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

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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Posted by on in Culture Blogs
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'?

GREGORY: No.

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

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 #
    Bravo!

Posted by on in Culture Blogs
Look Away

They've got a useful social custom in the Goddess-worshiping New Cretan civilization of the future.

Public Disappearance.

If for some reason you need to be in public, but are not available for social interaction—say you're deep in thought or in a big hurry—you put the “Look Away” symbol on your forehead and promptly Disappear. No one sees you.

“Excellent,” says Edward Venn-Thomas, the 20th-century protagonist of Robert Graves' 1949 novel Watch the North Wind Rise, who (for reasons I won't go into here) has been magically transported into the utopian Goddess future. “I must try to introduce that custom into my own age when I get back” (119).

In New Crete the Look Away symbol is a mouth with out-thrust tongue. There this is considered a symbol of the Hag (think Kali or Medusa). Those who wear Her sign are under Her protection. Non-being, after all, is Her purview.

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  • Heather Coffey
    Heather Coffey says #
    Somehow I am now picturing the null symbol as part of a head tikka ornament now. LOL Thank you!

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