Ronald Hutton: Wikis


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Ronald Hutton (born 1954) is a professor of History at the University of Bristol, author, and occasional commentator on British television and radio. Hutton studied history at Pembroke College, Cambridge, and held a fellowship at Magdalen College, Oxford. His specialties are the 17th century and the history of paganism in the British Isles. In July 2009 he was appointed a Commissioner of English Heritage.




Early life

Hutton was born at Ootacamund in India to a colonial family.[1] His mother considered herself to be a "Pagan", and it is partially for this reason that he has written various books on the subject, himself stating that "Paganism is... my background, but I am not strongly religious by temperament."[2] Returning to England, Hutton attended Ilford County High School in the 1960s and 1970s, going on to win a scholarship to study history at Pembroke College, Cambridge. From Cambridge, he went on to study at Oxford University, where he held a fellowship at Magdalen College.[1]

In 1981, Hutton moved to the University of Bristol where he took up the position of reader of History. Hutton's areas of specialization include the history of the British Isles in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, especially on the English Reformation, Civil War, Restoration and Charles II. He has also written on ancient and medieval paganism and magic, and on witchcraft beliefs and Siberian shamanism.


Hutton's books can be divided into those about 17th century Britain, and those about paganism and folk customs in Britain.

17th century Britain

In his What If the Gunpowder Plot Had Succeeded?, Hutton has considered what might have happened if the Gunpowder Plot of 1605 had succeeded in its aims of the death of King James I and the destruction of the House of Lords. He concluded that the violence of the act would have resulted in an even more severe backlash against suspected Catholics than was caused by its failure, as most Englishmen were loyal to the monarchy, despite differing religious convictions. England could very well have become a more "Puritan absolute monarchy", rather than following the path of parliamentary and civil reform.[3]

Paganism and Folklore

Hutton's first book on paganism, titled The Pagan Religions of the Ancient British Isles: Their Nature and Legacy, was published in 1991 by Blackwell. In his preface, Hutton stated that "the purpose of this book is to set out what is at present known about the religious beliefs and practices of the inhabitants of the British Isles before their conversion to Christianity. The term 'pagan' is used as a convenient shorthand for those beliefs and practices, and is employed in the title merely to absolve the book from any need to discuss early Christianity itself."[4] As such, it dealt with the religion of the megalith builders, Celtic paganism, Roman paganism and Anglo-Saxon paganism, as well as looking briefly at the effect on folklore and Neopaganism.

He followed this with two books on English folk festivals, The Rise and Fall of Merry England: The Ritual Year 1400-1700 and The Stations of the Sun: A History of the Ritual Year in Britain, both of which were published by Oxford University Press in 1994 and 1996 respectively. In these works he criticised commonly held attitudes, such as the idea of Merry England and the idea that folk customs were static and unchanging over the centuries.

In 1999, his first work fully focusing on Neopaganism was published by Oxford University Press; The Triumph of the Moon: A History of Modern Pagan Witchcraft. The book dealt with the history of the Neopagan religion of Wicca, and in the preface Hutton stated that "the subtitle of this book should really be 'a history of modern pagan witchcraft in South Britain (England, Wales, Cornwall and Man), with some reference to it in the rest of the British Isles, Continental Europe and North America'. The fact that it claims to be a history and not the history is in itself significant, for this book represents the first systematic attempt by a professional historian to characterize and account for this aspect of modern Western culture."[5] Hutton questioned many assumptions about Wicca's development and argued that many of the claimed connections to longstanding hidden pagan traditions are questionable at best. However, he also argued for its importance as a genuine new religious movement. It has been described by Wiccan Frederic Lamond as "an authority on the history of Gardnerian Wicca".[6]

Hutton next turned his attention to Siberian shamanism, with Hambledon & London publishing Shamans: Siberian Spirituality in the Western Imagination in 2001, in which he argued that much of what westerners think they know about shamanism is in fact wrong. In 2003, Hambledon & London also published Witches, Druids and King Arthur, a collection of various articles by Hutton, including on topics such as the nature of myth and the pagan themes found within the works of J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis.

