Review: Celtic Folklore Cooking

Celtic Folklore Cooking by Joanne Asala

I was at first hesitant to even read the pages–knowing the chapter “Celtic Wheel of the Year” was going to bring forth a lot of headache–but I decided to just read the introduction. And I was pleasantly surprised when I did. The introduction is very level-headed, if not a bit overly romantic towards the Celtic cultures of Ireland and Britain. Yet the author wrote something very important in these pages: “Yet we must keep in mind that what we do know about the old Celts and their traditions is still based on supposition, conjecture, and plain guesswork. The Celts did not call themselves Celts, nor did they speak ‘Celtic’ ” (pg 3.) I ended the introduction feeling like this book could potentially go in a direction that I could adequately enjoy.

 …then I got to the infamous “The Celtic Wheel of the Year” and it pretty much goes downhill in that chapter. It starts off with reducing women down to a reproductive value (“A woman’s ability to bring forth new life and create another human being from her own body was seen as powerful magic–something to be respected and revered” (pg 5.)) and then continues on claiming a history that we now know never existed. Things like there being an Unifying One Goddess that every prehistoric culture worshipped, and also a One God that was her consort.

Looking to the book’s bibliography (and I was surprised there was one), I learned where the author got these ideas. The Matthews are listed, Edain McCoy, and Robert Graves to name the problematic authors that first popped up. Surprisingly, no Margaret Murray…but I wouldn’t be surprised if Murray was referenced by the Matthews and McCoy, and thus bleeding into this book like a wound that won’t heal.

But really it’s Robert Graves who’s influence shines brightest in this chapter, with frequent mentions to the Celtic “White Moon Goddess.” So much so that I want to red out every paragraph that bares her description…which wouldn’t leave much to this chapter.

The part about the actual “Sabbats” is frustrating for a number of reasons. For one, it assumes that every self-identified pagan celebrates the Wheel of the Year–which isn’t true. Secondly, they do the annoying thing of lumping a bunch of unrelated holidays at similar times of the year under the Sabbat heading. Samhain is now also All Saint’s Day, Imbolc is also Groundhog Day, Ostara is now Easter…etc. And thirdly, MOST of these days aren’t Celtic! Samhain, Imbolc, Beltaine, and Lughnasa are all Gaelic holidays…but the solstice and equinox names are completely non-Celtic names.

After Sabbats, I’m woefully meeted with the Celtic Tree Calendar. And I groaned loudly and flipped past it.

And then I get to the actual recipes! I haven’t tried any of them yet, but I’m hoping they’ll be yummy? However, I am a bit miffed they aren’t in constant format. Some are written in paragraphs, some are given as “recipe” format. I would prefer a consistent format for recipes so I knew it was a recipe and not a piece of folklore. Speaking of…

There are several folklore stories interlaced with the recipes. I wish the author had put them in the table of contents so I could skip to them. Otherwise they’re okay. I don’t know where the author gets them from, but they’re fine.

So in conclusion, this is a book that was born out of a very nice idea with some well-founded reasoning…that was then ruined by poor resources and historical inaccuracy. I do not recommend this book to anyone. There are better cook books out there.

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