The Pagan Religions Of The Ancient British Isles; & The Myth Of The Mother Goddess

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Christopher Chippindale reviews two new works on ancient British beliefs

  • The Pagan Religions Of The Ancient British Isles
    Ronald Hutton – Blackwell, 1991 - xviii+397 pp. - £19.95
  • The Myth Of The Mother Goddess: Evolution Of An Image
    Anne Baring and Jules Cashford – Viking, 1991 - x+779 pp. - £25

Once again this summer, the British watched curious goings-on around Stonehenge, most celebrated of ancient English places. As has happened each June since time immemorial, a 'convoy' of 'hippies' tried to get near the place while the Wiltshire constabulary – regardless of expense – frustrated their yearning; meanwhile, the more official pagans of the Druid orders were caught in the middle of these ritual hostilities, along with others wishing to follow the ancient habit of watching the midsummer sun rise behind the Heel stone. Yet none of these customary performances actually have any antiquity; the Stonehenge free festival goes back only twenty years to the flower-power era, the police resistance to its adherents only to the harsher view of social nonconformists taken in the Thatcher years. The Druids have been going to Stonehenge only since early this century. Before the 1890s not a soul went to watch the midsummer sunrise. All these modern enthusiasts feel they are in some way following the spirit of this great pagan temple, in some manner recovering a true knowledge of their ancient beliefs. Yet Stonehenge is 4,000 years old, and we have no written record whatever of it earlier than the twelfth-century AD; historical authenticity is not here the point.

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