Title: Trials of the Moon: A Critique of Ronald Hutton’s “The Triumph of the Moon: A History of Modern Pagan Witchcraft
Author: Ben Whitmore
Publisher: Briar Books
Genre: Religious History
Just as I was planning to sit down with Ginzburg, Frew, Hutton and an array of others over the Thanksgiving holiday, The Wild Hunt announced the publication of Ben Whitmore’s Trials of the Moon: A Critique of Ronald Hutton’s “The Triumph of the Moon: A History of Modern Pagan Witchcraft.”
Hutton was very influential on the young Pagan I was, and I honestly haven’t had a serious sit-down with his books in years. As I plan to focus more of my writing onto my own religion, Wicca, I feel a need to seriously study it’s history, especially now there are more resources available, and now that I have more resources than my 17 year old fast-food employee self ever did.
I wanted to read critiques of Hutton before picking up Triumph again, following the advice of a Pagan long ago who encouraged me to read the newest books first then work my way backwards through Pagan literature. At the time it seemed an odd way to study but it seems to fit my current needs.Whitmore’s volume is slim and inexpensively bound (my copy found the back cover so misprinted as to be unintelligible). Excluding the index and bibliography it adds up to 85 pages densely covered in small print, with extensive footnotes. Which turns out to be plenty long enough for his task, which is to re-open avenues which Hutton has closed prematurely. He offers no alternate theory or proposes any possible history for Wicca but simply offers the evidence from respected academics which suggests that paganism did survive in some respects, and could possibly have provided the roots for modern Paganism.
I was especially astounded by a quote from Wilfred Isherwood in 1954, who’s family had participated in Souling plays for several generations:
[T]here’s a lot of people can’t understand it,’cause it’s really our religion. We believe in souling; we believe in ghosts, ’cause we’re supposed to be ghosts. Sometimes it’s not many of us are real attenders at church; because I think belief is more sentimental, private. And we all turn out on All Hallows Eve, we just come, and go.
There is a lot of talk today about our emphasis being on practice. We are Pagans because we practice as Pagans. Not because we confess a creed. Yet some of the argument against Pagan survivals is that practice does not a religion make. Think of that in context of our current traditions. As they used to say, put that in your pipe and smoke it!
I suggest anyone planning to re-visit Hutton or read Hutton for the first time to take a look at this quick and informative critique. It will strengthen your critical eye and make you hungry for more scholarship, whether that scholarship originates among the Ivy Leagues or at a kitchen table in Topeka.
After Yule you can expect more on the history of Wicca and Wicca in general from this blog and the Pagan portal at Patheos! Stay tuned!
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