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Is it ‘Ten Years of Triumph’?
There are few things more likely to grab the attention of an intelligent pagan readership than to be able to say: "there’s a new book coming out about the work of Ronald Hutton."
What a gift! The book is not intended as, nor is it to be interpreted as, any kind of sequel to Triumph of the Moon. Instead, it has multiple purposes- it is a tribute, it gives some stellar examples of the interesting corners that are leading scholars and new faces are exploring in the study of paganism and magic, and it's our chance to say thank you to a real pioneer in this amazing field, and in the process produce a challenging and innovative book.
In the autumn of 2007 I came down with a very bad dose of ‘flu, which left me pretty befuddled, dizzy and confined to bed for a few days. Through the irritating and confusing mental fog of the consequences of that virus I happened to see Triumph among my various books. “hell, that’s nearly ten years old already” I thought, distractedly.
This stray and feverish abstract thought soon crystallised into the notion that the tenth birthday of something so significant needed to be celebrated in some way.
This is also not so much a book about Ronald himself, as his work is far more than that one book, covering as it does English Civil War history and other areas as well as multiple strands of ‘fringe’ religious history. This book is more a mixture of ideas inspired by Triumph, discussions of some of the ongoing themes that it raises, and a view of some of the diverse pathways down which academic research into occult subjects has travelled since Triumph.
In many ways Ronald’s work provides us with the history of how we have seen ourselves, and how we have constructed and reconstructed our past(s) over time, and how we continue to do so. Reading Hutton’s work leaves you changed, as Tanya Luhrmann (a scholar who Ronald is pretty damning of in Triumph) in a Times newspaper review of the book glowingly wrote:
“the story it tells is compelling and persuasive, and no one, after reading it, will think about Britain in quite the same way as before”
Compelling and persuasive, changing the way you think…
Yes, that is Ronald…. There are a lot of people out there with PhDs now thanks in part to Ronald’s being involved in their work, and that figure may be a larger number than might appear on any official statistics for supervision, as Ronald is a friend and mentor to far more scholars, both inside and outside academic establishments, than he can physically supervise, but has acted as unofficial advisor to plenty. He is also a dear and valued friend of many pagans, thus this book is a way for us all to say ‘thanks’.
In 2008 I visited Bristol University to hear a seminar paper presentation by one of Ronald’s students and at the post-paper gathering afterwards, over a glass of wine, he looked around the very crowded room, and smiled quietly to himself. He then very happily but not remotely boastfully told me of his professional and personal delight that of everyone in the room, all were either current students whom he was supervising or directly teaching, or were past students that he had worked with.
Ronald also provides an object lesson to us all in how to ethically treat your research informants. In a field (occultism far more than academia) where back-stabbing is commonplace and numerous fragmentary tales battle fiercely for the mantle of ‘truth’, Ronald has managed to navigate a course between most of the more dangerous rocks and in the process avoided upsetting anyone too much. The few exceptions to this (upset) he has graciously engaged in conciliatory dialogue, usually within the Pagan Press, and each time has come away from the exchange with his reputation enhanced.
If only that skill could be taught in class…
Supporters of this book project have emailed us from every inhabited continent on the planet, and that was as much a joy as anything else in the process of making this book happen. This subject truly has global interest nowadays, and because Great Britain consists of several islands not too distant from the coast of mainland Europe and is thus (geographically speaking) only slightly separate from the rest of the world, a notional ‘British Occultism’ cannot exist in a vacuum. It never has.
As an example of the global scope of this subject area, one of our authors is an ex-patriate Australian, living in Wales and writing (in this volume) on their provocative research into the contrasts and similarities between British Wicca and Indian Tantra.
So, the triumphant moon, being a satellite in distant orbit around our planet, shines on all nations of the earth, and this is reflected in the proportions of writers who contributed potential articles or general encouragement to this work, and to those who are included here. We have authors from Australia (two), America (three), Canada (one), Sweden (one) and the UK (two) – although one of those authors may indeed self-identify as Italian-American… writing on subjects which extend that geographical reach to India, France, Ireland, Italy, Scotland, South America, the magical lands of Cornwall and the wider planetary society, with work spanning a historical time period of immense breadth, and bridging several academic disciplines.
As Ronald writes in Triumph, Wicca is perhaps the religion that Britain gave to the world. If this is true, then we British should not then be so surprised that the rest of the world will be so very willing and keen to write back to us about it in return.
If the articles in the book tell us one thing, it is that occultism nowadays has become a worldwide bricolage, a broad, eclectic and often contradictory hotchpotch mixture that can and does draw upon the Classical myths, various world pantheons such as Egyptian, Greek, Tibetan and Native American gods, Taoism and Hindu philosophy, the ‘romantic’ Celtic movement, feminist and gay activist politics, science fiction and fantasy tales, pop culture, urban myths, drugs, sex, rock’n’roll, local folklore, new technology and much else besides (and damn, we finally have to mention Harry Potter here). That perhaps explains why so many academic disciplines can be brought to bear on the subject under study, and for that reason why there is so much scope for future work- the numbers of people we couldn’t fit in the book were really encouraging.
Ten years on from Triumph there are numerous scholars in many countries, working in several diverse disciplines who are producing increasing volumes of excellent research on this is area. Via that process we find new openings for areas of research, in a fractal fashion - each question that is answered (or at least given some kind of resolution) often poses several more intriguing problems that need to be investigated. The academic and lay reader alike are providing feedback to researchers and the process is an upward expanding, evolutionary spiral of excellence, collaboration and sheer wonder. It is a fabulously enticing, dizzying and satisfying field to work in.
However it’s not plain sailing. Academics of occult areas working within the ‘straight’ academy often have to try much harder than their colleagues to make any headway. They often have to crest higher waves than others working in more ‘normal’ and ‘acceptable’ fields, or run that much faster than everybody else in order to gain similar levels of institutional acceptance. This too will change, over time.
It might be that general standards in academic work rise, to meet the level of scholarship often required of these researchers of magical areas, rather than studies of occultism reducing in quality to the standards now expected of broader scholarship. It is probably useful to note here that Ronald did not hugely ‘up his game’ when starting his work on researching fringe religions, since he had always been at that standard of professional scholarship and profoundly well-researched output, which is why he has been honoured in various ways during his career.
Although there is still much to achieve and considerable work to do in order to consolidate the position of magical studies in academia and both gaining and holding well-earned institutional respect for this level of scholarship in occult subjects, Ronald’s work has been, and still is, a triumph. It provides a map and an oxygen tank to those who would explore these alien (to academia) planetary landscapes.
Therefore I will close by inviting you, dear reader, to do four things.
One: to join me in resoundingly applauding and appreciating a universe in which Ronald Hutton’s pathfinding work exists.
Two; to be hugely thankful every time you ever write the citation “Hutton, 1999”.
Three: if you can’t buy this Triumph10 book, borrow it from a library and read it… most of you are going to love it
And four: to look forward with a glad heart to where scholarship in this subject area might perhaps have progressed to by the time Triumph has its 20th birthday in 2019, and to dare to dream of the phenomenal magical subjects that we might be exploring by 2029.
Let’s make that last one happen.
10 Years of Triumph of the Moon is published in paperback by Hidden Publications, 2009. ISBN 978 0 9555237 5 5 See Amazon or hiddenpublishing.com It features a diversity of chapters by Caroline Tully, Amy Hale, Sabina Magliocco, Geoffrey Samuel, Robert Priddle, Philip Bernhardt-House, Henrik Bogdan, Dave Green, Dave Evans, and of course, Professor Ronald Hutton.