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Review Essays of Academic, Professional & Technical Books in the Humanities & Sciences


The Templar Treasure at Gisors Jean Markale (Inner Traditions) When French King Philip the Fair ordered the arrest of the Knights Templars and the con fiscation of their property in 1307, the Templars were one of the most powerful forces ii Europe, answerable only to the Pope. It was also one of the richest, despite its knights' vow of poverty. Yet not a penny of their immense treasure was ever found. The hunt for this lost treasure has centered on a number of locations, among which is the medieval city of Gisors a site on the Normandy and French border that is honeycombed with complex underground passageways and chambers. Mysteriously, all attempts to discover what may be concealed in these subterranean corridors are rigorously discouraged by contemporary authorities.

The enigma of the treasure is but one of the many unsolved mysteries concerning this order that continues to haunt our imaginations. Who were these "poor knights of Christ who made denial of Jesus a requirement of acceptance into the order? What were their true purposes and what was the nature of their secret that drew the wrath of the king of Franc down on their heads? Was there really a treasure and, if so, what was it-material wealth o something more powerful, such as the Holy Grail or the secret to the philosopher's stone Was there a secret order within the order that authorized the heretical practices for which they were condemned? In a search for answers to these and other questions, Celtic any medieval scholar Jean Markale goes back to original source documents in an attempt to clear away the baseless assumptions that have sprung up about the Templars and to shine new light on their activities.

Poet, philosopher, historian, and storyteller, Jean Markale has spent a lifetime researching pre-Christian and medieval culture and spirituality. He is the author of more than 40 books, including The Druids, The Pagan Mysteries of Halloween, Merlin, Women of the Celts, and The Epics of Celtic Ireland. He is a specialist in Celtic studies at the Sorbonne and lives in the Brittany region of France.

The Celts by Jean Markale (Inner Traditions) While historians have tended to accord the Celts a place of minor significance in comparison to the Romans, The Celts firmly aligns the Celtic peoples as the primary European precedent to the Greco-Roman hegemony, restoring this culture to its true importance in the development of European civilization. An expert in Celtic studies, Markale regards myth as a branch of history, and explores mythological material to reveal the culture that gave rise to it. The alternative historical vision that emerges is both convincing and exciting.
One of the most comprehensive treatments of Celtic civilization ever written. A cornerstone of Western civilization and the major source of its social, political, and literary values, Celtic civilization occupied the whole of
Western Europe for more than a millennium. Unlike the Middle Eastern forerunners of the Greco-Roman world, Celtic civilization is still alive today.
Women of the Celts by Jean Markale (Inner Traditions) Historian Markale explores the rich heritage of Celtic women in history, myth, and ritual, showing how those traditions compare to modern attitudes toward women.

This book was a surprise to me--I expected a book of mythology, and instead it was a book of psychological, sociological, and philosophical theory with Celtic mythological overtones. Its structure reminded me of Simone de Beauvoir's _The Second Sex_, a book which Markale quotes often. Women of the Celts begins with a historical discourse on the role of women in ancient Celtic society, and then studies myths centered around female characters in a search for subconscious attitudes about women. Reading _The Second Sex_ may be helpful to understanding _Women of the Celts_; having read De Beauvoir's book first gives the reader a sense of "OK, I know where this is going."

Markale discusses the role of women in the various Celtic societies without generalizing or idealizing; he spends many pages on each of the Celtic lands, and focuses on specific legal codes that concerned women's rights and limitations. His studies reveal a people caught somewhere between equality and sexism; women still held nearly equal rights with men but were losing ground.

He then launches into several chapters of comparative mythology, seeking common archetypes that can be found in many Celtic stories, such as "The Submerged Princess", "The Great Queen", "Our Lady of the Night", "The Rebellion of the Flower-Daughter", and "The Lady of the Orchard." He draws parallels between the various stories and looks for the psychological undertones. The conclusion he finally draws is that men both desire and fear a deep union with a woman; and that this union leads to a true understanding of what is truly important in life. When a person is truly in love, the workaday world loses the meaning it formerly held.

In the third section of the book, Markale outlines his new vision for a more sexually equal society, based on some of the ideas held by the ancient Celts. His theory would take too long to explain here, but it is interesting and thought-provoking.

