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Posted by on in Culture Blogs





 Thoughts on Some Names in Robert Graves' 'Seven Days in New Crete'


The Moon, the White Goddess herself, proclaims a savage truth:

The only permanence is impermanence.

This is the theme of British poet-novelist Robert Graves' 1949 utopian-dystopian novel of the Goddess-worshiping future, Seven Days in New Crete (published in the US as Watch the North Wind Rise). In it, he creates the ideal civilization of the eco-matriarchal future: Goddess-centered, socially stable, ecologically sustainable. Then he destroys it.

Impermanence is the only permanence.

The Goddess, you see—whose very nature is dynamism—has grown weary of the stagnation inherent in her perfect pagan society of the future. So she calls up a messy agent of instability from the messy past—Robert Graves himself—to plant a seed of life-giving chaos in a future that has become terminally tidy.

Robert Graves was something of an outlier in “20th” century English literature: deeply (if crankily) religious in an anti-religious age, anti-modernist in an age of modernity, a New Pagan voice before the rise of the New Paganisms.

In Seven Days in New Crete, as in Robert Graves' life as a whole, there are two important characters: Graves himself and the Goddess, whom he thought of as being temporarily incarnate in whichever woman he happened to be in love with at the time. (Just how psychologically healthy such a psycho-dynamic may or may not be, I leave to the reader to decide.) In the novel, the Robert Graves character appears as poet Edward Venn-Thomas, and the White Goddess as (among others) his former love-hate interest Erica Yvonne Turner. (“Only these days I don't use the 'Yvonne'” she says.)

Graves has chosen these names carefully. Though they look like regular names on the surface, they are anything but. As a poet, Graves always insists on verbal precision, even when, as here, it is cunningly cloaked in the ordinary.

(The novel is filled with little jokes of this sort for those who have the linguistic savvy to recognize them. The Israeli anthropologist who provides the initial impetus for what, in the end, becomes the New Cretan civilization—remember that the state of Israel was founded in 1947, only two years before the publication of 7D—is named ben Yeshu: “son of Jesus”!)

I always tell students that Seven Days in New Crete is The White Goddess in novel form, and much that reads mysteriously in the former is handily elucidated in the latter. As it happens, both Erica and Yvonne allude to the sacred Tree Calendar which lies at the very heart of TWG. Erica is Latin for “heather,” and Yvonne derives ultimately from the French word for “yew." These sacred trees represent, respectively, the Goddess in her orgiastic, erotic Springtime character and her death-dealing (though promising rebirth) Winter persona.

The only constant is constant change. This truth the Lady of the Moon, “that nightly changes in her circled orb,” embodies. She is, indeed, the epitome of the shape-shifter: the Turner. Hence Erica Yvonne Turner: she who changes form, alternately life-giving and deadly.

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In Which Our Intrepid Blogger Bites His Thumb at Robert Graves

You may recall the scene in Romeo and Juliet in which a servant of the Montagues publicly twits servants of the Capulets with a rude gesture.

SAMPSON [to Gregory]: ...I will bite my thumb at them, which is disgrace to them if they bear it. [Bites thumb.]

ABRAHAM: Do you bite your thumb at us, sir?

SAMPSON: I do bite my thumb, sir.

ABRAHAM: Do you bite your thumb at us, sir?

SAMPSON [aside to Gregory]: Is the law of [on] our side if I say 'Ay'?


SAMPSON: No sir, I do not bite my thumb at you, sir, but I bite my thumb, sir. (1.1.43-52)

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Recent comment in this post - Show all comments
  • Tasha Halpert
    Tasha Halpert says #
    Too funny and interesting too. Thanks! Tasha

Posted by on in Culture Blogs
The White Goddess: Her Seal

It's an icon of the new paganism, really, known to millions all around the world: the Triple Goddess sigil on the cover of Robert Graves' White Goddess.

It's also a prediction.

It could almost be a Minoan seal, although it's not. In fact, it was designed by Graves' gifted friend and secretary Kenneth Gay ( Karl Goldschmidt, 1912-1995) to Graves' precise specifications; Graves stood at his elbow throughout the making of the image.

