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Response to a letter written in to me about Douglas Monroe and the merits and/or opponents to his beliefs.
I thought it high time to attempt to answer the posting regarding Douglas Monroe, (author of "The 21 Lessons of Merlyn" and "Lost Books of Merlyn").
I’ll say up front that I had been in contact with Douglas Monroe for his points of view and my plan to add a little about him to my site. I'm of course always interested in new interpretations of Druidism and various thoughts regarding following Druidism as a way of life in the 21st century. There are in fact many points of view regarding this writer, some good, some bad and others simply not interested and I have tried to place a little of each in this response to help you decide for yourself. When I told Monroe I wanted to add a section in this site regarding his books and his viewpoints, he in fact, did warn me of possible negative consequences.
His books are set up in the Celtic tradition of storytelling, which was/is, I guess, the way of the Druids and the ancient peoples before them. The tales themselves tell of King Arthur as a boy meeting Merlyn and a magickal upbringing, whilst the second book itself revolves around the last days of King Arthur and the events at that time. However, after each tale (there are three major parts); a so-called grimoire follows which elucidates and shows practical ways of magic used in the tales just told. Actually for my mind, this not only makes for a nice tale, but it can start a beginner off on the first steps of the art of shamanistic inner journeys, if they so wish.
The Lost Books of Merlyn begins with a prologue, part one and two, explaining why the book is set up in this fashion. Then Part One: The Battle of the Trees, Part Two: The Book of Pheryllt, and Part Three: The Gorchan of Maeldrew, then ends with the Epilogue: The Body of the Dragon. The Grimoire which follows each part is supposedly a source of Celtic magick and includes quite a lot of information that a short review like this cannot do it justice of course.
To be honest, as Randell in his review said, "I do always enjoy a good story, and these books did not really disappoint me". As pure fiction, these books are well crafted and probably as good as many druid fantasy novels you can buy today. However, again to be truthful, if you are looking for "accurate information" on the druids and their religion and practices, you'll probably want to steer clear of these books. If you have much knowledge of Paganism, you'll recognize much of the material presented as ancient druid practice in this book are from other magickal systems and Pagan religions, while also containing other historical inaccuracies, some of which regard God/Goddess that together with rather blatant sexist viewpoints distort the factual from story.
In another section I take personal exception to the fact that he mentions, "Llyyr ab Manannan". I certainly know that "Manannan" was an Irish God, (whose Welsh cognate was "Manawydan,") and that he was the son (Mac) of Lyr or Lir, not the other way round and personally coming from the Isle of Man, I know that He is the Sea God protector of our island and very well thought of and hate to see such a blatant mistake in a book that reaches out to so many. Manannan Mac Lyr is well known to cast down his great cloak of mist whenever strangers try to come to see the splendour of the island in all its glory and would shake the very mountains if He saw this written, not to mention His father.
Therefore, as long as one remembers that Monroe's Twenty-One Lessons of Merlyn and The Lost Books of Merlyn are only works of fiction we can proceed to enjoy them immensely, but certainly not as a factual " ancient Druid " system.
Is this not the point of a good book though? Is it not simply good form to instill visions and pictures of great tales and leave it at that? Remember what Tolkien (Lord of the Rings) said that in reading his books, it will take a reader on/in a journey they will become absolutely apart of and it is why he was so adamant never to make a film of it ever, (during his lifetime at least); because it would spoil the individual visions and pictures that each and every individual conjures up for themselves while reading.
In movies and cartoons, we are of course merely relying on someone else’s perception and interpretation – and will never get close to what your own mind will envision while slowly reading a good story, where you actually immerse yourself? So much for that then! The Lord of the Rings and Monroe’s books are therefore, great for reading to children. They actually reminded me a little of the tales my Nanna used to tell me sitting in front of the fire eating peas and vinegar...? (Not the classical tales, but tales nonetheless).
