The book The White Goddess by Robert Graves is considered one of the most influential books in modern Goddess worship. It was even influential to men who created modern forms of paganism. The book got its day in the sun in the 1960s among the counterculture. It is also a very controversial book, as the author’s viewpoint is quite unique, and not often centered in Celtic lore.
Robert Graves is a very interesting figure. He was a poet first who used his love of poetry to be able to study in depth the poetic myth. He was very inspired by all types of myth, and found a way to make connections to myths of other cultures. In some ways his connections are tenuous. Some connections he sees are not seen in older mythic studies. He tried very hard to make all systems of mythic, and especially goddess belief fit together in a huge puzzle. In some ways this is admirable, and he certainly was a highly intelligent and creative man. Graves can force connections that are harder to verify, or understand.
All of that being said, the book is a must read for anyone interested in comparative mythology and Goddess centered religions! It is a complex, and often hard to read book. This means that it truly takes multiple readings to grasp a lot of the intricately woven tapestry of these many figures.
Much of the comparative religious research used by Graves when he wrote this book was written by authors who, like Graves himself, made their own connections. A lot can be said about using your own intellect to make you own connections. These connections are often inspired in their ability to drive others to study something they may not have otherwise been interested in. The White Goddess is certainly a very influential book, and (as mentioned above) inspired many people who led the way in later pagan traditions.
The fact that one singular work can have far reaching inspiration, and can become so beloved by many, truly can make a subpar work important. Many scholars can say negative things about this work, some of which I have touched upon here, but one cannot help but view this work as important! Scholars are sometimes too quick to judge something that is not a fully scholarly study. In the case of The White Goddess Graves was using his own love of poetry and myth to make important connections across time and space in the understanding of goddess worship. He does not even really claim to be an expert, as he admits his expertise is mainly as that of a poet!
I hope that this post has helped you learn a bit about this important work of literature. Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!
Note on Image: The image at the top of the post is a cover of the book. I found the image on goodreads.com.
- The White Goddess: A Historical Grammar of Poetic Myth by Robert Graves, edited and with an introduction by Grevel Lindop