracies. You state (p. 5) that 400 B.C. marks the traditional beginnings of Druidism. Actually the Celts arrived in Ireland sometime around 1,000 B.C. and brought their religion with them.
You state (p. 6) that the word " Druid " means " oak-men " in many languages and that the prefix " dru " refers to the oak tree - " King of All". In fact " dru " refers to truth - making a " Dru-id " a truth-knower. Further, the oak tree is both male and female, the pin oak is especially sacred to Brighid. The Celts venerated many trees, the oak was prominent with the Gaulish Druids while the Yew was a bit more significant to the British and the Rowan to the Irish.
state repeatedly in the book that Anglesey was an island of male Druids while
Avalon was an island of females. Yet you contradict yourself by presenting the
quote from Tacitus, a contemporary Roman witness to the slaughter of the Druids
at Anglesey in A.D. 61 (p.7) ; " ...between the ranks dashed women in black
attire like the Furies...". If women were forbidden on the island what
were they doing there defending it? The only reference we have to an island
of women is Strabo's. He mentions an island of "
virgins " in the Atlantic and Avalon/Glastonbury can by no stretch of the
imagination be called an island in the Atlantic.
You state in several places that the Druid path is a remnant of the ancient religion of Atlantis. On what evidence? And you say (p. 26) that after the slaughter of the Druids of Anglesey " the surviving Druids took refuge on the Caledonian ( Scottish ) island of Iona." Yet you fail to mention that the Romans never got to Ireland !
You claim (p. 9) that Ogham was " a symbolic magical alphabet, used by the Druids SOLELY as a religious device for divination and revelation " ( emphasis mine ). I can only ask if you have ever visited a Celtic country ? If you had you would know that the Ogham was used to mark boundaries, property lines etc. a most mundane function. I urge you to visit the University of Cork which has a vast collection of such markers.
You mention several " Druidic customs " pertaining to seasonal celebrations such as kissing under the mistletoe and the Easter bunny. You describe Easter as the old Gaelic festival of Ishtar or Ostara. In reality Easter comes from the Germanic festival of Oestre a Goddess whose attributes were the egg and the hare, symbols of Spring's fertility. Ishtar ( whom you mention several times in the book ) is a Mesopotamian Goddess. The custom of venerating the mistletoe comes from the Scandinavian legend of Baldur. The Christmas tree you describe as a derivative of the Druidic Yule log, yet this custom is also Germanic (p. 12).
brings us to the subject of religion:
I notice in your book a disturbing tendency to group Celtic Deities into male or female functions, into THE TRIPLE GODDESS or THE GOD OF DARK AND LIGHT. Alas the reality of Celtic thought was not so simple and much more wonderful. Your supremely irritating attitude towards the female ( i.e. female = passive, male = active ) I will deal with below, but the division of the Gods into " male and female " is a holdover from Gardnerian Wicca which lumps all the Goddesses into THE GODDESS and all the Gods into THE GOD.
Almost four hundred Celtic Deities have been currently identified. Each tribe had its own pantheon with the possible exceptions of Lugh and Brighid who were pan-Celtic Deities. I hasten to add the both Brighid and Lugh are Deities of light and fire, neither is particularly associated with darkness or passivity or the moon etc. This makes perfect sense when we examine the similarities between Hindu and Celtic religion - many see these as opposite ends of a common cultural trend, the result of the Celtic migrations to East and West. Ancient Druidism and the Brahamanic tradition of India were and are religions of fire worship. The most important Celtic festivals are called Fire festivals and the Arch Druids were in charge of perpetual sacred fires at Uisnach etc. When the historic St. Brighid converted to Christianity she and her followers kept up the sacred fire at Killdare into which they would scry to answer questions posed by the folk.
Another common misconception, probably derived again from Wicca of the 1950's, is the idea that THE SUN IS MALE and THE MOON IS FEMALE. In the Gaelic language the sun is a feminine word and the earth is a masculine word !
