Staff Pick: Magic and Witchcraft

October is the month of Halloween so our theme for this month’s Staff Pick is Magic and Witchcraft. Read on for Yale University Press London staff’s recommendations.

October’s Staff Pick – Pagan Britain

Publisher & Managing Director, Heather McCallum recommends Pagan Britain.

Pagan Britain by Ronald Hutton

This book was the new and vastly revised, updated and expanded edition of Hutton’s The Pagan Religions of the Ancient British Isles, which was originally published by Blackwells in 1991.

I knew this was a classic book and I was very pleased to have the opportunity to add it to the YUP stable. It is entirely characteristic of the type of book I like to publish, that is broad-ranging, synoptic, and original.  Hutton’s hugely ambitious survey of paganism in Britain starts with the Palaeolithic period, runs through the Neolithic and Roman periods, and finishes with the coming of Christianity and the legacy of Paganism.  It illuminates this prehistory, seemingly so inaccessible, with a focus on ritual and seasonality.  Weaving together everything from ceremonial monuments (henges and the like) to ancient Greek and Roman texts, Hutton shows the constantly changing nature of belief systems through the British Isles, even when the evidence seems so remote.  It’s a completely fascinating read for professional and non-specialist alike, full of revealing nuggets about daily life, communities, leadership, and responses to invasion.

Hutton entirely overhauled his earlier book, particularly incorporating numerous new archaeological finds and theoretical developments as well as changes in historiographical emphases.  All in, it remains field-defining as well as authoritative and I would heartily recommend to anyone interested in the history or religion of Britain.

Finally, Ronald Hutton is one of the UK’s most talented historians.  He is a prodigious researcher, extraordinarily broad in his interests across both period and discipline and he’s a fluent and engaging writer.  He’s packed a huge amount into his career, being a notable public intellectual, media figure, advisor to national historical institutions, best-selling author, and university administrator as well as the day job, teaching, and researching as Professor of History at the University of Bristol.  I’m really proud that we continue to publish his books, all of which are both fresh and profound.

Read a free extract from Pagan Britain here.

Other Recommendations

Publishing Assistant, Ffion Jones recommends The Perfect Medium: Photography and the Occult by Clément Chéroux, Pierre Apraxine, Andreas Fischer, Denis Canguilhem, Sophie Schmit, Crista Cloutier and Stephen E. Braude.

My pick for this month is The Perfect Medium: Photography and the Occult, published by Yale in conjunction with an exhibition of the same name at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 2005.

It looks at the role of photography in encouraging and capturing occult phenomena from c. 1870–1930, from photographs of ‘spirits’ to images of those claiming to have supernatural powers such as levitation, transfiguration, and telekinesis. Alongside the essays, which discuss the social context of the images and incentives for their creation, are a vast array of photographs ranging from the absurd to the downright creepy – making this a perfect Halloween read!

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