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The Triumph of the Moon: A History of Modern…
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The Triumph of the Moon: A History of Modern Pagan Witchcraft (original 1999; edition 2000)

by Ronald Hutton

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606916,110 (4.47)12
paradoxosalpha's review
Ronald Hutton’s history of 20th-century Witchcraft and Wicca is a comprehensive and compelling examination of the subject. No other book to date gives such a clear and entertaining view of the origins and development of religious Witchcraft in the modern world. Hutton clearly has substantial sympathy for his subjects, and he is respectful to both living and dead practitioners, but he does not settle for unsubstantiated claims, and he deftly dispels a number of myths and long-standing controversies.

The book is divided into two sections, and the first section is a set of interlinked historical essays that describe various movements, ideas, and institutions that served as contributory streams to religious Witchcraft. These contributors include Romantic literary paganism, the Frazerian and ritualist schools of anthropology, folklorism, Freemasonry, ceremonial magic, Thelema, and Woodcraft Chivalry, among others. In the second section, Hutton provides a full narrative of the emergence and evolution of modern British Witchcraft, beginning with Gerald Gardner, and addressing all the major leaders, groups, “traditions,” and schools. The unique mutations of the Craft in North America are addressed only to the extent that their influence migrated back to England. (Jack Parsons’ abortive Witchcraft thus passes without notice.) Hutton also traces the reactions of the press, politics, popular culture, and the academy to the increasing presence and visibility of Witchcraft.

In light of Aleister Crowley’s published disdain for “witches,” it is ironic that so many British Wiccan luminaries claimed to have had instruction from the Beast. Hutton carefully checks these allegations against Crowley’s own exhaustive diaries; Gardner is the only one who seems to have had a genuine claim in that department.

Hutton calls Wicca “the only religion England has ever given the world.” I don’t know that I would agree with him, since despite the prudent claims of Freemasonry to be “religious, not a religion,” it probably qualifies as well, from a scholar’s perspective. In fact, Hutton’s grasp of Masonry leaves a little bit to be desired; as for instance when he calls the Royal Arch “the highest, most exclusive and most prestigious of all Masonic degrees.” (p. 219) Where it counts in relation to his central topic, however, Hutton delivers the goods, instancing such items as this Fellow Craft ritual closing circa 1800:

"Happy have we met, Happy have we been,
"Happy may we part, And happy meet again!" (p. 56)

I find it hard to imagine how any present-day Witch can afford to be without the information in this book. Anyone with any experience of Wicca should be fascinated by it, and anyone interested in contemporary religion will be enriched by it. After having read it cover-to-cover, I continue to take my copy off the shelf for purposes of reference and research.
7 vote paradoxosalpha | Jan 3, 2007 |
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Showing 9 of 9
The author, a history professor at the University of Bristol, nearly had his book burnt in the opening preface, wherein he announces that the English are the ones who gave the entire world "pagan witchcraft". No one's disputing that Gardner, Valiente, Saunders, Crowley, etc., contributed a great deal to paganism and to witchcraft, but he reminds me of that map "A New Yorker's View of the Rest of the World", wherein only Manhattan is visible and everything west of Manhattan is bleak, barren landscape. In this case, he blinkers out everything who isn't or wasn't English in that opening sentence, and then proceeds to mention them offhandedly later as one-offs or footnotes: Italy, Germany, Poland, Egypt, Greece, India, the whole Middle East before Abraham ... and repeats stuff proven to obviously not be true: "Real witches don't curse" is a breathtaking example, especially as he's just gone through a nauseating list of British cunningfolk, some of whom obviously did.

As I've just gone through an intensive study of Italian Renaissance magi, who drew a lot of their material from Egyptian, Greek and Roman classical sources, his opening salvo ("England invented pagan witchcraft!") was too ridiculously appalling to be expressed here. I mean, please. Crowley drew huge chunks of his rituals from Egyptian and Renaissance grimoires and other sources, and he even made mention of that. Even HE knew better than to make such a ridiculous claim, and yet he did.

My recommendation: he DID compile a battery of notes from which you might be able to create your own bibliography; he didn't provide one. Read him for historical references which you can then research on your own. Above all, don't take his word on any interpretations, generalizations or theories - he's usually dead wrong. I can't count the number of times I yelled, "WHAT???!!??" on the commuter rail, because he was so OBVIOUSLY dead wrong. Contradicted himself in an number of spots.

Okay, he tried. As a springboard to your own research, I'd give him a "C-". As a genuine historical resource on either paganism or witchcraft, much lower than that. Library Thing doesn't provide negative stars, so the 1 star is an overall "Okay, he did a lot of research, but utterly failed on the interpretation and summary, and epic failed in the Preface." Don't know how else to mark that. ( )
  chiara2 | Jul 4, 2014 |
A really informative and intriguing book which was very, very well researched. I learned a lot about the development and origin of modern paganism and Wicca, not so much on where it came from as much as what happened afterward. The book tells over the history of how various aspects of paganism is prefect rived and how it has changed, and then over actual events of how it came to be. A really detailed book. I enjoyed reading it greatly. ( )
  earthlistener | Sep 18, 2010 |
From my booklog:

Holy crap, I finally finished it. Never thought I'd see the day. Now, don't get me wrong: I really like this book. It should be required reading by anyone looking to call themselves Wiccan, maybe even anyone looking to call themselves pagan at all. There's so much misinformation out there about the history of Western Witchcraft that it'd do some real good if more people read this book.

