There’s an intriguing and rewarding review of Ronald Hutton’s Pagan Britain by Graham Robb, author of The Ancient Paths – discovering the lost map of Celtic Europe, which I have lying unread on a stack of books behind me. I’ll soon be adding Pagan Britain to the pile and place it next to Robb’s book to see what happens. I’m fond of dabbling in a bit of neo-paganism myself but lurking in a corner of my mind as I do so is the idea that it is mostly a C18th invention.
Historians should be “prepared to stand back and let the public dream its own dreams”, Hutton says. Members of that public who venture into this dense, erudite work in search of dream-fuel will have many sleepless nights. But, for Hutton, flimsy speculation is the enemy of truth, and in this, it seems, archaeologists are almost as guilty as credulous neo-pagans. In fact, there was probably no “organised and self-conscious British pagan religion throughout the Middle Ages”, instead witchcraft was mostly a construct of theologians and magistrates. And there is no evidence “that any active pagan religion survived anywhere in the island, in opposition to Christianity, throughout the Middle Ages, let alone longer“.Graham Robb – The Guardian 25.01.14