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The Pagan Religions of the Ancient British Isles: Their Nature and Legacy [Hardcover]

Ronald Hutton
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)

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Book Description

22 Aug 1991
This is a survey of religious beliefs in the British Isles from the Old Stone Age to the comming of Christianity, one of the least familiar but most extensive periods in Britain's history. Ronald Hutton draws upon new data, much of it archaeological, that has transformed interpretation over the past decade. Giving more or less equal weight to all periods, from the Neolithic to the Middle Ages, he considers a range of evidence for Celtic and Romano-British paganism: from burial sites, cairns, megaliths and causeways, to carvings, figurines, jewellery, weapons, votive objects, literary texts and folklore. The author reveals the important rethinking that has taken place over Christianization and the decline of paganism, and reviews the progress that has been made in tracing the survival of pre-Christian beliefs and imagery into the Middle Ages. Dr Hutton shows how a host of received ideas have been demolished, and how the pagans of ancient Britain were far more creative, complex, engmatic and dynamic than has previously been supposed.


Product details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Wiley-Blackwell; First Edition edition (22 Aug 1991)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0631172882
  • ISBN-13: 978-0631172888
  • Product Dimensions: 23.1 x 15.2 x 2.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 786,185 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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Review

"An excellent, up–to–date compendium of British pagan religions based primarily upon recent archaeological findings. Hutton has contributed a well documented resource which has popular interest." Library Journal "Brilliant ... Hutton′s book gives us by far the best, most level–headed overview of this fascinating but contentious subject." Times Literary Supplement --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From the Back Cover

This is the first survey of religious beliefs in the British Isles from the Old Stone Age to the coming of Christianity, one of the least familiar periods in Britain′s history. Ronald Hutton draws upon a wealth of new data, much of it archaeological, that has transformed interpretation over the past decade. Giving more or less equal weight to all periods, from the Neolithic to the Middle Ages, he examines a fascinating range of evidence for Celtic and Romano–British paganism, from burial sites, cairns, megaliths and causeways, to carvings, figurines, jewellery, weapons, votive objects, literary texts and folklore. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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First Sentence
The human record in the British Isles goes back a very long way beyond the beginning of the islands themselves. Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Customer Reviews

4.2 out of 5 stars
4.2 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
24 of 24 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great Research, a Little Depressing 31 Dec 1998
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
A fantastic, well-researched guide to the pre-Christian peoples of Britain, from Stone Age to Christian times. This book is especially good for Neo-Pagans, as it addresses many of the theories popular in Neo-Paganism (e.g., that the Green Man is an old Pagan deity, that Margaret Murray's Witch-Cult really existed, etc.) It's a wonderful antidote to much of the misinformation that gets promulgated in popular writings. The only drawback is that the book gets to be a bit depressing by the end. We know very little about Celtic religion and even less about the faith(s) of their Neolithic forebears. Hutton sticks scrupulously to the evidence, so he frequently ends up saying, "X is possible, but we don't really know for sure." More speculation would have spiced the book up -- but then again, more speculation would have made it a less reliable text, so maybe it's better the way it is!
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80 of 84 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The twilight deepens 9 Aug 2003
Format:Paperback
Hutton readdresses the evidence of pagan religious worship in the British Isles in a generally objective and rigorous manner that comes as a breath of fresh air in the incestuous, incense-fumed world of modern pagan scholarship. In particular, he convincingly dispels many of the romantic inventions that have grown up about the 'Celtic' era in the C20th regarding the triple-goddess, the 8-spoked wheel of the Celtic year, matrilinear kingships etc.
However, Hutton takes the same approach to the writings of Julius Caesar as many of the Celtic pseudo-scholars that he rightly criticises, namely to go along with his account as long as it accords with his own theory only to disregard him out of hand whenever he diverges from it. For instance, why would Caesar portray the Druids as believers in re-incarnation if that were not the case? He personally knew the druid Divitiacus so was in a good position to know what he was talking about. And if he wanted to convince his Roman audience of the need to conquer them, why portray them as high-minded natural philosophers? Would it not have made more sense for him to describe them as Tacitus did 150 years later as a bunch of barbarian shamans wallowing in human entrails?
However in his zeal to demolish many of the myths that have grown up around Celtic Iron Age culture he has created one or two of his own. For instance he claims that the stories of the Irish Tuatha de Danann and the Welsh Mabiniogion are fabrications of the Christian scribes that recorded them based on the Greek myths. But why would Christian scribes invent stories based on the lives of pagan Greek deities rather than tales that promote a Christian ethos?
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20 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars required reading for pagans everywhere 12 Aug 2002
By A Customer
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Whether you have read Triumph of the Moon or not this book is truly a must.
In true Hutton style he continues to explode myths, blast bogus theories, and sifts through the archeological evidence to produce as true a possible picture of paganism in the British Isles, and its conversion to christianity.
From the neolithic, running through briton, celt, roman, saxon, christianity and viking to neo-paganism he charts the course of belief and practice with his usual acerbic style, presenting fact before fiction, and debating such things as fugu's, hillforts, henges ,ley lines, rituals and sacrifice. Declining to proffer his own personal theories, he manages to make it readable, interesting to pagans and historians alike, with a plethora of sources, but dont take my word for it, like triumph of the Moon it is required reading for neo-pagans looking for their real roots and not a quaint myth to follow.
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15 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent synopsis of ancient religions 12 Jun 2000
By Tim62 VINE VOICE
Format:Paperback
Ronald Hutton's book is a masterly a survey of what we know, and more importantly what we don't know, and perhaps never will know about the pre-Christian religions of the British Isles. Standing as the book does at the beginning of Hutton's series on religion and ritual from antiquity to the present day, it is by the very nature of its subject (prehistory for the most part) the most generalised. Hutton, however, steadfastly resists the errors made by many populist writings on paganism and limits himself to what we know. Unfortunately we know very little indeed about what our pagan ancestors got up to. We can make some guesses, but as Hutton scrupulously points out -- guesswork is all it is for the most part. Yet as he says, he would never want that to stop any modern pagans from doing the guesswork and reconstructing a working pagan religion. Well worth reading first, and then going on to the others in the series -- 'Merrie England', 'Stations of the Sun' and his latest 'The Triumph of the Moon'.
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10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
This book takes everything we thought we knew about British paganism and says 'it may not be so.' The great part about this book is that Hutton has covered the vast realm of paganism and shows that the evidence doesn't always point the the conclusions which we have often taken as fact. The book leaves the reader knowing less about British paganism, because Hutton's thesis is that most of what we've taken for fact has been fabricated. (Note: Hutton's book is not an attempt to discount the validity of neo-paganism and would probably be enjoyed by those who practice modern paganism.) This is an excellent resource for research into British paganism.
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