I should begin by saying this is an entirely intellectual consideration and, so far as I know, quite entirely one sided! It began years ago with The Pagan Religions of the British Isles (can’t recall the exact title, but that’s the gist.) Stations of the Sun, confirmed me in my infatuation and I’ve been collecting the good Professor’s pagan books ever since.
There are many things I love about Ronald Hutton’s writing. His uncertainty is incredible. So much writing in all subjects is about asserting theories and showing how the evidence supports it. To read work that picks through the evidence and talks about the limits and inadequacies was a revelation for me. The very notion of uncertainty has become intrinsic to my own Druidry, and to how I think about a lot of things.
Ronald Hutton is present in his own work, in a way many academic writers aren’t. He’s not afraid to say ‘I’ and drop in personal takes, as personal takes, moments of insight and other details that lift the content out of the dry, dusty norms of academia and make it a lot more readable. I read a lot, I read widely, and I’ve crawled through many a book that claimed objective certainty. I’d rather have a sense of person and some sense of who I’m dealing with.
I love the humour. Often cutting, sometimes downright catty, there aren’t many historians who have ever made me laugh out loud. It’s a subtle sort of humour, a tad subversive, and utterly delightful.
Then I read Blood and Mistletoe. Ronald Hutton going in-depth on the history of the Druids. It was a hard read. Like many people, I came to Druidry wanting there to be a clear connection between Druidry old and new. I wanted there to be ancient wisdom, and certainty, and I wanted someone to know what it was, even if I didn’t. This book systematically stripped away many things that I had wanted to believe, and then presented the Monty Pythonesque insanity of the revival Druid movement. Reading it, and for some time afterwards, I felt lost. Where did I fit now? What did it all mean? How do I call myself a Druid and keep doing something that has meaning, in the context of all this uncertainty and more recent embarrassment?
The need to answer Blood and Mistletoe pretty much prompted me to take up the work that led to me writing Druidry and the Ancestors. I did get to swap a few emails with Ronald Hutton as I was working. I didn’t end up asking him to read the whole book because he was clearly very pressed for time, and I didn’t want to impose. He did say nice things about the bit I ran past him, for which I was hugely grateful, and it gave me the courage to keep going with what was a very difficult project.
He remains my hero.