Monroe, Douglas 21 Lessons of Merlyn

The following is a guest review by Ceisiwr Serith; you can find my opinion of 21 Lessons of Merlyn here. A Pagan for over twenty five years, Ceisiwr Serith is active in the Pagan community both as a writer and a presenter of workshops at Pagan gatherings. His interest in prayers and offerings grew naturally as the result of writing rituals for Wiccan covens, Druidic groves, and, of course, his books The Pagan Family and A Book of Pagan Prayer. He has written several articles on Proto-Indo-European theology and Celtic and Druidic traditions for Enchante, The Druid’s Progress, and Oak Leaves. Serith is a member of Arn Draiocht Fein, the nation’s largest Druid fellowship, and a founding member of one of its groves. Ceisiwr works his way methodically from the beginning to the end of Monroe’s Twenty-one Lessons of Merlyn. Llewellyn Publications: 1992.

Acknowledgments “the Druids were not conformist … they made their own laws.” By comparison with the other IE priesthoods this is shown not to be true; the flamens and brahmans were certainly conservative. Monroe himself gives the lie to this position later in the book when he talks about how many traditional teachings a druid had to learn.
p. 1 “To those with an interest or fascination in THE MATTER OF BRITIAN: [his caps] Arthurian Lore (fact or fantasy), Druidism and the mysticism of Merlyn — this book is a ‘first of a kind.’ Now aren’t we just special.
p. 2 The first reference to the Book of Pheryllt, on which most of the book is based.We learn here that “The Pheryllt were the legendary Priests of Pharon, and extremely ancient god, whose worshipers were said to be the inhabitants of the Lost Continent of Atlantis.” After the destruction of Atlantis, they were washed up on the shores of Neolithic Wales, where they founded Druidism.
p. 3 The Druids built Glastonbury Tor, and were attracted to it by its “triadic, pyramid-like form.” He also brings up the Megalithic Yard, something no scholar takes seriously. And he, in passing, recognizes that the Book of Pheryllt is not historical, in a parenthetical statement “however historically accurate its origins.” And this is the first mention of the forgery The Barddas, on which he also relies.
p. 6 “The word “Druid” means “oak-man” in many languages, the root “dru” always referring to “oak.” With his idiosyncratic punctuation I am not completely sure what this sentence means, but “Druid” does not mean “oak-man,” and “dru” does not mean “oak” in most languages.
p. 7 He quotes Diodorus Siculus : [The Druids] “using telescopes to bring down the magic of the moon.” ‘Nuff said.
p. 8 He quotes Caesar as saying that the Druids had monasteries.
p. 10 He relates the name of the island of Mona to “monasteries.”
p. 11. He says that there were Druidic books which consisted of leaves sewn together, each leaf corresponding to a letter in the Ogham alphabet (which of course was Irish and rather late, being based on the Roman alphabet. He brings up the four classical elements. He links the modern custom of teachers giving out gold stars to students with a hypothetical use by Druids of stars on their feet.
p. 12 Valentine’s Day comes from a Druidic custom of cutting out the heart of a sacrificed bull to use in a form of divination. The peace symbol (which, per Bertrand Russell, is formed of the semaphore symbols for ND (Nuclear Disarmament)) comes from the symbol for the three rays of Awen.
p. 14 There are three schools of Druids, corresponding to Gaul, Britain, and Ireland. The Celtiberians, Galations, Romanian Celts, etc., must have felt rather left out.
p. 17 The “3 Keys of Druidic Mastery” are “To know, to dare, to keep silent.” Gee, all those ceremonial magicians got it wrong; they included “to will.”
p. 18 Quotation from the Barddas.
p. 21 The sun is masculine and the moon feminine.
p. 25 The Buddha (who had a son) “came into adult life celibate.”
p. 26 “the Christian Church encouraged promiscuity (and birth control) within marriage.” Huh? How does one be promiscuous within marriage?

The last two issues are part of his discussion of sex and the relationship between men and women; he essentially seems to believe that women can only acquire spiritual power from men, and that men should only practice with other men, since if they do so with women their power will remain stuck with the women, and will not return to them. Kind of hard to do both, and rather sexist I must say.

