Book Review: The Discovery Of Middle Earth

The Discovery Of Middle Earth: Mapping The Lost World Of The Celts, by Graham Robb

Contrary to popular belief, this is not a book about J.R.R. Tolkien’s fiction, which is what I first thought as I picked up the book at the library before checking it out. It is rare that I read a book that covers a subject nearly entirely unfamiliar to me, but this one does, as it is a book about the geomancy of the Celts. To be sure, geomancy is not a subject of particular interest in most of the world (although it would be familiar to practitioners of Feng Shui, of which I am not). At the heart of this book about speculative historical geography is that the Celts built their world on the interrelationship between geography and solstice lines, with various sacred centers and boundary areas and remarkably straight roads, some of them angled in Pythagorean ways. The book blends a look at Celtic protohistory, especially where it intersects with its neighbors like the Greeks and Romans, and is filled with very complicated maps.

At its heart, this is a book that seeks to give praise to the sophistication of the Celtic peoples in a wide variety of ways. The author of this book is clearly trying to make the case for the fact that the Gauls were not savages fit only for Asterix drawings, and that they possessed a sophisticated worldview that was of massive influence in the Roman world. There is some tension in the book as it goes between the Greco-Roman slanders against the Gauls and the author’s own high praise, and seems also to equivocate between painting the historical view as friendly to the Gauls [1] and as hostile and dismissive. Of course, both camps exist. This book also participates in a fierce false dilemma between a pagan view of son-worship and snake-worship involving sacred groves (!) and the praise of Roman bloodthirsty efficiency and their ruthless eradication of restive and rebellious peoples who wanted freedom. Neither extreme is desirable or righteous, but this book views no third option.

In the way this book details the existence of geomancy in the Celtic world from France and the Iberian penninslua to Ankara and Bratislava and then off to England, Scotland, and Ireland, this book is a reminder of a great truth that is often neglected. We tend to view paganism as a foolish and backwards sort of phenomenon and one that is dead and gone. Yet there is a great appeal that people have in attempting to make this world feel more at home by ritual, by seeking to make the earth reflect the geography of the heavens rather than seek to live as pilgrims and strangers with our nature being made more heavenly, by worshiping the creation instead of the creator. Given the fact that the heathen sites of the Celtic world remain startlingly important today (like Oxford and St. Albans in England, Andorra, Santiago de Compostela in Spain, Bratislava, Ankara, and others), there is much that remains of the names of heathen Celtic history and religion in the geography of Europe. If one does not agree with all of the claims of this book, it presents a strong case for the order and mapping of the Celtic world, and the importance of its religion to its culture. Anyone who can read through this book with its intensely serious geography and religion is likely to find themselves an expert of sorts on geomancy at the end. Whether that is good or bad is hard to say.

[1] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in Book Reviews, Christianity, History, Military History and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Book Review: The Discovery Of Middle Earth

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