However, in this site I only wished to point out some of the largest, or perhaps should I say, the best known sources for Druidism today, such as OBOD, (not forgetting to mention of course the two largest Druid Orders in America which are Keltria and A.D.F). OBOD which is probably the largest and most definitely the oldest 'known' order of Druidism in the world today is based in the UK, (having members from all around the globe), actually has a great heritage spanning back well into the early 1700’s that we know of and of course was very Masonic in its foundations at the start, but has since gone a little more New Age if anything, together with Keltria and A.D.F. does not recognize Monroe's books as anything more than a good yarn.
Just out of interest, did you know that Winston Churchill, the Second World War Prime Minster of Great Britain was a Druid? I myself am a member of OBOD and find their course interesting and contact-base extremely good and had permission for a Grove here in Singapore. So, after that little speal, where does that leave Monroe’s New Forest Centre and teaching?
Actually, it seems that there is a wild plethora of information regarding Druidism currently circulating online. Some of the information rings as true as it can under the circumstances, (to my ears anyway), while others seem to be misled, or a Bastardized form of Druidism (again - as I see it). However, it is not my intention to slam, or for that matter, inversely support any of those paths here or anywhere else; for actually who am I to judge anyway. I refuse to get involved with name-calling, based on something that appears for the most part impossible to confirm or deny and is open to interpretation at its best.
There are other more personal facts about Monroe that often arise in discussions, regarding purported prison time and distasteful crimes that I recently and very sadly became aware of, (which of course is not really applicable in this present discussion), so in maintaining the original track of the posting I plainly say on this web site (on Druids), Monroe is considered highly controversial within the new-age network and within the Druidic Revivalists, (but I also go on to say for all that)….
“We” are open minded enough to support freedom of religion and indeed freedom of interpretation, especially in such an ancient belief system as Druids, where NO ONE can ever deem to have total rights, as much of the real customs, beliefs and practices have been lost in time and interpretation is based on the sparse historical documentation from the Romans and other ancient nebulous sources.!! As long as we don't purport to have a non-interrupted direct link to Druids two and three thousand years ago, we have no choice but to interpret for ourselves in our own way. Re-read that little bit. Of course, it will always be much more fulfilling and heartfelt if it "is" actually based on as much truth and fact within Celtic history, foundation and beliefs known to us as is possible.
To tackle the study of Druidism is to find oneself caught in a mounting crossfire of conflicting stories of Druidism itself, from human sacrifice on altars of stone, to uplifting tales of ancient wisdom and healing. When broken down though, we find that “perhaps” the European (Gauls) Druids were guilty of human sacrifice, but not as much in Britain, (according to the Romans) and so the debates will go on and perhaps there’s a little, or no truth to any. We have no real way of knowing!
The reason for this lack of consistency is that knowledge was traditionally passed down by word of mouth and when the Romans wiped out most of the Druids, most real knowledge was lost immediately. When Christianity came to Britain, many Bards and (perhaps) a few Druids were definitely sucked into the faith of the New Celtic Church; until that, in turn, was eradicated by the Vatican. Nothing at all was recorded by the Druids, although occasional written observations were noted by observers, such as the Romans as we have mentioned, and then of course, the content is biased strongly in favour of the Roman ways and perceptions.
As Druids were most definitely Celts, let’s look more into this culture. The Celts themselves, were a vast nation of people who dominated nearly half the known world at one point. The term "Celtic" actually refers to their culture, not a specific country or nationality. The Druids were the Priests of their religion. But in saying this I'd like to reiterate what I read somewhere ... all Druids were Celts, but very few Celts were Druids.
Each Celtic tribe or clan had well-marked boundaries within which they farmed, hunted and worshipped their various Gods. I say various Gods and Goddesses, because contrary to what might be delivered by more and more Wiccans and New Age revivalists, They were not "lumped together" as a coming from "one" God or Goddess and certainly not as a polarity of any One Almighty Deity.
The Roman Polybus, in his historical writings, describes the Celts as …. “possessing "great stature and bearing, with blue-eyed fairness. Their womenfolk are prolific and good mothers. Their men are war-like, passionate, but generous and unsuspicious. They show themselves eager for culture and establish centres for education in their towns. They are natural horsemen, brave, loyal and strong. Their houses are large and constructed of arched timbers, with walls of wicker-work and clay. They possess a stern, personal discipline and obedience in all realms of religion and magic."
