The best Celtic mythology books

12 authors have picked their favorite books about Celtic mythology and why they recommend each book.

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Britain Begins

By Barry Cunliffe,

Book cover of Britain Begins

I was attracted to this book as it uses the most up-to-date archaeological evidence together with new work on DNA and other scientific techniques to tell the story of the origins of the British and the Irish peoples, from around 10,000BC to the eve of the Norman Conquest. Whilst there are new archaeological discoveries made every week, one or two of which could potentially challenge some of the ideas in this work, at the moment it is the most up-to-date book on the subject which we have, and as such should be treasured.  

Who am I?

I have been fascinated by ancient sacred sites since I first visited the ancient Rollright Stones on the Oxfordshire/Warwickshire border decades ago. I am interested in how the study of folklore and local traditions can be used in conjunction with archaeology to trace the origins and purposes of ancient monuments. I am an author and researcher who has had seven books published on the subjects of ancient civilizations, prehistoric monuments, and supernatural folklore. Born in Birmingham, England, I am a qualified archaeologist with a BA in European Archaeology from the University of Nottingham, and an MPhil in Greek Archaeology from Birmingham University.

I wrote...

Haunted Spaces, Sacred Places: A Field Guide to Stone Circles, Crop Circles, Ancient Tombs, and Supernatural Landscapes

By Brian Haughton,

Book cover of Haunted Spaces, Sacred Places: A Field Guide to Stone Circles, Crop Circles, Ancient Tombs, and Supernatural Landscapes

What is my book about?

Examines the megaliths of Britain and Ireland, the tombs of the Etruscans, the ancient Native American city of Cahokia, and other legendary and mysterious places around the world, with a review of the myth, lore, and paranormal phenomena for which they are known.

Celtic Heritage

By Alwyn Rees, Brinley Rees,

Book cover of Celtic Heritage: Ancient Tradition in Ireland and Wales

An amazing analysis of myth and folklore from Ireland and Wales linking culture and language back to our Indo-European roots and parallels with Hinduism. It is rather technical, but if you are researching the foundation of Celtic lore, this is a must. I got my title from a quote in this book.

Who am I?

I have been studying Celtic history and lore since I was in college and took a class on Arthurian literature. Drawing heavily from Irish and Welsh lore to build my “land beyond the veil” known as the Five Quarters, I have always been intrigued by the Celtic view of the land of the dead as a distinct world to which we go and then return, like two sides of the mirrored surface of a well. The land below the water, and the land above. I hope you enjoy these books as much as I have!

I wrote...

Three Wells of the Sea: Three Wells Series Book 1

By Terry Madden,

Book cover of Three Wells of the Sea: Three Wells Series Book 1

What is my book about?

When high school English teacher Hugh Cavendish is summoned back across the well between worlds, he finds his killer sitting on his throne and invaders at his shore. He was a failure as a king in his last life. Why does this druid think he can fix things now? But this world holds everything he has longed for—vengeance, love, and a second chance at all of them. For he is bound to this land by blood magic and something far stronger.

He soon realizes he wasn't the only one who crossed the well. Someone has followed him here, and they are set on taking him back. But first, Cavendish vows to set things right with his land, his people, and his own soul.

Daughter of the Forest

By Juliet Marillier,

Book cover of Daughter of the Forest

This book absorbs you into its world! It’s the type of book that you pick up to read, and when you set it down, you have to take a minute to re-adjust back to reality. You say to yourself, “Just one more chapter…” Then it’s three in the morning, and you have to force yourself to turn out the light. You rejoice, grieve, and hope for the main character to achieve her goals. You long for a happy ending and admire the main character’s courage as she endures for the sake of her family. Through the trials she faces, you see love win out against all odds. 

Who am I?

I get bored easily when I read a book where I can predict the plot. The two things that really set apart the original stories are world development and character complexity. You need a strong character, filled with their own eccentricities, flaws, and virtues. And you need an interesting, well-developed world in which your character can live. If you do these two things well, the story easily writes itself. If you can discover how the character thinks, acts and interacts in their world, how they seek to solve their problems and fix their flaws—that’s what makes a story worth telling…and for me, that’s the story I want to write.

I wrote...

House of Vultures

By Maggie Claire,

Book cover of House of Vultures

What is my book about?

