Thursday, 7 May 2009

Visions Of The Cailleach - Sorita d'Este & David Rankine

Despite (or perhaps because of) my long-standing interest in the myth and folklore of Britain, especially its integral role in understanding ancient metaphysical and spiritual ideas, I do not read many books on the subject these days. I try, but I find most of them to be poorly researched and written to support some pre-conceived idea of the author. What a relief, then, to read a book that starts with the advantage of good research and allowing the reader to make up their own mind about any deeper meanings that may be inherent in the tales.

Collecting and examining tales of the Cailleach, this book sets out the tales by region and by theme, examines their origins, and discusses the possibility of some unifying force behind the tales that helped them to spread and stay alive in the popular imagination. It does no more, because that is enough. The authors make no claims; they discuss possibilities and present the tales as evidence. For that, they are to be thanked. Not just for collecting the tales into a handy reference book, but also for crediting their readers with the intelligence to investigate further and draw their own conclusions.

As a real bonus, the book is well written. The style is easy and intelligent. It wears its scholarship lightly, but is robust. There are plenty of references and a great bibliography. All this makes the book something of a rarity in times when many scholarly works are badly written and dreadfully biased (and professional academics are some of the worst culprits); and when many books on myth, folklore, and spiritual matters seem to rely so heavily on something the author might once have seen on television or has written in their first flush of enthusiasm for a new found path without actually having any deeper understanding of the subject on which they expound.

This book sets a standard. We can but hope that it, and books like it, will lead to a revival of quality worked based in good research and which explore areas beyond that of the huge pile of ‘how to’ books with which we have been swamped in the past decade.