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Blood and Mistletoe: The History of the Druids in Britain

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Crushed by the Romans in the first century A.D., the ancient Druids of Britain left almost no reliable evidence behind. Because of this, historian Ronald Hutton shows, succeeding British generations have been free to reimagine, reinterpret, and reinvent the Druids. Hutton’s captivating book is the first to encompass two thousand years of Druid history and to explore the ev Crushed by the Romans in the first century A.D., the ancient Druids of Britain left almost no reliable evidence behind. Because of this, historian Ronald Hutton shows, succeeding British generations have been free to reimagine, reinterpret, and reinvent the Druids. Hutton’s captivating book is the first to encompass two thousand years of Druid history and to explore the evolution of English, Scottish, and Welsh attitudes toward the forever ambiguous figures of the ancient Celtic world. Druids have been remembered at different times as patriots, scientists, philosophers, or priests; sometimes portrayed as corrupt, bloodthirsty, or ignorant, they were also seen as fomenters of rebellion. Hutton charts how the Druids have been written in and out of history, archaeology, and the public consciousness for some 500 years, with particular focus on the romantic period, when Druids completely dominated notions of British prehistory. Sparkling with legends and images, filled with new perspectives on ancient and modern times, this book is a fascinating cultural study of Druids as catalysts in British history.


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Crushed by the Romans in the first century A.D., the ancient Druids of Britain left almost no reliable evidence behind. Because of this, historian Ronald Hutton shows, succeeding British generations have been free to reimagine, reinterpret, and reinvent the Druids. Hutton’s captivating book is the first to encompass two thousand years of Druid history and to explore the ev Crushed by the Romans in the first century A.D., the ancient Druids of Britain left almost no reliable evidence behind. Because of this, historian Ronald Hutton shows, succeeding British generations have been free to reimagine, reinterpret, and reinvent the Druids. Hutton’s captivating book is the first to encompass two thousand years of Druid history and to explore the evolution of English, Scottish, and Welsh attitudes toward the forever ambiguous figures of the ancient Celtic world. Druids have been remembered at different times as patriots, scientists, philosophers, or priests; sometimes portrayed as corrupt, bloodthirsty, or ignorant, they were also seen as fomenters of rebellion. Hutton charts how the Druids have been written in and out of history, archaeology, and the public consciousness for some 500 years, with particular focus on the romantic period, when Druids completely dominated notions of British prehistory. Sparkling with legends and images, filled with new perspectives on ancient and modern times, this book is a fascinating cultural study of Druids as catalysts in British history.

30 review for Blood and Mistletoe: The History of the Druids in Britain

  1. 4 out of 5

    Abigail Bok

    Ronald Hutton has built his career on being a buzz-killer for all of us who had a childhood crush on British pagans. While I mourn my youthful fantasies, I have to admire his scholarly rigor and commitment to resisting over-interpretation. I didn't finish this door-stopper tome (ca. 500 pages of large-format paperback in painfully small type) not because it was unworthy but because the portion of the "history of the Druids in Britain" that interested me was despatched in the first, devastatingly Ronald Hutton has built his career on being a buzz-killer for all of us who had a childhood crush on British pagans. While I mourn my youthful fantasies, I have to admire his scholarly rigor and commitment to resisting over-interpretation. I didn't finish this door-stopper tome (ca. 500 pages of large-format paperback in painfully small type) not because it was unworthy but because the portion of the "history of the Druids in Britain" that interested me was despatched in the first, devastatingly convincing, chapter. In it Hutton examines the entire documentary record (with strategic dives into archaeology) referring to the Druids from Greek and Roman sources to medieval Irish and Welsh in order to demonstrate that there is nothing, nothing at all, we can really know about who the Druids were, their beliefs, practices, or place in society. By implication, he suggests we can't even know whether they even existed, though he is inclined to think they did. For every claim made about them he is able to show why no single interpretation or determination of authenticity is possible. It's a shattering, bravura performance. I suppose it is possible to be too skeptical, but considering the cultures writing about the Druids, the motives behind their portrayals, and the standards of "history" writing in antiquity and the Middle Ages, his skepticism of the sources seems thoroughly justified. He left me with nothing to hang my old sorcerer's hat on! After tearing the ancient "record" of Druidry to shreds, Hutton moves on in subsequent chapters to a historiography of the ways subsequent British societies used the idea of the Druid to promote their worldviews, and the systems of belief constructed by modern people identifying as Druid. I got through some of the historiography but none of the modern religious practice and therefore can't comment on those aspects of the book, but if you're interested in these subjects, this is the third book by Hutton I have read and I respect his skills. Perhaps a search for authenticity in spiritual practice by plumbing the spiritual practices of the past is a misguided effort anyway.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Maya

    Ronald Hutton is presenting the outcome of his research into the subject of Druidry, which took place between 2000 and 2007. Unlike his previous book The Druids, this book is in depth, and its format is chronological, which gives the reader time to fully integrate and compare each time period to the one preceding it. It talks about the druids from the time they were first mentioned until the modern day. In the last statement of the introduction to the book, Ronald Hutton tells us what this book Ronald Hutton is presenting the outcome of his research into the subject of Druidry, which took place between 2000 and 2007. Unlike his previous book The Druids, this book is in depth, and its format is chronological, which gives the reader time to fully integrate and compare each time period to the one preceding it. It talks about the druids from the time they were first mentioned until the modern day. In the last statement of the introduction to the book, Ronald Hutton tells us what this book is really about from his point of view. “In the last analysis, however, this book is about neither archeology nor Druidry, but about the British, and the way they have seen themselves, their island, their species and their world.” (Hutton, p. XV) I think anyone reading this book will come to the conclusion that not everything is as it seems. People from the modern druid orders might not like what they read in this book because it shows just how much REAL evidence we have for ancient druid orders and how the “modern” druid orders came about. The origins of some of the orders will certainly surprise the members who are in them now. This is an illuminating book that is a must read for anyone who is interested in Druidry and druids. As for the goal of the book which is a look at the British and how they saw themselves and their island I think that Hutton has done an amazing job of fulfilling that goal. I don’t think I will look at the British, the druids or the druid orders in quite the same way ever again. For a full review of the book please check out my website: Blood and Mistletoe

