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Author Topic: The Pagan Religions of the Ancient British Isles: Their Nature and Legacy  (Read 7014 times)

RandallS

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Title: The Pagan Religions of the Ancient British Isles: Their Nature and Legacy
Author(s): Ronald Hutton
Publisher: Wiley-Blackwell
Publication Date: 1993
ISBN: 0631189467
ISBN-13: 978-0631189466
Current Price and More Info from Amazon

[size=+1]Description:[/size]
This is the first survey of religious beliefs in the British Isles from the Old Stone Age to the coming of Christianity, one of the least familiar periods in Britain's history. Ronald Hutton draws upon a wealth of new data, much of it archaeological, that has transformed interpretation over the past decade. Giving more or less equal weight to all periods, from the Neolithic to the Middle Ages, he examines a fascinating range of evidence for Celtic and Romano-British paganism, from burial sites, cairns, megaliths and causeways, to carvings, figurines, jewellery, weapons, votive objects, literary texts and folklore.

[size=+1]Special Notes:[/size]


[size=-1]Legal Notes: Some description text and item pictures in this post may come from Amazon.com and are used by permission. The Cauldron is an Amazon Affiliate and purchases made through the Amazon links in this message help support The Cauldron.[/size]

[size=+1]Discussion and reviews of this book are welcome in this thread. If you've read the book, please tell us what you think of it and why.[/size]
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Aiwelin

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Quote from: RandallS;119839


Title: The Pagan Religions of the Ancient British Isles: Their Nature and Legacy
Author(s): Ronald Hutton
Publisher: Wiley-Blackwell
Publication Date: 1993
ISBN: 0631189467
ISBN-13: 978-0631189466
Current Price and More Info from Amazon

[size=+1]Description:[/size]
This is the first survey of religious beliefs in the British Isles from the Old Stone Age to the coming of Christianity, one of the least familiar periods in Britain's history. Ronald Hutton draws upon a wealth of new data, much of it archaeological, that has transformed interpretation over the past decade. Giving more or less equal weight to all periods, from the Neolithic to the Middle Ages, he examines a fascinating range of evidence for Celtic and Romano-British paganism, from burial sites, cairns, megaliths and causeways, to carvings, figurines, jewellery, weapons, votive objects, literary texts and folklore.

[size=+1]Special Notes:[/size]


[size=-1]Legal Notes: Some description text and item pictures in this post may come from Amazon.com and are used by permission. The Cauldron is an Amazon Affiliate and purchases made through the Amazon links in this message help support The Cauldron.[/size]

[size=+1]Discussion and reviews of this book are welcome in this thread. If you've read the book, please tell us what you think of it and why.[/size]

 
Has anyone else here read this?  I'm really enjoying it - sort of!  Hutton has such a great writing style, and the sheer volume of information he brings to the table is astonishing.  Unfortunately (so far, I'm about half way through), most of it only serves to disprove existing theories rather than offer up new ones.  I understand that's the nature of the beast sometimes, but it's rather depressing, as Hutton himself states in the forward.  I've just finished the part about the pre-Roman, Iron Age Celts.  I was under the impression that the surviving myths and legends were reasonably representative of Celtic belief, but according to Hutton most of the sources we have were compiled much later, and were probably mostly made-up by their authors.  He goes on to point out that many of the Greek and Roman sources are unreliable at well, and paints a possible picture in which there was not really a Celtic-wide pantheon, but instead mostly regional Gods and Goddesses of lands and tribes (Lugh being an exception to this rule).  

It has surprised me to find so many of my preconceptions are either incorrect or unable to be reasonably proven.  Of course, this was written in 1993; I'm looking forward to his new book, Pagan Britain, which I've heard isn't coming out until February but seems to cover much of the same material.
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Gilbride

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Quote from: Aiwelin;119855
were probably mostly made-up by their authors.  


That's a matter of perspective. His view on this is definitely not universal among Celtic scholars- it represents one of two schools that have been arguing this point for decades.

yewberry

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Quote from: Gilbride;119874
That's a matter of perspective. His view on this is definitely not universal among Celtic scholars- it represents one of two schools that have been arguing this point for decades.


I've seen little from the "pro" side that's particularly convincing.  Do you have any sources that are more than speculation?

Brina

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Quote from: yewberry;119879
I've seen little from the "pro" side that's particularly convincing.  Do you have any sources that are more than speculation?

Brina

 
The debate is far too huge to give a short list of "convincing" sources, but there are plenty of scholars who still treat the medieval literature as being related to ancient Celtic myth, although not in simplistic ways.

Just a couple of examples: there was probably never an ancient myth that the ancestors of the Irish came from Spain (as in the Book of Invasions) but there probably was a myth that the Irish were descended from their god of the dead (which is reflected in an incident in the Book of Invasions in distorted form). The recent book on "The Origins of the Irish" by JP Mallory has a section on this.

