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Pagan Britain [Hardcover]

Ronald Hutton
4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
RRP: £25.00
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Book Description

1 Nov 2013
Britain's pagan past, with its mysterious monuments, atmospheric sites, enigmatic artifacts, bloodthirsty legends, and cryptic inscriptions, is both enthralling and perplexing to a resident of the twenty-first century. In this ambitious and thoroughly up-to-date book, Ronald Hutton reveals the long development, rapid suppression, and enduring cultural significance of paganism, from the Paleolithic Era to the coming of Christianity. He draws on an array of recently discovered evidence and shows how new findings have radically transformed understandings of belief and ritual in Britain before the arrival of organized religion. Setting forth a chronological narrative, Hutton along the way makes side visits to explore specific locations of ancient pagan activity. He includes the well-known sacred sites--Stonehenge, Avebury, Seahenge, Maiden Castle, Anglesey--as well as more obscure locations across the mainland and coastal islands. In tireless pursuit of the elusive "why" of pagan behavior, Hutton astonishes with the breadth of his understanding of Britain's deep past and inspires with the originality of his insights.

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Frequently Bought Together

Pagan Britain + Blood and Mistletoe: The History of the Druids in Britain + The Triumph of the Moon: A History of Modern Pagan Witchcraft
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Product details

  • Hardcover: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Yale University Press (1 Nov 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0300197713
  • ISBN-13: 978-0300197716
  • Product Dimensions: 24.2 x 16.3 x 4.2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 177,743 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Review

"With Pagan Britain [Mr Hutton] has written a thoughtful critique of how historians and archaeologists often interpret ruins and relics to suit changing ideas about religion and nationhood...Mr Hutton leads readers to question not only the ways in which Britain's ancient past is analysed, but also how all history is presented. He is also a lovely writer with a keen sense of the spiritual potency of Britain's ancient landscape."-The Economist The Economist "This is an expedition into deep time: a meticulous critical review of the known and sometimes shadowy rituals and beliefs in the British Isles from early prehistory to the advent of Christianity...Ronald Hutton brings the discussion alive with detail and debate...offer[ing] a visceral experience of the remarkable and often enigmatic evidence for ancient beliefs, rituals and practices in the British Isles."-Sarah Semple, Times Higher Education Supplement -- Sarah Semple THES "This magisterial synthesis of archaeology, history, anthropology and folklore traces religious belief in Britain from the emergence of modern humans to the conversion to Christianity."-Jonathan Eaton, Times Higher Education Supplement -- Jonathan Eaton THES "Hutton writes as an even-handed observer of his own discipline, and it is here that most of the solid evidence of ritual behaviour can be found."-Graham Robb, The Guardian -- Graham Robb The Guardian "Graceful prose ... a brisk pace ... This is a big book on a vast subject, presented intelligently."-John L. Murphy, PopMatters -- John L. Murphy PopMatters

About the Author

Ronald Hutton is professor of history, University of Bristol, and a leading authority on ancient, medieval, and modern paganism. He lives in Bristol, UK.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
20 of 20 people found the following review helpful
By Greywolf TOP 1000 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
In 1991, Ronald Hutton published 'The Pagan Religions of the Ancient British Isles,' at the time a unique, one-volume survey of its subject that quickly, and rightly, attained classic status, being quoted in almost every subsequent work on British prehistory. This new book is designed to supersede it, reassessing its contents and conclusions, expanding on it and adding a huge amount of new information that has come to light over the last two decades.
First impressions are of an attractive, well-produced book, containing many more illustrations than its predecessor, though still in monochrome. The illustrations are well-chosen, including many of the usual suspects - the 'Sorcerer of Trois Frères,' the 'Venus of Willendorf,' and so on - but going well beyond them. For example, a group headed 'Less familiar Palaeolithic images' includes human figurines that were found alongside the much better known 'Venuses' on which whole theories of prehistoric belief have been built. These images and their accompanying text provide one example of a process Hutton follows throughout the book, returning to original excavation reports and re-examining, often at first-hand, the objects described so as to place them in their proper context. He has visited or re-visited many sites where objects were found, often in company with archaeological specialists. This meticulous research is filtered through the author's broad areas of personal interest, including ancient and modern paganisms and shamanism. These interests, however, are never allowed to overwhelm the evidence.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This is one of those books where you learn something new on every second page, and the pages in between those each give you pause for thought. The main thing you learn is that many of the commonly held assumptions about this topic are simply wrong, and that much assumed ancient pagan practice or evidence has in fact a much younger pedigree. Still I do like the way that while he politely and painstakingly unpicks the supposed deep history of many of these things that he still leaves space for them to still be an important or comforting symbol for some people despite losing their claimed deep history.
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4.0 out of 5 stars A missing element? 19 Oct 2014
Format:Hardcover
This is a comprehensive review of pagan beliefs in Britain from the beginning of the agricultural period through to recent centuries.The author points out that the interpretation of the evidence about these belief systems has fluctuated in line with changes in social attitudes over the last hundred and fifty years. He shows that there is no clear evidence for what these beliefs actually were in the whole of the pre-Roman period. He is dismissive of the idea of a belief in a great goddess during this period. He also indicates that the nature of the immediately pre-Roman Druidism is also very uncertain.

For the Roman period, there is a useful discussion of the degree of merger between local religions and imported Roman cults. An interesting feature is the return to apparently religious activity in some of the hill forts in the late Roman period. However, the author establishes that paganism had died out in the Romano-British areas at least by the sixth century. Similarly, Saxon paganism and later Viking paganism saw rapid extinctions. With respect to later centuries, the author discusses the persecution of witches, but dismisses the idea that they were evidence of an underground pagan survival.

As in most descriptions of early religion, both academic and popular, there is a tendency to pass over shamanistic or mystical elements. The possibility of a shamanistic element in the pre-Roman religions is touched on, but not discussed in any depth. Similarly, the mystery religions, which were certainly present in Britain, and had a big role in Roman religion in the immediately pre-Christain centuries, get a rather limited coverage.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars I didn't know that! 26 Feb 2014
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Educational and entertaining history of prehistoric Britain and Europe from a prospective I had not been exposed to before. Makes me want to visit some of the sites discussed and consider them from a better-informed perspective.
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