sophiacatherine: (Default)
[personal profile] sophiacatherine
Ronald Hutton (2001). The Triumph of the Moon: A History of Modern Pagan Witchcraft. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

This history of the neopagan witchcraft movement, as a major part of the modern Pagan movement,  is a fascinating, comprehensive and very readable book. Given its academic provenance, I expected the style of this book to be dry or difficult, but in fact it was very engaging as it related the history of the witchcraft revival from Gerald Gardner onwards. I have already read several books on the history of the neopagan movement, including Margot Adler's 'Drawing Down the Moon', but my reading in this area has largely focused on druidry and other non-Wiccan sections of the movement, due to my own religious interests. I therefore decided to read this classic, in order to better understand Wicca's role in the wider modern Pagan movement.

The first part of the book explores the background to the creation of Wicca. Hutton begins by outlining the influence of the Romantic movement and other cultural trends in laying the ground for neopagan revivals. These included Victorian constructs of 'nature' and 'paganism', theosophy and spiritualism, and the creation of the triple goddess and horned god figure (based on a conglomeration of pre- and post-Christian deity archetypes and concepts) that would later be adopted by Wicca. Hutton discusses the sources for all these ideas in detail, which was fascinating for me - as a sociologist, I'm very interested in the cultural and social precursors to new movements, especially religious ones. The strong influence of Robert Graves and a few other key figures was strongly emphasised. It was fascinating to see how a few individuals had such a lasting effect. Sadly, it was also interesting to see the ongoing effect of dated (or poor) scholarship through these individuals.

Hutton then explores the history of the groups that influenced Wicca, including Freemasonry and the Golden Dawn. I was amazed to see how many Wiccan 'staples' are rooted in these groups, such as the Masons' naming of their work "The Craft", the structure of their initiation ceremonies, their focus on lineage, their claim to date back to ancient societies, and even some groups' use of the phrases "Merry meet" and "So mote it be" (neither of which are ancient). Similarly, Hutton's descriptions of the magic of the Golden Dawn make it clear how strongly rooted is Wiccan practice in that kind of ceremonial magic. Some examples are the Golden Dawn's use of the four (or five) elements, and their use and exploration of the symbol of the pentagram, and its use of a female image of divinity. This is linked forward into the influence of Theosophy and spiritualism on the modern Pagan movement: reincarnation and other Eastern philosophical ideas entered modern Paganism via this source. The role of cunning folk in developing a 'low magic' is also explored. Well-known local healers and practitioners of folk magic are discussed, showing how they themselves were influenced by developments in ceremonial magic. Hutton then talks about Frazer, Graves, Margaret Murray, and a few other individuals who were influenced by these trends, and who in turn strongly influenced Gardner. Murray's witch cult myth, in particular, was a founding myth and source for Wicca. I was a little sad to read evidence that the Green Man and other enigmatic church carvings are not pre-Christian, and that our interpretation of them is very modern - but it was good to be set straight about that!

The second part of the book looks at the creation of Wicca by Gardner. Much of Gardner's founding myth of Wicca is entirely debunked. Gardner claimed to have been initiated into a coven that is likely never to have existed. Gardener seems to have selected a random member of his local community and claimed her as the high priestess who initiated him, when in fact it seems unlikely that they ever met. Hutton traces Gardner's initial attempts to revive the OTO in Britain, and, following this failure, to create his own new religion influenced by Theosophy, Freemasonry, the Golden Dawn, Graves, Frazer, and Murray's witch cult myth. From here, Hutton outlines the development of Wicca, including the very strong role that Doreen Valiente played in its founding. Hutton then discusses the reaction to the new religion, including the Satanic panics from the 1950s to 1970s, which appear to have been rooted in media sensationalism and fiction novels. More recent developments that influenced the growth of Wicca are also explored, including the (now largely out-of-date) theory of the 'great mother goddess' of the ancient middle east, and work that forwarded Murray's witch cult concept - until that, too, was debunked.

Hutton ends by discussing recent developments in Wicca and the modern eclectic Paganism that has grown out of it. 'Traditional' witchcraft is examined, as a parallel, reactionary tradition created as an answer to Gardner's Wicca. The influence of creators of traditions based on Gardner's, including Alex Sanders' 'Alexandrian' tradition, is also considered, as is the trend of hedgewitchery, solitary witchcraft and eclectic Paganism. Finally, Hutton discusses developments in the USA, where witchcraft became a politically-active, environmentally-conscious and feminist tradition, largely through the influential Starhawk and her writing.

Hutton generally considers that no survivals from pre-Christian belief can be found in modern magical or Pagan traditions, and this is a theme that recurs throughout his books. Other historians disagree, to some extent. However, it is clear that Wicca, and the modern Paganism that grew out of it, is an entirely modern religion. This book serves a valuable purpose in showing the many modern influences that prepared the ground for its invention by Gardner. It's an absolute treasure, and more modern Pagans should read it to understand where our religions have emerged from in the modern world.

Date: 2013-11-06 10:22 am (UTC)
mdehners: (Default)
From: [personal profile] mdehners
Actually, no credible scholars DO. The most obvious evidence is actually Wicca itself; except for a few Names, nothing of it comes from Celtic or Nordic Europe and their Spiritual Beliefs. There ARE, however bits and pieces of various cults that made their way into Europe, going back to Roman times until the 19th Century. EVERY REAL Fam-Trad(that is, actually learned from at least their parents earlier than the 80's)I've known in more than 3 decades material has come from Metaphysical groups their Family had been involved with in the Past. The majority IME from the Spiritualist and Theosophist Movements of the 19th Century.
Cheers,
Pat

Date: 2013-11-06 11:46 am (UTC)
mdehners: (Default)
From: [personal profile] mdehners
I was pretty much agreeing with you;>. Fam-Trad is more, well annoying here in the States mainly because we tend to think of anything even of our parent's generation as "antique". Earlier might as well be Ancient Rome;>.I can remember some fights I used to have with one when I lived in DC back in the late 80's.He couldn't get it through his head that I wasn't denigrating his family traditions, just that they pretty much all came from Theosophy(which I knew fairly well at the time since my Partner at the time had been one for 20 yrs and high up in the Society here in the US for the last few yrs).
Americans esp oft forget that for most of us the "ancient ways" our grandparents learned of were seldom pre WWI....if THAT.
Cheers,
Pat

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