  3. 5 out of 5

    Margaret Sankey

    Hutton uses the first chapter to exhaustively review what can be known about Druids from Roman sources and archaeology, then concentrates on how subsequent Britons have projected their contemporary needs onto Druidism--Reformation scholars needing a history untethered to and defiant of Rome, 17th century antiquarians, Romantics in search of nature, Celtic nationalists, a 1920s post-WWI fascination with anthropology and human sacrifice, 1960s hippies, 1970s neo-pagans. Somehow, this always ends u Hutton uses the first chapter to exhaustively review what can be known about Druids from Roman sources and archaeology, then concentrates on how subsequent Britons have projected their contemporary needs onto Druidism--Reformation scholars needing a history untethered to and defiant of Rome, 17th century antiquarians, Romantics in search of nature, Celtic nationalists, a 1920s post-WWI fascination with anthropology and human sacrifice, 1960s hippies, 1970s neo-pagans. Somehow, this always ends up in costume-y robes rolling in the grass at Stonehenge.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Gabriel Clarke

    I need to write a more detailed review of this. Be aware that this is an academic (though marvellously readable) account of a strand of cultural history, not a new age pseudo-history. Certain kinds of Druids and pagans will struggle with this. Others (that would increasingly include me) will welcome the implicit challenge to critically construct our own myths and meanings out of such materials as we've inherited and created. I need to write a more detailed review of this. Be aware that this is an academic (though marvellously readable) account of a strand of cultural history, not a new age pseudo-history. Certain kinds of Druids and pagans will struggle with this. Others (that would increasingly include me) will welcome the implicit challenge to critically construct our own myths and meanings out of such materials as we've inherited and created.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Nimue Brown

    Essential reading for Druids, or anyone interested in the history of Druidry. It is academic, it is a doorstopper of a tome and it will probably tax you, but it is written with absolute style and is full of detail and insight. Not a comfotable read for anyone who might feel embarassed by the shape of revivalist druidry, but we ought to know, and we have to deal with it. I've written a much longer review at www.druidnetwork.org Essential reading for Druids, or anyone interested in the history of Druidry. It is academic, it is a doorstopper of a tome and it will probably tax you, but it is written with absolute style and is full of detail and insight. Not a comfotable read for anyone who might feel embarassed by the shape of revivalist druidry, but we ought to know, and we have to deal with it. I've written a much longer review at www.druidnetwork.org

  6. 4 out of 5

    Graculus

    This is one of those books which I'm glad I persevered with, considering that it's quite literally a solid piece of work (very small type too, which doesn't help) but it doesn't quite do what it says on the cover. It's not so much a history of the druids as a history of what people thought and wrote about the druids and why/how that changed over time. Considering that the first chapter is all about how little we actually know and can prove about the druids in the first place, I suppose there wasn This is one of those books which I'm glad I persevered with, considering that it's quite literally a solid piece of work (very small type too, which doesn't help) but it doesn't quite do what it says on the cover. It's not so much a history of the druids as a history of what people thought and wrote about the druids and why/how that changed over time. Considering that the first chapter is all about how little we actually know and can prove about the druids in the first place, I suppose there wasn't really much else for the author to do, either in this book or in his previous one. Perhaps that one (The Druids: A History) was the one I should have read instead, though this one certainly introduced me to a wide variety of folks with varying degrees of scruples about making up history out of whole cloth if it didn't exist previously or didn't quite say what they wanted to hear.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Fred Johnson

    A well researched history of what little is known about the Druids. Unfortunately, there is virtually no historical record of the Druids so this study is largely a discussion of the different interpretations that varying scholars have made over the years. The author is clear in pointing out the flaws in these interpretations, but from the perspective of a general reader the bottom line is that there is little to say on the subject.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Wren

    This book could have been good if it had been half as long and structured very differently. It was worth the read, but thank merciful God it's over. This book could have been good if it had been half as long and structured very differently. It was worth the read, but thank merciful God it's over.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Titus L

