Until recently Wiccans--the name that present day witches prefer--used to claim that their religion was a recreation, even a continuation of ancient beliefs widespread in Europe before Christianity drove them out. Most of today's Wiccans are more honest, more ready to accept that theirs is a new religion, self-consciously created to serve a need not met by existing mainstream religions.
Ronald Hutton's The Triumph of he Moon is a history of modern pagan witchcraft, examining not only its origins half a century ago but the many ideas and enthusiasms of the last few centuries that paved the way for it. He finds powerful influences in 18th and 19th-century Freemasonry, 19th-century Rosicrucian-type societies, including the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, as well as in the tradition of wise women, dispensers of herbal remedies and folk wisdom. Interestingly, these last, who many Wiccans would see as the main forerunners of themselves, Hutton finds to have little real significance. With the benefit of scholarly insight, he also points out the unreliability of the most influential literary and / or supposedly academic works supporting the idea of ancient European religion, such as Charles Leland's Aradia, Margaret Murray's The Witch-Cult in Western Europe and The God of the Witches, J.G. Frazer's The Golden Bough and Robert Graves' The White Goddess.
Hutton, a regular contributor to TV documentaries about Neo-Pagansism, is Professor of History at Bristol University. The Triumph of the Moon is that rarity, a very readable academic book, which will be fascinating to anyone with an interest in the history of witchcraft. --David V. Barrett
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Hutton's professional expertise shows paganism in a new light (Katrina Dixon The Scotman, 24/02/01
this work ... makes for excellent reading. Hutton's extensive scholarship allows him to make and clarify connections between people and movements in recent centuries. (Northern Earth, No.83.