I am terribly busy at present, hence the paucity of MOTO posts. However, Caroline Tully’s excellent interview of Prof Ronald Hutton (previous post) and some subsequent reactions have moved me to pen this quick, personal piece.
Despite the occasional burst of negativity and misinformed spite chucked at Prof Hutton, he remains a figure of respect and admiration in most pagan and Wiccan circles, at least in the UK. Why? Because he is a great supporter of the Pagan movement, having helped progressed its field of study into legitimacy within academia, placing it alongside the other world religions. He has defended pagans in court and helped official recognition of the pagan religions by the various UK authorities. And, of course he provided the first comprehensive history of Wicca, Triumph of the Moon, giving Wiccans a history and showing their place in the religious scheme of things.
It is important to note that the subtitle to this wonderful book is “a history of modern pagan witchcraft” not “the history”. Hutton’s assistance to and introduction of works by amateur Wiccan historians, like Philip Hesleton, shows he is more than ready to read and accept other histories than his own. This is the mark of the true academic and the true scholar.
Hutton’s work lives and breathes a rare combination of accurate and scholarly accepted method and engagement of the lay audience. Those who have not read much academic work may not realize just how rare this is. Another of my favourite academics, Bart D. Ehrman, sums it up: “most academics, just don’t know how to talk to real people”.
Whilst there have been occasional snipes at Prof Hutton’s academic qualifications and the Academy itself, I have to say I am impressed by his qualifications. I am impressed by his full membership of learned societies. I am impressed by his list of refereed articles and books.
I have only an undergraduate degree but have helped edit friends’ MA and PhD theses. Successfully obtaining a doctorate is impressive. Period. And those of us accustomed to bashing out a new blog post before bed may have little idea what researching, writing, submitting, editing, correcting and finally publishing a refereed article means. It is no small accomplishment in itself.
Finally, those people who see Prof Hutton as attacking paganism and Wicca, or even being a Christian sent in to undermine and destroy it, must by now be being willfully ignorant. Read his own words, his own motivations for study and writing. Caroline has done a lovely job in getting this all accessible and easy. The facts are clear: Hutton’s work is supportive of paganism and Wicca. He is supportive of Paganism and Wicca.
A personal anecdote may help me express this better. I first read Triumph of the Moon shortly after it was released during a weekend away from my young son. I did little else besides, practice, pray and read that glorious weekend. Hutton showed clearly what I always knew, and had argued since 1989: Wicca had no direct lineage connection to either medieval Witchcraft or any mythic pre-historic duo-theistic paganism.
At the time of my reading I was more involved in paganism than I am now, and still within a leadership role of EarthDreaming Coven. However, Hutton’s painstakingly outlined history did not detract or hinder my pagan practice or “faith” but rather enhanced it. I remember clearly reading a passage from chapter 14, where Hutton reviews the popular fiction of Rosemary Sutcliffe as a “compelling fusion” of the imagined pagan histories of Frazer, Graves and Murray:
During the last three decades of the twentieth century, many individuals who adopted a self-consciously Pagan identity said that to do so felt like coming home. Perhaps this was due to memories of past lives, or acknowledgement of long-established contacts with the divine, or simply the discovery of a spirituality which perfectly corresponded to their own instincts and needs. It is also, however, possible that much of this feeling was due to the fact that such people had spent their youth reading books of the sort described above.
As I read this I was startled. As a kid I had read Sutcliffe, just as Hutton described. As this sank in, time stopped, I disappeared and entered the Eternal. The book was gone, the concepts were gone, I was gone, there was simply Goddess.
Afterwards, I realized this experience had opened me not to despair or questioning my pagan spiritual connections, but to the realization that I was practicing a true and bone fide religion of the modern era. The divine was real and solid and Wicca was the perfect modern approach to this Mystery. Wicca was, as Hutton describes, formed by modern people to express modern myth, real, beautiful and transformational myth. I was touched in the literary sphere by the myth as a child, and now as an adult I was embracing it in the religious sphere. The myth may be historically inaccurate, but it is true.
Goddess moves in many ways, even through the Oxford University Press 🙂