    Very enjoyable scholarly assessment of the historical perspectives on and contingent development of more modern Druids. Hutton portrays the origins and alternating fortunes of the Druid, how they have been reimagined, reinterpreted, and reinvented to portray them as patriots, scientists, philosophers and priests, or alternately as corrupt, bloodthirsty and ignorant, fomenters of rebellion, or forefathers of Christian Religion and along the way how they have become either by example or exclusion, Very enjoyable scholarly assessment of the historical perspectives on and contingent development of more modern Druids. Hutton portrays the origins and alternating fortunes of the Druid, how they have been reimagined, reinterpreted, and reinvented to portray them as patriots, scientists, philosophers and priests, or alternately as corrupt, bloodthirsty and ignorant, fomenters of rebellion, or forefathers of Christian Religion and along the way how they have become either by example or exclusion, guardians of tradition. Such an extensive work merits a repeated reading, here is a brief review of the many areas that he explores. Setting out with a exposition of the ancient literary references such as that of Pliny, Julius Caesar and etc which cast doubt over the Druid's roles and presented the conquering forces of Rome as that of civilizing a savage and cruel religion, Hutton thoughtfully presents a fascinating and objective assessment of their actual value as historical documents and reveals the many influencing factors at play in them... Following a period of little interest, the historical threads pick up in the late medieval period, as Hutton explores how subsequent notions of Druids were formed and employed in the service of national prestige and also the reverse engineering of their alleged role in supporting Christianities apparently literal historical accuracy and ensuing spiritual eminence. At the end of the 15thc the new Humanist movement in scholarship with its aims to recover and build upon the knowledge of the classical ancient world, gave rise to a concurrent celebration of the indigenous peoples as honorable ancestors with a culture of some merit and in this context increasingly presented the Druids as the nearest thing that Europe had had to scientists and philosophers. Despite the lack of evidence, the German Humanist Conrad Celtes claimed that the Druids had fled there across the Rhine to escape the Romans and hide in German forests, which along with the fact that the Rhineland had been part of the Roman province of Gaul, established their reclamation as of a shared Gallic ancestry. Basing their accounts on Caesar's comments of the Druids as meeting at Carnute where the Druids of Gaul had met each year, Symphorien Champier seems to have made the case for the druids as French noble ancestors, and in 1585 the French author Taillepied was the first author in any language to devote a book to them. In this new favorable view, which deftly set aside Caesar's comments about sacrifice as an unimportant fringe activity, the popularity of Druids rose to the extent that by the early 16thC the Druid and Christian cult had been united with claims of the cathedral of Dreux being founded by them following a prediction they had made over a coming saviour and by 1552 Rabelais could refer to them as 'familiar beloved figures'. They also appeared in a book published in Paris 1526 'Scotorum Historiae' about Scotland written by the Scottish Hector Boece who nationalistically claimed the Druids main meeting place as the Isle of Man and thus shifted their central locus From Germany and France to Scotland. Whilst the Scots were taking advantage of this new pro-Druid perspective, the Irish already had Druids built into their national literature via Irish sagas and saints' lives recorded by Christian monks where Druids are accorded high social status until the coming of Christianity when the role of the Druid in Irish society was rapidly reduced to that of a sorcerer who could be consulted to cast spells or practice healing magic and their standing declined accordingly , and the Welsh who claimed direct descent and therefore unbroken lineage from the ancient Britons themselves. The English annexed these various views into their own greater history with a view to establishing cultural supremacy of the whole archipelago, with which they could rival the French. Tudor England however during late 16thC and early 17thC saw, rather than an ongoing rise in the popularity of Druids, a decline based on a number of factors including that the Irish writers presented the Druids as main opponents of their Roman Catholic Saints, the Welsh were co-opting them from the Scottish, and the English at this time did not wish to associate with the Welsh, plus identification of Druids with the poorly regarded Scottish and French may have been a further deterrent in and of itself. Following this decline of favor, a resurgence of interest was slow but steady and backed with good credentials. John Aubrey (1626–1697) was an English antiquary, natural philosopher and writer best known as author of the short biographical pieces 'Brief Lives'. He was also a pioneer archaeologist, who recorded (often for the first time) numerous megalithic and other field monuments in southern England, and is particularly noted as the discoverer of the Avebury henge monument. He presented his findings about Avebury to the Royal Society of London in 1663( The Royal Society of London for Improving Natural Knowledge) . In 1722 Edmund Gibson's published his enlarged edition of 'Britannica' which established a credible orthodoxy of interpretations of Britain's megalithic monuments as the holy places of its prehistoric inhabitants. Then the antiquarian Anglican vicar William Stukeley (1687–1765) who proclaimed himself a 'Druid', wrote a number of popular books in which he claimed that prehistoric megaliths like Stonehenge and Avebury were temples built by the Druids. Stukeley had been inspired by Issac Newtons interest in the cosmological significance of numbers and measurements in ancient Hebrew architecture, particularly the Temple of Solomon which was a subject of wider interest at this time) as representation of the cosmos. Stukeley's view was that these were all in their turn inspired by ancient Egyptians and early Druids, which furthered the growing impression of Druids as nature priests and worthy ancestors devoted to God. Promoting the view of a powerful relationship between Christianity and Neoplatonism, Druids at this period were claimed to have been both subscribers to, or creators of Plato's philosophy of reincarnation, and the original discoverers of literacy, science and philosophy which they allegedly taught to the Greeks, their religion was thus held to have prefigured that of Christianity and all the alleged Druid symbolism was identified as coded references to the one greater faith that would come. Soon after the publication and spread of Stukeley's writings, other people also began to self-describe themselves as 'Druids' and form societies: the earliest of these was the Druidic Society, founded on the Welsh island of Anglesey in 1772. Largely revolving around ensuring the continued financial success of business on the island, it attracted many of Anglesey's wealthy inhabitants and donated much of its proceeds to charity, but was disbanded in 1844. A similar Welsh group was the Society of the Druids of Cardigan, founded circa 1779, largely by a group of friends who wished to attend 'literary picnics' together. The third British group to call itself Druidic was English rather than Welsh, and was known as the Ancient Order of Druids. Founded in 1781 and influenced by Freemasonry, its origins have remained somewhat unknown, but it subsequently spread in popularity from its base in London across much of Britain and even abroad, with new lodges being founded, all of which were under the control of the central Grand Lodge in London. The Order was not religious in structure, and instead acted as somewhat of a social club, particularly for men with a common interest in music. In 1833 it suffered a schism, as a large number of dissenting lodges, unhappy at the management of the Order, formed their own United Ancient Order of Druids, and both groups would go on to grow in popularity throughout the rest of the century. The wider British society began to accept the claims for a Druidic role in Biblical times, that they were either noble and inspired forerunners of the Patriarchal fathers of Judaism before Christianity, or alternately that they shared a similar view of Religion and were therefore very ready to embrace 'the word' (of Christ) when it arrived in Britain, either way the