Medb is still widely regarded as having been a Sovereignty goddess associated with intoxication. Noemie Beck discusses this at some length in her thesis on Celtic goddesses:

http://theses.univ-lyon2.fr/documents/lyon2/2009/beck_n

So, to take the position that the medieval literature directly represents ancient myth would be off-base, but to take the position that it has nothing to do with ancient myth and was all made up in the middle ages would also be an extreme view.

Materialist

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Quote from: Aiwelin;119855
 He goes on to point out that many of the Greek and Roman sources are unreliable as well, and paints a possible picture in which there was not really a Celtic-wide pantheon, but instead mostly regional Gods and Goddesses of lands and tribes (Lugh being an exception to this rule).  

It has surprised me to find so many of my preconceptions are either incorrect or unable to be reasonably proven.  Of course, this was written in 1993.


Welcome to academic research. I can disabuse more of your preconceptions. That pre-christian religions were localized, that every tribe and city state had its own pantheon, that each valley had its own religion, are facts. The idea that there are ethnic religions/pantheons, whether Celtic, Italic, Germanic, African, are complete fairytales based on ideologies of simpler, purer times, and not on history. So I avoid medieval literature and go straight to the archaeological and epigraphical sources.
 
Lugh/Lugus was not a universal "Celtic" god. I have seen no evidence for his cult in Britain. His name appears in no inscriptions. The latest book by Mr. Hutton is only going to reveal to you how much more you don't know.

But it's not that you're an idiot, it's that these academic papers are published by various universities and archaeological societies (and other organizations [mostly not in America]), working independently, who never think to combine their knowledge into a single volume.

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Quote from: Materialist;119956
Lugh/Lugus was not a universal "Celtic" god. I have seen no evidence for his cult in Britain. His name appears in no inscriptions. The latest book by Mr. Hutton is only going to reveal to you how much more you don't know.

 
Well, the Brythonic Celts named a city after him- Luguvalion/Luguwaljon, 'the strength of Lugus' -better known today as Carlisle, England. Seems a little odd to name a town after a deity with no cult, if you ask me.
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Aiwelin

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Quote from: Juni;119958
Well, the Brythonic Celts named a city after him- Luguvalion/Luguwaljon, 'the strength of Lugus' -better known today as Carlisle, England. Seems a little odd to name a town after a deity with no cult, if you ask me.

 
Yes, I think Hutton cited some place names in Britain as well as Gaul that appear to be cognate to Lugh.
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Aiwelin

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Quote from: Materialist;119956
Welcome to academic research.

 
I'm glad to be here :)

Quote from: Materialist;119956
I can disabuse more of your preconceptions. That pre-christian religions were localized, that every tribe and city state had its own pantheon, that each valley had its own religion, are facts. The idea that there are ethnic religions/pantheons, whether Celtic, Italic, Germanic, African, are complete fairytales based on ideologies of simpler, purer times, and not on history. So I avoid medieval literature and go straight to the archaeological and epigraphical sources.
 
Lugh/Lugus was not a universal "Celtic" god. I have seen no evidence for his cult in Britain. His name appears in no inscriptions. The latest book by Mr. Hutton is only going to reveal to you how much more you don't know.

But it's not that you're an idiot, it's that these academic papers are published by various universities and archaeological societies (and other organizations [mostly not in America]), working independently, who never think to combine their knowledge into a single volume.


Personally, I'm happy to be told all the things I don't know!  It is very surprising, since I had a notion that there were specific religions and pantheons across wider regions, but I'm glad to know the truth.  However, I'm also still glad to incorporate some of the medieval literature into my practices - I just don't look at it in quite the same light anymore.  

Honestly, I've never been a reconstructionist and it's not important to me to directly emulate exactly what my ancestors did; the Gods and Goddesses and myths that have been left to us by medieval literature, plus some archaeology and linguistic research, plus a good old dash of UPG and makin'-shit-up combine to make a workable, modern religion for me, and that's what matters :).

But I still am obsessed with history, and I'm really enjoying Hutton's writing style!
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yewberry

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Quote from: Gilbride;119917
So, to take the position that the medieval literature directly represents ancient myth would be off-base, but to take the position that it has nothing to do with ancient myth and was all made up in the middle ages would also be an extreme view.


Almost the context does indeed seem to be made up (not to mention incredibly culturally biased), and given that tribal religions are all about context, "made up" isn't a wholly inaccurate description.  Poorly-interpreted bits and pieces do not a religion make.

And so I suspect that any list of convincing sources would be short indeed.

Brina

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Quote from: yewberry;120065
Almost the context does indeed seem to be made up (not to mention incredibly culturally biased), and given that tribal religions are all about context, "made up" isn't a wholly inaccurate description.  Poorly-interpreted bits and pieces do not a religion make. And so I suspect that any list of convincing sources would be short indeed.