After the land of Cassé was destroyed, the survivors banded together to create the House alliances. Only the strongest, most cunning, and useful are accepted. For the Houses, there are only three laws: 1) Never remove your mask. 2) Never share your true name. 3) Survive. Anyone denied membership into the Houses is considered a Nameless Unchosen and is to be killed on sight. No exceptions.

Yet when Mynah, a tortured soul who has lived in the House of Vultures since she was seven years old, finds an unmasked boy in the forest, she is faced with a terrible choice: follow the law and kill the child, or show him mercy and risk war? A boy's life hangs in the balance. And Mynah's decision will forever change her world.

Ireland's Immortals

By Mark Williams,

Book cover of Ireland's Immortals: A History of the Gods of Irish Myth

This is a fascinating look at the perceptions of Irish mythology at different points throughout our history. There’s always a lot of fuss on the internet about fantasy writers who get our mythology “wrong”, but Mark Williams shows that the legends themselves and their themes have evolved constantly to reflect the concerns and mores of the times and of the storytellers themselves. Ireland’s Immortals is almost an academic proof of the thesis laid out in Robert Holdstock’s brilliant novel, Mythago Wood, which -- it goes without saying -- I also highly recommend.

Who am I?

In Ireland, there’s barely a rock or a hedge that doesn’t have a story attached to it. Lots of them are dark, some are sexy and many are downright hilarious. I myself grew up near a river whose name in the Irish language means “eyeballs”. We lived a short but rocky drive from Gleann Nimhe, A.K.A., “Poisoned Glen”, and the origins of these names lie in tales that are even more twisted than you might expect. My very Catholic school relished enthralling its overcrowded classrooms with these pagan stories. We were introduced to gods and saints, famous slaughters, and tragic heroines. For some of us, it sank in. Deep.

I wrote...

The Call

By Peadar Ó Guilín,

Book cover of The Call

What is my book about?

I usually describe my book, The Call, as “a Harry Potter where everybody dies”. It’s a fast-paced, horrific tale for teens that is deeply rooted in Irish mythology and poetry. 

In a future Ireland, teens attend boarding schools whose whole purpose is to teach them to survive an event known as “The Call”. Before they reach adulthood, each of them will be summoned to a hellish fairyland, where for an entire day, the vengeful and slightly insane inhabitants will hunt them down. The book was nominated for a slew of awards and it even won a few of them in the end.

At Swim-Two-Birds

By Flann O'Brien,

Book cover of At Swim-Two-Birds

O’Brien was a brilliant, groundbreaking writer who blended humor with literary experimentation to create stories that were both original and highly pleasurable to read. At Swim-Two-Birds is his most epic creation, published in 1939. I would credit O’Brien with being the inventor of what became post-modernism. At Swim-Two-Birds blends metafiction and literary fantasy with an onion layer of stories within stories in a way that no book ever had before. And yet O’Brien manages to exceed the common self-serious tone and disconnection from lived human emotion that can plague post-modernism. His writing balances experimentation with a sense of our shared humanity and thus avoids the cold abstraction so commonly found in post-modern literature.

Who am I?

As a writer, artist, and actor throughout my life, I’ve explored and enjoyed many artistic forms. While I appreciate books across many genres, I elevate to the highest level those works that manage to break conventional boundaries and create something original. In my own work, I have always challenged myself to create something unique with a medium that has never been done before. At the same time, I have sought to discover a process and resulting work that inspires readers’ own creativity and challenges them to expand their imagination. 

I wrote...

A Greater Monster

By David David Katzman,

Book cover of A Greater Monster

What is my book about?

A psychedelic fairytale for the modern age, A Greater Monster is a mind-bending poetic trip into a radically twisted alternate reality that reflects civilization like a funhouse mirror. A Greater Monster crosses boundaries with illustrations, graphic design, and hidden links to animation and original music. Throughout the experience, you'll encounter sphinxes, gods, living skeletons, witches, and quite possibly the strangest circus ever imagined. Innovative and astonishing, A Greater Monster breathes new life into the possibilities of fiction. Received a Gold Medal as Outstanding Book of the Year in the 2012 Independent Publisher Book Awards.

“I can't express how brilliant my favorite scenes in A Greater Monster are. In this extraordinary work, Katzman pushes language to do things, which are truly astounding.” Carra Stratton, Editor, Starcherone Press

The Girl of Dorcha Wood

By Kristin Ward,

Book cover of The Girl of Dorcha Wood

In The Girl of Dorcha Wood Ward leads her readers on an emotional journey of love and loss that is filled with innocence, betrayal, love, pain, bitterness, and revenge.

