Paganistan: Notes from the Secret Commonwealth

In Which One Midwest Man-in-Black Confers, Converses & Otherwise Hob-Nobs with his Fellow Hob-Men (& -Women) Concerning the Sundry Ways of the Famed but Ill-Starred Tribe of Witches.

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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).

The central focus of the somewhat rambling letter—which touches inter alia upon stages of spiritual development, 17th-century carvings on a Breton menhir, Cochrane's claims to family witch tradition,  “Libius Disconis" (i.e. Libeaus Disconus, a 14th century Middle English Arthurian romance), and the Kabalistic Tree of Life—is the White Goddess as Muse, and concludes:

 

I think that you are absolutely right when you say that she is the prime source of inspiration (Lindop 7).

As I have shown elsewhere, Guiden is Cochrane's idiosyncratic version of the Old English word gyden, “goddess.” The word also occurs in Cochrane's letters to at least two other correspondents, clearly for its mysterious and evocative qualities, probably with an implicit claim of continuity since Anglo-Saxon times for his claimed family tradition. It would not have been unreasonable to expect Graves, well-known for his love of language, to have recognized the word and to have understood its implications.

Exactly what Cochrane may mean by the phrase Guiden Corn, however, is less clear.

My suspicion is that we may read corn here in its British English sense of “grain,” and that Guiden Corn is an allusion to the White Goddess as Grain-goddess—and in particular as Barley-goddess—a role which Graves documents amply in The White Goddess (Graves 67). Barley is well-known as the “whitest of grains” (e.g. “pearl barley”); its Greek name, alphiton, stems from a root meaning “white,” as Graves himself points out (Graves 67). Corn and inspiration are thus parallel as the twin gifts that the Goddess gives: sustenance both physical and intellectual. Guiden Corn likely means, in effect, “White Goddess.”

The phrase will have functioned as, essentially, credibility-establishing in-group language. In his use of such obscure and densely allusive language at the very beginning of his letter, Cochrane will have expected Graves to recognize in him the voice of a fellow poet and lover of the White Goddess.

It is deeply to be regretted that Graves' letter in response to Cochrane no longer survives.


Robert Graves, The White Goddess: A Historical Grammar of Poetic Myth (1966). New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

Grevel Lindop, “Robert Cochrane's Letters to Robert Graves,” in The Cauldron 134. November 2009.

 

 

 

 

 

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Poet, scholar and storyteller Steven Posch was raised in the hardwood forests of western Pennsylvania by white-tailed deer. (That's the story, anyway.) He emigrated to Paganistan in 1979 and by sheer dint of personality has become one of Lake Country's foremost men-in-black. He is current keeper of the Minnesota Ooser.

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