I give this book four stars for its scholarship, the interesting nature of the Celtic stories, and for the very thought-provoking social theories suggested at the end. I have only two gripes. (1)Markale can get very long-winded and "high-falutin" at times, leaving the reader wondering, "Where is he going with this?" (2)I think Markale may be overgenerous in his application of Freudian "Oedipal complex" theory. After a while, the reader also wonders, "Can every last Celtic myth really be about man's desire for sexual union with his mother?" But, in the end, the focus is not on incest, but on the union-in-love that returns the lover to a state of bliss and understanding.

Merlin by Jean Markale (Inner Traditions) Markale draws from historical records, myth, and literary texts for this revealing portrait of the real Merlin.

Merlin, the wizard, has always attracted our attention whether as children or adults. Personally, I can't say exactly why, but after reading Markale's book, I was convinced he might have some answers for that question.

A wonderful and very complete research work; this book contains quite a lot about Merlin and all the mythology around the character. I started reading this book merely to spend my free time in something insightful, but after a couple of pages, I was really interested in the content.

Covering nearly every aspect of Merlin's figure, it analyses not only ancient texts regarding Merlin the wizard, but parallel texts and poems, middle ages' romances and even some doubtful sources. I found quite interesting not only the focus on the legend but also the analysis of related subjects such as Vivian, the Lady of the Lake ; or Merlin's druidic heritage and its implications in modern western way of thought.

The book might not be the best choice for a neophyte willing to start familiarizing with the myths and truths about Merlin, since it seems to be written in quite a formal and scholar style, but after one gets used to this, the fun part begins. I never was such a fan of Merlin and all the Arthurian legends, but this book turned me into a celtophile!

The Druids by Jean Markale (Inner Traditions) A comprehensive and revealing look at the druids and their fundamental role in Celtic society that dispels many of the misconceptions about these important religious figures and their doctrine * Written by the world's leading authority on Celtic culture. Druidism was one of the greatest and most exalting adventures of the human spirit, attempting to reconcile the unreconcilable, the individual and the collective, creator and created, good and evil, day and night, past and future, and life and death. Because of the oral nature of Celtic civilization our understanding of its spiritual truths and rituals is necessarily incomplete. Yet evidence exists that can provide the modern reader with a better understanding of the doctrine that took druidic apprentices 20 years to learn in the remote forests of the British Isles and Gaul.

Using the descriptions of the druids and their beliefs provided by the historians and chroniclers of classic antiquity--as well as those recorded by the insular Celts themselves when compelled, under Christianity's influence, to utilize writing to preserve their ancestral traditions--Jean Markale painstakingly pieces together all that is known for certain about them. The druids were more than simply the priests of the Celtic people; their influence extended to all aspects of Celtic life. The Druids covers everything concerning the Celtic religious domain, intellectual speculations, cultural or magical practices, various beliefs, and the so-called profane sciences that have come down from the Celtic priesthood.

King of the Celts by Jean Markale (Inner Traditions) opens with an argumentative introduction about historians' general reluctance to deal with myths and oral traditions. She moves directly into a discussion of how Arthurian lore in the medieval world was comcreated by ardent and undiscriminating propagandists of the courtly nobility who misappropriated Celtic legends and in the process betrayed and ridiculed them. Her survey of Arthurian legendry in Celtic history purports that through such Celtic notions of kingship, especially the king's obligation to the people, his role was clarified as more than one of personal gain or divine right. For serious students of Arthurian legends and history.  

The Pagan Mysteries of Halloween by Jean Markale (Inner Traditions) Though the name comes from the Christians' All Saints' Eve, Halloween can be traced back thousands of years to Samhain--the beginning of the "dark half" of the Celtic yearly calendar. As a feasting and merrymaking festival, Samhain lasted about three days, and attendance was mandatory, according to Markale. It was also the time when fairy folk made themselves available to humans, and the borders between the worlds of the living and the dead were said to blur. Markale is a thorough historian, offering a plausible account of how Samhain evolved into the modern day celebration. For readers seeking general Halloween information, Markale may be too dry and detailed. But for those intrigued by pagan festivals and lifestyle, this could be as delectable and coveted as a bag of Halloween candy.

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