So, it turns out almost everything we “know” about the druids can be attributed to blatant fraud and propaganda.
In typical Hutton fashion, BLOOD AND MISTLETOE isn’t a history of the druids, but a history of the historians of the druids. As there are precious few accounts and artifacts left of Druids—and what little we have is so unreliable that it isn’t even certain if the legendary order even existed—Hutton cross-references a multitude of sources instead to explain how the modern concept of the Druid came to be. It’s as much as a discussion on the effects of revisionism and belief as it is a book on the druids. The first third of the book focuses on how Roman and British politics and idealism contributed to the modern conception of the Druids in equal measure, while the second portion deals with the transformation of the druids’ image in relation to Romanticism and the rise of the British Empire, while the final section explores the Druids’ place in modern reconstructionism, popular culture, and archaeology.
Hutton’s thorough and multi-layered research makes BLOOD AND MISTLETOE a heavy read—person X believes/believed Y because they reinterpreted record Z to mean V, but theory Z was based on possibly flawed accounts of W, etc., etc. The book’s a companion piece to one of his earlier works, THE DRUIDS, so Hutton doesn’t spend a lot of time establishing the basics. Meanwhile, the font is tiny, making the already lengthy book feel hundreds of pages longer than it is. While Hutton is a strong enough writer to give life to the minutiae of details he’s collected, heaven help the reader who’s bad at memorizing names and dates.
Someone at my local library must have been very interested in druidry, as almost every neo-pagan book available there is about the Druids or the Celts. BLOOD AND MISTLETOE is easily the most factual of the bunch, and it showcases why Hutton has such a good reputation in both academic and pagan circles. The book was partially funded by the Order of Bards and Druids, and Hutton always takes care to be respectable of modern druidic beliefs, even when he’s criticizing the foundations they’re based on. Highly recommended for history nerds and pagans alike.