Pagan Britain

Pagan Britain

RONALD HUTTON
Copyright Date: 2013
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 496
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt5vm0m8
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  • Book Info
    Pagan Britain
    Book Description:

    Britain's pagan past, with its mysterious monuments, atmospheric sites, enigmatic artifacts, bloodthirsty legends, and cryptic inscriptions, is both enthralling and perplexing to a resident of the twenty-first century. In this ambitious and thoroughly up-to-date book, Ronald Hutton reveals the long development, rapid suppression, and enduring cultural significance of paganism, from the Paleolithic Era to the coming of Christianity. He draws on an array of recently discovered evidence and shows how new findings have radically transformed understandings of belief and ritual in Britain before the arrival of organized religion.Setting forth a chronological narrative, Hutton along the way makes side visits to explore specific locations of ancient pagan activity. He includes the well-known sacred sites-Stonehenge, Avebury, Seahenge, Maiden Castle, Anglesey-as well as more obscure locations across the mainland and coastal islands. In tireless pursuit of the elusive "why" of pagan behavior, Hutton astonishes with the breadth of his understanding of Britain's deep past and inspires with the originality of his insights.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-19858-4
    Subjects: History, Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-v)
  3. ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS
    (pp. vi-vi)
  4. A NOTE ON DEFINITIONS
    (pp. vii-ix)
  5. List of Illustrations
    (pp. x-xiv)
  6. PREFACE
    (pp. xv-xvi)
  7. 1 THE PALAEOLITHIC AND MESOLITHIC: HOW RITUAL CAME TO BRITAIN
    (pp. 1-31)

    Human-like beings have been occupying the land which has become Britain, on and off, for almost a million years, and probably longer.¹ For most of that period, the land concerned was a peninsula of the European mainland, representing a remote hilly margin to the great plains which now lie under the North Sea and to which archaeologists have given the name ‘Doggerland’.² Whether the first species of human to reach it had a capacity for what we would now call religious belief, and whether such a capacity was possessed by any of those that followed before the arrival of our...

  8. 2 THE EARLIER NEOLITHIC: A CRAZE FOR MONUMENTS
    (pp. 32-80)

    During the centuries around 4000 BC, Britain passed into the New Stone Age, or Neolithic. As a concept, this is a Victorian creation. The basic modern division of European prehistory, based on the nature of tools, was worked out in Denmark in the early nineteenth century, as one of successive Stone, Bronze and Iron Ages. It was Sir John Lubbock, one of the founders of the modern British discipline of archaeology, who divided the Stone Age for the first time, into Old and New, in 1865 (the Middle Stone Age did not push in between for another seventy years).¹ The...

  9. 3 THE LATE NEOLITHIC AND EARLY BRONZE AGE: THE TIME OF THE SACRED CIRCLE
    (pp. 81-160)

    In several important senses, the transition from the fourth to the third millennium, and from the Early to the Late Neolithic, was one of continuity, the abiding characteristics including an economy based on progressive clearance of woodland and a reliance on herding livestock across much of mainland Britain; a more or less mobile lifestyle across the same range, with little evidence of permanent settlement; a technology centred on the use of stone and flint which made the bow its main weapon and the axe its main tool; and an appetite for the construction of ceremonial monuments which remained as strong...

  10. 4 LATE PREHISTORY: EARTHWORKS, PITS AND BONES
    (pp. 161-226)

    In 2011, three experts on the Early Neolithic declared that the precision with which dating could now be determined was so great that the fourth millennium BC might soon be deemed to belong to history rather than prehistory.¹ As a rhetorical statement it makes an excellent point, but many historians may be tempted to reply that it would only be true if henceforth we knew what the peoples of Britain in that millennium called themselves or were called by others; what kind of political, social or religious beliefs they held; what had motivated them to construct the monuments which they...

  11. 5 THE ROMAN IMPACT: TEMPLES, STATUES AND INSCRIPTIONS
    (pp. 227-273)

    The modern British have always expressed mixed feelings about the Roman conquest of most of their island. On the one hand, the Romans possessed many attributes – and introduced them to large areas of Europe – which have defined progress and civilization, and indeed modernity, for most Europeans: a fully developed state with law codes, coinage, a professional army and civil service; proper towns with large public buildings built enduringly of stone; and a sophisticated literature. For their medieval successors across most of the Continent, they provided the model of what a proper form of government and culture should be. This deep...

  12. 6 THE CONVERSION TO CHRISTIANITY: A CLASH OF RELIGIONS, A BLEND OF RELIGIONS
    (pp. 274-339)

    The peoples of prehistoric Britain could well have undergone experiences of religious conversion, if the cultural changes that ushered in tomb-shrines, stone circles or hill forts were accompanied by major alterations in the way in which human relations with divinity were conceived. In the historic ancient European world, however, such fundamental shifts of mentality were not a part of religious behaviour. A world-picture which conceived of the existence of many deities allowed people to form intense personal attachments to particular goddesses and gods, and sometimes to relinquish them, without causing any fundamental movement in the manner in which they viewed...

  13. 7 THE LEGACY OF BRITISH PAGANISM
    (pp. 340-396)

    The question of how far paganism survived clandestinely in Britain after the conversion to Christianity is one that is now rarely discussed by specialists in medieval history, for two reasons. One of these is the breadth of research needed to give it a satisfactory answer, for it cuts through all three of the conventional divisions of the Middle Ages – early (c.500–1066), high (1066–1300) and late (1300–1485/1500) – and requires reference to legal records, theological tracts, ecclesiastical decrees, archaeology and religious art and architecture. In all these areas, it demands the assimilation of a large amount of new,...

  14. CONCLUSION
    (pp. 397-400)

    This book was prefaced with four questions. Two – those of how much changing cultural patterns have influenced scholarly constructions of ancient paganisms, and the extent to which a wide-ranging study has enabled useful comparisons to be made between different periods – should have been self-evidently answered in the body of it; though the answers gained will vary to some extent from reader to reader. The overall argument is that both propositions are true to a considerable degree, and repeated attempts have been made in the text to illustrate this truth. The first two questions – whether it is possible to have an...

  15. NOTES
    (pp. 401-459)
  16. INDEX
    (pp. 460-480)
    Meg Davies