Her characters are incredibly realistic. She has a way of making you feel like you’ve known them all your life. The setting is well-written and almost feels like home.

Who am I?

Picking up a fantasy novel and getting away from real-world problems is an escape for me. Even though many of these issues don’t exist in our lives, we can still learn from the way the characters deal with their struggles. We can find compassion and empathy and maybe see that there are two sides to every story. Along the way, we also get to see stunning vistas and amazing, mythical creatures.

I wrote...

Dacia Wolf & the Prophecy

By Mandi Oyster,

Book cover of Dacia Wolf & the Prophecy

What is my book about?

Dacia doesn't believe in prophecies, but when she starts living her nightmares, she can't help but wonder if she's wrong. Strange things have always happened in her presence. People in the small town of Bittersweet avoid her, and in her own home, her parents fear her. The only person who doesn't make her feel like an outcast is her best friend, Cody Hawks. Around him, she is free to be herself.

Dacia is excited to go to college, leaving everyone but Cody behind. When her powers surface in class, she finds herself a pawn in a demon's plot to take over the planet. Plunged into a world where magic exists and monsters are real, Dacia must learn to control her powers and find a way to return the demon to the Abyss.

Concepts of Arthur

By Thomas Green,

Book cover of Concepts of Arthur

Green’s book is a great read, very scholarly, and inclusive of a great deal of comparatively early source material on Arthur. If you want a good discussion of how you could go from a figure of Celtic myth to one of history, again and again in multiple stories, this is the best guide to that journey and deserves a hearing, whether ultimately you agree with it or not. You’ll probably not be surprised to hear that I am not persuaded, despite my considerable respect for the arguments made herein, largely for the same reasons as I noted in looking at Padel’s work above. It is extraordinarily difficult to determine whether Arthur passed from ‘history’ to folk-lore or folk-lore to ‘history’, better in my view to not distinguish these as two separate genres with this much clarity.

As usual, it all comes down to the Historia Brittonum, which is called…

Who am I?

As a university historian and archaeologist my focus has been the Early Middle Ages. In the 1990s I wrote several books about the fifth and sixth centuries which barely mentioned Arthur but popular histories and films based on his story just kept coming, so I decided to look again at his story and work out how and why it developed as it did. I have published three well-received books on the subject, each of which builds on the one before, plus articles that have been invited to be included in edited volumes. I disagree with much in the five books above but collectively they reflect the debate across my lifetime. It is a great debate, I hope you enjoy it. 

I wrote...

King Arthur: The Making of the Legend

By Nicholas J. Higham,

Book cover of King Arthur: The Making of the Legend

What is my book about?

According to legend, King Arthur saved Britain from the Saxons and reigned over it gloriously sometime around A.D. 500. Whether or not there was a “real” King Arthur has all too often been neglected by scholars; most period specialists today declare themselves agnostic on this important matter. In this erudite volume, Nick Higham sets out to solve the puzzle, drawing on his original research and expertise to determine precisely when, and why, the legend began.

Higham surveys all the major attempts to prove the origins of Arthur, weighing up and debunking hitherto claimed connections with classical Greece, Roman Dalmatia, Sarmatia, and the Caucasus. He then explores Arthur’s emergence in Wales—up to his rise to fame at the hands of Geoffrey of Monmouth. Certain to arouse heated debate among those committed to defending any particular Arthur, Higham’s book is an essential study for anyone seeking to understand how Arthur’s story began.

Dream Angus

By Alexander McCall Smith,

Book cover of Dream Angus: The Celtic God of Dreams

My grandparents were Irish, which explains why Celtic mythology speaks to me. I hadn’t heard of Dream Angus (aka Aengus) until I read this book, by which time it was too late to quiz my ancestors on this impish Eros, golden-haired bearer of dreams. It was said that sometimes he kissed lovers and, when they parted, the kisses turned into songbirds who followed them home, serenading them with love songs. The author intersperses his telling of the legend with contemporary stories set in Scotland where one of the characters is especially influenced by an aspect of Dream Angus’s personality, sometimes good, sometimes quite the opposite. Angus lives on in a lullaby recorded, among others, by Barbara Dickson. It’s both haunting and sweet, just as love can be.

Who am I?