I could not help but notice that you left out the concept of the Divine Child in your theology. Mabon/Maponos (divine youth ) is the personification of the sacred child in Welsh tradition for example. You also leave out the Sacred Couple, examples of which are Leucretius and Nemetona from Aquae Sulis. But then you probably do this to justify your theory that the Druids were celibate ( more on this later ).
It would be impossible to discuss all of the variations of Deity in this letter but I urge you to examine PAGAN CELTIC BRITAIN by Anne Ross if you want a good overview. I will point out a few prominent examples that contradict your statement (p. 21); "For the Celts, all reality was a direct reflection from either the SUN REALM (i.e. the masculine, radiating, active sphere ) or the MOON REALM ( i.e. the feminine, absorbing, passive sphere)."
The sun was clearly seen as both masculine AND feminine. Belenos is a good example of a solar Deity and Grainne a solar Goddess. Dagda Mor is a classic example of a Divine Father who is also an Earth God while Anu/Danu is the Divine Earth Mother. Brighid is a Goddess of skill and craft, being patroness of smithcraft, poetry, healing, motherhood, and other arts. Similarly we have Lugh as a master of every art. In the realm of medicine we have Diancecht and again Brighid as male and female Deities. Along with horned warrior Gods such as Belatucadros and Cocidius we have the warrior Goddesses such as Macha, the Morrigan etc.
And then you have left out the numerous sacred animals and birds. The ancient Druids were shamans as well as clergy as evidenced by their costumes which included feathered capes and headdresses ( see Anne Ross for more on this ). The swan, raven, goose, owl, eagle, and crane were among the sacred birds and the cat, bull, boar/sow, horse, stag/deer, dog, wolf, ram, bear, and fish were among the divine animals. So prominent were the animal associations with the Otherworld that early Christian saints called upon deer to guide them to a good site to found a monastery etc.
On page 26 you make the rather startling statement; "...the Catholic church to this day does not allow their Priests to marry or engage in [ hetero(?)sexual ] relations - and this, without doubt, is a blatant remnant of old Druidic Law." Are we to assume that the apostle Paul was a trained Druid or is it simply that celibacy was unknown to the Hebrews, Egyptians, Chaldeans, Greeks, Romans, etc.? You also mention the adoration of the cross as an ancient Druid custom picked up by Christianity. The cross of the four directions is a universal symbol used by Native Americans, Lappish shamans, and many pre-Christian peoples. The Egyptians had their version in the Ankh etc.etc.
You list several examples of celibate, enlightened men who kept their distance from women in order to " maintain their heightened awareness ". Mohammed who is included in your list actually had several wives and children. There are many who believe that Jesus was sexually involved with Mary Magdalene.
You also state that the ancient Druids were vegetarian and that this was a requirement for enlightenment. I can recall no reference to vegetarian Druids in the literature and I would remind you of the fact that Tibetan Lamas and the great Native American seer/sages such as Black Elk were and are meat eaters.
Your attitude throughout the book is so blatantly sexist that it would be impossible to comment on every instance . examine the history of the ancient Celts rather than basing your opinions on the ideas of a forger (Morganwg). For example Tacitus tells us that " the British make no sexual distinction among those that enjoy sovereignty ". Here is a description of queen Maeve from the Cattle Raid of Cooley; " Although King Aillil was the ruler, his queen always had the final word in the land of Connacht, for she could order whatever she liked, take as lover whomsoever she desired, and could get rid of them as she felt inclined. She was strong and restless, like a goddess of war, and she knew no law other than her own strong will. She was, it was said, tall with a long, pallid countenance and she had hair the color of ripe corn."
The ancient Romans reported that the female warriors of the Celts were more fierce than the males and it was a queen of the Iceni tribe who led the last revolt against the Romans in England. We know also that Celtic women trained children in the use of weapons and that the greatest warrior, Cuchullain, was trained by a female teacher.
