In this riveting account, renowned scholar Ronald Hutton explores the history of deity-like figures in Christian Europe. Drawing on anthropology, archaeology, literature, and history, Hutton shows how hags, witches, the Fairy Queen, and the Green Man all came to be, and how they changed over the centuries.
Looking closely at four main figures—Mother Earth, the Fairy Queen, the Mistress of the Night, and the Old Woman of Gaelic tradition—Hutton challenges decades of debate around the female figures who have long been thought versions of pre-Christian goddesses. He makes the compelling case that these goddess figures found in the European imagination did not descend from the pre-Christian ancient world, yet have nothing Christian about them. It was in fact nineteenth-century scholars who attempted to establish the narrative of pagan survival that persists today.
“Europe’s pagan traditions never seem to have been stamped out. Instead, parts of them have been with us all along, as [Hutton] demonstrates in his sprightly—and spritely—account of four female figures: Mother Earth; the Fairy Queen; the Lady of the Night; and the Cailleach of the Gaelic tradition.”—Peter Stanford, Daily Telegraph
“Hutton’s arguments are thoughtful and convincing. . . . [He] propose[s] these archetypes as ‘new superhuman figures which operated outside of Christian cosmology.’”—Elizabeth Dearnley, Times Literary Supplement
“This is Hutton at his most accessible. . . . It’s tempting but unsound to deduce that these commanding figures who stalk legend and poetry are the remnants of a pre-Christian religion, not least because Hutton unpicks the common assumption that an archaic, peaceful goddess- and Earth-worshipping culture predated a male-dominated sky religion.”—Suzi Feay, Spectator
“What an extraordinary historian Ronald Hutton is. . . . Hutton’s account is an investigation not just into pagan goddess figures but into our abiding capacity to believe what we want to believe, and about how fashion governs thought. It’s salutary.”—Melanie McDonagh, The Tablet
“Rather than being a pedant seeking to disenchant the world, Hutton treats mistakes and inventions as parts of the biographies of his superhuman subjects. Throughout, he is authoritative yet open-minded, scholarly without being needlessly combative.”—George Morris, Literary Review
“From the first chapter on I was hooked, delighted by the way of the author’s clear, objective, rigorous but kindly thoughtful voice reads out from the pages; a wise voice indeed but also a hugely entertaining one.”—Eva Humphrey-Lahti, Druid Network
“With his books on (to give only a selection) druids, witches and the ritual year, Ronald Hutton has established himself as a leading authority on paganism.”—Tom Shippey, London Review of Books
“The book is a delight, beautifully designed and readable.”—Greenmantle
“Complete with some wonderful, coloured illustrations, extensive notes and index, this is a must for anyone interested in the discussion concerning Pagan Survival.”—Morgana Over, Wiccan Rede
“A wonderful book, deeply thoughtful and engaging, packed with great research and thought-provoking ideas.”—Marion Gibson, author of Witchcraft: The Basics
“This splendid book greatly expands our knowledge of how apparently pagan divine figures of European tradition evolved. By deftly showing what we know—and what we only think we know—the author illuminates how these figures have mattered over the centuries, and continue to do so.”—Mark Williams, author of The Celtic Myths that Shape the Way We Think
“England’s favourite historian has done it again! In this series of essays, he traces the histories of four popular feminine figures from folklore, showing us the vitality of human creativity and its shaping of tradition even under periods of religious domination.”—Sabina Magliocco, author of Witching Culture: Folklore and Neo-Paganism in America