Druids Prehistoric and specifically Biblical associations seemed assured. William Stukely can be seen then as the man who did most to persuade the English that the Druids had been the builders of England's spectacular prehistoric monuments which inturn secured their role in the British imagination as a whole as wise and worthy ancestors. We also learn of the remarkable and imaginative Welshman Iolo Morganwg (Edward Williams 1747–1826), an influential Welsh antiquarian, poet, collector, and literary forger who began to perpetuate the claim that he was one of the last initiates of a surviving group of Druids who were descended from those found in the Iron Age, centered around his home county of Glamorgan. He subsequently organized the performing of Neo-Druidic rituals on Primrose Hill with some of his followers, whom he categorized as either Bards or Ovates, with he himself being the only one actually categorized as a Druid. He practiced a form of religion which he believed the ancient Druids had had, which involved the worship of a singular monotheistic deity as well as the acceptance of reincarnation. Widely considered a leading collector and expert on medieval Welsh literature in his day, he asserted that he had found and translated various ancient medieval and ancient welsh bards texts (which have become standards of subsequent neo Druidical tradition) although after his death it was revealed that he had forged a large number of these manuscripts including the Druidical Triads such as the three triumphs of the bardic order being learning, reason and peace...the three unities of the cosmos being God, Truth and liberty. He presented Roman Catholicism as the corrupted form of the teachings which had prevailed earlier and so set about a call for revival of the ancient ways by creating the kind of Druid literary evidence which was lacking historically but that he felt should have existed. Despite the false nature of their origins, his literary contribution has significantly influenced the Welsh Gorsedds , the Gorsedd Beirdd Ynys Prydain itself was founded in 1792 by him along with much of its rituals. By the 1860's whilst druids had dominated the perceptions of the ancient Britons, portrayed varyingly as savages or heroes, they had become central to Britain's story of its own prehistory. Yet, although previously exemplified among the Pre-Raephelites and Romantic Poets, the artistic movement now began its Gothic phase and this prioritized the dark gloomy aspects of nature and existential despair over the earlier romantic immanence and delight of nature and in the Druids. Further in this downplaying development was the arising of a more critical scholarship in part following on such luminaries as Charles Darwin whose Origin Of The Species decisively removed the stamp of literal authenticity from the Bible as a historical record of early times and in so doing also removed the need for people to identify their Druidical ancestors as related to that story. Archaeological and Geological Science now replaced theological perspectives and in this light the origins of the many megalithic structures came under a sustained barrage of academia, which found little or no direct evidence for the Druids at these sites. The rise of late Georgian and early Victorian Britain as a technological and industrial force displaced quaint ruritanian ideologies further, as the culture realigned itself with the earlier Empirical Roman culture, justifying their world wide land and resources grab and subjugation of wider world peoples as a spiritual mission to Civilize and Christianize them for their own good. In this context the nature Druids were portrayed once again as forlorn savages easily identified with some of the tribes people now discovered around the world and whilst the latter were held to be less evolved morally or culturally, so these sweeping and disparaging generalizations were applied retrospectively to the formerly applauded Druids. With a view to why the contemporary writers of note had not taken up the Druid cause, Hutton explains how they had apparently become such a standard trope that they did not hold any novel appeal, although less erudite literature salaciously celebrated this fall from grace with imaginative and avid accounts of the atrocities that it was suspected the Druids had carried out, both satisfying the repressions of the age and reinforcing their view of themselves and their culture as superior. Yet at the end of this period the rise of clubs and societies which also include freemasonry as well as social clubs, brought about an increasing number of new, Druid fraternities, which at start seemed more to be about song and community, but as time wore on and they grew in membership, stature and influence, becoming increasingly akin to benevolent societies, designed to provide assistance to their membership in times of need. We are then introduced to George Watson MacGregor Reid (1862?-1946), another remarkable and colorful character, this time Scottish, who held a philosophy based on his view of a Universal Bond and who led 'The Druid Order'. The Church of the Universal Bond was a religious group founded in Britain in the early twentieth century by MacGregor Reid, promoting socialist revolution, anti-imperialism and sun worship. Initially aligned with Zoroastrianism, by 1912, MacGregor Reid was becoming more attracted to Druidry, especially as Stonehenge was at the time being seen as a solar temple. His church began holding rituals there and their worship was permitted to continue when the site was given to the state in 1918. He and his group are first recorded there in June 1912. During the succeeding two summers they clashed with the owner and the police, because of their wish to hold rites in the circle and their disinclination to pay the recently imposed admission fee. Although only commanding around 50 adherents in its early days, the church was instrumental in forming the link in the popular imagination between Stonehenge and Druids despite the efforts of archaeologists to discourage it. In 1924, the Office of Works permitted the church to scatter the ashes of cremated former members at Stonehenge, which drew significant protests from the Society of Antiquaries, the Wiltshire Archaeological Society, the Royal Archaeological Institute and famous archaeologists such as O. G. S. Crawford. The outcry persuaded the government to withdraw permission and in 1932 the Church officially moved its rites from the monument to Normanton Gorse nearby. MacGregor Reid thereby made the name of Druid into both a vehicle and metaphor for English Cultural radicalism, and founded the enduring tradition which through succession continues unbroken to this day(perhaps with the current day protests over access and admissions fees to Stonehenge of of King Arthur Pendragon). After the Second World War, MacGregor Reid's son Robert took over leadership of the church and it was able to regain midsummer access to Stonehenge throughout the 1950s, 60s and 70s, to the dismay of many leading archaeologists. When Thomas Maughan was elected chief in 1964, some senior members and the Order's Maenarch left to form the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids. The growing Stonehenge free festival caused the monument to be closed at midsummer in 1985 and the Church faded into obscurity but has maintained a presence at the re-opened solstice festivities since 2000. Despite the kind of mysterious and magickal account which one might have hoped for in such a book as this, perhaps a 'history' written by Iolo Morganwg would have served such a purpose better, this study provides the most objective and thorough account yet written of the little we know about the ancient Druids and their subsequent reinvention and revival to this day. Throughout the book Hutton's prose is informed by many personal and some humorous details which furnish a much more engaging presentation than either a work of speculative conjecture or one of chronological charting might have done. Suggesting then that the Druids displacement from the national imagination has occurred because of the earlier success integrating them into established structures of thought against which later artistic, religious and scientific developments defined themselves by contrasting orientation, ethics and methodologies, this book also portrays the far reaching influence of three very imaginative men, William Stukeley, Iolo Morganwg and George Watson MacGregor, ranging from classic English eccentrics to reactionary rogues who between them have created and characterized the nature of a Druid as we think of them today. Highly Recommended ~ (nb review 'with' pictures at my blog here http://bit.ly/AjUrAv )

