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Britain’s Pagan Heritage

A Review of Ronald Hutton’s Pagan Britain and Marion Gibson’s Imagining the Pagan Past

By Ethan Doyle White

[Snip] In 1991 Blackwell published The Pagan Religions of the Ancient British Isles: Their Nature and Legacy, a work of impressive archaeological synthesis authored by a historian who prior to that point had been known for his studies of the English Civil War and the Restoration, Ronald Hutton of the University of Bristol. Now, twenty-two years on from its original publication, Yale University Press has published a completely revised and expanded edition, titled simply Pagan Britain. As the new title itself suggests, much has been changed. The focus has been shifted from the entirety of the British Isles to the island of Britain itself, while it has been updated with the past two decades worth of archaeological – and in some cases historical – research. Hutton is that rare beast; a historian who is equally at home among archaeology, and who can wield archaeological evidence as well as – if not better than – a great many archaeologists themselves. Pagan Britain is first and foremost a work of synthesis, and stands as a testament to Hutton’s prodigious reading. But he nevertheless continues to give his own unique input to the subject; his great analytical strength lies in his cautious and critical mind, always pointing out many different interpretations of the same evidence, something that is at odds with the largely speculative approach to pre-Christian British religion that many archaeologists (and a few historians) have adopted in past decades (i.e., North; Yeates 2008, 2009). As a synthesis and critical examination of evidence for British paganism, therefore, Hutton’s Pagan Britain marks a good point at which to examine the state of research into this fascinating subject.

Read the full review [NOTE: Opens as a pdf.]

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