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The White Goddess

The author and poet Robert Graves' study into the nature of poetic myth-making, The White Goddess, first published in 1948, represents a tangential approach to the study of mythology from a decidedly idiosyncratic perspective. The European deity in question was the White Goddess of Birth, Love and Death, represented by the phases of the Moon, and worshipped under many different titles. In this work, Graves explores and expounds upon a central theme, this being that "true poetry" or "pure poetry" is inseparably connected with the ancient cult-ritual of the White Goddess and her Son.

Graves described The White Goddess as "a historical grammar of the language of poetic myth." He was not joking.

Others have described the 500-page book as "unreadable" (or nearly so), but by comparison to The Golden Bough (1922) by Sir James George Frazer[?], which covers similar ground, The White Goddess is less obscure. Indeed, Graves wrote in it:

"Sir James Frazer was able to keep his beautiful rooms at Trinity College, Cambridge, until his death by carefully and methodically sailing all around his dangerous subject, as if charting the coastline of a forbidden island without actually committing himself to a declaration that it existed. What he was saying-not-saying was that Christian legend, dogma and ritual are the refinement of a great body of primitive and even barbarous beliefs, and that almost the only original element in Christianity is the personality of Jesus."

That was the same thing Graves was saying in White Goddess, which deals with goddess worship as the prototypical religion, analyzing it largely from literary evidence, in myth and poetry. Instead of skirting the issue, as he accused Frazer of having done, Graves said what he meant -- that cost him some friends and earned the book the label "controversial." It had always been more popular with scholars than with the lay public, but as interest in goddess religions has increased since the 1960s, the demand for books about the roots of goddess worship has increased, too.

Joseph Campbell's books on mythology, and the ground-breaking television series he did with Bill Moyers, have created a whole new audience for books, including The White Goddess and When God Was a Woman (or, The Paradise Papers, 1976) by Merlin Stone, that explore the relationship between goddess-worship and Judeo-Christianity[?]: how they began, what they have in common, and how they differ.

Let it be said that Grave openly considers poetic inspiration, or analepsis as he terms it, a valid historical methodology.

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