  10. 5 out of 5

    Greg

    In any other hands this could be a heavy, dense work, and a challenge to get through. Not so as it's Professor Hutton, though. Immensely readable, and likely to remain the definitive work on the subject, unless something dramatic happens in the archaeological world. In any other hands this could be a heavy, dense work, and a challenge to get through. Not so as it's Professor Hutton, though. Immensely readable, and likely to remain the definitive work on the subject, unless something dramatic happens in the archaeological world.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Bryan Boring Van Unen

    Ronald Hutton's "Blood and Mistletoe: The History of the Druids in Britain," is many things. For one, it's a tome of epic proportions. In short, the book is an exhaustive yet entertaining, brutally honest yet easygoing look at the history of Druids in what may be considered their homeland of Britain. What are druids? Well, as the book slowly reveals, no one really can say. Some mentions and descriptions in ancient accounts such as Caesar and Pliny and Strabo, but those fall short of being anywhe Ronald Hutton's "Blood and Mistletoe: The History of the Druids in Britain," is many things. For one, it's a tome of epic proportions. In short, the book is an exhaustive yet entertaining, brutally honest yet easygoing look at the history of Druids in what may be considered their homeland of Britain. What are druids? Well, as the book slowly reveals, no one really can say. Some mentions and descriptions in ancient accounts such as Caesar and Pliny and Strabo, but those fall short of being anywhere near definitive or trustworthy. From here, Hutton takes us on a long journey through the re-emergence of Druids up until the revivalist groups such as the Universal Bond and OBOD. As a practicing Druid, I thought I'd be biased to the subject. But what I find is that the more honest you are, the better it turns out. Hutton shows you not only the pros but also the embarrassing cons of some of the most recognizable names in modern day Druidry. We find the history full of charlatans, liars, eccentrics, and men of questionable standings. But we also find men of pure intentions, who want a better world, to unify men and women regardless of differences. This, I find, lies at the very heart of modern Druidry. The history of Druidry has been revealed. What we have left are pieces to pick up and help form a definition of what Druidry means today. We won't be able to do this through means of false or alternative history. We need to instead look at what is certain--or pretty damn close--and realize that modern Druidry is just that: modern. Ancient Druidry--if indeed it had ever existed--is in the past, and what we have left are sources of questionable origins, but sources nonetheless, to inspire us. And we are not devoid of any history at all. In this book, we are shown that Druidry, a subject which many presume doesn't really have a track record of any sort of repute, in fact does. We've built one for ourselves in the last couple hundred years. We are dreamers, and we've dreamed Druidry into existence. I've never read any of Hutton's materials, though I've seen many programs and documentaries featuring him, and have heard his lectures via Druidcast. PIcking this book up scared me a little, and I can't lie--many names, places, and dates probably flew right over my head. This book saturated my mind like a soaking wet sponge, and there seems to be a limit to how much I could absorb! His writing style may be trying for some--it was for me at points! But in all it was a readable, enjoyable, immensely informative piece of academic literature. I learned a LOT, and now have an even greater respect for Druidry and those involved in not just the history, but also the present and the future we have yet to dream. Anyone who professes to be a Druid or are interested in Druidry must read this. It sheds the light on something we Druids need to know, where we've come from, where we haven't come from, and who we are.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Toviel