But now let us examine your views : (p. 217) to be born as a man indicates a need to develop the qualities of intellect, assertiveness and outer world mastery. To be born as a woman indicates a need to develop passive, emotional, inner-world qualities. As we have seen from the examples of Celtic Deities and queens above the ancients felt that women were just as capable as men of being warriors, healers, artists, etc.
Women (p. 224) absorb life energy, while men radiate it. This is a fascinating concept that points to a pathological fear some men have that women will somehow steal their life force by absorbing their semen. If it were true that women absorbed the life force how on earth could they nurture a baby in their womb ? Womenıs bodies GIVE life, in the form of milk, warmth, nurturing, their very blood.
You quote a ridiculous poem on page 225 ;
you rather be the sun that shines so bold and bright,
than be the moon, that only glows with someone elseıs light?"
We are meant to see the sun as the desirable (i.e. male) station and the moon as the weak (i.e. female) state. Given the reality of the Celtic queens and war Goddesses this entire concept is absurd.
In your chapter "Deadliest of Species" you have Merlyn instruct the young Arthur in the dangerous nature of women. You cite the example of a species of female spider that devours its mate after copulation as proof of your thesis. Are you aware that male felines of all species devour the kittens of other males? Do you know that chimpanzee males and langur males do the same? And among humans which sex is it that perpetrates the vast majority of the murders, rapes, wars, genocides?
You present an interesting diagram on page 234. You show a human brain neatly divided in two with one half labeled female ( right hemisphere ) and one half labeled male ( left hemisphere ). You outline the qualities that supposedly adhere to each sex i.e. "female" is intuitive,timeless, visual, subjective, emotional, dreamer, holistic, spontaneous, artistic, while the " male " is labeled analytical, sequential, verbal, objective, logical, scientific, mathematical, etc. Yet both sets of qualities exist in one head! Obviously men and women have both and to separate the sexes according to any one set of qualities is useless.
You make some rather interesting claims about ancient Druid herbal formulas and recipes. Your Samhain absinthe recipe calls for pumpkin blossoms as a garnish . In October? And you quote the Pheryllt manuscript (p. 154) as devoting a lengthy chapter to "16 healing herbs which were the basic standards of Druid medicine". You manage to leave out some of the most obvious herbs that are to be found in the literature such as dandelion, oats, and sorrel yet you also include herbs which were unknown to the Druids such as echinacea and goldenseal - both Native American plants (as are pumpkins) unheard of in Europe until relatively recently. You mention mistletoe but do not include its most important use - in curing cancer.
Finally I have to take exception to your statement about American Druidry. You claim (p. 415) that the NEW FOREST which you represent is an archetypal remnant of the ancient tradition which will benefit American Druids who " wish to seek old knowledge according to authentic tradition ". You further state that " Every current Druidic Lodge of note, seems to have built its extrapolations upon Matriarchal, Wiccan-based forms of Earth Magic - and most claim that that the original Priesthood itself was Matriarchal".
The two largest Druid Orders in America are Keltria, of which I am vice president, and A.D.F. neither of which subscribes to the these views. As you can see from the above arguments I have made, our view is a balanced one that seeks to discover and nurture the talents of women and men while worshipping both Goddesses and Gods. Keltria in particular makes every effort to achieve balance of gender in itıs officers. In fact if you examine the recent statements of Maccrossan ( another Llewellyn author ) and of many of the British Druid Orders you will find them to be overwhelmingly Patriarchal in tone. Rarely does a Druid order attempt to honor the true place of women in the Celtic tradition. I find that your volume is another offering from a man who is clearly uncomfortable with the idea of the essential power and Divinity of woman. As evidence of this I quote you from page 99; "the depths of ANNWN : that indigo, hidden-realm of creation, into which no woman may look ".
I am forwarding a copy of this commentary to Theresa L.Worth, Directress of the Center For New Avalon and I invite you both to respond. I would like permission to print your replies in one of our
Blessings of Earth, Stone, Water, Fire, Air, Wind, and Sea and of the Dee and the un-Dee;
Ellen Evert Hopman known as Willow