The first thing to say is that The Druids from Peter Berresford Ellis was written in a delicious way. More than just an amount of information given as absolute facts, he discusses theories and points of views in an instigating debate about the sources and the trustworthiness of the Classical authors. His argument about the lack of critical analysis, even from scholarship, when dealing with Romans commentaries about the Celts is refreshing and, for this only, it would be an excellent book for anyone interested in Celtic cultures.
As the first chapter begins, the richness of information about the Celtic place and spread through Europe and their alliances and battles is so objective and colorful that we forget we are reading a scholarly book. On the other hand, there is a price to all this easy read, it fails in provide some evidences for what he says. The book has poor references for the facts and sometimes it seems that he is just telling a story. However, it is surprisingly plentiful on citations and theoretical debate, which gives a good notion of the complexity of the subject.
It is impressive how he can say in so many words that the Indo European culture is a hypothetical linguistic theory and convince the reader that this is essential to understand the Celts, while he heads to explain the warfare and the social division among them and the origin and the role of the Druids in the Celtic Culture. He provided to me a new perspective about the Indo-European hypothesis that no great linguistic could do before, for he put it in the form of a cultural approach, more than just a linguistic comparative idea of similar words.
But this is a book about Druids and while he presents them as intellectuals and brings up issues as sacrifices, their connections with the oak, Druidesses and their high status and prominence, it seems clear that he is reproducing the same mistake that he ascribes to those who accept the classical descriptions as an unquestionable truth. Even though he analyses the Roman and Greek sources with a lucid critical methodology, he does the opposite when dealing with the Christian compilations and commentaries as if they were Celts, for no background about it is mentioned to deal with their interferences in the content of their compilations or political matters interfering in the writing of the Saint’s lives.
In general, this book is a great source of information. Its questions and abundant amount of argumentations given during the exploration of the themes are exceptionally worthy, but some care is needed to deal with his conclusions and choices. At the end, as he deals with Druidism revival and Witchcraft it makes me wonder how would be the next chapter if he included Celtic Reconstructionism and ADF Druidism in it.