(Note from Daven: Yes, I grabbed this totally from DruidBooks, and I’m not sorry about that. I feel that the 21 Lessons of Merlyn is one of the most devastating books ever foisted onto the public in the name of “scholarship”. I have read excerpts from it, and none of it is true. As a student of Druidry, I find myself compelled to speak out against this book on a regular basis.
Let me tell you a story:
Update 7-19-03: I have taken some criticism for this following passage, being that it’s not really the way things are, and that it’s not accurate. All I can say in defense of this is that this story was told to me by my wife, who was married to a Welshman, who also speaks fluent Northern Welsh. He is the one who said all this, and I think he’s in a possition to know. Regardless of that, repeated questioning and re-questioning of my wife, she stands by the story. If he lied to her about this, that’s not my fault. I’m only repeating what I was told, and the sources for that story. Now on to the story….
My wife was married once before, to a Welshman, native to Wales, and he grew up speaking Welsh. When I found out that Monroe had stolen the “Charm of Making” from the movie, Excalibur, she laughed her head off. It turns out that that famous scene, where Merlin is speaking to Morgan leFey’s dreams, making her recite this invocation over and over, creating a thick fog out of her mouth made her then-husband laugh his head off when he first saw the movie. Turns out that all she was saying at that point was “Mary had a little lamb” over and over in Welsh.
It should make you stop and think about those who would plagiarize a movie for their source material, and then not even check it to see what the heck they are actually speaking.
Most times, you will find me defending Llewellyn Books as a source of Pagan Literature. However, in this case, Llewellyn really screwed the pooch. It’s books like this that wind up messing up a publication house’s reputation completely. They have a few marginal works in their catalog, but this one should be thrown out completely, and Mr. Monroe should be made to reimburse them for their expenses.
What is so terrible is that more and more newbies come to Druidism having read ONLY this book, and they need months of intensive work to correct everything that they were “taught” by this man.)
Where is the 21 Lessons of Merlyn?
Druidbooks lists well over one hundred books — on subjects ranging from ancient Celtic archaeology to Hindu cosmology, Greek religion to Welsh folklore. As one of the most comprehensive Druid bibliographies on the Internet, one might wonder: why isn’t Douglas Monroe’s The Twenty-One Lessons of Merlyn or The Lost Books of Merlyn included in this list of recommended Druid books?
The reason is simple. This is a list of recommended books, not just available books. There is a huge difference.
Many books have been published, not only in recent years but at various points over the last few centuries, that claim to contain “the truth” about Druid culture. Often, these books claim to provide privileged information on “hidden” or “esoteric” truths, often consisting of material from “ancient” books to which the author had special access.
It’s a beguiling concept. One book that contains “the truth”! Alas, without exception, books that make claims like this turn out to be fraudulent.
The Twenty-One Lessons of Merlyn is a great case in point. This book claims to be “the complete course in authentic Celtic Druidism” (as if there were such a thing as non-Celtic Druidism), featuring a course of study “based upon history rather than fantasy”, including “genuine” lore and “authentic” lessons from the “authentic” Merlyn-the-Druid…all based on the so-called Book of Pheryllt, an “actual, never before published” manuscript from the sixteenth century!
Well, here are a few questions:
If this book is really so “authentic” and “genuine,” why does it need to keep saying so? If The Book of Pheryllt is so important, why hasn’t it been published? Why haven’t other prominent Druid writers, like Philip Carr-Gomm and Ellen Evert Hopman, used The Book of Pheryllt in their work? Why does the book contain stupidly obvious factual errors: like saying the Druids used pumpkins in their rituals (see page 131), when the pumpkin came from the new world, meaning it would not have been available in Europe before the fifteenth century? Most disturbing of all: why is the book so sexist, especially when most scholars believe the ancient Celts were extremely liberal in their balance of power and freedom between men and women? In short, nearly all serious, scholarly students of Celtic Paganism and Druidism dismiss the writing of Douglas Monroe as nothing more than fantasy. Isaac Bonewits (the founder of ADF) calls this book The Twenty-One Lessons of Hogwash. Ellen Evert Hopman (a leader of Keltria and the Order of the White Oak) wrote an in-depth letter to Douglas Monroe, identifying some of the many flaws in the book.
“But I read the book, and I liked it!”
Alas, The Twenty-One Lessons of Merlyn is a best-selling book on Celtic spirituality. Chances are, many people who are interested in Druidism will stumble across this book — and without anyone to steer them in a better direction, they’ll read it. Sure, many folks will go on to read better material, such as the books listed here in Druidbooks. But how many others may abandon Druidism and Celtic spirituality altogether, after being put off by Douglas Monroe’s sexist, pompous, and erroneous writing?
If you have already read The Twenty-One Lessons of Merlyn, please do not see this as an attack on you personally! If you enjoyed it, that’s okay. But please understand — it’s not an accurate picture of Druidism. Responsible, hard-working scholars who have the integrity to admit when they don’t know an answer have written dozens of useful and interesting books on Celtic culture, religion, and society. Many of these books are listed here in Druidbooks. Almost all of them present a view of Celtic society radically different from what Douglas Monroe depicts. Read a dozen books from Druidbooks — take your pick. And then go back to The Twenty-One Lessons, and you’ll see what I mean.
Better to light a candle than to curse the darkness
I don’t want to belabor the point. Douglas Monroe is not the only fantasy-writer who has tried to pass off his imaginary world as reality. This has happened before, and will no doubt happen again. What is truly important are the many worthy books that are, and will be, available. We who care about intelligent scholarship and academic integrity must continue to read, review, and teach books truly worthy of the Druids.
Remember, the ancient Druids were scientists, philosophers, and lawyers. We have no reason to believe they flew in UFO’s, beamed over to Ireland from Atlantis, or stuck crystals up their nose. On the other hand, we can assume they stood for rigor and discernment in the pursuit of knowledge. If we dare to call ourselves “Druids,” the least we can do is approach our research and study with a similar standard of discernment and excellence.
Read good books.
(Note from Daven: The below was turned into several NewsGroups at various times, and keeps getting re-circulated. It’s one of the best out there, and raises many different points that need addressing. Interestingly enough, Mr. Monroe has NEVER responded to this or any of the points raised.)
[Webmaster’s Note: I usually do not pay much attention to what the popular press has to say about Druidism, because the popular press, being a profit venture, is not constrained by truthfulness in the same way that the academic press is. The book reviewed below is thus far the only case in which I feel compelled to act; printing this letter is one way that I have done so. –cathbad]
I have attached a review I did of the 21 Lessons of Merlyn, for Keltria’s magazine. I am sure others on the list will have things to add. Slan Saille
The 21 Lessons of Merlyn: A Study in Druid Magic and Lore
by Douglas Monroe, Llewellyn Publications, ISBN: 0875424961
From 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…
From Ellen Evert Hopman: Hello Philip: 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 Willow
As 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 to investigate.
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.
You 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).
Which 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, CuChulainn, 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 ? Women¹s bodies GIVE life, in the form of milk, warmth, nurturing, their very blood.
You quote a ridiculous poem on page 225 ;
“Wouldn’t you rather be the sun that shines so bold and bright, than be the moon, that only glows with someone else’s 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 it¹s 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; “Šthe 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