Customer Reviews: Deep Ancestors: Practicing the Religion of the Proto-Indo-Europeans
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on November 12, 2009
First, let me say that it is a pleasure to see that any book on a "reconstructed" Proto-Indo-European religion is in print, and it is far more a pleasure to see that the book available is as well-done as this one. For those who have read his A Book of Pagan Prayer, this will come as no surprise.

Serith makes no bones about the fact that his book will be controversial and that some imagination is necessary in order to undertake this work, but he also promises (and sticks to this promise) to deal in logical innovation and to be clear about where it takes hold. What Serith posits is a Proto-Indo-European religion, one that can be said to represent a "common Indo-European" religion, which has value to both Neo-Pagan reconstructionists of all stripes, as well as to anyone who is interested in how religion can be influenced by language.

Serith presents his subject in a conversational tone, addressing not only the theories applied but also the criticisms of those theories. He at once debunks the notion that "Indo-European" work can be seen in any sort of racial manner early and effectively, and takes on Dumezil's tripartition in an elegant and effective way.

Serith also speaks very early on about how his work is a sort of synthesis between current scholarship in archeology, comparative mythology, and comparative linguistics, and talks about the limitations of this as well as its advantages. His in-line citations (found from cover to cover) show a depth of research, and a quick spot check of his citations shows that the citations are accurate and that the ideas he presents logically follow from the source he cites.

The meat of the book, though, is the "reconstruction" of this PIE religion, and here is where Serith's knowledge really shines through. Here, we find a wealth of information about the commonalities (and exceptions) of Indo-European cosmology and rituals that just doesn't seem to stop. Serith's deep knowledge of Celtic, Norse, Roman, Vedic, and Iranian ritual and cosmology is on full display here, and this information is woven together in such a way that it all dovetails nicely.

Included here are rituals for the turning wheel of the year, from planting to harvest to equinox rites. Additionally, there are rites for ancestors, lists of reconstructed deity names (and the functions those names imply), and domestic rituals for the family at their hearth. Serith also discusses some animals (though this section is not extensive) and their relationship to ritual. On top of that, Serith includes rituals for both weddings and funerals, rituals often overlooked in books meant to introduce a person to a religion. Unlike other books, too, this book provides not only "what to do" in a ritual, but also commentary to tell you how to do it and why it is done so that a worshiper will understand as well as participate. In terms of meeting the ritual needs of someone just starting out on the PIE path, this book leaves no stone unturned.

A refreshing note I made as I read was that Serith's discussion of "Nektar" (known as soma, haoma, and other drinks in the IE world) speaks about this drink in depth while avoiding the usual "quick and easy high" language that often accompanies discussions of ritual drink in Neo-Pagan books on the subject.

Finally, appendices address some significant points of question: Appendix 1 is a light glossary that defines both symbols and terms; Appendix 2 is a much-needed (and thorough) pronunciation guide; Appendix 3 and 4 contain instructions on how to clarify butter and how to mark sacred space, respectively.

Some small issues present themselves in this publication: the table of contents could use chapter titles, an index would be very helpful, and in-line citations are not for everyone (I prefer footnotes, myself); still, these are minor points that are heavily outweighed by the amazing amount of solid information in the book. I had the pleasure of meeting Serith at the Harvard Celtic Colloquium, where he gave his fascinating paper on Cernunnos, and so can vouch for the credentials mentioned on the back of his book, as well. Five stars.
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on April 27, 2010
Deep Ancestors is a great read about our Proto-Indo-European ancestors. It uses the best available information from linguistics, archaeology and cultural cross comparisons to determine not only the what, the possible and the known about these people, it also gives one examples of how they probably conducted rituals as well as the why. One would expect such a fact filled book to be a difficult read since it is based on current scholarly works and references, but this is not the case at all. Ceisiwr Serith has expressed the concepts and details about these cultures in a very readible and easily understood manner. Many useful and ready to use illustrations and examples are provided.

The book is a treasure of knowledge about the very foundations of modern day practices in the Pagan world that come to us from the past. It explains the roles of the deities as well as the cosmogony and cosmologies of the universe. For those whose religions and practices are rooted in the original tree of the Common (or Proto) Indo-Europeans, it is almost a Rosetta Stone of cultural awareness. It covers the structures and values of our deepest, ancient Pagan philosophies. Using this book one can easily construct personal, family or group rituals that have meaning from the past through the present.

