By Mike Gleason
Clan of the Goddess: Celtic Wisdom and Ritual for Women, by C. C. Brondwin
New Page Books, 1564146049, 2002
Okay, I can already hear the indignation. “How can a man fairly review a book dedicated to women’s mysteries?” I’ll be honest I would probably be asking the same question. However, my explanation is simple. No, I’m not a gay male. What I am is a Priest of the Old Religion who has learned to access both the masculine and feminine aspects of my own current existence and past lives. I have no problem manifesting either the Goddess or the God, as needed.
One objection I have, with many authors, is their tendency to state theories as if they are proven and accepted facts. Ms. Brondwin suffers from this problem, and it manifests early in this work. On page eight of this book occurs the statement “Worship of the Goddess, the Great Mother, wan an abiding faith worldwide for more than 20,000 years.” This is a theory that has received wide publicity. However, since written history only extends back to a MAXIMUM of 6,000 years, and objects can only IMPLY facts but not PROVE them, this must remain unproven.
Probably my major problem with Ms. Brondwin is her habit of stating things as facts when they have not been proven. I don’t mind people who qualify such statements with “In my opinion” or “It is alleged” or “Some people believe,” but to state, as this author does, “Entities are extremely positive in nature” without any qualification is, in my opinion, very misleading.
The author’s often-repeated statements regarding the supremacy of the Clan Mothers in Celtic society have not, to the best of my knowledge, been substantiated by anyone, other than feminist authors. These claims may well be accurate but, lacking written evidence, all we may state with certainty is that it MAY have been that way.
I also have a problem with a statement on page 14; “finding the spirit of the Goddess inside your heart doesn’t threaten any other religious you might hold”. Truly discovering the spirit of the Goddess would, in my opinion, threaten beliefs held by a sincere Muslin, Christian, or Jew, at the very least.
On page 203 she makes another statement that defies verification. “Halloween, but all its traditions come from the Clan of the Goddess.” Had she said “most,” or “many,” I wouldn’t have a problem, but the use of “all” is a bit strong
“Children walked the fair grounds on high stilts, or played marbles in the dirt.” Really? I wasn’t aware that Celtic tribes maintained fair grounds. I, personally, would have thought that “high stilts” were a relatively recent (say within the past 400 years or so) idea for entertainment. I may be wrong on that, however, and it is merely my opinion.
Young men conceived at Beltane “wore the special “Child of the Mother Only” designation painted proudly on their shields”. I have a couple of questions about this one: First, why were they called “Child of the Goddess Only” six lines before they became “Child of the Mother Only”? There is a big difference between “Goddess” and “Mother.” Next, how many such shields have been found? In what parts of Europe? Where are they displayed? How large a span of time do they cover?
Although the author claims to be passing on authentic Celtic Clan Mothers’ teachings, I must admit to some misgivings. The oldest teachings must, of necessity, have been oral, and the attempt to convey them in written form is difficult, if not impossible. When passing on oral lore there is much more than verbal communication going on. Body language, tone of voice, and numerous other factors come into play, not to mention the setting of the teaching. On a totally different level, just compare the different feelings you experience reading a Stephen King novel (for example) sitting outdoors on a sunny day with the feelings you have reading the same novel on a dark, stormy night by flickering candle light. See the difference?
I also have a problem with people, like this author, who purport to teach “old traditions”, and then say you don’t need to do the unpleasant things that were part of the of the past (mind-altering substances, human remains, etc.) If you wish to experience what your ancestors did, you need to share their experiences in their totality.
Ms. Brondwin incorporates the technique used by many others, from the Silva Mind Control to Laurie Cabot’s “Alpha State,” of a ten step deepening of the meditative state, unfortunately without acknowledging her indebtedness to the work of others who have gone before her.
My training is very different from Ms. Brondwin’s. While I can see her point of view, duality and balance were stressed in my training. Thus I find it a bit disconcerting that throughout the first half of the book, NO mention is made of men, or male influence, other than in negative forms (rapers, murderers, pillagers). For someone who is just starting to investigate the Goddess religions, it does present an extraordinarily unbalanced view.
The second half of the book does mention loving men in your life, but by that point many readers may have picked up (and incorporated) an anti-male bias as being part and parcel of the Goddess-worshipping religions.
Combining “channelling” with automatic writing” seems a stretch to me. Granted I do not use automatic writing on a regular basis, I am aware that it is nowhere near as simple and harmless as she indicates. It may be, but there are dangers to look out for, which Ms. Brondwin fails to point out.
I also have a problem with blanket statements, such as “all professions within the tribal system were open to either men or women.” Such statements assume that ALL Celtic tribes throughout their cultural area, and throughout their period of development shared the same, unfaltering, set of operating rules. That appears to be a VAST oversimplification to me. Simply look at “American culture.” We cover a vast geographical area, and a mere three hundred years of development; but it would be naïve to make the same statement. Three hundred years ago, women (in American culture) could not be doctors, or lawyers; men hunted for a living, or worked on farms in the vast majority of cases. Neither of those instances hold true today. Yet they are all part and parcel of the “American culture.” Cultures grow and evolve and change.
The author assumes a unity and sophistication for the Celts who were, after all, an evolving, diverse race of people, which I, personally, find hard to accept. She states, at one point, that when young women decided, with the help of the Clan Mothers, which profession they wished to follow, that “and, if need be, funded from the coffers of the Celtic social services monies” as if the tribes maintained a treasury with monies set aside for certain uses, much like the state governments in the U.S.
The rituals and techniques she teaches are harmless enough in their forms and approaches, but truly fail to acknowledge the potential problems, which may be encountered. I am not one of the large number of Pagans who go through life expecting problems to attack at every opportunity, but one must be aware that something more than closing your fist and visualizing a glow around oneself may be needed in times of difficulties.
While I can certainly appreciate her desire to help her readers have it all, her encouragement (on page 197) for one to “Go for it all”, is highly impractical for those just learning the techniques of creative visualization. One needs to be able to clearly see and define what one is visualizing. Too many objects or desires make it difficult to bring the proper level of concentration to bear, in my experience.
Her bibliography leans heavily on feminist interpretation of culture and could benefit from a bit more balance, I feel.
My overall impression of this work is that, if you are heavily feminist, you will find it to your liking. It touches all the right buttons, and plays to all the major themes. If you are not heavily feminist, but still have a fairly large body of experience to draw upon, you will find many useful ideas contained here, which can be easily modified to fit into a more balanced world view. However, if you are brand new to Goddess religions, you might be best advised to buy this book, put it on your bookshelf, and read it after you have some basic experiences under your belt. It is most definitely, in my opinion, not a book for a beginner (even though most of New Page Books offerings are).