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The White Goddess: A Historical Grammar of Poetic Myth

4.02  ·  Rating details ·  2,909 Ratings  ·  166 Reviews
Alternate Cover Edition for ISBN: 0-374-50493-8
Robert Graves, the late British poet and novelist, was also known for his studies of the mythological and psychological sources of poetry. With The White Goddess: A Historical Grammar of Poetic Myth, Graves was able to combine many of his passions into one work. While the book is so poetically written that many of the passages
Paperback, amended & enlarged, 511 pages
Published 1993 by Noonday Press (first published 1948)
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Old-Barbarossa Don't take the book too seriously, it's not that scholarly.
The tree alphabet bit is made up.
As to "the goddess"...not sure what you're getting at.…more
Don't take the book too seriously, it's not that scholarly.
The tree alphabet bit is made up.
As to "the goddess"...not sure what you're getting at. Which one? Is Mary an avatar? Then she's still around.(less)
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Community Reviews

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Feb 14, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: poetry
O.K., so Graves was dead wrong about the Celts. Still, the "White Goddess" thesis--that patriarchal invaders suppressed the mother-goddess religions of the Aegean and Ancient Near East, traces of which managed to survive in Europe, especially in the minstrel lore of Ireland and Wales--is thanks to Graves now part and parcel of the modern. The real fun of the book isn't so much in its truth as the getting there: a waterslide ride of educated guessing, crossword logic, and speculative buccaneering ...more
Apr 07, 2008 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Rambling nonsense when he steps beyond what he knows.
Most of his ideas on the "tree alphabet" are his own and sourceless. Unfortunately a lot of the celtic magic industry owes too much to this as a gospel of sorts. Better and more scholarly book are out there if you can be bothered looking. But they are without the glamour of Graves which I suppose is part of the attraction to the sidhe huggers.


This is a dreadful book...yet I’ve read it twice, the 1st time in the early ‘80s and again in ’13
Sep 10, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Graves's phrase for what he does is "poetic scholarship," and I'm tempted to be generous and believe that what he means here really is thought that is associative and fleet, as opposed to simply lazy. The scholarship borders on parody: Graves's assertions are made on what is essentially zero evidence. But he follows his hind without faltering once, and by the time 500 pages is up, you do feel a sort of Palace of Wisdom effect has been achieved.

Where does that leave us? For me, reading this book
Jul 23, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
All right, let me honest and start by saying this was totally my favorite book in the entire universe when I was, like, 11. Hands down. It gave me my first sense of what scholarship might be - if it were actually fun.

Now I did end up becoming a professional scholar, and one who probably does have too much fun for his own good, so perhaps a word here is in order.

Those people who say the book provides zero evidence for its points - all I can say is, "yeah, that's right. It's kind of a joke. Or...
Oct 12, 2007 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I would call this Joe Campell's Power of Myth for grownups. I've been thinking about this book recently, but I have to admit I never got more than halfway with it. Nobody else I know has either, but what I did take from it was worth the struggle. Hopelessly inadequate summary: Graves belives that literature and poetry are magic, real magic. These arts objectively conjure effects the same way a ritual is supposed to work, to make a deity present in the mundane world through a charm, a rhythm, eve ...more
Jun 17, 2007 added it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: souls stuck in purgatory.
this is a massive endeavor and will take an eternity to read. while i love cross-referencing the divine feminine through the mystical traditions, i can only take this book in small doses. imagine the densest, darkest fudge. this is not for the faint of heart, but a great resource. i don't want to have to give it back to ira unread, so wish me luck!
Titus L
Jul 15, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Whilst some have disputed Graves historical inaccuracies, im not reading this for its historical account, but rather for its mytho-poetical inventiveness and inspiration, of which I would say that it delivers handsomely.

The attempt to reconcile the Ancient Hebrew, Greek and Celtic civilizations with an Aegean/Tuath De Danaan Diaspora is fascinating and demands that the reader have a fairly wide background in cultural and mythological studies.

Speculating on the Cad Goddeu, The Battle of the Tree
Feb 25, 2008 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
It's almost impossible to read the Plath study without this book; apparently, it was a huge influence on Plath while she was at Cambridge (in the flat where she died, there was a poster of the White Goddess tacked to the pantry door). The book is more interesting for the mythological and folkloric tidbits than the unifying thesis, at this point.