In "The 21 Lessons of Merlyn", Douglas Monroe himself said this book was not meant to be taken as historically accurate, so actually the debate could stop there, as long as it is not interpreted as an ancient form of Druidism having being handed down since time immemorial..
It’s what I have always emphatically said to everyone who asked in fact. “It's just a story”, but in my humble view a wonderful story at that. It was easy to read and understand. If allowed to, it speaks to people on so many levels and for beginners into the Old Ways, it even gives many experiments and spells to try out if you're that adventuress, (remembering that magick can be taken from anything if the belief is powerful enough) and are these spells then worse than most of the absolute nonsensical Wiccan, or even last century grimoir spells I see reproduced in so many books today?
By contrast, although I found Douglas Monroe’s "The Lost Books of Merlyn" interesting reading, I'm afraid I did begin to wonder where he gathered all of his so-called genuine information.
While he presents himself to be quite an authority on Druidic, and even pre-Druidic practices, I have actually never seen this material represented anywhere else in the world of Druidism, especially in the more scholarly books on Druidry. Think about that for a moment then and we can read on.
The source of much of Monroe’s "knowledge" is an ancient Welsh manuscript allegedly pre-dating the Celts, called the Book of Pheryllt, supposedly found and 'rewritten' by Iolo Morganwg/Edward Williams (1747-1826), which was later proved to be a fake. Monroe even goes so far as to say that this Pheryllt manuscript is perhaps the re-creation of written magic and lore from the priests of drowned Atlantis.
This is the point where I can agree with other member’s comments on a previous posting here, insomuch, that it should be kept as a lovely story, which can give much insight to many aspects of ourselves and our relationship to the world. Whilst it also gives a fair interpretation of the “Wheel of the Year”, and introduces a student so well to Pathworking and Inner Journeys as well. But, certainly not claiming direct descendency from anyone or any group.
Such claims aside, the Lost Books do give a lovely poetic description of the Tree Oracles, using both the pre-Celtic system of writing called the Boibeloth, and the Ogam representations from Cad Goddeu’s "Battle of the Trees," (which does exist by the way).
The rest of Monroe's book might well be classed as mumbo-jumbo by many, but as has been said elsewhere, his Oracle of the Trees is quite beautiful.
Essentially, the difference between his interpretation of the Oracles and Mountford’s is a matter of eloquence. The information given is actually not so different. Monroe gives his story of the Ogham symbols and the original Boibeloth through a fictionalized tale loosely based on "Battle of the Trees." He details the representations in Welsh, English, and Irish (the symbols do vary, as well as the various statuses of the individual trees). These, too, were interesting, although I have no idea how authentic they are.
In fact, I tried doing some research on the Internet regarding this 'Book of Pheryllt', from which Monroe draws so much of his material, and found it sharply discredited by the present authorities on the Druidic Order. Phillip Carr-Gom, who he himself is the Head of the British Order of OBOD, had this to say: "One of the most widely-read books on Druidry is unfortunately the worst”. Ellen Evert Hopman, vice president of the Druid Order, Keltria has sharp criticism on the books based on facts at hand and should be reviewed for an "all round" viewpoint to the overall question of authenticity and can be found at : http://library.druidry.org/reviews/21lom.html
So in our little group forum’s discussion on all of this back and forth verbiage, where can we go from here? What can we believe? As far as I have been able to check and then confirm, there is apparently no such sixteenth century manuscript - as the Pheryllt, but who's to know for sure?
But…….Monroe's recent "sequel" to 21 Lessons of Merlyn, The Lost Books of Merlyn, includes many references from and to the Book of Pheryllt and therefore, most probably a fake from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. I had to check more and come up with something even more convincing for the Group then. I eventually found this most interesting article on the web written by Lisa L. Spangenberg, who categorically mentions that she is a Celticist, not a druid, which is as historically truthful as one can get nowadays.
