"I would venture the suggestion that when many adults who come to paganism for the first time make the often repeated assertion that it is 'like coming home,' it is possible that they do so because the way that pagan movements approach the world is reminiscent of the magical realms they encountered in children's fiction. This is not to make an ontological claim; and it is not to say that the deities within paganism are purely fictive. Who knows but that the gods have chosen to make themselves known through popular narratives?" (p.241)
The hodgepodge of personal experience, poor documentation, and outright fantasy that makes up the history of British Paganism has long frustrated those of us who like our histories laid out in plain verse. (With all due respect to Hutton) 𝑀𝑖𝑟𝑎𝑐𝑙𝑒𝑠 𝑜𝑓 𝑂𝑢𝑟 𝑂𝑤𝑛 𝑀𝑎𝑘𝑖𝑛𝑔: 𝐴 𝐻𝑖𝑠𝑡𝑜𝑟𝑦 𝑜𝑓 𝑃𝑎𝑔𝑎𝑛𝑖𝑠𝑚 is exactly what we've been waiting for all these years. Williams starts with a blank slate, approaching the knowledge with a scholars' eye for separating superstition from fabrication from assumption from the valid and true. What emerges is a document of magical elements, symbols, and concepts that are truly ancient, all without judgment.
We move linearly through history, starting with paganism's ancient origins to the changes brought by the Saxon and Viking invaders, then through the Middle Ages, the influence of High Magic, the Georgians, the Victorians, and finally, to modern magic. Williams is careful about acknowledging issues of cultural appropriation, although not too much time is spent on that topic beyond acknowledging that they are present. The Appendices give practical information on modern magical tools and rituals, and some very sound advice on how to recognize malign cult activity.
Written by someone who themselves is pagan lends a familiar air to this detailed overview of what we know, archeologically, historically, and forensically about the pagans who lived in Britain and worshipped before Christians, and continue to do so today. That legacy and the cross-pollination that has occurred over the centuries makes for a particularly complicated tapestry to unweave fro examination, and Williams does a superb job. Factual without being dry, Williams nonetheless provides copious detail and sources material for the reader inclined to dig in deeper.
This is a book that should be on every pagan's bookshelf -- highly recommended!
~review by Lisa Mc Sherry
Author: Liz Williams
Reaktion Books, 2020
pp. 352, $22.50