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Blood and Mistletoe 2

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Blood and Mistletoe 2

hutton

 

Blood and Mistletoe

By Ronald Hutton

A Review

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 …

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Published: July 13, 2014

Blood and Mistletoe – Chapter 1

Good-Hutton-Pic

Blood and Mistletoe – Chapter 1

Good-Hutton-Pic

One of the most respected authors in neo-pagan traditions and practices is Professor Ronald Hutton. An academic with a sense of the poetic and a great way with sharing what he has learned.

As part of my own development I am working bit by bit through his book Blood and Mistletoe (The History of the Druids in Britain). Whilst I am prepared to be reminded of the recreationist, revisionist, reconstructionist nature of Druidry or Druidism I am expected to have some sacred tress rocked and some ideas challenged.

So this Chapter by Chapter blog will be my immediate reflections from reading the book and perhaps encourage some debate with fellow bloggers and Facebookers. I will NOT be going into all of the details in the book, I would hope that if intrigued you will read it yourself.

Introduction and Chapter 1

Huttons perspective and standpoint on what we ‘really know’ about Druidry has been mentioned else where on this website and in the introduction we are guided through some of the challenges faced in any attempt to talk ‘with authority’ about how the Druids were. I am reminded of the wonderful parody song Stonehenge by Spinal Tap  …

In ancient times…
Hundreds of years before the dawn of history
Lived a strange race of people… the Druids

No one knows who they were or what they were doing
But their legacy remains
Hewn into the living rock… Of Stonehenge

Spinal Tap : This is Spinal Tap
 

The key phrase … “No one knows who they were or what they were doing”… and indeed this the case.

Hutton points out that all we know of the Druids is really drawn from a very few historical sources and even they are suspect.

200 BCE    Sotion of Alexandria (quoted in Diogenes and wrongly attributed to Aristotle) mentions the Druidas of Keltois and Galatis

50  BCE     The writings of Julius Caeser mention two groups of Gaulish people well respected in their tribes. The Equites (horsemen) and theDruides. This latter group are described as priests, judges and teachers. It was also noted that those wishing to ‘learn’ came to Briton to study.

36 BCE      Diodorus suggests that the Gaulish people have adopted some of Pythagoras’ teachings, namely the transmigration of the soul

20 CE        Strabo mentions bourdos (speakers of stories and satires); drouidos philosophers and theologians) and ‘vates (seers)

60 CE       Tacitus reports on the savagery of  the Celts and  Druids and in particular of the Battle of Menai (mentioned elsewhere in this blog).

70 CE       Pliny speaks of Druids their beliefs and practices

And apart from a few other spurious sources that’s it!

More importantly we can question the motivation of some writers as well as their authenticity. Some researchers question whether Tacitus was ever present at the events he reported on and my simply be quoting from another source whose works are lost (Agicola) and Pliny’s is questioned as a reliable source.

Clearly we have reports of a people who are on the one hand ‘philosophical’ and ‘wise’ and on the other ‘barbaric’ and ‘wild’. There seems to be now middle ground and of course this may well be due to the need for spin-doctoring of information by ruling or invading forces. The desire to set Rome up as the exemplar society must, in some cases, require other cultures to be less favourably viewed.

In the Course Books for the Celtic Shamanism Course being offered through The Cornwall School of Mystery and Magick we deal with the problems of authority and the desire to look at the past to find some idea of the roots of magical practice within the UK and the opening chapter of Blood and Mistletoe reminds us of the challenges. Of partcular resonance for me tho’ was the calling into question the nature of some of the ‘traditional’ works – the epics and stories – often quoted as forming the basis of reconstructionist  approaches.

More to follow …..

Alan /|\

Consider Purchasing Ronald Hutton’s Superb Works here …

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Published: April 23, 2014

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