A concise history of the goddess-like figures who evade both Christian and pagan traditions, from the medieval period to the present day
In this riveting account, renowned scholar Ronald Hutton explores the history of deity-like figures in Christian Europe. Drawing on anthropology, archaeology, literature, and history, Hutton shows how hags, witches, the fairy queen, and the Green Man all came to be, and how they changed over the centuries.
Looking closely at four main figures—Mother Earth, the Fairy Queen, the Mistress of the Night, and the Old Woman of Gaelic tradition—Hutton challenges decades of debate around the female figures who have long been thought versions of pre-Christian goddesses. He makes the compelling case that these goddess figures found in the European imagination did not descend from the pre-Christian ancient world, yet have nothing Christian about them. It was in fact nineteenth-century scholars who attempted to establish the narrative of pagan survival that persists today.
Ronald Hutton is professor of history at Bristol University and a leading authority on the British Isles in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, on ancient and medieval paganism and magic, and on the global context of witchcraft beliefs. He is the author of seventeen books.
“Europe’s pagan traditions never seem to have been stamped out. Instead, parts of them have been with us all along, as [Hutton] demonstrates in his sprightly—and spritely—account of four female figures: Mother Earth; the Fairy Queen; the Lady of the Night; and the Cailleach of the Gaelic tradition.”—Peter Stanford, Daily Telegraph
“Whether your interest is in the history of formal religious practice, folklore, or mythology, or in the influences motifs of divine nature . . . have had and continue to have upon modern thought, I very much recommend this new book as an entryway into a remarkably expansive garden of possibilities as to how even the most so-called ‘settled matters’ may still be examined, and by which your interpretation of the world may be enlarged.”—Johannes E. Riuitta, Well-read Naturalist
‘A wonderful book, deeply thoughtful and engaging, packed with great research and thought-provoking ideas.’—Marion Gibson, author of Witchcraft: The Basics
'This splendid book greatly expands our knowledge of how apparently pagan divine figures of European tradition evolved. By deftly showing what we know – and what we only think
we know – the author illuminates how these figures have mattered over the centuries, and continue to do so.’—Mark Williams, author of The Celtic Myths that Shape the Way We Think
‘England’s favourite historian has done it again! In this series of essays, he traces the histories of four popular feminine figures from folklore, showing us the vitality of human creativity and its shaping of tradition even under periods of religious domination.’—Sabina Magliocco, author of Witching Culture: Folklore and Neo-Paganism in America