Reflecting on recreating Pagan religion from Ronald Hutton’s book Pagan Britain

Imaginative illustration of 'An Arch Druid in ...

Imaginative illustration of ‘An Arch Druid in His Judicial Habit’ (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I have just had the pleasure of reading “Pagan Britain” by Ronald Hutton and was particularly interested in his comments about how one can recreate a religion, in particular from northwestern Europe which was no longer practiced certainly by 1000 AD and realistically not practiced prior to this time. Thus with no surviving tradition and no untainted sources how can we create a believable religion we can believe in. Here is some of his presentation and I would like to know how others feel about this position.

Hutton states that “it is impossible to determine with any precision the nature of the religious beliefs and rites of prehistoric British. It may fairly be argued therefore that present-day groups have a perfect right to recreate their own representation of those and enact them as a personal religious practice providing that they remain within the rather broad limits of material evidence”. So what is this broad evidence he refers to?

1. We can be certain that the pre-Roman British believed in and honoured a large number of goddesses and gods, with powers and functions related to the natural world or to human concerns and activities, and often particular to specific localities and peoples

2. they practiced animal sacrifice, in at least its minimal form: that the beasts consumed at festivities were consecrated to deities before being slaughtered and eaten; this is, again, because it was a universal custom across pagan Europe.

3. It is also possible to reconstruct the festive calendar of the ancient British, in outline, from historic records and comparative data.

4. The emphasis on the right side in burial customs and (perhaps) domestic layout is almost certainly related to a belief that it is lucky to turn to the right when moving, in the direction in which the sun moves in this hemisphere and which the modern age calls clockwise. This remained widespread in northern Europe until recent times

5. We can also be certain that the pre-Roman British possessed some sort or sorts of belief in the survival of the soul after death, not only because this is also general among traditional peoples but because Greek and Roman authors noted that such a belief was held with unusual fervor among the natives of north-western Europe.

6. The continued deposition of objects in natural places and at prehistoric monuments went on until the very end of Roman rule

7. Commentary by Christian monks about the residual and inappropriate behaviors of the newly converted Christians such as Gildas from 450 to 550. More specifically 540 – 547 where he recalled that his compatriots had once worshipped the divine powers inherent in the natural world and needed to change this view to that God created the natural world for the use of humans. (from another source here is Gildas quote “Nor will I call out upon the mountains, fountains, or hills, or upon the rivers, which are now subservient to the use of man, but once were an abomination and destruction to them, and to which the blind people paid divine honours,”)

I think this is an interesting start and am wondering what other people feel about his in the forum.

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