3.3. Modern Paganism: Hutton, Ronald. The Triumph of the Moon. New York, 1999.
Ronald Hutton is Professor of History and presents us with a splendid scholarly analysis of the origin of the Pagan Movement in Britain. The book’s focal point is the Wiccan tradition, “the only religion Britain has given birth to”. It is well researched and Mr. Hutton remains objective and respectful to the Pagan Movement.
The comprehensively structured book is divided into two halves: “Macrocosmos” analyses the different cultural concepts leading to the emergence of Wicca. “Microcosmos” follows the specific development of Wicca.
In “Finding a Language” we look at the general attitudes towards Paganism during the 18th century. It was the German Romanticism and veneration of old classical Pagan Deities which became the herald of the modern Pagan Movement.
The next Chapter “Finding a Goddess” shows how the image of the Goddess developed from real polytheism to the “highly atypical” image of Apuleius’ Isis as embodiment of all Goddesses and finally being structured by Robert Graves into the threefold Goddess.
“Finding a God” traces the development of the God image from Jupiter to Pan and how the latter became the Horned God of Witches in the 20th century.
In “Finding a structure”, Mr. Hutton shows the development of the secret societies, from the Freemasons. Though I already read the book; it amazed anew how much the Wiccan ritual owes to the Freemasons.
“Finding High Magic” looks at the development of learned magic and shows the key role of Eliphas Levi, his synthetisations and change of the aim of the Magician towards mystical union and higher spiritual maturity. I read this with a certain contention: As a trained ritual magician I’m sometimes fed up with the arrogant way some Pagans talk down on “those ceremonial magicians” and then you find out they are Wiccans. The other personal importance is that it clearly showed me why I’m doing both: Ritual magic and ADF.
In “Finding Low Magic” the impact of the latter on the modern Pagan Movement is analyzed. It is quite ironic, how many modern witches feel allied with the cunning craft and how little influence it actually really had on Wicca in sharp contrast to the High Magic many sniff at.
As many Pagans believe that folk customs are remains of Pagan practices the chapter about “Finding Folklore” is very important. It is stressed, that many ideas rested upon some truth, but the interpretations went overboard. Personally I really enjoy brining folk lore into rituals, they seem to fit better into Pagan thought than into Christian.
The next chapter “Finding witchcraft” traces the development and changes towards witchcraft of the last three centuries and how the idea came into being that the victims of the witch trials were Pagan (priestesses).
In “Matrix”, the elements from the previous chapter were combined in literature and the Woodcraft movement. Some like W. B. Yeats and Georg Russel foresaw the revival of Pagan (Irish) deities.
In “God (and Goddess) parents” the “main initiators” of the modern Pagan Movement are presented: Aleister Crowley (influencing Wiccan Rituals), Dion Fortune (sexual polarity), Robert Graves (triple Goddess), Margaret Murray (ancient lineage and structure), which later was modeled further by Gerald Gardner.
Microcosmos opens with “Gerald Gardner”. He obviously did not want to stand on the sidelines, sitting fast in council seats (Folklore Society, ADO). Personally I like Mr. Hutton’s interpretation of a divine force growing stronger during the last 200 years who finally worked through Gardner, but can accept as well his more scientific thesis of cultural forces.
After presenting Gardner’s biography and creation of the Book of Shadows “Gerald’s People”, traces the establishment of Wicca, the immense contributions of Doreen Valiente and the creation of the eight High days, in my opinion his largest legacy.
The following chapters “The wider context: Hostility” and “The Wider Context: Reinforcement” deal with the reactions. Hostility was not such a surprise to me as the movement is very counter-cultural and the figure of the witch in mainstream not really positively identified.
In “Old Craft, New Craft” the claims of other Covens spread by the time of 1960 descended from other lines is analyzed. Most people claiming to be Hereditary witches seem to have inherited not a complete system, but some charms and spells.
The next chapter “The Man in Black” deals specifically with the particular line of Robert Cochrane, a propagated inherited tradition. Many questions stay open here.
In “Royalty form the North” Alex Sanders and his struggle to become Wicca and the formation of the “Alexandrian” tradition is unfolded.
The reception of Wicca in the United States, which from the 1970s on became the centre of modern paganism, is the focus of “Uncle Sam and the Goddess”. The biggest contributions are with the pagan feminist movement and the chants and songs.
“Coming of Age” tells how Paganism came into a greater popular knowledge. What I really like about this chapter is how it shows that Paganism has matured, though we still have some way to go.
While in “Grandchildren of the Shadows”, Mr. Hutton summarizes what he sees as features of modern Pagan witchcraft, which I agree mostly with. It would be interesting though if someone would make a research unfolding the cultural differences and their influence on how Wicca is lived in the respective countries.
I love this book. It is filled with much rich information. I’ve found the first part of greater importance, as many “Myths” about Wicca are uncovered. This should be a “must read” for every Pagan and especially Wiccans. Personally, I enjoyed the scholarly style, but this certainly is a drawback for the greater masses which should know the contents of the book.