Thursday, January 19, 2006


Last Friday, in my spending spree at the Kennebunkport Library (see last Friday’s post), the Goddess smiled upon me. I dug up an old 1948 first edition of a famous and fabulous book: Robert Graves’ The White Goddess.

The White Goddess is chock full of everything our ancient pagan European ancestors held sacred, from their old Goddesses and Gods to their sacred trees, numbers, and alphabets. Deities featured prominently are Arianrhod, Blodeuwedd, Cerridwen, Apollo, Bran and Dionysus.
Since I possess a perfectly fine softcover copy of The White Goddess, I’ve decided to sell the 1st edition on eBay. (Valuable books worry me; I like to bombard my books with underlining, highlighting and margin doodles and use them as paper weights, or to sit on in cold or wet weather.)

So, tripping over to to check reviews of The White Goddess, I fell onto this disappointing news:

“Graves [the author] makes some observations that some would find offensive now, such as his allegation that women can't be real poets - they have no Muse to appeal to, the White Goddess only wants the worship of males. He makes a possible exception of Sappho, for what it's worth.”
A pox on you, Mr. Graves, I say! (Mr. Graves actually IS in the grave, having died in 1985.)

This reminds me of archaeologist Nanno Marinatos’ The Goddess and the Warrior: The Naked Goddess and Mistress of Animals (Remember? I whined bitterly last year to all of you about selling the Athana Family jewels to afford it.).

Anyway. Nanno draws a sharp line between the Minoan Goddess(es), all pre-patriarchal, and some of the early patriarchal Greek Goddesses, lots of whom ran around completely naked. Nanno says these later, immodest Goddesses were able to force wild animals into submission. And, says Nanno, they were thought to protect men and warriors only, never women.

The “naked Goddess,” says Nanno, was short-lived, but lead later to certain Goddesses we all know and love: Circe, the Gorgon, Medusa and Artemis. The Naked Goddess took several forms, including “Mistress of Animals.”
thnx to The Spiral Goddess Grove for the picture of the triple moon


Morgaine said...

I take statements like this from male writers with a large grain of salt. I just ignore the androcentric crap, and try to find the real Mother underneath the patriarchal structure. I believe Goddess women are able to intuit the reality disguised in men's mythology.

Grian said...

I have owned The White Goddess for some time now and find it rather hard to make a lot of sense out of at times. The style of writing and the amount of info embedded within it is difficult to grasp. Maybe someone should write a cliff notes version for slackers like me. :)

Maybe I had such high expectations for it - like it would hold a key to something I hadn't yet discovered. Alas, that was not the case. I did notice the speckles of patriarchal fodder strewn throughout as well.

Athana said...

Well put, Morgaine. And Grian, don't feel bad. I haven't even finished the book yet, for the very reasons you've outlined: it's extraordinarily dense, and I had extraordinarily high hopes for it -- and Graves didn't seem to be going anywhere with those hopes. I haven't given up on it, though, and I still love to see it sitting on my bookshelf. It's still a classic, and one of the few books from the 1940s that not only took the Goddess seriously, but put her name right in its title.

Morgaine said...

The reason The White Goddess has such a good reputation is that it was one of the few books of its kind at the time it was published. Later writers like Barbara G. Walker mined most of the important points from the pages and took them to their own books. It's nothing new to us now, but it was a revelation in its day.

Pignut said...

Actually what Robert Graves said was that women poets shouldn't try to write poetry in the same style as male poets, but should write in their own style. He is often misquoted on this point. HE was Laura Riding's lover remember?

Many of Graves' ideas are pretty weird but I like them. The book describes a complex transition from patriarchy to matriarchy, so don't take it as read that he agrees with all of the myths he describes. Some of the things he discovers are not nice. Good. The fluffy pagan thing is really pissing me off

He later admitted that he got a lot of it wrong. The belief in a universal tree alphabet is probably the weakest part of it.

The bits that impressed me the most were the bull footed god and the verses encoded in the alphabets.