After studying the history of Wicca, Hutton went on to look at the history of Druidry, both historical and neopagan. His first book on the subject, The Druids, was published in 2007. Part of this material was given as the first lecture of the Mount Haemus Award series.[7] Hutton's latest book, which is also about Druidry, entitled Blood and Mistletoe: The History of the Druids in Britain, was released in May 2009. Hutton has described this as the academic and heavyweight counterpart to his earlier book.[8]


Hutton's books on paganism have received some criticism from certain members of the Neopagan and New Age communities. Regarding his The Pagan Religions of the Ancient British Isles, the Goddess-worshipper Asphodel Long stated that:

On the one side we have the objective academic, anxious to check facts, to give cautious warnings, and to expound reasonable inferences from known data. But, on the other side, he has interwoven a web of what can only be seen as prejudice against most New Age and pagan thinking. His animus against these and against ideas of Goddess spirituality strike me as extremely non-academic and full of the very suppositions and assumptions that he says he is concerned to oppose.[9]

Criticism also came from the practicing Wiccan Jani Farrell-Roberts, who took part in a published debate with Hutton in The Cauldron magazine in 2003. Farrell-Roberts was of the opinion that in his works, Hutton dismissed Margaret Murray's theories about the Witch-Cult using Norman Cohn's theories, which she believed to be heavily flawed. She stated that "he is... wrongly cited as an objective neutral and a 'non-pagan' for he happens to be a very active member of the British Pagan community" who "had taken on a mission to reform modern paganism by removing from it a false history and sense of continuance".[10]


16th & 17th Century

  • Charles the Second, King of England, Scotland and Ireland, (1989), ISBN 0-19-822911-9
  • The British Republic 1649-1660, (2000), ISBN 0-333-91324-8
  • The Rise and Fall of Merry England: The Ritual Year 1400-1700, (2001), ISBN 0-19-285447-X
  • Debates in Stuart History, (2004), ISBN 1-4039-3589-0

Paganism and Magic

  • The Pagan Religions of the Ancient British Isles: Their Nature and Legacy, (1993), ISBN 0-631-18946-7, an overview of all the pagan peoples of pre-Christian Britain and Ireland.
  • The Stations of the Sun: A History of the Ritual Year in Britain, (1996), ISBN 0-19-285448-8
  • The Triumph of the Moon: A History of Modern Pagan Witchcraft, (1999), ISBN 0-19-285449-6, a history of the neopagan religion of Wicca.
  • Shamans: Siberian Spirituality and the Western Imagination, (2001), ISBN 1-85285-324-7, a look at Siberian shamanism.
  • Witches, Druids and King Arthur, (2003), ISBN 1-85285-397-2, a collection of essays on various topics.
  • The Druids: A History, (2007), ISBN 978-1-85285-533-8, a history of the Druids, from the historical Celtic priests to the Neo-druidry of the 20th century.
  • Blood and Mistletoe: The History of the Druids in Britain (2009), a more in-depth history of the Druids.


  • Pearson, Joanne; Roberts, Richard H; Samuel, Geoffrey (1998), "The Discovery of the Modern Goddess", Nature Religion Today, ISBN 0-7486-1057-X 

Reviews and assessment

Academic reviews

  • Barry Collett, Review of Stations of the Sun, Sixteenth Century Journal, 29/1 (1998): 241-243.
  • Christopher W. Marsh, Review of Stations of the Sun, Journal of Ecclesiastical History, 50 (1999): 133-135.
  • Jonathan Roper, Review of Shamans, Folklore, April 2005,[11]
  • Chas S. Clifton, Review of Witches, Druids and King Arthur, The Pomegranate: The International Journal of Pagan Studies, 7/1 (2005): 101-103.
  • History Today review by Christopher Chippindale of The Pagan Religions Of The Ancient British Isles (1992)
  • Hill, Dr. J. D. (2004) A Reply to Ronald Hutton’s Commentary ‘What did Happen to Lindow Man?’ TLS Jan 30th. Sent to The Times Literary Supplement 7 February 2004. (Hutton's original article available here)

Other reviews


  1. ^ a b The Pagan Religions of the Ancient British Isles, Ronald Hutton, inner dust jacket author bio
  2. ^ "Ronald Hutton - The Druid Network". Retrieved 2008-10-31. 
  3. ^ Ronald Hutton (2001-04-01). "What If the Gunpowder Plot Had Succeeded?". BBC. Retrieved 2008-11-07. 
  4. ^ Hutton, Ronald (1991). The Pagan Religions of the Ancient British Isles. Blackwell. Page vii.
  5. ^ Hutton, Ronald (1999). The Triumph of the Moon. Oxford University Press. Page vii.
  6. ^ Fifty Years of Wicca, Frederic Lamond, 2004, Green Magic press, page 64-65
  7. ^ "The First Mount Haemus Lecture - The Origins of Modern Druidry". Retrieved 2008-09-18. 
  8. ^ The Independant
  9. ^ Long, Asphodel P. (1992). Wood and Water (39)
  10. ^ Farrell-Roberts, Jani. (May 2003). The Cauldron
  11. ^ "Shamans. Siberian Spirituality and the Western Imagination". Retrieved 2008-09-18. 
  12. ^ The Independent
  13. ^ Institute of Historical Research | The national centre for history

External links


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