I highly recommend this book to anyone seeking to understand and flesh out their current Pagan practices with the traditions and outlooks of our far ancestors. They are the beginnings of our religion while we have the responsibility to honor them while carrying forward their knowledge. Here we can learn the ways to get into touch with their spiritual awareness as well as the structure of being itself.

Deep Ancestors explains to a great extent why and how the Celtic branch of the Great Tree is like it is. It also gives us an opportunity to form our own branches and families of that tree. It also branches across the board into comparative analyses of all the major, known Indo-European cultures and their philosophies. For those who follow Continental Pagan practices, it is a key to understanding their roots and branches as well.
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on April 1, 2010
Have you ever looked forward to reading a book and then waited impatiently for it to arrive and when it did, you just didn't want to read it because if you did you won't have anything similar to it to follow it? This is how I felt with this book. There aren't a lot of books on the Indo-Europeans (I know I read almost all of them) and there are no books (that I know of) besides this one on the religion of the Indo-Europeans. That this book is written by Ceisiwr Serith is actually very fitting because of you google the Proto-Indo-European religion (hence forth PIE religion), his name would be among the first to appear in relation to it.

In the preface of the book Serith finds it necessary to define what he means by PIE because PIE history covers thousands of years and he gives excellent reasons for why he defines it this way. To Serith the term PIE is used to denote the period when language and culture were beginning to break up. This is around the third and fourth millennia BCE.

The book goes on to discuss the PIE society, the classifications of Gods and Ancestors and how they might have been viewed by the PIE society. He also discusses the laws that govern the society, and the individual as well as the laws of ritual, which was very interesting. The author also discusses the seasonal festivals, and rites of passage that might have been celebrated by the PIE Culture and why they might have celebrated it this way.

The book ends with four Appendices, the first is a brief glossary, the second is a pronunciation guide, the third is an explanation of how to clarify butter, which is VERY interesting and the four is an explanation of how to mark a sacred space. The book also has an extensive reference section, which I really appreciate.

The book took me a while to read because I was trying to digest everything in it. It is written in a simple manner for anyone interested in the PIE religion to read. I would suggest though that you read a bit of PIE history before you read this book because it assumes that you know the history already.
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on March 18, 2011
Indo-European studies being what they are, I suppose one is bound to disagree with a fair bit of the material in any attempt to reconstruct the religion for practical purposes. I am no exception. I disagree with his take on Dumezilian tripartite models, his comments about directional associations, and quite a bit beyond this. I certainly understand where his views come from and so these are respectful disagreements, but they are disagreements nonetheless. I am also sure that if I were to write a comparable work, that everyone would disagree with me too.

We have to start somewhere, and this is as good a place as any to start. The author has generally adopted a fairly Dumezilian approach to Indo-European comparative religion and despite some misgivings about this approach it is probably the most widely accepted viewpoint to date, at least in the US. (I see Dumezil's discoveries of tripartite formulas as valuable and worthwhile but I think he, and hence the current author, attempt to limit the gods too much to formulaic roles.)

Anyone seriously trying to figure out how to practice Indo-European religion will find this book an inspiration and a helpful guide to other studies as well. Given the current state of the field, this is the best that can be hoped for. This is why I think the book deserves five stars. This appears to be the author's goal and he hit the mark with great precision.

This book will make you THINK about how to re-enact Indo-European religious rites. It is therefore highly recommended.
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on February 16, 2014
This book has the goal of putting forward a modern day religious belief system and set of rituals based on the religion practiced by speakers of Proto Indo-European (PIE). This is obviously a pretty modest undertaking, given that reconstructions of the Proto Indo-European language suggest it was spoken approximately 5000 years ago (plus or minus some in either direction; theories vary) and our knowledge of the language is based on comparative analysis of the various daughter languages that are known. The religious beliefs of PIE-speakers is a second-order comparative task, also involving trying to triangulate a prehistoric unknown from attested religions and myths found in cultures spread from Iceland to India over the last 3000-3500 years.