© Copyright 1997-2004 by Lisa L. Spangenberg. Used with permission. For much more information, I would highly recommend that you go to Lisa's site at : http://www.digitalmedievalist.com/faqs/pheryllt.html
Anyway, Lisa goes on to say that actually, Pheryllt is the Welsh spelling for Virgil; the Latin V in "Vergilius" goes to an initial F in Welsh, which in medieval manuscripts may be written Ph. You may also see ff, as in fferyllt. The Book of Pheryllt then is a reference to The Book of Virgil. Virgil is the Latin poet who wrote the Eclogues and The Aeneid and lived 70-19 BCE. During his lifetime, Virgil was famed as a poet and his works became classics soon after his death.
Both Christians and pagans would select a passage at random from Virgil's works as method of divination. The Roman Emperor Hadrian is said to have consulted the sortes Vergilianae in an effort to inquire into his future.
Virgil's fourth Eclogue (Written c.41 or 40 BCE) was thought by many, including St. Jerome, to predict the birth of Christ. Indeed, Virgil's popularity was close to that of the Bible; so popular in fact, that a letter by Jerome praising Virgil's wisdom was included as a Preface to most Latin Vulgate Bibles from the ninth century (Williams and Pattie 1982, 86).
By the twelfth century Virgil's reputation as a poet, and sometimes prophet, had evolved to that of a magician. Gervase of Tilbury reports various "miracles" attributed to Virgil, like a piece of meat that kept other meat from ever spoiling, no matter how old it got (Williams and Pattie 1982, 90).
Eventually Virgil's reputation grew until he was the magical protector of the city of Naples. There are numerous medieval references to Virgil as a magician, and folklore about his prowess continued to multiply until the Renaissance.
The medieval tradition of Virgil as a worker of wonders and as a magician flourished in Welsh literature as well. The Welsh poet Dafydd ap Gwilim refers to the patterns on a garland of peacock feathers given him by his beloved as "drychau o ffeiriau Fferyll, "mirrors from Virgil's fairs." In another poem ap Gwilim's beloved (one of many) is described as an enchantress; ap Gwilim describes a silver harp to be given to her as
Ei chwr y sydd, nid gwydd gwyll, O ffurf celfyddyd Fferyll.
Its frame not made from forest wood but conjured by Virgilian art (Bromwich 1982, 38-39).
The central Welsh reference to the Book of Pheryllt is in the
late sixteenth century Welsh prose tale the "Hanes Taliesin," in which
Ceridwen is described as knowledgeable about "gelfyddyd Llyfrau Pheryllt,"
the art of the Books of Virgil, in reference to a spell intended to make her son
Ag yna yr orediniodd hi drwy gelfyddyd llyfrau Pheryllt i ferwi pair o awen a gwybodau oi map fal y bai urddassach ei gymeriat am ei wybodau ai gyfrwyddyt am y byt a ddelei rrag llaw ("Y Hanes Taliessin." In Ystoria Taliesin. ed. Patrick K. Ford. 133).
And so to encompass this matter, she turned her thoughts to the contemplation of her arts to see how best she could make him full of the spirit of prophecy and a great prognosticator of the world to come" (Ford, Patrick K. 1977, "The Tale of Gwion Bach," 162).
The reference to the Book of Pheryllt in the "Hanes Taliesin" is therefore, not to a genuine book, but rather to the myth of Virgil the wondrous magician (Wood 1983, 97).
The scribe, needing a suitable magical text, seized upon Virgil as the magician's magician. Patrick Ford has edited one manuscript of the "Hanes Taliesin" in his Ystoria Taliesin, and has translated the tale in his The Mabinogi and Other Medieval Welsh Tales.
Lady Charlotte Guest also translated the "Hanes Taliesin," but Ford's translation is much better, and more reliable. Lady Charlotte, like many first generation Welsh scholars, was taken in by the various forgeries of Iolo Morganwg/Edward Williams (1747-1826) created in the 1790s, and relied on some forged material for her translation. Indeed, Williams' forgeries are still wreaking havoc today since many neopagan scholars have been as taken in by Williams' rather shoddy scholarship as Lady Charlotte was in her era.