    ACTUAL RATING: 4.5 So, it turns out almost everything we “know” about the druids can be attributed to blatant fraud and propaganda. In typical Hutton fashion, BLOOD AND MISTLETOE isn’t a history of the druids, but a history of the historians of the druids. As there are precious few accounts and artifacts left of Druids—and what little we have is so unreliable that it isn’t even certain if the legendary order even existed—Hutton cross-references a multitude of sources instead to explain how the mod ACTUAL RATING: 4.5 So, it turns out almost everything we “know” about the druids can be attributed to blatant fraud and propaganda. In typical Hutton fashion, BLOOD AND MISTLETOE isn’t a history of the druids, but a history of the historians of the druids. As there are precious few accounts and artifacts left of Druids—and what little we have is so unreliable that it isn’t even certain if the legendary order even existed—Hutton cross-references a multitude of sources instead to explain how the modern concept of the Druid came to be. It’s as much as a discussion on the effects of revisionism and belief as it is a book on the druids. The first third of the book focuses on how Roman and British politics and idealism contributed to the modern conception of the Druids in equal measure, while the second portion deals with the transformation of the druids’ image in relation to Romanticism and the rise of the British Empire, while the final section explores the Druids’ place in modern reconstructionism, popular culture, and archaeology. Hutton’s thorough and multi-layered research makes BLOOD AND MISTLETOE a heavy read—person X believes/believed Y because they reinterpreted record Z to mean V, but theory Z was based on possibly flawed accounts of W, etc., etc. The book’s a companion piece to one of his earlier works, THE DRUIDS, so Hutton doesn’t spend a lot of time establishing the basics. Meanwhile, the font is tiny, making the already lengthy book feel hundreds of pages longer than it is. While Hutton is a strong enough writer to give life to the minutiae of details he’s collected, heaven help the reader who’s bad at memorizing names and dates. Someone at my local library must have been very interested in druidry, as almost every neo-pagan book available there is about the Druids or the Celts. BLOOD AND MISTLETOE is easily the most factual of the bunch, and it showcases why Hutton has such a good reputation in both academic and pagan circles. The book was partially funded by the Order of Bards and Druids, and Hutton always takes care to be respectable of modern druidic beliefs, even when he’s criticizing the foundations they’re based on. Highly recommended for history nerds and pagans alike.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Bryn

    A brilliant, challenging, inspiring book that I would advise every contemporary druid to read. It is a doorstopper of a tome, and it is hugely complicated, but Hutton is a lovely writer, and the prose sparkles. This is the known history of druidry, and we turn out not to know very much at all. I think it's also a challenge to the druid community to define who we are in ways that do not depend too much on the intricacies of how we got to be here in the first place. A brilliant, challenging, inspiring book that I would advise every contemporary druid to read. It is a doorstopper of a tome, and it is hugely complicated, but Hutton is a lovely writer, and the prose sparkles. This is the known history of druidry, and we turn out not to know very much at all. I think it's also a challenge to the druid community to define who we are in ways that do not depend too much on the intricacies of how we got to be here in the first place.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Susannah

    An excellent book about the history of the idea of Druids. Unfortunately, there is little we know for certain about the original Druids, but Hutton covers everything known in an erudite and comprehensive fashion. I read the first three or four chapters and lightly skimmed the rest - hence unfinished.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Sherry Sharpnack

    All I knew about Druids before I read this book was that they were "tree-worshippers," especially favoring oak trees. As a tree-lover myself, I have often jokingly referred to myself as a Druid. wasn't wrong about the association w/ oak trees, but I was wrong about much else. "Blood and Mistletoe: the History of the Druids in Britain" is an EXHAUSTIVE (and I mean that adjective!) look at pretty much everything ever written that mentioned Druids in Britain, whether in history, archaelogy, books, All I knew about Druids before I read this book was that they were "tree-worshippers," especially favoring oak trees. As a tree-lover myself, I have often jokingly referred to myself as a Druid. wasn't wrong about the association w/ oak trees, but I was wrong about much else. "Blood and Mistletoe: the History of the Druids in Britain" is an EXHAUSTIVE (and I mean that adjective!) look at pretty much everything ever written that mentioned Druids in Britain, whether in history, archaelogy, books, plays, or musicals. Um... wow. It took me a LONG time to read this b/c once I started highlighting, I couldn't stop. I have over 3,000+ highlights on my Kindle, and had to recharge it multiple times in the reading. That's unusual. Anyway, either Druids practiced human sacrifices, or they didn't. They either had a "purer" form of religion that evolved into the "purest" form of Christianity, or they didn't. They were either pre-Roman or Anglo-Saxon. They either built megalithic structures for worship, or merely worshipped at pre-existing sites - or maybe they actually worshipped in groves of trees and only sacrificed at the megalithic structures. What is for sure is that quacks and charlatans in the Georgian and Victorian periods glommed onto Druids as particularly British characters, and were used to develop a pride in the nation-state that was created on the isle of Great Britain during these years. Many of the services created by societies to "preserve" the memory of Druids had outlandish rituals and costumes, and opened themselves up to public derision when they appeared in public in costume for the rituals, especially at Stonehenge, where these rites have caused heckling and violence, especially in the 1950's and 60's. I learned about the arguments between the Druidic societies and the new field of archaelogy, and the fights BETWEEN the groups over the megalithic sites. I was interested in the various British nationalities and their relationships w/ Druids. The nationality most associated w/ the Druids - the Welsh - like their bardic aspects, as the Welsh emphasize their musical heritage. However, the Welsh "discovered" Druids two hundred YEARS after the Scots had decided they liked Druids. Interestingly, when the Welsh developed musical events dedicated to Druidism, the Scots decided they didn't like Druids after all. The English tried to use Druids as proof of their ancient race, and the superiority of the British as they subjugated native peoples around the globe. I didn't like that usage of Druids at all. So I LEARNED nothing of substance about Druids, or even what the deal is w/ mistletoe being associated w/ them. What I learned INSTEAD was a history of how Druids have been treated through the writings of Caesar, Tacitus, and Pliny, and how those writings influenced all successive writing about Druids. This would have been a much easier read in a physical book form. I'm always thrown off when approximately 30% of a Kindle book ends up being notes and the index. This one actually ended when I was 72% into the book. In a scholarly work such as this, I also like being able to go back-and-forth, which is difficult in this format. By finishing this ginormous book today, I've neatly ended my 2020 reading on Dec. 31st. I can start fresh on January 1. I will only give the book three stars because it was as dry as dust. If I was ever NOT going to finish a book, it would have been this one. I gave it more stars than I wanted to because it is very professorially written, meaning it was easy to follow information from one paragraph to another and to follow lines of reasoning by the author, and it followed a very defined chronological order. Some folks might like an exhaustive look at a certain subject, w/o any conclusions ever drawn. If so, this is the book for them. On to 2021.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Laurie