In it, we see the Triple Goddess herself: three bare-breasted women in flounced Minoan skirts, their arms intertwined around each others' shoulders. But this is the Three that is Nine, Graves' Ninefold Muse: above her, three cranes, below her, three linked spirals. In each of the Three Realms, She is sovereign: Heaven, Earth, the Sea.

Standing before her in adoration and supplication, we see a long-haired youth, naked (except his for belt) and ithyphallic. He is her worshiper, her consort, her poet. Above him, we see the signs of his twin natures: the fivefold star of life, and the spotted serpent of prophecy and death, the light and the dark together. For he is his own twin and contrary.

But this is no simple scene of adoration that we see before us: it is the making of an agreement between the Goddess and her Poet. The seal seals the deal. For she bestows upon him a gift, the reception of which marks his fealty to her: an eye.

For love, she gives insight: the age-old covenant.

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Recent Comments - Show all comments
  • Aline "Macha" O'Brien
    Aline "Macha" O'Brien says #
    I do indeed. Since this past Spring when I was helping Jo write and design the Green Pulse Oracle based on Fred Adams' work, I've
  • Steven Posch
    Steven Posch says #
    Remember when, if you wanted more about the Goddess, The White Goddess was the only place to turn? Yikes. Talk about Memory Lane!
  • Aline "Macha" O'Brien
    Aline "Macha" O'Brien says #
The Five-Petaled Primrose: A Magic Charm by Robert Graves

Poet and novelist Robert Graves (1895-1985), author of The White Goddess, generally eschewed magical practice.

I am no mystic, he wrote in 1960, I avoid participation in witchcraft, spiritualism, yoga, fortune-telling, automatic writing, and the like (Graves 1966, 488).

But we know that at least once, when asked for a magic charm, he complied, with interesting results.

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Posted by on in Culture Blogs
She of the White Track

What does it smell like, the Milky Way?

Well, I think I know.

Walking down the sidewalk, unaccountably, I find myself thinking of honey. Then it surfaces, a sweetness almost subliminal. I stop and consciously immerse myself in breath. It's June, and the clover is blooming.

White clover. Trefoil (“three-leaf”). Trifolium repens (“creeping”). That's Anglo-Saxon, French, and Latin, respectively.

Moon clover, Moon honey.

Shamrock's the Irish. (Seamrog, diminutive of seamar, “clover.”) Saint who? Pfft, nonsense. It's Hers, all the way. Waxing, Full, and Waning: Three. (During the Dark, there is no Moon. Then again, maybe that's what makes that fourth leaf special.)

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Posted by on in Culture Blogs
The Gidden and Two Roberts

In 2009, poet and scholar-at-large Grevel Lindop published two previously-unknown letters from Robert Cochrane (1931-1966), father of the modern Old Craft movement, to poet Robert Graves (1895-1985), whose book The White Goddess had been seminal (to say the very least) to Cochrane's thinking.

The first of these letters, unfortunately undated, begins:

I have read and re-read your book, 'The White Goddess,' with admiration, utter amazement and a taint of horror. I can see your point when you write of inspirational work, and realize that it must have resulted from quite an internal 'pressure,' since from my own experience, that is the way she works. However, I am just pointing out some other factors that might interest you in the manifestation of the 'Guiden Corn' (Lindop 6).

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Posted by on in Culture Blogs
The Gidden and Robert Cochrane

While rereading the surviving letters of Robert Cochrane (1931-1966), the father of the contemporary Old Craft movement, I was surprised to observe (not having noticed it in previous readings) that he references the Old English word gyden (“goddess”) in at least two of them.

In his third (unfortunately undated) letter to Norman Gills, Cochrane writes:

I think a certain amount of physical discomfort is essential so that the ‘Muse,’ or to give Her proper Name, the White Goddess, can descend and inspire. Likewise the (Alba) Guiden is a harsh Mistress in return for Her gifts (149).

To avoid repeating "White Goddess" in two consecutive phrases, Cochrane (in characteristically allusive style) translates the phrase into a Latin adjective and an Old English noun.

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