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Fire in the Head: Shamanism and the Celtic Spirit Paperback – May 14, 1993
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Others who have reviewed this book and offered a less than gleaming assessment of the book are undoubtedly people who are seeking either more of a hands-on, experiential, or practical book on shamanic techniques (see Cowan's Shamanism As A Spiritual Practice for Daily Life), or something with a more classical scholarly 'feel' to it (see F. Marian McNeill's, The Silver Bough, W.Y.Evans-Wentz' The Fairy Faith in Celtic Countries, or Celtic Heritage by the Rees'). However, for an overall introduction to the numinous power and energy of the shamanic archetype within the primal Celtic traditions Fire in the Head, even after ten years, is still the best introduction. It is a wide-sweeping flight into the themes and topics, devoid of the particularities of personal cosmology one sees in so many other Celtic books. Cowan gets out of the way so that readers can have their own experience and make their own assumptions. Certainly, once a person has read this it is time to read such works as Jean Markele's The Druids, Caitlin and John Matthews' The Encyclopaedia of Celtic Wisdom, etc., but, again, for an introduction to the core elements of primal Irish, Welsh, and Scottish animisitic spirituality this is still the best.
Regarding the exploration of witchcraft within Fire in the Head: All too often people assume that witchcraft and Wicca are synonymous. They are not. Wicca, largely, was invented in the 1950's. However, witchcraft (both black and white)is well documented as having been practiced in different parts of the Celtic world, as well as the Anglo-Saxon world. I think Tom's exploration of witchcraft is in keeping with the premise of the book--to peel back the layers of European animism in general and see where the shamanic energies may exist.
In this book his love and connection to the Celtic path is evident, though it is not necessarily rooted in what we know of Celtic history, itself. I feel it is important to make that distinction, as Cowan is cultivating the opening of the shamanic experience of metaphor in a Celtic context. He is not a Reconstructionist, thus this work offers, rather, an experiential opportunity in a Celtic framework.
The main problem I have with this book is that the author spends too much time on being an apologist (or promoter) for witchcraft and magic. (Check the authors other books and you will see why this is the case.) Certainly aspects of wicca and witchcraft in general are etched into Celtic myth and history. But the authors own biases bring this area up to a level not fitting with the subject of this book. Most of the chapter on 'The Soul of Nature' brings out details of witchcraft generally not supportive of the main thesis. More than occasional references to the tarot, magic, and other mystical/occult topics off subject leave the reader wondering why so much time is spent on things outside the universal/traditional shamanic experience.
A worthwhile and almost required reading for anyone interested in Shamanism and Celtic spirituality. The noted flaws keep the book from being an indispensable and serious academic contribution to the subject.