I’ve been listening to the audio book (from LibriVox) version of the 1922 edition of this classic book and finally finished it earlier this week. Fabulous.
I first heard about this book back in high school, when I was playing the Call of Cthulhu roleplaying game. It was the only ‘real’ book on the list of Cthulhu Mythos books that would actually teach your character something about the evils secret alurk in the world. It was also the one that taught you the least.
But ever since then, this book has held a special place in my imagination. Once, on a trip to California (the first trip to meet my then-fiancée’s family) I found an early copy of the 12(?) volume edition in a used book store for several hundred dollars. I wanted it. I might have even bought it if our car hadn’t died to the tune of $900 a few days earlier. I’ve looked ever since for another set like that and have never seen one.
So when I found that there was an audio copy available on LibriVox, even though it was the 1922 abridged edition, I couldn’t help myself but to download and listen to it. Even though it was 42 hours long. But really, when was I going to get 30+ hours to read it?
It is a great book, one that I wish I’d read years ago. What is is about? A little hard to say, because most of the book is actually tangents, sections that support his argument, but only in a “You think I’m crazy for saying that people would would actually do this? Well, these people, halfway around the world, _do_ think that, so my idea is that far-fetched.” Not proof, but proof-in-concept.
So what’s it about? The basic thesis is to look at the Roman religious rites recorded as happening at Nemi, outside of Rome and mentioned in Virgil’s Æneid, then to try and piece together what those rites meant to the Romans and where those beliefs had come from, trying to trace them to their Indo-European roots.
And, in the process, examine aboriginal religious rites from across the world -- North America, South America, Australia, New Zealand, Melonesia, Africa, Asia, everywhere.
It’s way too much for me to try and summarize here, but there were lots of fun stories, interesting customs and beliefs, and insightful examination of some well-known as well as some obscure myths. It’s a great resource for world builders, fantasy/historical authors and roleplayers.
I’ve been listening to it in the car and while working in the garden, preparing my wheat field for planting. And that has been the best part, tearing up weeds, digging, and readying my plot for planting while listening to accounts of old harvest festivals, hearing about planting sacrifices and guarding spirits or divinities that watch over the earth’s bounty.
Since then, I’ve listened to some shorter books: Einhart’s _Life of Charlemagne_ and Tacitus’ _Germania_. I also tried to listen to the _Lays of Marie de France_ but the reader’s were so bad, I couldn’t go through with it.