By Ronald Hutton
Ronald Hutton is a British historian who has written several books on folklore and folk traditions in Britain and their modern-day applications. Mr. Hutton has taken this one step further with The Triumph of the Moon to trace some of these traditions' usage within the history of modern British witchcraft. Hutton stays true throughout the book to his two major themes: that modern witchcraft is the "belated offspring" of the Romantic movement of the eighteenth century and that witchcraft is a viable, valid modern religious system.
Hutton states that, "…far from being an unusually exotic and bizarre response to specific
problems of the late twentieth century, it [modern pagan witchcraft] represents a distillation of certain notions and needs which had been developing in Western Europe, and in England in particular, since the eighteenth." (p. viii) He begins by placing modern pagan witchcraft in a larger counter-cultural, historical context and discusses such ideas
as concepts of the language of witchcraft (what is meant by 'pagan', 'goddess', 'god', etc.), the structure of witchcraft (which he ultimately relates to Freemasonry), high and low magics, folklore, theories of witchcraft's history (Margaret Murray, Leland, etc.), and the "matrix" in which all of these historical elements were blended in Victorian England by A. Crowley, Dion Fortune, Robert Graves, and others. Included in these chapters are biographies of the major "players" in witchcraft's history such as those mentioned above (some of which are thoughtful and well-balanced [Crowley] and others of which seem to be less sympathetic [Graves]), and also some fascinating historical background on nature
and magical movements in England since the 1700's.
From this historical foundation, Hutton then examines Gerald Gardner and his contributions to modern witchcraft in Britain, the formation of different emergent groups of witchcraft that claim origins outside of the Garderian traditions, and the status of witchcraft in 21st century Britain. Triumph does a commendable job of sorting out information from different traditions and individuals into a coherent look at the emergence of modern pagan witchcraft from the middle of the last century to the present.
All in all, Hutton presents a fairly objective view of a modern religion with roots that
stem from at least three hundred years in the past. However, since his section on the current status of witchcraft is restricted to Britain for the most part, I would recommend picking up the latest edition of Margot Adler's Drawing Down the Moon if you are looking for a history of and reports about American modern paganism.
2000 by Regina M. Raab