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The Triumph of the Moon: A History of Modern Pagan Witchcraft

By Ronald Hutton

Ronald Hutton is a British historian who has written several books on folklore and
folk traditions in Britain and their modern-day applications. Mr. Hutton has taken this one
step further with The Triumph of the Moon to trace some of these traditions' usage within
the history of modern British witchcraft. Hutton stays true throughout the book to his two
major themes: that modern witchcraft is the "belated offspring" of the Romantic
movement of the eighteenth century and that witchcraft is a viable, valid modern
religious system.

Hutton states that, "…far from being an unusually exotic and bizarre response to specific
problems of the late twentieth century, it [modern pagan witchcraft] represents a
distillation of certain notions and needs which had been developing in Western Europe,
and in England in particular, since the eighteenth." (p. viii) He begins by placing modern
pagan witchcraft in a larger counter-cultural, historical context and discusses such ideas
as concepts of the language of witchcraft (what is meant by 'pagan', 'goddess', 'god', etc.),
the structure of witchcraft (which he ultimately relates to Freemasonry), high and low
magics, folklore, theories of witchcraft's history (Margaret Murray, Leland, etc.), and the
"matrix" in which all of these historical elements were blended in Victorian England by
A. Crowley, Dion Fortune, Robert Graves, and others. Included in these chapters are
biographies of the major "players" in witchcraft's history such as those mentioned above
(some of which are thoughtful and well-balanced [Crowley] and others of which seem to
be less sympathetic [Graves]), and also some fascinating historical background on nature
and magical movements in England since the 1700's.

From this historical foundation, Hutton then examines Gerald Gardner and his
contributions to modern witchcraft in Britain, the formation of different emergent groups
of witchcraft that claim origins outside of the Garderian traditions, and the status of
witchcraft in 21st century Britain. Triumph does a commendable job of sorting out
information from different traditions and individuals into a coherent look at the
emergence of modern pagan witchcraft from the middle of the last century to the present.

All in all, Hutton presents a fairly objective view of a modern religion with roots that
stem from at least three hundred years in the past. However, since his section on the
current status of witchcraft is restricted to Britain for the most part, I would recommend
picking up the latest edition of Margot Adler's Drawing Down the Moon if you are
looking for a history of and reports about American modern paganism.

 2000 by Regina M. Raab