Today, however, I spent the morning with Brian Branston's The Lost Gods of England.
Branston is looking exclusively at Anglo-Saxon mythology, which they brought with them from the continent. While he makes a very good case for the Norse influence on Anglo-Saxon myth (much as Grimm does for Teutonic myth) and arguably shows ties to "Classical rather than heathen influence" (which I find amusing), he entirely neglects how the Celts might have influenced their Anglo-Saxon invaders. Historically speaking, this could be because the Romans had already done a number on the Celts, and the Britons (a Celt/Roman mixed ethnicity) were the predominant force trying to kick the Anglo-Saxons out of England. This, notably, didn't work.
The theory (speaking from previous study, now, not Branston's book) is that the Britons actually did unite under something of a high king around 500 AD to keep out the Anglo-Saxons. That historical king, most commonly thought to be a Briton named Riothamus (if I recall correctly from my Geoffrey Ashe), became the basis for the Arthur legends. The Anglo-Saxons made their most notable invasion (the basis for sticking around) in 467 AD, so my dates may be a little fuzzy. At any rate, it's possible that the Britons were Christianized or "Classicized" enough by the time that the Anglo-Saxons came over that the Celtic tradition had been pushed under (though it was still very much alive in Wales, and probably Scotland, though I know less about Scottish mythology).
Branston shows the names of Teutonic/Norse gods all over the landscape of England, much of it based on comparisons from the early Indo-European tradition (which he believes he can trace to some degree--the first time I've heard this argument in a mythology book). He also introduces the character of Wayland Smith, who is probably transferred from the Norse Volund, but is arguably a dominant hero-figure in Anglo-Saxon mythology. He shows traces of the Anglo-Saxon pagan tradition in devout Christian writings (including Caedmon's poetry), makes a good case for the Wyrd sisters as a trio (though there's only evidence of Wyrd herself left in the language), and shows how Balder easily combined with Christ as the nation Christianized. He also shows that the Norse Ragnarok myth is a much later story--that the myth of the death and rebirth of Balder was probably discarded to complete doom when the culture shifted from agrarian to pillaging. In fact, the lack of focus on war, so present in the Norse myths, seems to be missing entirely from the Anglo-Saxon.
Also notable: Balder is killed by mistletoe (the only plant too young to have an oath not to harm the beautiful god extracted from it). There seems to me to be an obvious correlation here between the Norse tradition and the British druidic tradition, which, I understand, used mistletoe in ritual sacrifice. That, however, is more hearsay than actual study, so I only put it forth as an idea.
In other news, I've discovered that I'm theoretically supposed to only renew books from my library once, which means I have quite a few that need to go back soon. This probably also means there will be more mythology postings in the near future as I sift through all the material I ordered in...
Upcoming Sightings: I'll be at United Fan Con this weekend (10th-12th) in Springfield, MA, hanging out with the Secret Idenitity Podcast crew and signing books. If you're in the area, come say hi!
Currently Reading: Vlad Taltos again. Brust writes such good stuff...