As I’ve grown older I’ve become more and more interested in the spiritual aspect of life, believing that we are primarily a soul with a body rather than the other way round. I fell into teaching but have always found more fulfilment in extramural activities like learning about complementary therapies, former lives, and ancient spiritual practices, like dream therapy. I've never been sure which genre my novels fit into, just that they all have elements of romance, mystery, misdeeds, and good deeds, with the purpose of touching the reader’s soul. I believe words can be spells and inspired writing can cast magic.

I wrote...

Temple of Dreams: A Novel of Now and Then

By Carolyn Mathews,

Book cover of Temple of Dreams: A Novel of Now and Then

What is my book about?

Still grieving over the death of his parents, Sebastian enrols at a college of natural medicine, where he experiences sleep therapy in a sanctuary modelled on an ancient Greek healing temple. There he dreams of Apollos, a young Athenian suffering injuries sustained in a martial arts contest. More dreams follow, recorded by Sybil, a lecturer intent on using Seb as a case study. A budding relationship with fashion entrepreneur Fliss claims his attention in the 21st century, while in the 5th century BC, Apollos readies himself for the secret rites of his final initiation into the cult of the goddess Demeter and a potential reunion with a certain priestess.

Norse, Celtic Mythology & Runes

By Sofia Visconti,

Book cover of Norse, Celtic Mythology & Runes: Explore The Timeless Tales Of Norse & Celtic Folklore, The Myths, History, Sagas & Legends + The Magic, Spells & Meanings of Runes

Have you ever been curious about changlings, banshees, or megaliths? Have you wondered who, exactly, Merlin the magician was? It's all in Sofia Visconti's timeless tales. This book is a great guide to the Celtic, Irish and Scottish myths. It's like having an encyclopedia of magical beings at your fingertips.

Who am I?

George Hagen is a Brooklyn writer who has written two adventure books for children about talking ravens. Hagen lived on three different continents by the time he was eleven, and developed a tremendous passion for folktales of all cultures from Africa, Egypt, Greece, Europe, and Celtic and Norse myth. His children's books were inspired by the myth of the Viking God Odin whose two ravens, Huginn and Muninn, flew around the land of ice and fire, reporting all the news. Hagen has appeared before hundreds of students, unraveling the secret mystery of riddles (modern and ancient) at schools from New York to Los Angeles.

I wrote...

Gabriel Finley and the Raven's Riddle

By George Hagen,

Book cover of Gabriel Finley and the Raven's Riddle

What is my book about?

A tangle of ingenious riddles, a malevolent necklace called a torc, and flocks of fearsome, immortal valravens: these are just some of the obstacles that stand between Gabriel and his father, Adam Finley, who has vanished from their Brooklyn brownstone. When Gabriel answers a raven's riddle, he begins a journey to rescue his father who is being held captive by the evil demon Corax—half man, half raven—in a foreboding underworld of birds called Aviopolis. With the help of his best friends Abby, Somes & Pamela, Gabriel solves riddles, crosses chasms, and duels the demon ruler of the valravens.

Through the Door

By Jodi McIsaac,

Book cover of Through the Door

I recommend this book not only for its gripping storyline but for its fascinating take on Irish mythology and seamless blend into our world too! I loved the characters, especially Cedar, the main protagonist in the book as she's thrown into the deep end and has to adapt pretty quickly to survive and save her daughter! And if you're like me and like to work out how it ends, there's enough here to keep you guessing. I certainly didn't see that coming!

Who am I?

Ever since I was a child the world has fascinated me. I’ve grown up with a deep love of reading and passion for the natural world, so much so that this often inspires both my writing and my artwork. As an artist and writer I seek to showcase the wonder and magic in the world. I have been able to draw upon ancient legends for inspiration into how people’s minds worked in the deep past and use it to enrich my writing further to cement the stories into our world and become more tangible. As a part-time adventurer, it’s only natural that my novels should be that.

I wrote...

A Retreating Tide (The Mirror of Shadows)

By R.A. Whitworth,

Book cover of A Retreating Tide (The Mirror of Shadows)

What is my book about?

A thrilling adventure into the world beyond the ancient stones. Following Alicia, a woman who has no memory of her past and Nathan who’s desperate to escape the abuse he suffered in his, are thrust into an epic adventure through the wilds of the Eárie. In this world where hill tribes roam the mountains, and sprites live in underground caverns they will need to learn what it takes to survive the wilderness as well as the parasitic threat known as the Shadows. 

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