But ye gods, it's dense as all get out. The type is tiny, the paragraphs are long, the language is complex. Hutton has a delightful dry wit, which I quite enjoyed, but this isn't the sort of book you curl up with for a few relaxing hours. It's slow going. Fascinating, but not at all a quick read.

Anyway. Hutton traces the modern pagan movement in the UK back to its roots and examines what, exactly, its actual history is. Lots of good stuff here, though fans of the "OMG, once upon a time, everyone was MATRIARCHAL and it was UTOPIA and then evil MEN came along and wrecked it all, and all the witches went into hiding until Gerald Gardener brought the tradition back into the public eye! NEVER AGAIN THE BURNING TIMES!" history may be rather distressed to find that's a load of hooey.

Interestingly, Hutton's dissection of the actual history behind Wicca and other modern pagan traditions doesn't negate their spiritual validity at all, just the validity of the histories people like telling. Good stuff. ( )
2 vote Ealasaid | Jan 27, 2009 |
The most important book ever written on neo-paganism and the new occult traditions. Hutton is an outstanding historian, and the material is presented in such a way that the reader is given all possible theories, and then the most likely based on the evidence. Myths, modern and ancient are debunked and nowhere has this had a more profound effect than on Wicca.
The inventor of Wicca (Gerald Gardner) is placed in his correct context - not of a mage presenting the secrets of pagan witchcraft to the world but a showman inventing a pseudo-history for his new occult movement.
Hutton treats neo-paganism and Wicca with respect and tolerance while cleaning away the lies and mis-information. He also address the origins of the neopagan movement - a fascinating tale of gentlemen playing at "druids", enlightemment poets and Late Victorian Spiritualism.
Anyone interested in the occult, and in witchcraft should read this book and anyone interested in Paganism/Neo-paganism should definately read it. One can only emerge better educated and more aware of the reality rather than the mythology, of neo-paganism ( )
4 vote gercmbyrne | Apr 27, 2007 |
Ronald Hutton’s history of 20th-century Witchcraft and Wicca is a comprehensive and compelling examination of the subject. No other book to date gives such a clear and entertaining view of the origins and development of religious Witchcraft in the modern world. Hutton clearly has substantial sympathy for his subjects, and he is respectful to both living and dead practitioners, but he does not settle for unsubstantiated claims, and he deftly dispels a number of myths and long-standing controversies.

The book is divided into two sections, and the first section is a set of interlinked historical essays that describe various movements, ideas, and institutions that served as contributory streams to religious Witchcraft. These contributors include Romantic literary paganism, the Frazerian and ritualist schools of anthropology, folklorism, Freemasonry, ceremonial magic, Thelema, and Woodcraft Chivalry, among others. In the second section, Hutton provides a full narrative of the emergence and evolution of modern British Witchcraft, beginning with Gerald Gardner, and addressing all the major leaders, groups, “traditions,” and schools. The unique mutations of the Craft in North America are addressed only to the extent that their influence migrated back to England. (Jack Parsons’ abortive Witchcraft thus passes without notice.) Hutton also traces the reactions of the press, politics, popular culture, and the academy to the increasing presence and visibility of Witchcraft.

In light of Aleister Crowley’s published disdain for “witches,” it is ironic that so many British Wiccan luminaries claimed to have had instruction from the Beast. Hutton carefully checks these allegations against Crowley’s own exhaustive diaries; Gardner is the only one who seems to have had a genuine claim in that department.

Hutton calls Wicca “the only religion England has ever given the world.” I don’t know that I would agree with him, since despite the prudent claims of Freemasonry to be “religious, not a religion,” it probably qualifies as well, from a scholar’s perspective. In fact, Hutton’s grasp of Masonry leaves a little bit to be desired; as for instance when he calls the Royal Arch “the highest, most exclusive and most prestigious of all Masonic degrees.” (p. 219) Where it counts in relation to his central topic, however, Hutton delivers the goods, instancing such items as this Fellow Craft ritual closing circa 1800:

"Happy have we met, Happy have we been,
"Happy may we part, And happy meet again!" (p. 56)

I find it hard to imagine how any present-day Witch can afford to be without the information in this book. Anyone with any experience of Wicca should be fascinated by it, and anyone interested in contemporary religion will be enriched by it. After having read it cover-to-cover, I continue to take my copy off the shelf for purposes of reference and research.
7 vote paradoxosalpha | Jan 3, 2007 |
A good book though somewhat criticised in traditional pagan circles as the author seems to have made his conclusions and then selected the evidence he was going to include to support that evidence. Nevertheless a good adition to any pagan library. ( )
  EvaElisabeth | Oct 1, 2006 |
An excellent resource on occult history ( )
  childofchaos | Nov 27, 2005 |
Should be read by anyone following pagan, Wiccan or similar paths. Very helpful in learning to distinguish mythic from factual history. ( )
  lizw | Nov 15, 2005 |
Another stalwart. Another one getting on in years, but still if not unique, then groundbreaking at the time.

Hutton's research is sound and well supported (as one would expect). He makes his own views known about some still controversial subjects (Leland, Old Dorothy, etc.) but his views are supported by the evidence (which is refreshing, if nothing else, considering other things written in this area).

Basic background reading.
  tole_lege | Oct 22, 2005 |
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