Thursday, January 24, 2008

Book Review: The Triumph of the Moon

by John M Morris, PhD
Ronald Hutton The Triumph of the Moon: A History of Modern Pagan Witchdraft. Oxford University Press, 1999. 486 pp.

The history of modern Pagan religion is filled with fantasy, often masquerading as fact, so much so that we are inclined to ignore all that has been claimed as our history. I think of one picture of a well-known witch cuddling a tiny statue of a fat little goddess, dating thousands of years back into the past, but without any real assurance that the figure is anything more than a pregnant woman, without any religious significance.

We are all familiar with the claim that seven thousand European women we burned alive during the Burning Times, but skeptical historians have shown that this figure has been grossly inflated, and that the great majority of the victims were not witches at all, but Christian women who went to church every Sunday and knew nothing about witchcraft. Ghastly as these scattered executions may have been, they did not compare with the slaughter of the Jews during the Nazi holocaust, or with more recent mass executions in our own time.

In Ronald Hutton's history of the past two centuries of Pagan witchcraft in England, we have a scholarly study of the growth and eventual triumph of the craft and the pagan traditions during the past two centuries.

The changes, particularly during the last half-century, have been greater than most of us have realized. Although we have been familiar with Gerald Gardner and the other English leaders -- there is only one brief chapter on American and Canadian witches -- it is revealing to find how far we have traveled from these pioneers. More interesting has been the degree of bald-faced fraud that has been offered as Wiccan history.
  • For example, "Old Dorothy," Dorothy Clutterbuck, is shown to be a respectable society woman who had nothing to do with Witchcraft. The stories that Gardner told about her probably came from another woman entirely.
  • Similarly, the well-known Gospel of the Witches that Leland claimed to have found in Italy seems to have been a fantasy on his part.
  • Again, one of my favorite texts, West Country Wicca, appears to have been another fantasy.
Altogether, like every major religious tradition, Wiccan history seems to have been simply a fabrication of its followers. If it is a modern fantasy, it nevertheless is one that thousands of us have followed, excited and enlightened by a vision of a beautiful and magical world.


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