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Pagan Britain Hardcover – 1 Nov 2013

4.6 out of 5 stars 22 customer reviews

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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: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (22 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 475,993 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description


"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 Shortlisted for the 2015 Hessell-Tilman Prize -- Hessell-Tilman Prize Hessell-Tilman

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.

Customer Reviews

4.6 out of 5 stars
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Top Customer Reviews

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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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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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Having a background in science but only a cursory understanding of what life was like before the Romans arrived I bought this book out of general interest and a desire to know rather more than I did about the early inhabitants of these islands. I assumed that we had a pretty good understanding of who these peoples were and what they believed. I had an image of Stonehenge as being a giant calendar and of Druids in long white robes and beards cavorting about amongst it standing stones. As it turns out I couldn't have been more wrong. It would seem that basically we haven't a clue why many of our iconic megaliths were built and the beliefs of the people who built them. About the only thing we can be certain of is that they must have had a pretty good reason for doing so as the work and organisation needed must have been phenomenal. Not the sort of thing a few mates do for a laugh after a few too many tankards of mead!! Our image of the Druids is also more based on a Victorian romantic image than on fact. In fact "facts" are what it would seem we are very short of. These people left no written record, any hard evidence is often open to multiple interpretations and the conquering Christians did a very good hatchet job of erasing and demonising any beliefs that didn't match their own. In fact looking at the recent news it would seem that nothing much has changed. This is a brilliant book and Prof Hutton has presented an even handed summary of what we know for certain (very little) and what is wish-full thinking (rather a lot). This is what makes science interesting. I am tempted to look at some of his other works to find out a bit more of what we don't actually know.
Ronald Hutton
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