The Isle Of Many Gods, by David Rankine and Sorita D’Este | AwYn Literature Review

This is the first book that I will review for my path towards eclectic paganism.

Synopsis

This is a historical book discussing many of the altars or even mentions in literature and accounts about the gods who were worshiped in the British Isles. There are 200+ entries involving deities that come from a wide variety of areas either from the Roman Empire or from the indigenous Brittonic tribes.

Author

David Rankine and Sorita D’Este have written extensively on magickal practices, mythology, and spirituality in all periods of history prior to compiling this book.

Themes

This book also puts into question what constitutes a god. In this book’s case, it does not always confine itself to the image of divine human-appearing forms with robes and togas. There are giants, witches, kings, and heroes considered gods, though Rankine and D’Este make perfectly clear what they meant by “gods” when they only included altars of figures who had godly parentage, such as Hercules, and showcased their attributes through supernatural phenomena. There are also deities who can shape-shift or were shape-shifted.

Rankine and D’Este make it perfectly clear that these descriptions of the gods are only surface-level and are based mainly on archaeological evidence and written accounts and records. Plenty of gods are barely given a description while other gods are not recorded at all. I found those the most interesting, since the authors suggest that a lot of them were either titles of other gods or the different names of other gods. In other cases, they were juxtaposed with the Roman gods based on similar attributes.

There is also a diversity of deities which were imported from the various parts of the Roman Empire, such as Gaul, Egypt, Syria, and Persia. They were brought mainly from invasions either from the Roman Empire or from the Saxon nation. Of course, those deities were themselves Romanized, particularly those of the conquered territories and not just the Greek deities.

Rankine and D’Este make it a point that a lot of the immigrant gods were war gods, since they were worshiped by soldiers of the Roman Empire.

Most of the deities are described based on their inscriptions, which tell of their names and which of the Roman deities they were associated with. Where they are the only evidence of their existence, Rankine and D’Este simply make inferences based on these findings, especially when they were found in specific locations, such as a body of water or Hadrian’s Wall.

Intertextuality

On the issue of minor, obscure deities, the inferences that the authors made on their origins is very similar to the use of inferences by Jamieson B. Hurry when studying the ancient Egyptian polymath Imhotep. Because there were barely any recorded archaeological rediscoveries, Hurry had to look at the context of Egyptian life as a vizier and physician in order to deduce how Imhotep may have lived.

Writing Style

What I did have a problem with the use of “Britain” is the fact that it does not refer to both the British Isles. There is not a lot of emphasis on Ireland as being distinct from the island of Britain, even though they are both amalgamated into the single category of the “British Isles.” From this point on in my pagan practice, I will simply refer to the British Island (consisting of England, Scotland, Wales, and Cornwall) as “Ynys Wen,” as the mythological founding king Hu Gadarn did, which means “white island,” which probably referred to the Cliffs of Dover which also gave the island the name “Albion” which was Latin for “white.”

There were typos that appeared once in a while, though they did not interfere with the writing.

Real-World Application

Since many of the deities were introduced via invasion, then worshiping them through a British pagan perspective would simply be a form of reconciliation. This is especially the case since all of these deities exhibit human behavior which make them blood-thirsty. It should be noted that historical figures also did terrible things, and yet they are honored in the public space. Does that automatically imply that we are obligated to excuse the actions they took? This has become a difficult, confrontational dilemma that affects everyone, and obviously this applies to the pagan community.

As such, the relationship with the deities should not be based on blind devotion, rather on basic need. It involves not acclimating ourselves to the god’s prehistoric times, rather vice versa, for we exist to make sure memory of them is kept alive.

Since all of these deities were associated with Roman deities, it is important to note that unless you practice a Roman/Latin tradition of paganism, then every inscription should be given a grain of salt, since the Romans were particularly biased against any barbarian groups. Since I live in a part of the country with heavy Italian-American representation, I may become friends with an Italian-American; however 2,000 years ago, he would have thought that I was a subhuman heathen who worshiped gods that were “corruptions” of his own.

So, there is the Latinocentric framework that would need to be addressed before engaging with any of these gods, which has definitely weathered with time since we no longer fight about the Celtic gods. Of course, Rankine and D’Este have not written this book for the purposes of discussing the practice of paganism, rather to provide basic, bare-bone information based on records and archaeological evidence.

As for the fact that most of the imported gods were war gods, since most people are not involved in a war, then devotion to any of those gods would involve war of survival or war within oneself; basically war in a metaphorical sense.

Recommend This To…

  • Anyone wanting to be given a comprehensive list of all of the gods in Welsh or Irish mythology, since it does serve that purpose. However, some gods, even well-known ones like Thoth, will have a barely paragraph-long description. Remember that the point of the book is to show not just the presence of these deities in British altars, but what were their relevance. In which case, most of the altars were dedicated to war deities since soldiers brought them into Britain.

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Rankine, David and Sorita D’Este. The Isle of the Many Gods. Avalonia. 2007.

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