Tag Archives: Blood and Mistletoe

My love affair with Ronald Hutton

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.

Announcing the next book

I’ve been talking a bit about this on facebook, so I thought a blog post was probably in order too, now that dates and whatnot are confirmed. My second book on Druidry will be out in November of this year. I’ll admit I was surprised by the speed, but Moon Books are a nippy sort of oufit, not like bigger houses, where it can take years for a book to see the light of day.

So, the next one is Druidry and the Ancestors. There were a number of thoughts underpinning the choice of direction. Firstly ancestors come up in Druidry rather a lot but I’m not aware of any books tackling how we relate to our ancestry, as druids.

Secondly, I read Ronald Hutton’s Blood and Mistletoe, which flags up how little we know about the ancient Druids – we have material to speculate upon, but none of it is issue-free. He also makes clear just how problematic our modern ancestors of tradition were – Iolo Morganwg and his contemporaries. When I read it I felt a powerful need to try and respond, to think about how we construct ourselves as modern Druids, conscious of our history and the problems in it, but still valid. In many ways, this book is me trying to start that process. I’m aware that Hutton’s work has changed what OBOD present to the world, and have no doubt that in coming years we will see more work that tackles the thorny subject of where we came from.

The third thing was my personal life. I spent six months in a cottage that had belonged to my family for many generations, and that had an impact on me. I’m also dealing with a child who detests his birth father, who needs to engage with his bloodlines in meaningful ways (not just my side of the family) and who needs to define himself in ways that do not relate to the birth parent he loathes. Working with pagan groups down the years I’ve been conscious for a long time that many pagans have stepped away from the beliefs of their families, and that many of us have a lot of problems with our most immediate ancestry.

So, this is not entirely a book about the Druids of old, although they are in the mix. It’s about how we think about all kinds of ancestry, how we construct ourselves, and so forth. It was not an easy book to write and I’m conscious that plenty of people might disagree with me. I’ve tested it on enough folk to be confident that it’s not wide of the mark and I have a lot of faith in my publisher and editor, but, I may be going to ruffle feathers.

But, for the extra win, I have my bloke’s art on the cover of this one. And, with all due reference to previous blogs about the covers of Druid books, yes, there’s a tree on it!

As an added bonus, it looks like I get to launch the book at a Druid muster in November, if all goes to plan. Watch this space….