After the introduction, the book becomes a series of stories, adding up to what is essentially a fantasy novel about Arthur’s training by Merlin. Each chapter is then followed by some ritual work. Since I have no interest in doing the ritual work, I will have few comments on it (only when it is particularly offensive). Since the rest is both teaching and novel, I will feel free to critique both. (Believe me, this book needed a good editor, but based on the editing my own book received at the hands of Llewellyn (to wit, none), I am not surprised at the result.

p. 42. All druids are vegetarian. Yeah, right.
pp. 74-5 Four ceremonial magical tools being taught as part of druidic law, right down to the word “pantacle” [sic].
p. 76 Arthur has a blue pebble which earlier he has thrown off a cliff.
79. A marvelous chart of correspondences between elements, planets, etc. Crowley would have loved it, but the druids would have been a bit confused.
p.84 Kernunnos [sic.] is described as having pan pipes and cloven hooves. I know I’m a little touchy about him, but really. And in Britain we find a Gaulish god?
p. 86 “Childhood nightmares began to surface; stories of bloody Roman legions and their merciless attacks against innocent Britons.” Awfully odd from a figure who, if he existed, would have represented the Romano-Celtic king who held back the Saxon hordes.
p. 88 A bloodthirsty Roman again, this time holding a longsword. Unless he were some sort of foreign auxiliary, he would be armed with a rather short sword.
p. 89 All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day are confused with each other.
p. 103 “IAO” Just barely possible to be known in Britain, this is more at home in the Levant. “Erce, Erce, Erce” Taken from the Old English charms.
p. 105 “Llyyr ab Manannan” I don’t know if the Welsh is right, but I do know that “Manannan” was an Irish god, whose Welsh cognate was “Manawydan,” and that he was the son of Lir, not the other way round.
pp. 106-7 Herne (Anglo-Saxon and leader of the Wild Hunt) and Cernunnos (Gaulish and not associated with any kind of hunt at all) identified with each other. This is popular in Neo-Paganism, but is unlikely to have been part of ancient Druid lore.
p. 117 Abraxas. Again a Levantine Hermetic name.
p. 130 The modern Wiccan eight festival year reflected backwards onto the Celts.
p. 131 One of the Celtic godforms associated with Samhain is given as “Samhan.” Well, at least he didn’t give it as “Samhain, Lord of Death.”<

The first appearance of the famous pumpkin, as well as Santa.

