Wicca and Other Invented Traditions ; INTERVIEW ++ Historian Ronald Hutton Delights in Both Debunking and Celebrating Paganism. His New Study of the Druids Will Probably Annoy Their Modern Followers, but Gary Lachman Finds Him Unrepentant
Lachman, Gary, The Independent on Sunday (London, England)
When I met Ronald Hutton, Professor of History at the University of Bristol, at the British Library, he had just come from lecturing to a group of sixth formers at the Camden Centre. When I asked what he had been lecturing on, he answered briskly: "Oliver Cromwell." For an author who's just published a book on Druids, and whose earlier work ( Triumph of the Moon, The Stations of the Sun, Shamanism) centres on paganism, wicca, ceremonial magic and seasonal rituals, this seemed fairly mild stuff.
"Did the students ask any questions about your other interests?" I asked. "No," he replied, "that's not part of A levels." Then he paused for a moment, and added: "Not yet." Given the quality of Hutton's work and the passion he devotes to it, as well as the recent academic interest in subjects like the occult, esotericism, and his own patch, paganism, I'd say it was only a matter of time.
Hutton's most recent work, The Druids, a compact and lively account of what historians and other seekers of the past have made of these "appallingly insubstantial figures", could arguably be looked at as a history of the Druids in which no "real" Druid appears. The Druids left no writings, no images and no tombs. Accounts of them, from Tacitus down, are frustratingly inconclusive, and drift from anecdotal, to biased, to forged, to sheer invention. Most of us associate them with mistletoe, megaliths and human sacrifice, and the three turn up often enough; but the fact is that the Druids, at one time or another, have appeared as all things to all men.
Hutton gives us chapters on "The Patriotic Druids", "The Wise Druids", "The Green Druids", "The Demonic Druids", "The Fraternal Druids", "The Rebel Druids" and, perhaps most important to his popular readers, "The Future Druids". Like the Knights Templar, at least in the British Isles, the Druids have been a handy peg on which to hang a backpack of imaginative, insightful, and sometimes half-baked ideas, dealing with national identity, religious revelation, ancient societies, nature and ourselves. When I mentioned that it seemed like a history of what people have thought about the Druids, Hutton eagerly agreed.
"My colleagues would kill me for saying this, but historians are increasingly conscious of the fact that we can't write history. What we can write about is the way in which people see history and think history happens." And turning my remark back at me he continued, "So, is this a book about Druids with no Druids in it, or are the real Druids these amazing characters like William Price, William Stukeley, Iolo Morganwg and the rest?"
Price, Stukeley and Morganwg, from the 18th and 19th centuries, are only three of the most colourful, influential and significant figures in the history of what Hutton calls "Druidry" rather than Druidism. By this he means "things that Druids believe and do or are thought to have believed and done", as opposed to a specific set of ideas associated with the older term. Hutton is attempting a kind of phenomenology of Druids, a descriptive account, eschewing judgements on what is "real" or not, although, to be sure, he doesn't hesitate to point out when absence of evidence suggests an unreliable interpretation. As he told me: "I don't have any strong personal beliefs. I don't have a faith in the way that religious people have a faith. I find pagans and Druids absolutely splendid people and my focus is on them, rather than on any set of beliefs or ideas."
Iolo Morganwg - which translates as "Eddie from Glamorgan" - William Stukeley and William Price, as well as the other striking personalities that crowd the book, held some very strong beliefs indeed. Iolo, who, like Thomas …
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Publication information: Article title: Wicca and Other Invented Traditions ; INTERVIEW ++ Historian Ronald Hutton Delights in Both Debunking and Celebrating Paganism. His New Study of the Druids Will Probably Annoy Their Modern Followers, but Gary Lachman Finds Him Unrepentant. Contributors: Lachman, Gary - Author. Newspaper title: The Independent on Sunday (London, England). Publication date: May 13, 2007. Page number: Not available. © 2009 The Independent on Sunday. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All Rights Reserved.
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