 
Culturally biased? It's from within a specific culture (medieval Ireland) so I'm not sure what you mean by that. I'm not really sure what you mean by any of this actually, unless you're just saying that you can't reconstruct ancient Celtic religion accurately by taking the medieval literature too literally, which is obviously true and which no one is debating. That doesn't make Hutton's position the consensus position in Celtic studies, because it just isn't. Hutton's position is just one perspective.

Gilbride

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Quote from: Gilbride;120067
That doesn't make Hutton's position the consensus position in Celtic studies, because it just isn't. Hutton's position is just one perspective.


To expand on what I'm saying and hopefully clarify it, I'm talking about the ongoing debate within Irish and Celtic studies between the "nativist" scholars who see the medieval literature as having a lot to do with the pagan past and the "anti-nativist" scholars who see it as having very little do with a pagan past. Here's a summary of the debate from "Celtic Culture: A Historical Encyclopedia," pg 1344:

http://books.google.com/books?id=f899xH_quaMC&pg=PA1344&lpg=PA1344&dq=nativist++Irish+studies&source=bl&ots=p-YBedDv_F&sig=5UcJyV_PcHuClQNgWvpbRPOeNpw&hl=en&sa=X&ei=urQbUv7vOPO34AOqzoGwCQ&ved=0CHkQ6AEwCQ#v=onepage&q=nativist%20%20Irish%20studies&f=false

Some scholars who are still very well-respected, such as Daithi O hOgain, take the medieval literature seriously as a source for pre-Christian belief, bearing in mind that it cannot be read as a direct record of that belief.

Some of Hutton's ideas take skepticism to an extreme. So to think of Hutton as the go-to source while disregarding the fact that he has taken a pretty clear side in the ongoing "nativism" debate would be misleading.

Materialist

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Quote from: Juni;119958
Well, the Brythonic Celts named a city after him- Luguvalion/Luguwaljon, 'the strength of Lugus' -better known today as Carlisle, England. Seems a little odd to name a town after a deity with no cult, if you ask me.

 
Carlisle was originally a fort built by the Roman army. (Roman Britain, Guy de la Bedoyere, p.25) Altars found there were dedicated to the Roman deities Genius centuriae, Genius loci, Hercules, Jupiter Optimus Maximus, Juno, Mars, Parcae, Minerva, Numen Augusti and Victoria. To the Celtic deities Belatucadrus, Barrex, and Ocelus, and one Persian god Cautes. (Companion to Roman Britain, G. Bedoyere, p.193)

The Oxford Dictionary of English Place-names lists Carlisle as meaning "place of a man named Luguvalos." No hint of anything divine about it. So, what evidence do you have for a Lugus cult there?

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Quote from: Materialist;120183
Carlisle was originally a fort built by the Roman army. (Roman Britain, Guy de la Bedoyere, p.25) Altars found there were dedicated to the Roman deities Genius centuriae, Genius loci, Hercules, Jupiter Optimus Maximus, Juno, Mars, Parcae, Minerva, Numen Augusti and Victoria. To the Celtic deities Belatucadrus, Barrex, and Ocelus, and one Persian god Cautes. (Companion to Roman Britain, G. Bedoyere, p.193)

The Oxford Dictionary of English Place-names lists Carlisle as meaning "place of a man named Luguvalos." No hint of anything divine about it. So, what evidence do you have for a Lugus cult there?

 
I don't have specific evidence of a cult- I said it would surprise me to see a place named after a deity without there being a cult. As to the name, see John T Koch's Celtic Encyclopedia; I don't have a page reference offhand, but under the Lugus entry. Also Jackson's Language and History in Early Britain.

As De la Bédoyère is a Roman British historian, I'm not surprised that he would focus on  Roman findings; from what I'm seeing online, his focus was archaeology. Koch is a Celtic linguist with a PhD in the subject from Harvard and a chair at the University of Wales; I am personally more inclined to put weight in his work in the etymology of a place-name, but to each their own.
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yewberry

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Quote from: Gilbride;120111
Some scholars who are still very well-respected, such as Daithi O hOgain, take the medieval literature seriously as a source for pre-Christian belief, bearing in mind that it cannot be read as a direct record of that belief.

Some of Hutton's ideas take skepticism to an extreme. So to think of Hutton as the go-to source while disregarding the fact that he has taken a pretty clear side in the ongoing "nativism" debate would be misleading.


Given that Medieval texts are the nearest historically to giving any insight into the Celts, of course they are well-studied.  And while many of the facts are probably correct, the all-important (and I do mean all-important) context and nuance is missing.  These texts give little insight into the whys of Celtic tribal beliefs and practices (not to mention the tremendous holes in the whats, whens, and wheres).  I don't think Hutton suggest that the gaps are filled (by scholars) exclusively with fanciful conjecture, but there is some of that.  What Hutton always seems to say is "we don't know".  Because we can't know.  We simply don't have enough information about the Celts from culturally unbiased sources.  I'm confused at why you don't see a cultural bias.  I'm not suggested that the Medieval church were deliberately bigoted, but they couldn't have been able to avoid their own somewhat myopic world view.

Brina

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