I think the mythological connections are sound, but I have some trouble believing that each and every "true poet" since the advent of Christianity has b
Oct 15, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
If you drew a Venn diagram of unreadable books and unputdownable books, this would be in the small area of intersection. It reads like the death-evacuation of a brilliant and eccentric mind.
Jul 24, 2008 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Poets, feminists, Greens, socialists & other anti-capitalists
I first read The White Goddess during a road trip with my ex at the turn of the century. I can remember several days when we were staying at a bed-and-breakfast in pre-Katrina New Orleans. It was neither overly warm nor overly humid, and my erstwhile spouse was recovering from serving as a mosquito smorgasbord, so I had some down time to sit out on the patio and read. I have to say that the first time through this book left me confused and lost; the second time through I’m on firmer ground in un ...more
Aug 06, 2007 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Oh, so THAT'S what was up Frodo's butt
I got kicked in the face by this book. For real, it walked up to me, said "i will kick you in the face." I ignored it's warning, and woke up 2 months later with a shattered jaw and lots and lots of information about poetry and bards. Wonderful read if you've ever had a sneaking suspicion all of your favorite "myths" had a certain aura to them.
Jan 27, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book is absolutely fascinating and an all-time favorite of mine. It ties together ancient history, poetry and myth, drawing from traditions around the world.

What this book isn't: traditional history or scholarship. As wikipedia puts it, "Graves openly considered poetic inspiration, or "Analepsis" as he termed it, a valid historical methodology." It is easy to see why New Age, Wikka and other modern syncretic traditions have seized on this book as a touchstone.

On the other hand, I think thi
Sep 17, 2007 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
A controversial classic and certainly not for all tastes. Graves' erudition in ancient literature and mythopoetics is well known (e.g. his classic reference works on Greek mythology) but his thesis in this book has been contested in many quarters (and proved incorrect in some anthropological aspects) and struck me as largely speculative, although I really can't make a judgment since I'm not well read in this area. I can say that reading this book did spur me to read up on Irish and Welsh myth. I ...more
E Hamilton
Apr 24, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I reread this book perhaps every other year. Every year, being more widely read, I find more facts that are now outdated. But every year, the ideas, themes and conclusions I feel to be more true.
Astonishing. By Graves' claim, the measure of a poet is by his accuracy/faithfulness in depicting the (actual) White Goddess, thus proving the truth and source of his mystical inspiration. All the Welsh stuff goes far above my head but he cites some instances from pre-modern English poetry (pp. 426-36):
- Shakespeare's Venus & Adonis, A Midsummer Night's Dream, and more seriously in the Tempest
- Donne's "A Fever"
- Keats' "Belle Dame Sans Merci"
- Nimory (enchantress of Merlin) in Malory's Mort
Czarny Pies
Oct 16, 2014 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: People who believe in UFOs
Recommended to Czarny by: ET and Mork from Ork
Shelves: criticism, mythology
Faute de pouvoir donner cinq etrons, je luie donne une etoile.

The White Goddess is a book that belongs on the same shelf as the Erich von Daniken's Chariots of the Gods or Thor Heyerdahl's Voyage of the Kontiki. It simply does not deserve to be read.

Robert Graves was acknowledged in this lifetime to have been one the greatest Latin scholars of his generation. His brilliant translations (e.g. The Golden Ass) and wonderful historical novesl (e.g. I Claudius) did a great service to the reading publ
Welwyn Wilton
This is a great book. Graves is best known for his novels I Claudius or his poetry (which was his favorite form of writing), but this work about the grammar and connectedness of myth is a scholarly epic, profoundly interesting and peppered with references to support his "alphabet of the trees" and their use as at least an Iron Age "code" which Druids and perhaps others used to teach and remember their oral knowledge from generation to generation. There has been debate regarding the accuracy of G ...more
Jason Hare
Dec 08, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Graves' essay on the downfall of a matriarchal, goddess worship, societal structure in stone age Europe is the premise of this book long essay. Several themes in this book have been written about by anthropologists and other writers before and since Graves but The White Goddess is certainly the best known.

Graves own words:

"language of poetic myth anciently current in the Mediterranean and Northern Europe was a magical language bound up with popular religious ceremonies in honor of the Moon-godde
Francesca Lia Block made me read this. I have no idea if this man is insane or not but I was young enough when I read it that it blew my mind anyway.
Jun 22, 2013 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Illogical, unscientific, ahistorical, and weirdly entertaining.
Larry Chaves
Aug 25, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is a difficult read so if you're not a lover of mythology, it's not for you. However, if you want to take the next leap Graves is the man you're looking for. Brilliant!
Clay Kallam
May 13, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: philosophy
This book was a revelation to me when I first read it, sometime back in the '70s -- but I wanted to try it again to see if I was merely hung over from the '60s, or there was something deeper going on.

After re-reading it, I have to say it is a powerful work, though it was made more powerful then by the fact that it preceded the mythological studies of Joseph Campbell, and thus had the advantage of the shock of the new.

"The White Goddess" is, however, several books in one, and isn't exactly an eas
Jon Corelis
"A prodigious, monstrous, stupefying, indescribable book ..."

***** A Five Star Poetry Book: Recommended for All Readers

[Note: this book exists in numerous editions; this review is based on The White Goddess: A Historical Grammar of Poetic Myth, Amended and Enlarged Edition (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1966 and later), which is the edition I'd recommend to interested readers.]

