I love Hallowe’en. And I love Samhain. To me, they are distinct but complementary things, and I can merrily enjoy the frivolity of one without compromising the integrity of the other (and vice versa, depending on how you look at it). However this time of year, albeit not uniquely, brings with it an abundance of articles, posts and ‘guides’ that have my (not-so) inner pedant twitching at the distortions, inaccuracies and downright fallacies perpetuated about the origins of the festival(s) (usually relating to ‘recreating ancient Celtic tradition by honouring the ancestral dead’), which has prompted this month’s choice of book review.
For those who don’t know, Ronald Hutton is a historian with a distinguished body of work on both historical and contemporary paganism, particularly in Britain. The Stations of the Sun is an extensive and thorough examination of the various festivals, festivities and holidays throughout the calendar year, tracing their origins, evolution and practices, providing evidence, insight and analysis and, inevitably dispelling some of the myths, assumptions and falsehoods that have crept in over time (not least due to their ‘reclamation’ by modern traditions, however well-meaning the reasons).
Not going to lie, it’s very much at the academic end of the spectrum and can be hard going in places. As each entry is traced from its earliest records through to the present any substantial political, social or religious upheavals that impacted on multiple festivals are addressed as relevant to each section which, while understandable, can be repetitive (although if you’re inclined to space your reading out rather than devour it cover it to cover this is probably less noticeable and less trying).
However in terms of arming yourself with a sound basis on which to understand, inform and enlighten your knowledge of the Wheel of the Year it is an unparalleled and invaluable resource, and one I would highly recommend everyone and anyone invest in (albeit perhaps not all in one go time-wise!)