First, what this book is:
...a long, exhaustive and highly engaging look at the social changes in England during the Romantic era, their influence on poetry and the interpretation of history, and how these attitudes, as well as the influence of secret societies like the Golden Dawn and Freemasons, contributed to the notion of witchcraft as an ancient fertility cult, and why and how this notion was brought to the forefront when, in 1954, a British civil servant claimed he had discovered a survival of this cult in New Forest, and published what were suposedly its inner secrets.
What this book is not:
...an attack on the credibility and intentions of Wicca's founders by a disgruntled accedemic hell-bent on "exposing" Wicca as a religious and historical farce within the context of an accedemic study.
"Triumph of the Moon" represents to date, the only book of its caliber to take an in depth look at the history of pagan witchcraft not only from a historical point of view, but from a sociological and literary one as well. What we find when all is said and done is a book that will strengthen and solidfy the Wiccan beliefs of some, as it finally gives them a complete and coherrent historical account of their beliefs not intended to defame them, but to reveal Wicca as a religion born of poetry, literature and mysticism. For others, it will signal a death nill, as an (almost) irrefutable refutation of the, now discredited, notions of antiquity, ancient matriarchy, and survival("the burning times") that many fundementalist Wiccans are still trying to sell to the public, and which serves as a lure for many new adherents.
As a historical textbook, it's no less riveting. No other book so accurately, and with such detail, examines and interprets the goings-on of the occult community prior to, and during Wicca's compilation in the 1950's. The sheer cast of characters alone is staggering. (...)
If there is a flaw however, it is that Hutton is too nice. The only author who he genuinely downplays and criticizes is Margaret Murray. And while he is quick to point out the errors and misrepresentations made by Wiccas founders(Gardner, Valiente) and the authors who contributed to it's source material(Graves, Frazer), he most often does this while attempting to isolate and play up their better points and/or best intentions. Which brings up another potential flaw, that he is too kind to modern pagans as well. In the chapter "Coming of Age" he describes Wicca as a religion rapidly maturing, and its adherents increasingly tending to disregard Gardner's story, the Murray thesis, and the erroneous myth of the burning times. Perhaps this is true in England, but in America, the inqueries made in the 90's into both pagan Wicca and its historical claims, and the dissapointing (to believers) conclusions made by these inqueries, have only served to divide serious Wiccans into bitter and opposing camps, with newcomers being totally clueless and their Wicca being almost entirely self-styled from fluffy Llewelyn books. Such individuals, sadly, make up the bulk of people calling themselves "Wiccan" at any given time these days. He also fails to mention most Wiccans' (both camps) continuing hatred of the traditional, fairy tale representation of the witch, denouncing this image as a misrepresentation of "true" witchcraft. I would argue that this image is an intergral aspect of the folklore upon which Wicca is based on, and should be reverred and cherished as yet another level of the witch's mystique. Most modern wiches are oblivious to this fact. My children are fed a steady diet of veggie burgers and the brothers Grimm, and I am pleased to inform you that they most assuredly believe in witches.
Perhaps Hutton is working a little revisionist history of his own, bending the truth of Wicca's current state to give an example of how Wicca COULD redeem itself if it wanted to, and exemplifying a potential path that Wicca, and neo-paganism might take in it's long, hard road to accedemic and religious credibility. If this is his intention, then he proves to be Grave's and Murray's true heir in the developement of neo-paganism, using a bit of deception with the best intention of inspiring those who read it to do something new and positive. But as a testement to paganism's, indeed growing, maturity, this time the deception is a conscious one, serves a specific and useful purpose, and everyone is in on it.
Blessed Be. Yes, this review was written by a Wiccan.
note: as I stated, the book's few flaws are open to interpretation, and don't necessarily amount to factual errors, or at least they don't ammount to factual errors of the type Wiccans are famous for spouting, and for what it's worth, that is, a historical overview of the developement of Wicca and neo-paganism, you will not find a finer book available, therefore it still gets a perfect five stars.