This is a popular, influential, and controversial book. Let's put things in perspective by quoting the first and best revi
Eric Sipple
I'm not sure how to rate a book like this. On its own it is, as a friend said, historical/mythological fanfiction. The shoddy anthropology, etymology and linguistic study Graves marches out in support of the book's thesis - that All True Poetry praises The White Goddess and everything else, like things that aren't Scottish, are crap - is kind of awe inspiring. By the middle of the book, I couldn't take a damn thing he was saying seriously.

And yet, because I was reading it for research, and resea
Jun 05, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
An overview of archaic Welsh bardic poetry. It is complex and a little hard to follow, but rewarding once you understand the long involved explanations, real poetry will never be the same and after re reading this book a few times you will know real poetry when you read it. I am re-reading this book for the seventh or eighth time and still learning things from it.
Feb 01, 2008 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I find this book particularly overrated. It is used as a basis to establish a geneaology for modern paganism. However, it is one supposition based upon another. Very faulty logic.
Mike Mercer
Jan 27, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I say Awesome since I do enjoy Cynthia's poetry Myself anyway!:)
Mar 16, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: saggistica
Caso vocativo matrilineare.

La forza e gli aspetti controversi de La Dea Bianca si conciliano tentando di classificarne il genere: un saggio enciclopedico da leggere come un romanzo scritto da un poeta.
Il sottotitolo scelto da Graves è “Grammatica storica del mito poetico”, da intendersi come “Grammatica poetica del mito nella storia”, è dichiarazione programmatica che rende il saggio un unicum assoluto, molto discusso e, in parte, screditato dagli gli storici ma molto amato dai poeti (vedi Eliot
Steve Cran
May 28, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
It is a book that is considered a classic, written by a first class author known for his scholarly contributions. Yet there are some interesting stories surrounding this classic. It is rumored that while Robert Graves was on his way to get the manuscript published a huge gust of wind came by and blew it out of his hands. He got it all together and just turned it in, hence the incomprehensibility of the outline of the book. Many people in the scholarly academic community wrote this work off as hi ...more
The Elves
Feb 10, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Someone gave us this book...
dear lovers of myth, magic, poetry and druidic/celtic lore,
... and it was 15 yrs before we ever got to reading it and we did so, finally because we felt a certain obligation in the nature of the gift. However, although this is a book that requires some effort from the reader, we were so glad we finally got to it.
In it Graves attempts to demonstrate through logical inference that the ancient ovates, bards, poets, druids, etc. of the Celtic peoples had a secret language
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Heathens, Pagans ...: The White Goddess 111 210 Jul 30, 2014 12:06AM  
Am I missing something, or is this rambling nonsense? 46 126 Sep 22, 2013 09:46AM  
  • The Language of the Goddess
  • The Golden Bough
  • The Witches' Goddess
  • The Myth of the Goddess: Evolution of an Image
  • Myths and Symbols in Pagan Europe: Early Scandinavian and Celtic Religions
  • Inanna, Queen of Heaven and Earth: Her Stories and Hymns from Sumer
  • Creative Mythology
  • The Call of the Horned Piper
  • Aradia: Gospel of the Witches
  • Taliesin: The Last Celtic Shaman
  • Shamanism: Archaic Techniques of Ecstasy (Bollingen)
  • The Triumph of the Moon: A History of Modern Pagan Witchcraft
  • The Woman's Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets
  • From Ritual to Romance
  • The Holy Book of Women's Mysteries: Feminist Witchcraft, Goddess Rituals, Spellcasting and Other Womanly Arts
  • Hamlet's Mill: An Essay Investigating  the Origins of Human Knowledge & Its Transmission Through Myth
  • Literature and the Gods
  • Walkers Between the Worlds: The Western Mysteries from Shaman to Magus
Robert Ranke Graves, born in Wimbledon, received his early education at King's College School and Copthorne Prep School, Wimbledon & Charterhouse School and won a scholarship to St John's College, Oxford. While at Charterhouse in 1912, he fell in love with G. H. Johnstone, a boy of fourteen ("Dick" in Goodbye to All That) When challenged by the headmaster he defended himself by citing Plato, G ...more
More about Robert Graves

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“Poetry began in the matriarchal age, and derives its magic from the moon, not from the sun. No poet can hope to understand the nature of poetry unless he has had a vision of the Naked King crucified to the lopped oak, and watched the dancers, red-eyed from the acrid smoke of the sacrificial fires, stamping out the measure of the dance, their bodies bent uncouthly forward, with a monotonous chant of "Kill! kill! kill!" and "Blood! blood! blood!” 20 likes
“But we are gifted, even in November
Rawest of seasons, with so huge a sense
Of her nakedly worn magnificence
We forget cruelty and past betrayal,
Careless of where the next bright bolt may fall.”
More quotes…