There are other references to Virgil as a magician in the Taliesin material, including "Cad Goddeu," where the poet claims "And I shall be in luxury because of the prophecy of Virgil" (Ford, Patrick K. 1977, 187).
The word "pheryllt/fferrylt" itself is not actually cited in Welsh until 1632, and most of the citations for fferyll(t) in the major Welsh dictionary are more pharmaceutical than wizardly (Geiriadur Prifysgol Cymru. p.1284 Ed. R. J. Thomas, Cardiff: University of Wales, 1950-).
Fferyll(t) became synonymous with "magician, as said above because, " so great was Virgil's reputation for wonder working. Even today Virgil's mythic reputation as a maker of potions has left its mark. In Modern Welsh fferyll(t) usually means "pharmacist."
There's a false etymology for pheryllt floating around the web that links it to "fferu" or "congeal" and hence to the Modern English "ferrous." This folk etymology is inaccurate because ferrous is a Latin borrowing from "ferrum," the word for Iron.
Interesting stuff is it not. So, let’s be honest now people, many books have been published, not only in recent years, but at various points over the last few centuries that claim to contain "the truth" about Druid culture. Often, these books claim to provide privileged information on "hidden" or "esoteric" truths, often consisting of material from "ancient" books to which the "author" had special access or historical lineage.
It's a very beguiling concept it seems. I think it fair to say that any book that make claims like, "this is the unadulterated truth - or the real thing"! (based on all sorts of ancient sources) - alas, without exception, turn out to be often "not so"... (however much we wish it to be true).
"The Twenty-One Lessons of Merlyn" is a great case in point, or is it? This book claims to be "a complete course in authentic Celtic Druidism" (as if there were such a thing as 'non-Celtic' Druidism as someone wisely said), which is featuring a course of study "based upon history rather than fantasy", including "genuine" lore and "authentic" lessons from the "authentic" Merlyn-the-Druid...all based on the so-called Book of Pheryllt, an "actual, never before published" manuscript from the sixteenth century!
How can this be true? Well, here are a few more questions we could ask :
If The Book of Pheryllt is so important, why hasn't it been published anywhere else?
If this book is really so "authentic" and "genuine," why can't we find mention of it in universities studying Celtic beliefs and practices?
If this book is really so "authentic" and "genuine," why does it need to keep saying so?
If this book is really so "authentic" and "genuine," why hasn't there been a copy of it anywhere else?
Why haven't other prominent Druid writers, like Ross Nichols, Philip Carr-Gomm, Ellen Evert Hopman, and Isaac Bonewits used the 'Book of Pheryllt' in their work?
Why does the book contain obvious factual errors: like saying the Druids used
pumpkins in their rituals, when the pumpkin actually came from the New World, meaning it
would not have been available in Europe before the fifteenth century?
Actually, one of the Spells of Making fascinated me and it seems many others
too, (as I have had many emails asking about it) and I once again went to the good
Celtic/Welsh source of Lisa L. Spangenberg, (used with permission), to find out more about
this magickal text that keeps cropping up in the books. It goes like this,
elfyntodd dwyr sinddyn duw cerrig yr fferllurig nwyn os syriaeth ech saffaer tu
fewr echlyn mor necrombor llun”.
I’ve also seen it laid out thus:
A elfyntodd dwyr sinddyn duw
cerrig yr fferllurig nwyn;
os syriaeth ech saffaer tu
fewr echlyn mor, necrombor llun.
Whichever? I don’t know where it came from and some of the words are in fact Welsh words; one attempt I found from Lisa to make sense of them ran as follows:
‘O elements of water which lead? the God of rocks that chainmail/some sort of mail hunger if knighthood your sapphire the great side of the axis as dark as the moon.’
