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Druidry: the Truth at Last,
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This review is from: Blood and Mistletoe: The History of the Druids in Britain (Hardcover)
A decade ago, Ronald Hutton produced a definitive history of the development of modern Witchcraft in his 'The Triumph of the Moon: A History of Modern Pagan Witchcraft'. Now he has done the same thing for Druidry. As with his previous books, his research has been incredibly thorough and he conducts us through the maze of evidence with great clarity and erudition. In the case of Druidry the sheer quantity of evidence is almost overwhelming. Since they first came to the attention of Greek and Roman writers more than 2,000 years ago, Druids and Druidry have been the subject of a huge number of books, articles, plays, operas, poems, films, and documentaries. Since, as Professor Hutton makes clear, so little is known about what ancient Druids actually did or believed, the literature about them has ranged from the merely speculative to the outright fantastic. 'Blood and Mistletoe' deals with them all with equal candour.
The main body of the book deals with how Druidry has been envisioned and enacted in Britain and Europe since the Renaissance. The story is dotted with wonderful eccentrics and brilliant scholars in more-or-less equal measure. Several, such as William Stukeley, Iolo Morganwg and Dr. William Price, are given extensive biographies that fill out their characters in entertaining detail while whetting the appetite for more. Indeed, that's the one problem I have with this book: I wish it were at least twice as long. I want to know more about Morien, 'Celtic' Davies, MacGregor Reid and others who cry out for full biographies devoted just to them.
One of the author's many triumphs is to so clearly place Druids and attitudes towards them within the context of their times, pointing out the many and varied roles Druids have fulfilled within British society. Among other things, we learn that Druids were central to the British, more specifically the English, understanding of prehistory for 140 years, during which time they were also favourite subjects for poets and artists including William Blake, Thomas Gray and many others.
The author also traces the origins and development of Druid revival groups, from the Ancient Order of Druids in 1781 and the Welsh Gorsedd in 1792, through to the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids in 1964. On the way, we learn how present-day Druid groups have been influenced by, among others, the Freemasons, the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn and Gardnerian Wicca. Plus, of course, there's plenty about clashes between Druids and archaeologists at Stonehenge, though these take place perhaps rather earlier than you might think.
Readers of the author's previous books will not be surprised to learn that several popular delusions are thoroughly demolished here. One is the spurious list of past Chosen Chiefs of the Druid Order of the Universal Bond that begins with John Toland in 1717 and includes such luminaries William Stukeley, William Blake and Gerald Massey. This is shown to have been invented in the 1950s, while the Order itself didn't exist before 1909. Given Professor Hutton's reputation as a demolisher of myths, you might expect to find him here attacking the notion that Druids have any valid relationship with megalithic monuments such as Stonehenge. In fact, he does almost the opposite, quoting numerous respected archaeologists who have supported just such a relationship. These include Professors Stuart Piggott, Glyn Daniel and Francis Pryor.
This illuminating, fascinating, brilliant volume takes us up to the 1970s. For Professor Hutton's take on contemporary Druidry, see his previous books, The Druids: A History or Witches, Druids and King Arthur
If you're at all interested in the real history of Druidry, you really can't afford to be without 'Blood & Mistletoe.'