The best books to understand authentic Celtic mythology, religion, cosmology, and belief systems

Why am I passionate about this?

My passion for Celtic cultures, languages, and traditions comes from my family, where singing and storytelling were common. I worked as a singer and musician, and trained in Celtic Studies through Harvard University. That was an amazing experience, and research in Scotland and Ireland expanded my knowledge tremendously. I taught Celtic literature, mythology, and folklore at numerous colleges, and am Expert Contributor in Iron Age Pagan Celtic Religion for the Database of Religious History at the University of British Columbia, and invited Old Irish translator for the upcoming Global Medieval Sourcebook at Stanford University. I wake up every day excited to share the historical realities of these amazing cultures and beliefs!


I wrote...

Celtic Cosmology and the Otherworld: Mythic Origins, Sovereignty and Liminality

By Sharon Paice MacLeod,

Book cover of Celtic Cosmology and the Otherworld: Mythic Origins, Sovereignty and Liminality

What is my book about?

Ancient inscriptions and early manuscripts from Ireland, Britain, and Celtic Europe contain tantalizing clues about the cosmology, religion, and mythology of native Celtic cultures, which survived despite revision and censorship by Christian redactors. Focusing on the latest research and translations, the author provides fresh insights into the beliefs and practices of the Iron Age inhabitants of Ireland, Britain, and Gaul. Chapters cover cosmology, deities and their attributes, Otherworld encounters, druidic beliefs, feminine power in narrative sources,  magical rites, seasonal symbolism, and the wisdom of ancient shape shifters and sages.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of The Celtic Heroic Age: Literary Sources for Ancient Celtic Europe and Early Ireland and Wales

Sharon Paice MacLeod Why did I love this book?

This is an incredibly useful and totally indispensable resource that provides excellent translations of well-known and lesser-known writings about the Celts from the Iron Age and the Medieval Era.

Many people don't realize that there are really bad translations of some of these materials floating around the internet, and there's no need for that. The editors and translators of this classic anthology are top-notch, and whether the accounts or texts come from Greek, Latin, Gaulish, Old Irish, or Middle Welsh sources, students and enthusiasts can rely upon them.

Because it is a sourcebook, it doesn't provide any commentary, so that's important to know upfront (and fear not: see below). As such, some of the material may not make sense to some readers - or can lead to erroneous claims and inaccurate conclusions - if one doesn't know the history of the text, the historical context, and the secondary studies that interpret them. But this is where one begins, with primary sources.

And as far as having a s***-ton of important material at your fingertips, this is superb!

By John T. Koch (editor), John Carey (editor),

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Celtic Heroic Age as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A new edition of an invaluable collection of literary sources, all in translation, for Celtic Europe and early Ireland and Wales. The selections are divided into three sections: the first is classical authors on the ancient celts-a huge selection including both the well-known-Herodotos, Plato, Aristotle, Livy, Diogenes Laertius, and Cicero-and the obscure-Pseudo-Scymnus, Lampridius, Vopsicus, Clement of Alexandria and Ptolemy I. The second is early Irish and Hiberno-Latin sources including early Irish dynastic poetry and numerous tales from the Ulster cycle and the third consists of Brittonic sources, mostly Welsh.


Book cover of Coire Sois, The Cauldron of Knowledge: A Companion to Early Irish Saga

Sharon Paice MacLeod Why did I love this book?

So how does one interpret early Celtic literature?

Here is a prime example of how it's done, and done right. This anthology contains some of Emeritus Professor Tomás Ó Cathasaigh's most important studies and essays about early Irish literature, including mythic literature... and shows how much training, knowledge, and insight a person needs to not only to make sense of early Irish literature, but to really illuminate and understand it.

Tomás was my Old Irish teacher at Harvard, and it was truly an honour and blessing to sit at the knee of a master, as they say. He would blush to read such a gushing statement, as he was always so humble about his work, and understated in regards to his incredible knowledge and achievements.

His dry wit was unparalleled, as were his classes, which were intense to say the least. We were held to very high standards, and because of our deep respect and regard for him, we worked incredibly hard to make good use of the amazing opportunity to study with him (not to mention extra time in Irish pubs and some notable parties!)

This lovely collection of essays shows the depth of his knowledge, and is an important book for those serious about early Irish literature and myth.

By Tomas O. Cathasaigh, Matthieu Boyd (editor),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Coire Sois, The Cauldron of Knowledge as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Coire Sois, The Cauldron of Knowledge: A Companion to Early Irish Saga offers thirty-one previously published essays by Tomas O Cathasaigh, which together constitute a magisterial survey of early Irish narrative literature in the vernacular.

O Cathasaigh has been called "the father of early Irish literary criticism," with writings among the most influential in the field. He pioneered the analysis of the classic early Irish tales as literary texts, a breakthrough at a time when they were valued mainly as repositories of grammatical forms, historical data, and mythological debris. All four of the Mythological, Ulster, King, and Finn Cycles are…


Book cover of Celtic Myth in the 21st Century: The Gods and their Stories in a Global Perspective

Sharon Paice MacLeod Why did I love this book?

This recent and very unique release from University of Wales Press presents a wide range of academic studies about different aspects of Celtic mythology, showcasing what kinds of perspectives and methodologies are being used these days at the cutting edge of the study of Celtic mythology.

It also provides readers and students with an introduction to some important topics, and well-grounded and insightful interpretations, as well as the work and approaches of a wide range of Celticists from a variety of countries.