Of course, I personally might add that apart from the obvious translation above, another possibility might be that it might not be at all of Welsh origin, but somehow "amalgamated over millennia", but of course we will never know for sure what ancient wording is synonymous, and we all know that languages change over the millennia, so again, what’s genuine and what is not? Maybe this was a strictly verbally handed down spell and just got badly handed down over a generation or two, (like the old war time story maxim of 'send reinforcements, we're going to advance' being handed down from one soldier to anther until it got to the General who heard, 'send three and four pence, we're going to a dance). Therefore, I leave it to the reader to make their own assumptions based on logic and common sense. Perhaps indeed, there has been some handed down arcane knowledge over these thousand's of years, but one would think that it would be extremely hard for it to be so suppressed and kept so secret, and one would think that if it had survived it would proliferate into more general knowledge, as normal??
If this is so, and the druids of antiquity were not wiped out by the Romans
as some say, did they then survive in Wales, as so many say, (mostly Welshmen of
course who try to say that all Druids are Welsh).
Actually pure Celts had a common blood line and certainly not just to
the Welsh. There were certainly more Druids in what is part of now England
and Europe than ever in Wales, but of course they could’ve all ended up there!?
This can be seen in the presiding over of the annual Eisteddfod! (which
is a wonderful event still ongoing). In fact, almost nothing is known
about the Druids as we keep saying, and the association between the Eisteddfod
and the ‘Gorsedd of Bards of the Island of Britain’ might just be a
nineteenth-century romantic invention?? You can contact me for more
information for those wishing to go to this yearly event by the way, and
organized by OBOD.
So, back to question; is the Eisteddfod just a nineteenth-century
Actually….No, from what I can find out; some of the trappings may be modern but the Eisteddfod
goes back to the early Middle Ages at least, but certainly not back two or three
thousand years, when the Druids and Celts were ruling in Britain!
Since the early Romantic Revival of Druidism, which actually began in the
early eighteenth century, along with Rosicrucianism and Freemsonry, there have
been many ideas on Druidism that owe more to imagination than to history.
Here are some more, in addition to the above mentioned, of the most common that
I could find:
"The Barddas": a book of Welsh Bardic and Druidic knowledge. This book is , as has been shown above perhaps??) known to be almost entirely forged by its author, Iolo Morganwyg. This is the book that actually claims as a source the "Book of Pheryllt", which might also therefore be a fictional work??
It makes exceedingly good poetry though as I see it, but very poor history.
Distinguishing the two is important, but almost never easy. The
Druids were thought by some to be Monotheists", which is a popular idea
during the Romantic Revival, but without historical sanction, for there were
many large and complicated pantheons of Deities, and not all were common to all
the Celtic nations. Which is exactly what I believe. There were many Gods
and Ancient Powers and that is what we must always remember!
As I keep saying, many of Druidism's, (like Rosicrucianism and other
groups/cults) early revivers were strongly influenced by Freemasonry and
other similar fraternal orders, and then attributed to Druids the worship of an
exclusively male Christian God. Also, more recently, some have believed
that the Druids worshipped the Earth Mother exclusively, but while Earth-mother
Goddesses are present in the Celtic pantheons, they are not usually worshipped
So, all in all, we could keep going and going – around and around…Where
it will stop….? So, at this point, I think it is better to get off the
pulpit and take a deep breath, because this can never be solved entirely I
As for the mud slinging at Douglas, alas is all apart of our darker side of
human nature and is a great shame, especially as most of those who sling the mud
are supposed to be the same so-called Druids, built on peace and goodwill.
Where they all get their own legitimacy from I have absolutely no idea and
should agree to differ. Historically though, these people are correct!
My own point – is that the books are ONLY a great story and have some
really deep poetry and insights, not counting the Inner Journeys you can attempt
to make. But as for having a long and unbroken history – I will say
beyond doubt - most probably not. Is this the real, real question
Personally, I thought it was about what worked for YOU (or me) counted the
most!!! After all it is our journey, not another’s, and I keep on saying
there are NO Gurus, we are all just travelers walking a road together, some at
different knowledge levels and mile stones, but still based on their own
perceptions and their own chosen paths!
As long as we actually “travel”, that is all that counts though, is it not? For we can’t do it sitting in an armchair and that is what Douglas Monroe is trying to say perhaps....
For much more information, I would highly recommend that you go to Lisa L. Spangenberg's site, (where you will also find a review from Ellen Evert Hopman regarding this subject) at :
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