Blood and Mistletoe 2
Blood and Mistletoe
By Ronald Hutton
Dr Hutton’s style is fluid and he manages to weave stories with the information he tries to share.
When I started reading Blood and Mistletoe I had intended to create a chapter by chapter review. My eagerness resulted in the first post which can be found here ….
So I started on this task…
But then something else took over.
It became apparent that the story Hutton was telling was one which itself denied such reductionism. To simply report on the work chapter by chapter does the book a great dis-service since it is about the evolving ‘image’ of Druids and Druidry rather than about key moments in history.
Chapters 2,3 and 4 speak of what could be seen as the political manipulation of the image of the Druid. From one perspective within the myths of the Druids we find cultural icons and iconographies which, once easy to dismiss and distance ourselves from, actually speak of ‘ancient’ seats of learning; wisdom and reverence. Just as the Arthurian myths gave some kind of legitimacy to kings who needs to cast themselves in the role of being saviours of the land. (for example Henry VIII’s creation of the ‘Winchester Round Table’ with him painted as central to him), the Druidic history was polished, and refined in order to create nationalist propaganda.
Chapter 5 deals with a name and character familiar to all who have read anything about Druidry – Iolo Morganwg (Edward Williams), Of course this name is muttered with almost equal amounts of respect and annoyance; a literary collector and, for want of a better phrase, forger who manages to muddy the already murky waters of Druidic history and lore.
It was a time of passion for all things ‘Celtic’ and inspired the romantic approaches to such histories by people like William Blake. Perhaps the most sobering thing in this whole episode is that many of Williams’ forgeries are better known that many of the original texts. The influence he will have had on Lady Charlotte Guests version of The Mabinogion must be questioned.
Chapters 6 and 7 really record the growth and development of British Druidry to an all time high. The eighteenth and nineteenth centuries were in many ways times of ‘rediscovery’ of all kinds of esoteric teachings and ‘magical lore’. However by the 1860’s interest in Druidry seems to have been in decline.
In Huttons book chapters 8 and 9 are really dedicated to an exploration of this fading of the ‘druidic star’. The Gorsedd of Bards of the British Isles had been established by Williams (1792) and the society of poets, musicians and artists continued. Today, like the Cornish Gorseth (established 1928) serve to keep the British Celtic Languages alive – Welsh and Cornish in these particular examples.
The final chapters of Huttons work explore what he calls the ‘afterglow’ and what can only be described as the revivalist movement within the neopagan tradition… and that brings us up to date.
So whilst the image of the Druid has been borrowed, stolen and annexed by particular people at particular times the re-invention of a nature based, Celtic inspired approach to spirituality has caught the green-spiritual zeitgiest the tag line offered by the Reformed Druids of Gaia holds more than a keen element of honesty – “we’re doing religion the old fashioned way — making it up as we go!”.
Ronald Huttons book is best considered as mammoth read and full of well referenced, well researched information considering the development of Druidry from the point of view of its waning and waxing socio-political significance. Not necessarily sidling the spirituality but placing everything within a framework which leads to the comforting notion that we are involved in a vibrant re-creation and re-invention of a system and not keepers of stale, traditional lore.
It is a MUST read for all interested in really getting to grips with the background of the path they are walking,
Consider Purchasing Ronald Hutton’s Superb Works here …