WITCHES, DRUIDS AND KING ARTHUR
By Ronald Hutton, published by Hambledon & London at £25.00 ISBN 1-85285-397-2 (Reviewed by Brian Hoggard)
In this book Professor Hutton explores myths and myth-making with specific reference to witches, druids and King Arthur. It is written to the usual high standards we have come to expect from this author and will be entertaining and informative both to pagans and non-pagans.
The introduction to the book makes it clear that this is not a book for the feint hearted; Hutton hits hard into the core of myths and makes no apologies for doing so. In this section he exposes the myth of Scottish kilts (yes!) and Welsh national costume amongst other things. It turns out both came into being in much more recent history than many would imagine but that they've come to be associated with national identity over time. It is the way that facts become distorted, re-told and spread far and wide that Hutton is concerned with in this book. It is these transformations that create myths, folklore and beliefs. With each generation they can be further embellished and more firmly accepted.
So his approach in this book is to take some core myths, which have key relevance to modern pagans and expose them, while at the same time educating and furthering understanding of the reasons why those beliefs and myths are held. Obviously the topics in the book are not the sole preserve of pagans so much of what is inside this book will appeal to all readers. It appears that Hutton is wanting to educate non-pagans about paganism at the same time, so the way that paganism is written about is actually very positive despite critique of many important areas.
The style of this book reminds me of the first half of The Triumph of the Moon in which Hutton looked at the history of magical belief as it related to modern witchcraft. Each section covered the history of an important strand of modern magical thought. This new book appears to have been conceived in the same way but looking at myths instead of magic as they relate to modern pagans. The chapter titles tell the story. The first chapter deals with 'How Myths Are Made'. There are chapters about 'Arthur and the Academics', 'Glastonbury: Alternative Histories', 'A Modest look at Ritual Nudity', 'The Inklings and the Gods', 'The New Druidry' and others. There are also chapters looking at modern witchcraft and pagan thought in the medieval period and renaissance. All of these things have contributed to many modern ideas in paganism, witchcraft and new age thinking. So in style it's really quite similar, and similarly excellent, to the first half of the Triumph of the Moon.This book is a revelation in many ways and covers subjects so varied that there is never a dull moment. The topics covered are more an existing part of public knowledge
than those covered in his previous work but his approach, excellent research and penetrating insight make it absolutely well worth reading. Many individuals who have lived with these concepts in their lives will find that this book clarifies their thinking a great deal. Once again Hutton has taken a subject area and blown away the cobwebs. Buy this book.