Some of my favourite mentors and colleagues are in the book, as well as an essay by yours truly about the possible use of entheogens in early Ireland. This is a shorter version of a larger body of research I'm currently editing for publication, but it shows how a knowledge of Old Irish and the wide range of early Irish literature can provide a deep pathway into topics that would not have been considered proper to explore in decades past.

And it entertained me to no end when UWP mentioned my topic first on the back of the book... I guess they thought magic mushrooms would be a selling point!

By Emily Lyle (editor),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Celtic Myth in the 21st Century as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This wide-ranging book contains twelve chapters by scholars who explore aspects of the fascinating field of Celtic mythology - from myth and the medieval to comparative mythology, and the new cosmological approach. Examples of the innovative research represented here lead the reader into an exploration of the possible use of hallucinogenic mushrooms in Celtic Ireland, to mental mapping in the interpretation of the Irish legend Tain Bo Cuailgne, and to the integration of established perspectives with broader findings now emerging at the Indo-European level and its potential to open up the whole field of mythology in a new way.


Book cover of Pagan Celtic Britain

Sharon Paice MacLeod Why did I love this book?

This classic and unsurpassed study of iconography and literature pertaining to deities and various types of symbolism found in Celtic myth, I think has often been overlooked by students... as well as by enthusiasts, who inexplicably prefer trying to discern the veracities of topics related to Celtic paganism through online chat rooms, where many posts (including heated arguments and mind-boggling claims and posturing) rarely seem to culminate in any kind of helpful or accurate conclusions. And readers and seekers deserve better!

I would highly recommend that people step away from the phone, and pick up this book! So many of the questions that never seem to get answered on social media are both answered and clarified in this excellent work (which I use myself!). The chapters talk about a variety of gods and goddesses, and mythic themes (with examples from Britain, Ireland, Gaul, and the Continent) including horned gods, the symbolism and representations of the human head, and attributes of animals and birds.

While there have been a handful of academic journal articles on some of these specific themes, this book supersedes and makes irrelevant the vast majority of popular writings about Celtic deities and pagan symbolism. And all in one book!

By Anne Ross,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Pagan Celtic Britain as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Although some aspects of pre-Roman and pre-Christian beliefs remain shrouded in mystery, the author of this comprehensive, profusely illustrated volume contends that neither the Roman invasion of Britain nor the coming of Christianity eliminated pagan religious practice. Dr Anne Ross, who speaks Gaelic and Welsh, writes from wide experience of living in Celtic speaking communities where she has traced vernacular tradition. She employs archaeological and anthropological evidence, as well as folklore, to provide broad insight into the early Celtic world. She begins by examining Celtic places of worship, the shrines and sanctuaries in which sacred objects were housed and from…


Book cover of Celts and the Classical World

Sharon Paice MacLeod Why did I love this book?

I really think this book has also been underappreciated and overlooked by students and enthusiasts.

It contains a remarkable (and again) unsurpassed collection of written sources from the Iron Age in regard to the history, culture, and religions of the Celtic speaking peoples of ancient Europe. In some places it focuses on interactions between the Celts and population groups from the Mediterranean and other parts of ancient Europe.

But it also goes into a great deal of detail about the Celts themselves; where they lived; the names and activities of many of their leaders, warriors, druids, and others; and fascinating information about their cultures, beliefs, and religions... in accurate historical context which makes for a very engaging - and at times a surprising read.

Without a proper understanding of the historical realities, and the context from which information derives... whether Greek and Roman accounts, inscriptions, other written sources, archeology, and more... any attempt to understand the Celtic speaking peoples of ancient Europe, and their beliefs and practices, is like a castle built upon sand.

This book provides a solid foundation upon which some of the other recommended books - and the corpus of Goidelic and Brythonic literature itself - can then be properly explored.

By David Rankin,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Celts and the Classical World as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Standard work in the field which was OP

No competition

Recent surge of interest in the Celtic Studies

Multidisciplinary, easily approachable

Includes 4 new pages on the Roman camp outside of Dublin


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By Amy T. Waldman, Peter Jest,

Book cover of We Had Fun and Nobody Died: Adventures of a Milwaukee Music Promoter

Amy T. Waldman

New book alert!

What is my book about?

This irreverent biography provides a rare window into the music industry from a promoter’s perspective. From a young age, Peter Jest was determined to make a career in live music, and despite naysayers and obstacles, he did just that, bringing national acts to his college campus atUW-Milwaukee, booking thousands of concerts across Wisconsin and the Midwest, and opening Shank Hall, the beloved Milwaukee venue named after a club in the cult film This Is Spinal Tap.

Jest established lasting friendships with John Prine, Arlo Guthrie, and others, but ultimately, this book tells a universal story of love and hope – about figuring out where you belong, finding your way there, and living a life that matters.

We Had Fun and Nobody Died: Adventures of a Milwaukee Music Promoter

By Amy T. Waldman, Peter Jest,

What is this book about?

The entertaining and inspiring story of a stubbornly independent promoter and club owner 

This irreverent biography provides a rare window into the music industry from a promoter’s perspective. From a young age, Peter Jest was determined to make a career in live music, and despite naysayers and obstacles, he did just that, bringing national acts to his college campus at UW–Milwaukee, booking thousands of concerts across Wisconsin and the Midwest, and opening Shank Hall, the beloved Milwaukee venue named after a club in the cult film This Is Spinal Tap.

This funny, nostalgia-inducing book details the lasting friendships Jest established…


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