    Harborsmouth might as well be named Hellmouth. It’s a hub of supernatural activity, and Ivy Granger, half fae princess, psychic, and private eye, has the ability to see all the non-human beings that inhabit it. Her housekeeper is a brownie (not the kind that sell cookies), her boyfriend is the king of the kelpies, her main client is a demon, and she’s friends with a bridge troll and the most powerful witch in town. Now someone is killing fae, of both Seelie and Unseelie courts, and leaving sprigs Harborsmouth might as well be named Hellmouth. It’s a hub of supernatural activity, and Ivy Granger, half fae princess, psychic, and private eye, has the ability to see all the non-human beings that inhabit it. Her housekeeper is a brownie (not the kind that sell cookies), her boyfriend is the king of the kelpies, her main client is a demon, and she’s friends with a bridge troll and the most powerful witch in town. Now someone is killing fae, of both Seelie and Unseelie courts, and leaving sprigs of mistletoe in the pools of blood. True, it’s close to Christmas, but there just isn’t anything festive about it. This is a novella rather than a full book, so it doesn’t take Ivy long to solve the crime. It’s both bloody and fluffy urban fiction and a fun, quick read. I might have to check out some of the full length books. Four stars.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Stephen

    From very scant evidence many people make very great claims about the ancient Celtic priests known as the Druids. This book reviews the evidence in depth, and then follows a chronological account looking at druidism through the ages, from first mention to the modern day. Hutton's analysis will be devastating for anyone who truly thinks modern druidism is representative of the ancient religion, but the author makes it clear that ultimately this book is not about druidism but the British themselve From very scant evidence many people make very great claims about the ancient Celtic priests known as the Druids. This book reviews the evidence in depth, and then follows a chronological account looking at druidism through the ages, from first mention to the modern day. Hutton's analysis will be devastating for anyone who truly thinks modern druidism is representative of the ancient religion, but the author makes it clear that ultimately this book is not about druidism but the British themselves (a claim which may be a little overstated but you can understand what he means). This is a very thorough review of the various belief systems that have taken the name of druidism, presented in a clear but scholarly manner.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Anie

    This is an excellent history -- it takes the reader from the ancient Druids (about whom virtually nothing is known) and then traces how the concept of "the druid" ebbed and flowed, changed and twisted, through the history of Britain and Ireland -- how it is molded by national identity, in particular. It's an interesting read, well-sourced and engaging, and worth it for anyone who's interested in this topic. (If you're not interested in druids... well, 800 pages of druids is probably too much for This is an excellent history -- it takes the reader from the ancient Druids (about whom virtually nothing is known) and then traces how the concept of "the druid" ebbed and flowed, changed and twisted, through the history of Britain and Ireland -- how it is molded by national identity, in particular. It's an interesting read, well-sourced and engaging, and worth it for anyone who's interested in this topic. (If you're not interested in druids... well, 800 pages of druids is probably too much for you then.)

  19. 5 out of 5

    Esther Berry-Benton

    An excellent in-depth look at the history of Britains relationship with the druids. Hutton is, as usual, thorough and clearly well researched. As a layperson, I find his treatment of the subject accessible without feeling like it had to sacrifice it's academic credentials in the process. Some of his prose is still a bit heavy reading - I have had to look up more than a few words! - but that may reflect the quality of my vocabulary as much as it does the complexity of his writing. All in all, not An excellent in-depth look at the history of Britains relationship with the druids. Hutton is, as usual, thorough and clearly well researched. As a layperson, I find his treatment of the subject accessible without feeling like it had to sacrifice it's academic credentials in the process. Some of his prose is still a bit heavy reading - I have had to look up more than a few words! - but that may reflect the quality of my vocabulary as much as it does the complexity of his writing. All in all, not a light read, but an excellent one for anyone interested in British cultural history.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Janine

    Scholarly, yet readable account of the history of Druids. Took some time to read though.

  21. 4 out of 5

    S.L. Baron

    Lordy, there is so much information in this monster, and it took me a little over two years to finally finish it! Hutton gives a us a thorough, highly detailed breakdown of what's known about Druids through his extensive research, which, I admit, overwhelmed me at times. He doesn't leave any stone unturned when it comes to Druids, and he presents the information in a very unbiased and sometimes conversational manner that I thought made the information easier to follow. I think the things that mad Lordy, there is so much information in this monster, and it took me a little over two years to finally finish it! Hutton gives a us a thorough, highly detailed breakdown of what's known about Druids through his extensive research, which, I admit, overwhelmed me at times. He doesn't leave any stone unturned when it comes to Druids, and he presents the information in a very unbiased and sometimes conversational manner that I thought made the information easier to follow. I think the things that made this book a challenge for me were the multitude of names mentioned--especially the Welsh. I needed a pronunciation guide--and the sometimes non-linear talk of historical events. I'd have to flip back and forth to make sure I knew who was doing what and when they were doing it. Those were usually the times my eyes crossed, and I had to put the book down so I could retain the information. I had originally started this book to help me learn more about a religion I was considering. It's an eye-opener in that respect and, at times, made me laugh to think of the people I know who consider themselves Neo-Druids who have no idea about the Christians who shaped their practices. If they only knew who shaped their "religion," I believe their heads might explode. This should be mandatory reading for anyone considering this spiritual path. But, my biggest takeaway from this book, despite all the information, is that no one really knows who the Druids were. As a writer, this makes me say "YAY!" because then I'm able to imagine them almost any way I want. As someone who was interested in pursuing it as a religious path, yes, I'm also saying "YAY!" because I can basically forge my own path based on what I've learned. Oh, to be able to time travel though... Overall, this book is a worthy read for anyone who is interested in ancient religions, Druids in all their historical roles and representations, and the origin of today's Neo-Druids.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Sarak77

