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Subscribe to this list via RSS Blog posts tagged in Robert Graves

 Best Chocolate Cake | Handle the Heat


In the dream, I've gone with two friends to observe the year's last day of classes at a new experimental school.

I know nothing about the school, but learn that they share a central premise with Robert Graves in The White Goddess: that in order to make the social and cultural changes that we must make in order to survive, we need a new religion. So the staff of the school have made a new religion, and the students have enthusiastically embraced it.

They call it Hinduism—something of a steal, I think, since what I see has little resemblance to actual Hinduism. It's a polytheistic religion, though (I hear with disapprobation) that they call the gods “saints.” So far as I can tell, they seem to have drawn their pantheon largely from Indigenous Central America, and the ancient court-ball game of the Americas figures large in their observance.

There's a subdued sense of celebration in the air as I wander around, and platters of a delicious-looking chocolate cake circulate freely among the groups of students. One of my friends is already sitting at a table along with many of the best-looking young men in the school.

“Well, that's in character,” I think, a little jealous that he's already managed to insert himself into the life of the school. Myself, I need to do more observation; I'm waiting for my other friend to join me.

The school's principal—clearly the driving force behind the social experiment—stands up and offers a reasoned rationale for what they've achieved, but I find myself out of sympathy with what he says. “He's trying to walk it back," I think.

Over my shoulder, though, I hear a young man talking about the whole project, and why it has to be religiously-based. “Religion motivates people as nothing else can,” he says. “With this religion, we've been able to accomplish all sorts of amazing things.” (He names several collective achievements; the environmental ones are particularly noteworthy.) “Without it, we would never have have been able to do all this.”

“This is exactly the point that Graves makes at the end of White Goddess," I think, "and here we see the proof." Secular environmentalism will never offer sufficient motivation to make the hard changes that need to be made; only religion can provide the necessary driving social force to do that.

The friend that I'm waiting for still hasn't turned up—he too, I suspect, has begun to enter fully into the life of the school—but I've already reached a conclusion.

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I just got an invitation to write for an anthology with the cheeky, if self-contradicting, title of Goodbye Jesus, I'm Going Home to Mother. (Self-contradicting because, if you're really at home with her, why bother addressing yourself to him?) It is to be, I gather, a book of tales: “faith journeys” from Jesus to the Goddess.

(“Faith journey” is the polite name for “I've changed my mind.”)

Inveterate storyteller though I am, I don't (on my own recognizance) really have much of a tale to tell on that account. For me—Christian only by virtue of infant baptism—the story is one not so much of flight from as of journey to. I fell in love, and that was that. As for so many with whom I speak, my own coming to the Old Ways is a tale more of homecoming than departure.

In those days, mind you, if you wanted the Lady, you had to quest for her. Thinking back, I'm reminded of Robert Graves' own trailblazing search:


It was a virtue not to stay: to go my headstrong and heroic way,

seeking her out at the volcano's head, among pack ice,

and where the track had faded beyond the cavern of the Seven Sleepers.


Her we sought everywhere, the Living Goddess—history, geography, folklore—and everywhere we found her. How not, since all life is a journey to her? From her we come, in her we live, to her we return. Indeed, there's nowhere else to go.

As for Jesus, I don't have much to say, except that—so far as I can tell—we know, and can know, very little about the historical Jesus of Nazareth, and that therefore all Jesuses—and one really does have to speak in the plural here—are essentially fictional characters. I can see little point in addressing him, not even to say good-bye. Return to sender, addressee deceased.

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 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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Nine Measures of Weirdness

There's an old song from Roman-age Judea that's cited in both the Talmud and Robert Graves' classic novel of Goddess revisionist history, King Jesus, called “Ten Measures of Wisdom.”

It goes like this:

Ten measures of Wisdom

were given to the world:

Israel took nine,

the rest took one.


So it continues through the various nations of the world:


Ten measures of Lechery

were given to the world:

Arabia took nine,

the rest took one.


Ten measures of Sovereignty

were given to the world:

Rome took nine,

the rest took one.


Ah, fun with stereotypes. My personal favorite:


Ten measures of Magic

were given to the world:

Egypt took nine,

the rest took one.


Now, I don't know how long you've been around the pagan community. But let me ask you something.

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In Which Our Intrepid Blogger Confesses to Committing a Theft

Let me tell you the story of how, as a young man, I committed a theft. From a church, no less.

A friend had invited me to a service at his Lutheran church. Afterwards, during coffee hour, I wandered into the church library. There on the shelf, I saw it.

Of all unlikely things to find in a church library: a copy of Robert Graves' iconoclastic 1946 novel, King Jesus.

Don't be put off by the title, or the subject matter. This novel is Graves' revisionist Goddess history of that erstwhile Jewish prophet, and—Graves being Graves—it's matriarchy versus patriarchy in the Battle of the Millennium.

Spoiler alert: the Goddess wins.

(No big surprise there. Anybody that knows Her knows that, in the end, the Goddess always wins.)

Although it lacked a dust cover, the book was otherwise in pristine condition. I pulled it off the shelf and opened the cover. It was a first edition.

I checked the “Date Due” card in back. The book had belonged to the church for more than 20 years. (No doubt someone had donated it: unread, to all appearances.) In all that time, it had never once been checked out. So I stole it.

Ah, the things you do for love.

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Recent Comments - Show all comments
  • Tyger
    Tyger says #
    I found a hardcover copy at B&N for $3.95. The NOOK version is $10.99.
  • Steven Posch
    Steven Posch says #
    Happy reading!
  • Anthony Gresham
    Anthony Gresham says #
    I ordered a copy of King Jesus from Barnes & Noble. I also ordered copies of Jesus through Pagan Eyes, and Magic in the New Testa
The Pomegranate Tree: A Carol by Robert Graves

If you haven't read (or reread) Robert Graves' King Jesus lately, let me recommend it.

Don't be put off by the title, or the subject matter. This novel is Graves' revisionist Goddess history of that erstwhile Jewish prophet, and—Graves being Graves—it's matriarchy versus patriarchy in the Battle of the Millennium.

Spoiler alert: the Goddess wins.

(No big surprise there. Anybody that knows Her knows that, in the end, the Goddess always wins.)

Written at roughly the same time as Graves' “grammar of poetic myth” The White Goddess, King Jesus is equally filled with savory tidbits of lore, but—with its iconoclastic narrative to buoy it up—it's eminently the more readable of the two.

Among the riches that you'll find there is this delightful little carol. We generally sing it to the tune of the traditional Appalachian song The Cherry Tree Carol.

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  • Steven Posch
    Steven Posch says #
    Anthony, I'm astounded. A well-read guy like you? Tell you what. If you can't find a copy at your local library, buy yourself a ch
  • Anthony Gresham
    Anthony Gresham says #
    I remember reading about the book King Jesus in Drawing Down the Moon but I've never stumbled across a copy of the book myself. I
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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  • Tasha Halpert
    Tasha Halpert says #
    Too funny and interesting too. Thanks! Tasha

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