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TWILIGHT OF THE CELTIC GODS - An Exploration of Britain's Hidden Pagan Traditions

By David Clarke with Andy Roberts, published by Blandford Press at £16.99. HBk 176pp A4. ISBN: 0-7137-2522-2

In some ways this is the most impressive and interesting offering of this quarter's batch. Clarke's starting point is the suggestion that archaic Celtic beliefs and traditions have survived in Britain's upland areas, including the Peak District and Yorkshire Dales. This area is, of course, something of a field of open warfare between Professor Hutton and his supporters and the pagan survivalists - and no doubt the arguments will run for years yet.

The book examines in depth surviving traditions for the head amd skull cult, veneration of stones, trees and sacred bodies of water and perceptions of the land amongst those whose families have lived and worked on it for generations. However there is very little of the commonly cited glamorous stuff here, and in some ways it's the very ordinariness of much of his evidence which is most convincing. No stone circles, no sham "shamanism", no druids in long white frocks - just the voices of unnamed Peak District and Dales farmers, Scottish shepherds et al. And those voices do ring true in my experience, though there are always serious dangers in relying on an author who bases his case on anonymous informants or sources. The reader will have to make their own mind up about that.

Actually, I don't think it matters too much whether Clarke is right or not. What is important is that he presents a viable, worthwhile and more realistic alternative to the fluff-bunny pseudo-pagan New Age claptrap so prevalent amid today's "Celtic" revival. And Clarke just may be the first folklorist to have broken the silence of the old families. Recommended for anyone who thinks they understand "Celtishness".