    I bought my copy of Blood and Mistletoe at Stonehenge - there's an English Heritage sticker on the cover to prove it. At the time I thought it was a bit of cynical marketing because if there was one thing I thought I knew about the Druids it was that they had nothing to do with Stonehenge. It really depends which Druids you mean though. The evidence for the "original " Druids of the iron age is almost nonexistent, even the writings of their star witness Julius Caesar is dubious. For centuries th I bought my copy of Blood and Mistletoe at Stonehenge - there's an English Heritage sticker on the cover to prove it. At the time I thought it was a bit of cynical marketing because if there was one thing I thought I knew about the Druids it was that they had nothing to do with Stonehenge. It really depends which Druids you mean though. The evidence for the "original " Druids of the iron age is almost nonexistent, even the writings of their star witness Julius Caesar is dubious. For centuries they effectively ceased to have existed. When they were rediscovered in the 16th century the Bible was still the principal source of world history. Antiquarians linked them any and every ancient monument and by the time anyone had worked out that Stonehenge was far too old to have been a Druid temple people had been dressing in white and parading around the stones for some years. The monument became a battle ground between self-styled Druids, archaeologists and rowdy elements of the public. If you come to this book to learn about the Druids of Ancient Britain it's going to be a long slog from chapter one, which deals with them, through another 400 pages to the end. What is interesting is the way the Druids, having fallen right out of history came to occupy centre stage in the history of the British Isles as they were taken up by writers variously motivated by wishful thinking, religion and nationalism, before being pushed back to the margins again as attitudes changed.

  23. 4 out of 5

    M F

    WOW this feels like it has taken me a long time to read. It's a big book. In theory, I didn't have to read all of it -- only the first chapter or so was actually relevant to my dissertation and the question I hoped it would answer for me. But I decided to read the whole thing anyway, and although there were some interesting facts about druids and so on, I think the most useful thing I learned was how ideology, politics and religion shape historiography, and the cultural context for a lot of disc WOW this feels like it has taken me a long time to read. It's a big book. In theory, I didn't have to read all of it -- only the first chapter or so was actually relevant to my dissertation and the question I hoped it would answer for me. But I decided to read the whole thing anyway, and although there were some interesting facts about druids and so on, I think the most useful thing I learned was how ideology, politics and religion shape historiography, and the cultural context for a lot of discussions about the ancient and medieval world. For example, it hadn't occurred t ome that feelings about the clergy would affect one's view of druids, or how Protestant historians might view them differently to Catholics. I found it really interesting to read about these conflicting theories and arguments, and to see how other beliefs influenced them. While most of this book is fairly heavy-going and academic, there are quite a few moments of sly humour that amused me a lot. (Then again, I have a pretty niche sense of humour which probably doesn't chime with most people's.) I think my favourite fact that I learned was about medieval Irish bibles sometimes referring to the 'wise men' who visited the baby Jesus as 'druids' -- it creates quite a different view of the Nativity.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Old-Barbarossa

    If you read only one book about druids read this...or at least the 1st and last couple of chapters. The middle bit is full of "eccentric" chaps and downright conmen who made loads of druidy stuff up and most of them degenerate into the "true Scotsman" arguments amongst themselves. This isn't really about the "religion" (although the chapters mentioned above cover this), it is mainly about the way the idea of druids, and how that is interpreted, gives us a window onto the period of the folk doing t If you read only one book about druids read this...or at least the 1st and last couple of chapters. The middle bit is full of "eccentric" chaps and downright conmen who made loads of druidy stuff up and most of them degenerate into the "true Scotsman" arguments amongst themselves. This isn't really about the "religion" (although the chapters mentioned above cover this), it is mainly about the way the idea of druids, and how that is interpreted, gives us a window onto the period of the folk doing the interpreting...the nationalistic ideas, the social movements, the way people viewed their past. Hutton has a dry humour and refs everything meticulously. In short: no one knows very much about the original iron age ones, some folk in the 1900s made some stuff up, folk go to Stonehenge now.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Joy

    This book is a tome (the book's dimension and small print makes it more like 700+ pages), but I found it fairly interesting. I wouldn't really call this the history of Druids, though. It is more like the history of the history, or the history of the reputation or opinion of the Druids in Britain. I would only recommended this book to someone who is truly interested in the subject matter. This book would be quite exhausting to someone who was only mildly curious or happened to run across the book This book is a tome (the book's dimension and small print makes it more like 700+ pages), but I found it fairly interesting. I wouldn't really call this the history of Druids, though. It is more like the history of the history, or the history of the reputation or opinion of the Druids in Britain. I would only recommended this book to someone who is truly interested in the subject matter. This book would be quite exhausting to someone who was only mildly curious or happened to run across the book at their local library.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Lesley Arrowsmith

    Fascinating stuff, especially relating to Iolo Morgannwg (who basically made up a lot of stuff) and the disagreements between Druids and archaeologists at Stonehenge.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Martin Adams

    interesting and informative, the best historical evidence presented in a readable format,

  28. 4 out of 5

    Matthew Graham

    A thorough account of views of the Druids over the past 500 years and how these reflect contemporary issues.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Matthijs Krul

    "Druids. It's about druids. You'll love it!" "Druids. It's about druids. You'll love it!"

  30. 4 out of 5

    Sandra

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