Serith puts forward a very good effort on this daunting task. There is a large body of work in academic PIE studies going back decades devoted to comparative mythology and trying to discern PIE elements in the myths and religions of Indo-European cultures, and Serith bases his model of a hypothetical PIE religion on a good understanding of the academic literature. In PIE studies, like every other branch of academia, a wealth of resources is both a blessing and a curse, and Serith also demonstrates the intellectual courage to make his own decisions about some of the more debated aspects of PIE beliefs and religion, like Georges Dumezil's idea of trifunctionalism. Another contentious issue in PIE studies is the location of the PIE "homeland;" with regards to this particular question, Serith takes a more agnostic approach; this decision unfortunately limits his ability to look at archaeological evidence as an adjunct to what can be pulled from written sources.

Deep Ancestors can be broadly split into two parts -- Serith's presentation of a reconstructed pantheon of PIE gods and goddesses and then a reconstructed set of rituals.

The first half, the reconstructed pantheon, draws heavily on academic sources and is a reasonable interpretation based on a good reading of the literature. An inherent problem with this task is that in PIE studies there are both gods/goddesses whose names are cross-culturally attested in later Indo-European languages (i.e. the Sky Father, *Dyeus Pater, which finds reflexes in Jupiter, Zeus, Vedic Dyaus Pitar, etc.) and gods/goddesses whose functions are attested in various cultures but under various names (i.e. the paired gods of magic and law variously known as Mitra/Varuna, Odin/Tyr, Jupiter/Dius Fidius, etc.). This issue is a thorny one, and he does not include the nameless but functionally attested gods in his pantheon, or projects some of the missing functions onto the gods who are listed (i.e. his interpretation of Vedic Aryamen -- which has good attestation elsewhere in the Indo-European world suggesting a PIE level of antiquity -- incorporates aspects of Vedic Mitra as well). The end result is not entirely satisfactory, in my opinion, but is a safe model -- we can be relatively certain (as certain as any aspect of this particular task allows for) that the gods and goddesses shown made up part of the religious schema of PIE speakers. We can also be equally sure that what is depicted by Serith is only a part of what they actually believed (and quite possibly that the missing portions are those that had special resonance and meaning to people in that place and time)..

I personally was much more interested in Serith's reconstruction of a PIE pantheon than his attempts at reconstructing rituals, and did not read this portion of the book as closely. The sundry written sources for descended cultures attest to animal sacrifice as a central, if not the central, point of mediation between humans and divinities. In the modern era this is ethically untenable for the vast majority of people, and modern religions have made their own rapprochements with the bloodier handed traditions -- and the same issue would present itself if, for instance, one set about practicing the circa 3000 BC antecedent of modern Judeo-Christian religions.

Adding to this, Serith's agnostic stance on where PIE culture was located means he does not make use of the archaeological record and what it tells (or suggests) members of Proto Indo-European culture were doing, ritually speaking. Without this portion of the story, we are left to rely on written accounts, and even the oldest (the Rigveda) was probably written approximately 2000 years after PIE was a (relatively) homogeneous language and culture.

One point which comes through in archaeological record (particularly if one accepts the Pontic Steppes as the origin point for PIE, but this also holds generally true for the time frame of approximately 3000 BC) is animals were sacrificed to the gods but that human believers consumed the resulting supply of meat in ritual feasts. Serith makes some references to feasts and meals in the book, but the rituals he proposes are largely divorced from the ritual consumption of food consecrated to the gods. These feasts have been posited as a significant unifying point in the reification and spread of PIE culture (and various other pre-modern cultures) -- and this idea still has resonance with modern American readers accustomed to Thanksgiving, potlucks, the traditional "offering" of food to families of the dead after funerals, etc., in a way that the rituals he describes just do not, in my opinion.

All that said, I think Serith deserves credit for a well written book. He definitely brings a level of intellectual rigor to the task that is sometimes absent from neo-pagan and other New Age/alternative spirituality sort of books, and the task of putting forward a cohesive belief system from vague suggestions and snippets is a major undertaking, and a pretty unique one.
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on November 13, 2011
This book is an excellent exposition of how and where Paganism may have arrived in the world, what it means and how to practice one particular style of its ritual. It is directed more toward thinking Pagans and other persons who are open-minded toward religion in general. However Serith approaches the subject in such an evenhanded manner that even the reader who emulates Thomas Edison, the original popularizer of the Industrial Age myth that, "Religion is bunk," can learn appreciation of both the form and function of reconstructionist Paganism. (Readers of that ilk would be more capable of an objective reading of this or any book on religion if they first take the time to read Joseph Campbell's The masks of God; in 4 vols.)

