By Steve Blamires
St. Paul MN, Llewellyn Publications (2000)
Reviewed by Jennifer Martin

Steve Blamires’ exposition on the “Celtic Green World” is a somewhat engaging, though not entirely enlightening read on Celtic-oriented neopaganism. It is best understood as simply that—one individual’s take on the Old Ways, not to be accepted by any means as a be-all end-all authority. Taken as an introductory text, Glamoury is innocuous enough; however, any serious seeker must continue his or her research, as Blamires appears to be sorely lacking in that aspect. Following some of his advice, the novice may find him- or herself in a situation from which extraction may be difficult; it is best to take Blamires’ writings with more than a single grain of salt.

The main strength of Blamires’ text is that it comes across as non-threatening, but not entirely light and airy (in contrast to authors such as Sirona Knight). He attempts to provide a history of Ireland and Celtic paganism in an easily-digestible format that is not in the least intimidating, keeping it brief and providing pronunciations at every opportunity. Blamires’ advice on dealing with the Sidhe and other individuals one might come across beyond the veil in the “Otherworld” is fairly good advice, even for dealing with people in the mundane world: approach all with an attitude of healthy humility. In other words, assume an attitude in which one understands his or her place in relation to everyone and everything else in this world and beyond, and act accordingly. When it comes to occurrences that take place in the mundane world, including pain and death, his advice, again, is good: “If you review your life, you will find many instances where you have shied away from experiences like watching others suffer, periods of intense physical or mental pain, being told that a loved one is dying or dead, or having to put down a faithful old pet. These experiences have as much to teach us as any of the easier-to-accept lessons of life” (75). His emphasis on trusting one’s intuition, both within and outside the course of magickal Work, is excellent, and something that cannot be reinforced enough. Blamires’ visualization techniques are also fairly good, as is his emphasis on practice and taking things at one’s own pace. While slightly hypocritical, as there is nothing the Gaels love more than a good drink, his thinking on addictive drugs in the course of life and ritual Work is also quite good; though it must be pointed out that, unfortunately, many of us require prescription drugs to cope with problems that cannot be treated homeopathically. Blamires also provides a good introduction to holidays, terminology, and key players in Celtic myth.

These things being said, Blamires does nothing to cement his work as scholastically or experientially valid; thus it is difficult for the reader to take even the positive aspects of his writing seriously. Although his credentials may be good (these are not made explicit, however), it is clear that in many respects his education has been exceedingly poor, and his ignorance is obvious from the first pages. This is especially true of his archaeological and anthropological knowledge, while, ironically, he emphasizes that any serious seeker must become familiar with the disciplines; and his understanding of other religious systems appears terribly deficient, leading him to level harsh value judgments that are often incorrect. Blamires writes that “... the Celts of these regions were wealthy, had an aristocracy, and a very high standard of living. These are the social conditions necessary for a people to start to evolve an appreciation of the arts, and to develop the spiritual side of their nature” (6). From this statement alone, it is clear that he has no more than a layman’s understanding of the development of spiritual life, despite his exhortations to the seeker to delve into archaeological, anthropological, and historical disciplines: we saw the first evidence of spiritual belief with Neandertals, who had none of these things. Blamires writes: “The problem with the archaeological evidence is that it tells us nothing of the economical, social, or ideological way of life of the Celts who populated any given site” (13). From this statement, it is clear that his archaeological training is either nonexistent or severely deficient, as archaeological evidence can provide us with a wealth of information in these regards, especially if proper recovery methods were carefully followed. Blamires seems to entirely discredit whatever information the current record has provided us with, completely ignoring the fact that information regarding economy, society, ideology and so forth are in many cases fairly easily inferred from things such as climate, technology, and husbandry. This is continued in his statements regarding the discovery of grave goods, jewelry, and other materials that he contends provide us with little to no information (13-15). His reliance on historical (written) versus archaeological evidence (although he allegedly combines the two) is detrimental to his arguments, especially when he presents the writings of authors such as Caesar without any discussion on the dangers of ignoring the bias inherent in all written accounts: all writings are biased, as they present a view of things through an individual’s or culture’s eyes, and in this sense, all have an agenda, recognized or not, intentional or not.

