Recently I watched Ronald Hutton’s first Gresham College lecture about Gods of Pagan Britain on youtube (1). It sets the scene for a series, raising questions about what we can know about the spiritual lives of our ancestors, what we can fruitfully imagine, and how to tell the difference.
Professor Hutton explores two specific topics. The first is our current archaeological understanding of the Stonehenge monument on Salisbury Plain, England, together with its legendary history and place in the public imagination. The second is the case of the Lindow Man, who was violently killed and thrown into a peat bog in Derbyshire, thus partly preserving his body for conceivably (but probably not) 2,000 years. He has been widely considered, including at times by archaeologists, to be the victim of a Druid sacrifice, though Hutton points out that there are good reasons to question this.
I was drawn to this lecture, both informative and entertaining, by my interest in learning from an ancestral culture without its own texts, as well as about it. This is part of my reason for following a modern Druidry that embraces indigenous themes long pre-dating the Druidry of the Celtic iron age. The people who built Stonehenge in the third millennium BCE bequeathed us the wheel of the year, with its circle and cycles, and its focus on the solstices and equinoxes. We can be inspired by this and honour the ancestors by embedding it in our own lives in ways that suit our time and culture.
For readers who have not yet seen and heard the lecture, I recommend that you take a look at the video.
Ronald Hutton is Professor of History at the University of Bristol, a specialist in Pagan and Druid studies, and enjoys a very high reputation within both the academic and Pagan communities.