Pagan Symbols of the Picts - review
Okay well I finished this book last night that I shared earlier and boy oh boy do I have to rescind my initial enthusiasm. This happens so often with scholarly non-fiction that I'm beginning to get mighty cynical about them.
It starts out so well, he has the veneer of someone who will attend to his subject with rigour. But it falls apart very very quickly. To put a very simple point on it, it looks like he believes everything he reads. And it's all chock full of confirmation bias to boot. He does not analyze anything. He just finds what he wants to say, offers a terrible footnote (usually just (URL), I shit you not... without even a URL.. just the letters, URL) and for all I know he's cherry picking his nonsense right off of PagansAreSoHippyAndCool.com for all I know.
I want to get behind his theory that the Picts were sophisticated. Those Brochs are amazing and cool and we know nothing about them. We know very little about the Picts other than what one or two Romans copied from other Romans about three or four hundred years later on a page or two of scribble. Making broad assumptions about an entire people on that is the worst kind of academics and anyone who does so should be ashamed of themselves.
It's worse with this Stuart McHardy, though. He really desperately wants the Picts to be all cool and magical like the indigenous British population that people like to call Celts. The Picts didn't have Druids (and we aren't really 100% sure the native Brits did, either) but he vainly attempts to make out this whole culture of a Mother Goddess via the Cailleach and Carlin figures that are prominent in Scottish folktales and fairy lore. The connections he makes are enormous leaps of faith - because he offers no evidence whatsoever. His "evidence" is more along the lines of a elbow jab and a wink. It's just terrible.
The book becomes a lot more interesting when he stops trying to prove a point he cannot prove and simply talks about Scotland's landmarks and folktales related to them. I earmarked several sites to go see and photograph from his maunderings.
But all in all, I cannot recommend.