James MacKillop Dictionary of Celtic Mythology
Oxford University Press 1998
The tag “Celtic” is one of those catch-all but often meaningless labels that are a lazy shorthand for anything mystical, fey or even implicitly racial. Too often it is used by those profoundly unaware of its scholarly origins in linguistics or cultural history, so it is refreshing to have this Dictionary written by a specialist displaying his undoubted expertise in linguistics, literature, archaeology, history and comparative religion. The four thousand entries cover mythology and legend, literature and folklore; people, places, ideas and threads are all listed, some in concise form, others expanded into mini-essays. The Celtic world ranges from the insular nations — Ireland, Scotland and Wales — to Brittany and other Continental cultures which survive in the documentary and archaeological record; and MacKillop gives helpful pronunciation guides to help us negotiate the particular orthographical pitfalls of Gaelic and Welsh.
Especially impressive is the range of subjects covered here: from beasties such as water-horses and various homunculi (such as leprechauns) to heroes, heroines and deities; literature such as The Mabinogion, Arthurian narratives, Irish sagas and the Lives of saints; and themes including the cult of the severed head, tale-types and folklore motifs. As with any reference book worth its salt one fascinating entry leads to another, displaying that essential corollary to academic authoritativeness, accessibility.
The hardback is reassuringly solid, so it is disappointing that the paperback seems so slight and insubstantial in comparison, but either edition should be on the shelves of anyone avowing even a passing interest in Celtic culture. You won’t find any other guide as comprehensive as this, and it renders the many dilettante New Age dictionaries entirely dispensable.