Review: The Triumph of the Moon: A History of Modern Pagan Witchcraft
By Ronald Hutton
Oxford University Press: 2000
Reviewed by T Polyphilus
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 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 chronological 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 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 to filiation from Crowley.
Hutton calls Wicca "the only religion that 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," that other "Craft" probably qualifies as well, from certain scholarly perspectives. 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 presitigious 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 degree 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.
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