p. 133 “Easter (Gaelic festival of goddess Ishtar)” So many things wrong here. The most obvious, of course, is that Ishtar was not a Gaelic goddess. But, more subtly (although it shouldn’t be) is that “Easter” and “Ishtar” can’t have any connection, because the first is Indo-European, and the second is Afro-Asiatic. This is a common error, but that does not excuse it.</td
p. 135 Lughnasadh equated with “Half-Mass.” Is this a typo? Did spell check substitute it for “Hlaf Mass?” Did the editor or author nod?</td
p. 183 Another table of correspondences, this time equating Tarot cards, Ogham letters, Celtic godforms (of which one is “Janus”), and personality types. I wasn’t aware that the Tarot were Celtic.</td
Chapter 12 This entire chapter is simply amazing. It is dedicated to explaining the difference between the druidry of men and that of women (the “deadliest of species”). The principle is that male druids must be celibate (that would have come as a surprise to the married druids in the Irish texts) because that concentrates their power for later use, whereas female druids must have sex so they can take power from men and use it immediately. No joke. The entire chapter is misogynistic. Add to that the fact that in many Celtic tales (Niall of the Nine Hostages and Manawydan, Son of Llyr come to mind) it is the female who is the source of Sovereignty for the male. But perhaps that does not count as druidic power.
p. 234 A chart showing the division between the two hemispheres of the brain and their characteristics, among them being that one half is male and the other female. It has been known for over two decades that it is only in right-handed males (and not even in all of them) that the hemispheres are organized in the way that has become part of popular culture. I understand where the mistake came from, but I expect better from someone who is putting forth something as revealed truth.</td
p. 238 “the Saxons call it ‘Place of the Hanging Stones, or Stonehange,’ and the Cymmry: Stonehenge.” Interesting how the Welsh use English here. But of course, all throughout the book Merlin has to translate Welsh words for Arthur. Maybe that’s because Merlin is using Modern Welsh words, but Arthur, without the benefit of linguistic prophecy, has to rely on poor old Brythonic.
p. 245 “the circle still towered against the sky with a Gothic awe.” No, I guess he *does* have a form of linguistic prescience, to be aware of the modern use of the word “Gothic.”
p. 247 “a time that is not a time, in a place that is not a place, on a day that is not a day…between the worlds and beyond.” Can anyone give me the source of this quote? I know it is not Monroe, because I used it in a Book of Shadows I wrote in 1980. I thought it was from The Book of Pagan Rituals, but it’s not in there. Monroe doesn’t give anything but primary sources in his bibliography, so he has completely plagiarized this.
p. 248 A very strange list of deities, used to describe the Maiden aspect of the Goddess (which is not Celtic). They include Jyotsna (anyone know who that is?) and Blodeuwedd (who, since she was married and later turned into an owl, can hardly be seen as a maiden goddess. Actually, now that I think of it, since she was originally formed from flowers, she could be seen as an actual Celtic version of the Threefold Goddess. Hmm.),/td>
p. 249 We go on to the Mother aspect. This includes Persephone; it is hard to see how a goddess whose alternate name, Kore, meant “Maiden” could be seen as a Mother figure.
p. 249 And on to the Crone. Here we have Kerridwen (sic.), who is not even identified as a goddess in the Hanes Taliesin, and can easily be compared in folk lore to the basic witch figure.
p. 251 Another eclectic grouping, this time of supposed sun gods. It includes “Lleu of the Golden Pipes.” Has anyone heard of this epithet? And Lleu is not a sun god. He also throws in Hercules for good measure. I can not imagine him as a sun god by any stretch of the imagination.
p. 254 The boy who spent his early childhood copying books in a Christian monastery apparently knows no Latin.
p. 257 The “carved pumpkin” shows up again, this time as a symbol of the Sun Realm.”p. 269A description of a ferryman who owes more to the Greek Charon than any Celtic figure. I believe the Celtic cognate was Berinthus, who, unlike this version here, was not an old man.
p. 282 The druids meet in the New Forest. I have always been under the impression that this forest was planted after the Conquest. I could be wrong, though.
p. 284 In an area where we have earlier learned that fires are forbidden, Arthur now sits beside a fire.
p. 321 The “uprights” of Stonehenge come from the Preselly Mountains in Wales. Perhaps I am being too picky here, but this implies the vertical parts of the structure, whereas it is only the inner circle that is made of the bluestones that apparently came from Wales.,/td>
p. 324 Gwyddbywll, which The Dream of Rhonabwy describes as a board game, becomes a symbolic representation of the universe, similar to the Kabbalistic Tree of Life.
p. 330 The vegetarian Arthur apparently eats “large fish.”
p. 331 A house with “many wide windows of curtain and sparkling glass.” ‘Nuff said.
p. 340-341 Not only does the pumpkin make another appearance, but a recipe recommends garnishing a punch with “fresh pumpkin blossoms.” No doubt this would be festive, but it would be rather difficult to do at Samhain, which is when this punch is recommended for. On p. 340, melon blossoms are given as an alternative. Monroe has clearly not actually made this punch.
p. 355 “In the Book of the Pheryllt, we are told that the Celtic god Janus.” Anyone with a modicum of mythological knowledge knows that Janus is Roman. Perhaps Monroe should have been warned by this that the Book of Pheryllt is not the authority he thinks it is.
p. 364 “By this time is was completely dark, except for a thin crescent moon which hung high off the horizon.” Thin crescent moons appear close to the sun, and so are only visible after the sun has set. They then are low in the sky. Monroe should step outside more often.
p. 392 Again a pumpkin.p. 393 And yet again.
p. 396 “all that is necessary for evil to triumph in this world is that good men do nothing.” I can’t place the source of this off the top of my head, but I can say for sure that it isn’t Merlyn.
p. 416 “It took an in-depth look at an authentic work like The Book of Pheryllt for the author to realize just how far Druidism has drifted from the principles of the founding fathers.” More on this later; for now let us concentrate on the admission that this form of Druidism has “founding fathers,” and was not the descendant of the Celtic version of Indo-European Paganism.

This is followed by an appendix, most of which is useless, and seems only to be there to make the book look official and to increase its length. A good editor (did this book even have one; I know that my book that was published by Llewellyn had one in name only) would have cut this down considerably. But then, a good editor would have caught the numerous errors in the rest of the book.

Thus ends my blow by blow listing of errors. I’m sure there are many I have missed.

To sum the whole thing up: The book is written by a child abusing, plagiarizing (and those are the two worst crimes I can think of), fraud. There are enough mistakes in it that I don’t think that either he or anyone else edited it carefully. The part that is essentially a fantasy novel is poorly written, with inconsistencies and anachronisms galore (why is a pebble thrown over a cliff in one scene and then still in Arthur’s possession in another? Why does Merlyn smoke a pipe?) Since in one scene he is said to be blowing smoke rings, I suspect a certain Tolkien influence here; Monroe is trying to make Merlyn into a proper wizard (like Gandalf), and is just not very well written. I suspect that Monroe has not tried the things he suggests, since some of them are impossible (pumpkin flowers at Samhain) and some may be dangerous (the ingestion of absinthe, which is illegal as well in a number of countries). And of course, the biggie—the entire book is based on the Book of Pheryllt, which is a forgery, yet the book itself, and the back cover, claims the book to be “authentic druidry.” The back cover alone uses the word “authentic” three times, and “genuine” once. Now I know that Monroe may not have written the back cover, but I do know that almost all of the back cover of my own book came from my submission letter, so I would suspect that he at least had a hand in it, and he makes the claim in the text as well.

Bottom line: Friends don’t let friends buy the 21 Lessons of Merlyn.

I now return you to your regularly scheduled program.