Blamires himself demonstrates several running agendas, not the least of which being his emphasis on “Irish Celtic Magic [sic],” interesting given his Scottish heritage (as opposed to simply Celtic Magick). It is clear that he has an environmentalist agenda as well; and while this is not necessarily something to fault him for, it makes his own bias obvious. It is also clear that while he states he is not attempting to push one magickal path over another (61), his loyalty lies with Irish Celtic Druidism to such an extent that he comes across as either nationalistically arrogant or downright xenophobic. This becomes painfully clear in his constant references to the “differences” between Western (read “Irish Celtic”) and Eastern spiritual paths. He differentiates between his path and those of the east as follows:

The Irish system specifically, and Western systems generally, stress becoming absorbed in this world and what is happening within it and within yourself. The ways of the East tend to put the emphasis on detachment from this physical world, and “rising above” the pleasures and temptations of the flesh. Such notions are embodied in the physical exercises developed by Eastern systems, and should not be mixed with a system which encourages the opposite approach to life [39].

This statement demonstrates a very poor understanding of many Eastern systems; Taoism and zen, for example, are entirely devoted to reaching other planes through utter absorption in this one. Sage Hui-Neng, for example, writes that “To seek enlightenment by separating from this world is as absurd as to search for a rabbit’s horn;” and one zendo demonstrates: “Someone said, ‘Please, Master, show me a way in!’ Yun-men said, ‘Slurping gruel, eating rice.’” Blamires describes the gods and goddesses as having attained their renowned status by being differently-abled rather than out-and-out divine (71), a concept very similar to that of Hindu Bodhisattvas or Taoist “Saints.” His description of the Celtic view of reincarnation is also very much like the process of attaining Nirvana (73). Blamires also downplays the idea of magick and spiritualism entailing work, though it is something he states several times. He explains, “Nothing is ever forced or put under unnecessary pressure to grow or develop in the Green World ...” (36), forgetting the development of gemstones and such—it is, in fact, all in the definition of “unnecessary,” one guesses. However, more than one spiritualist has rephrased Master Hakuin’s statement that “Should you desire the great tranquillity, prepare to sweat white beads.”

Above all else, Blamires’ poor scholarship requires the reader to put his or her faith entirely in his interpretation, and does not allow the seeker to retrace the author’s own steps—a hallmark of good research. He uses very few footnotes or citations; although he provides a bibliography, it is unclear as to how many of these books he actually referred to in the text (outside of direct quotations). He has, apparently, relied only on books, and it is unclear how much he has delved into current archaeological research. A good author wishing to provide a springboard for further study would have also provided resources on the disciplines he allegedly holds so close to his heart, such as basic anthropological and archaeological texts, as well as texts on studying history, mythology, and the like. Blamires does not explain references such as the “super string theory” in quantum mechanics (65) and the practice of trephination, which he almost presents as being Celtic in origin (125), when it is known that the Aztecs and others engaged in this practice as well. If he was truly attempting to create a valid resource for seekers, he would have done well to include brief explanations to things that are not necessarily common knowledge.

In reading Glamoury, the seeker should be advised to mark the author’s own words and attitudes regarding journeys to the Otherworld—use great caution and do not fully trust things to be as they seem. Blamires’ introduction to Celtic-flavored neopaganism is light and easily digested, but is certainly not fulfilling or nutritious. While he presents his point of view in a non-threatening manner, and provides some helpful pieces of advice, the overwhelmingly poor quality of his scholarship, unwarrantedly condescending attitude, and obvious cultural ignorance make Blamires difficult to accept as a serious author. The danger in this, however, is that the novice might not understand the finer points of his deficiencies and leave the salt on the shelf.