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on 20 April 2016
Bought as reference book for course, as described and excellent price.
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on 7 February 2017
This is a must have for anyone who wishes to read about re Christian /pagan Britain
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on 12 December 2014
Love the book arrived in good time very happy
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on 12 August 2002
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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on 31 December 1998
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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on 30 May 2017
If you were hoping to learn about the ancient religions of Britain or even more how they relate to modern Wicca or Neo-paganism you will be dreadfully disappointed. This is a meticulous and scholarly survey of the archaeological and later historical evidence for the religious beliefs and practices of Britain, and Professor Hutton's conclusion is that there is nothing we can really know about them. The purposes and motives behind the bewildering array of megalithic structures are open only to pure conjecture. The later historical records of the Romano-British world are almost as unhelpful and H. clearly shows the danger of trying to construct a pan-Celtic religion from the large number of names of divinities found scattered throughout Western Europe.
As a non-Christian, (he was "brought up as a pagan"), H. gives a very fair coverage of the arrival of Christianity to Britain and its rapid triumph, so complete that he finds no possibility for the continuation of any pagan religion.
Particularly interesting is H.'s demolition of modern Wicca and Neo-paganism as having any connection with any ancient faith; not that he has any animosity towards the movement, simply that it is entirely a modern construction which is far more rooted in Magic, itself largely a 19th century construct based on medieval sources - very different to a religion - a difference which he very clearly explains.
My only criticism would perhaps be that H. gives too little credence to vestiges of ancient beliefs in Y Mabinogi, cf. the works of John Koch or earlier W J Gruffydd.
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on 1 July 2007
I bought this book hoping I would learn something about `the pagan religions of the ancient British Isles'. I did not, other than a few crumbs here or there because at Hutton states on page 341 (the last page) we cannot know anything about them as 'they perished along time ago and absolutely'. 'They are lost to us forever'. So there we are, 341 pages saying we cannot know anything - and we - or at least Hutton, does not.

I found this a very irritating book. Hutton appears to enjoy nothing more than demolishing the work of others. His principle target is the neo paganism that has sprung up in the last century, which in his view has no sound basis or lineage. He may be correct but the relish with which he goes about this task is not terribly attractive. He is a demolisher not a builder, which is the weakness of the book. Where he manages to provide content himself, it is mostly in the form of lists of things - like every ancient monument in the UK, or Roman gods. What he does not do is draw any insights from these lists that might shed some light on the answer the title of the book sets out to address. If Tescos can build a world class business by analysing customers shopping lists, I feel a decent scholar ought to be able to achieve a little more than Hutton does with the wealth of material available.

Where he does come across evidence of the persistence of pagan customs he typically rejects it as being unlikely to have survived so long and therefore assumes it to be a recent creation. My recollection is that the Iliad was supposedly passed down by oral tradition for a thousand years, and the Vedas for even longer. Why then is it implausible that we Brits cannot remember through our tales and traditions customs dating back 1500 years?

Hutton makes a distinction between magic - which he does agree has persisted, and religion, which in his view has not, however frankly the difference was lost on me, and comes across as about as useful a piece of academic hair splitting as debating how many angels you can get on a pin head. This does not of course mean that the particular example is not a pagan custom still in use, just that Hutton has not found anything in writing from the pagan past, complete with a date stamp to provide authentication. With such a high requirement of standard of evidence, nothing gets through his filters, and in fact he asserts that the Irish legends are little more than Christian stories as they were originally written down by Christian monks - with that conclusion there is clearly no need to study them further. In a similar vein, all British myths and customs are written off as little more than Greco-roman remnants - therefore again no value no further study. The Norse legends or similarly dispatched. My own recollection of the ancient stories that I have read is that this is not such an obvious conclusion. Nowhere does he provide any detailed arguments for these sweeping generalizations, nor does he go in for the kind of deep forensic analysis and cross referencing from multiple sources that is needed to start to unravel our Pagan past. We are, I assume, supposed to agree with his conclusions because as he frequently points out he is an `academic' as opposed to the mere amateurs that have dominated the field to date. One is therefore left unsatisfied by this rather shallow book. He does a successful demolition job on a lot of new age nonsense, but does not come up with anything better to replace it. Regrettably I bought two books by him from Amazon - I hope the second is better.
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VINE VOICEon 12 June 2000
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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on 8 February 1999
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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on 9 August 2003
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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