Reading "Deep Ancestors" I'm struck that it could actually be two freestanding books; the first of roughly nine chapters, or 106 pages in the paperback version, followed by the second, with ten chapters. It also has a liberal set of appendices and a good list of references for further study.

The first section explains the reasoning by which he approaches the religion itself, proposed in the second section.

In the first nine chapters Serith describes the methods and logic by which the science of comparative linguistics reconstructs the Proto-Indo-European language. He describes similar methods for reconstructing cultures and then the subset of culture we call "religion". He then presents his reconstruction of both the religion and its cultural and philosophical underpinnings.

In the remainder of the book he continues to expand his logic for reconstruction, but he adds specific directions for rituals which can be adapted by modern Pagans for their individual and group needs. In many respects the second part of the book follows the structure of A Book of Pagan Prayer. The latter book would be an excellent companion for persons seeking to practice the form of Paganism which Serith espouses.

Why four stars and not five? This is an excellent read, probably worthy of a five star rating by anyone who is more adept at memorizing new vocabulary. But in addition to linear reading I like to skip around, exploring threads of ideas. (OK, 'fess up, how many readers do the same? Novels have to be read straight through but books like this lend themselves to skipping around.) In skipping I find myself constantly having to backtrack to learn the meanings of words such as "hngnis" and "xador". The appendices help to an extent but are not complete. (Once you learn the vocabulary the book flows well for one's actual full reading, hence the four star rating rather than three.)
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on March 23, 2015
FOr those of you that hold an interest in the spirituality of the Proto-Indo-Europeans then this book will be the one for you to read. THe author is very knowledgeable about the different Pagan religion if Europe, such as the Norse. Celtic and even going further into the realms of the Hindus. All of these rate necessary for a work of this order because they are Indo_Europeans. From somewhere near Central Europe or along the Southern  part of Russian, or near Armenia the proto-Indo-Europeans  spread out practically all over the world. Going as far West as Europe and far East as India. If you examine these religions you will find out that they have much in common. after all they come from the same source.

Many people are under the impression that old EUrope was a peaceful goddess worshipping place and that the Ino EUropeans who stormed into Europe were warlike horseback riders who worshipped male gods. Such talk is nonsense. Old Europe knew it's share of violence and wars. Not all Indo European culture was spread with the use of violence and war. In fact a lot of it spread through trade and people admiring their ways. There were also peaceful migrations where in the Indo -Europeans learned from their neighbors and their neighbors learned from them.

Documents pertaining to the Indo Europeans and their rituals are scant and far and few between . This of course leads to an accurate as can be reconstructions, most likely pulled from Norse, Hindu and Celtic sources. THe book delves into the hisotry of the people, common laws and customs along with reconsructed rituals at the end. If going Indo-European is your thing or you need a good strong book on Pagan religions then this book is yours to read.
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on September 22, 2014
A lot of work and history in this. Not all of it makes me feel warm and fuzzy, but the level of scholarship is awesome. A required reading for anyone on an Indo-European path. Or at least, it should be!
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on June 2, 2015
Excellent resource for practitioners of an Indo-European based polytheistic tradition by providing theoretical framework that can help to flesh out less developed elements on solitary or group practice - most especially ritual construction, but also mythological themes. On it's own however, it also provides a window into a thoroughly examined Proto Indo-European tradition, albeit quite abstract in nature.
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on July 14, 2013
For anyone interested in getting a better understanding of the origins, missing pieces, or other aspects of any branch of the various Indo-European religions, I highly recommend this book. It is also useful to anyone who is just curious about what PIE religion may have been like. Readers interested in recreating any facet of PIE religions will find this book to be of great use to them.

To begin with, this is the only book I am aware of that tackles this subject. There are of course other books which cover aspects of PIE religion, but none which speculate on what recreating it would look like. This is probably due to the understandable reservations archaeologists have about risking their reputations, but in my mind the author is courageous for going forward with the book knowing full well the reaction he will get in some academic circles.

I personally thought the reasoning was sound and areas which were more speculative on the part of the author were clearly explained as such. This is a far cry from the usual new age ruses put out as fact. I have read extensively on related subjects over the last 20 years, and this is by far one of the best books I have read in quite some time. This is a quality book based upon one author's educated speculation, and there is nothing quite like it in print. Buy it and thank me later.
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