82 of 86 people found the following review helpful
The twilight deepens
, 9 Aug. 2003
This review is from: Pagan Religions of the Ancient British Isles: Their Nature and Legacy (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? The Celtic 'pantheon' that they write of is entirely different to that of the Greeks in terms of the characters themselves, their relationship to each other and the stories of their deeds. None of these stories to my knowledge bears any resemblance to any Greek myth and many of them contain numerous excisions and amendments clearly designed to make them more palatable to a Christian audience. Eg, Arianrhod gives birth to Lleu and Dylan through the magic of her uncle Math. Later she refuses to acknowledge Lleu as her son, seeing him as a reminder of her 'shame'. This clearly indicates that the child was conceived by her uncle, but had been cleaned-up by a censorious scribe. There are many incongruities such as this which makes it impossible that the stories themselves were the inventions of Christian monks that wrote them down. Also no story teller worth his salt would invent tales as garbled and dramatically confusing as the stories of the Mabiniogion! Furthermore Arianrhod is the same character as Eithne daughter of Balor from the Tuatha who are clearly survivals from a pre-christian sensibility.
He suggests the White Horse of Uffington chalk figure as being Saxon in origin whereas it has recently been dated to the Bronze Age. This is a reminder that being over skeptical can be just as misleading as being over credulous when examining the evidence. Also his examination of the grail legend makes it clear that he writes from a subjectively Christian viewpoint.
In spite of these reservations I would recommend this book to anybody studying ancient Celtic culture as an invaluable reality check.
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