I cannot recommend this book highly enough. It will give you all the details on how Wicca came to be created in the mid-twentieth century, based on literary, artistic, and academic fashions, the practices of fraternal orders and occult societies, old and new folk customs, and other cultural roots (real and imagined) going back to the 1700s. Hutton leaves no hope for those who wish to believe in a constantly existing Pagan religion in Britain or in a connection between the early modern witch trials and Paganism. No one can claim to be knowledgeable about the true history of modern Witchcraft who has not read and carefully studied this text.
This meticulously documented book pounds the final nails into the coffin of the claims Gardner made (and others inflated) that Wicca was an ancient surviving British Pagan religion of Witchcraft. None but the most stubbornly fundamentalist of Orthodox Wiccans can deny it any longer, though I'm sure they will continue to try, as a few of the negative reviews here demonstrate.
Hutton's work supports and amplifies the research into Wiccan history that I and other modern writers have done over the last thirty years. Indeed, the chapter in my new eBook ("Witchcraft: A Concise History") on Gerald Gardner and the birth of Wicca owes a great deal to his clear exposition of complex details.
Every Wiccan should have this book on their shelves.
As several people have already said here, the incomparable Ronald Hutton has done the Pagan community an immense service with _Triumph of the Moon_. Indeed, he achieves the near-impossible: he has produced an academic monograph on the origins of modern Pagan witchcraft capable of satisfying those on the inside (Pagans) _and_ those on the outside (academics and society at large).
Hutton brings his characteristic wit and penetrating insight to bear upon the 'history' of modern witchcraft, and the result is simultaneously a sobering and an uplifting read. This is no mere hatchet job on the always-shaky historical claims of Gardner _et al_; it is a wide-ranging and extremely intelligent study of social, intellectual and spiritual trends in Britain during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, which places the modern Craft in its worldly context. A succession of poets, academics, cunning folk, anthropologists, Masons and occultists are discussed, illuminating social currents of the day, and exploring the contribution of each to the great mosaic that became the modern Craft.
The myths, too, are explored: Margaret Murray, 'the burning times', Gardner's Book of Shadows and the myth of prehistoric 'Great Goddess' are all carefully examined, and gently (or not so gently) punctured. Yet I cannot emphasise enough that this is not an attack on Paganism - that it can only, in fact, make it stronger. The first (Gardnerian) witches' claims to the antiquity of their tradition may have been spurious, but Hutton makes it clear that this removes nothing from the fact that there was 'something in the water', so to speak, of early twentieth century society. Far from appearing a deceitful aberration, Gardner and others are shown to be expressive of a mood of their times, taking the logical next step in giving Paganism a structure and greater definition.
Two caveats (because I feel I ought to...): 1) The focus - both in historial chapters and in the sociological case study at the end - is upon coven witchcraft, with little space for solitary workers (although this is perfectly reasonable in terms of what Hutton is trying to); 2) From an article in 'Pagan Dawn' a little while back, I gather that Hutton's research is ongoing, and there's a possibility of a second edition at some point in the future!
Hutton is an engaging and lucid writer, as adept at discussing long-term social trends as he is at providing lively pen-portraits of the various writers and witches who parade through his pages. An enjoyable and an enlightening read for anyone with an interest in the Craft or in 20th century social history. Wonderful.