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The White Goddess: A Historical Grammar of Poetic Myth

4.03  ·  Rating details ·  3,448 ratings  ·  219 reviews
The White Goddess is perhaps the finest of Robert Graves's works on the psychological and mythological sources of poetry. In this tapestry of poetic and religious scholarship, Graves explores the stories behind the earliest of European deities—the White Goddess of Birth, Love, and Death—who was worshipped under countless titles. He also uncovers the obscure and mysterious ...more
Paperback, Amended, Enlarged, 512 pages
Published January 1st 1966 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (first published 1948)
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Popular Answered Questions
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. Whi…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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Average rating 4.03  · 
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Jul 23, 2010 rated it it was amazing
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...
Feb 14, 2008 rated it it was amazing
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
Oct 02, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I came for the witchcraft, I stayed for the poetics . . .

While I was on my one-day book-procurement trip to the "booktown" of Hay-on-Wye, Wales, I stopped at Richard Booth’s bookshop (among many others) and picked up Robert Graves’ The White Goddess. I knew, vaguely, that the book was about the witch cults of Great Britain and something about druids, and that’s about it. I had read several works that referenced Grave’s book, so I thought I’d cut to the source and see what all the fuss was about.
Sep 10, 2008 rated it really liked it
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
Spencer Orey
Apr 22, 2021 rated it really liked it
This is quite the wild ride, dense in arguments that may not hold up at all. But it almost doesn't matter? I read it for the weaving of myths and ideas, and the search for a larger poetic responsibility in a search through poems and myths and puzzles. There's some brilliant history (again, probably totally wrong) about old poems and the modern shift to creation. Before, people learned poems and myths in exactitude because that perfect, exact language had and has real power to it. This is a real ...more
Oct 12, 2007 rated it really liked it
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
Wow. I finished it! That may not mean much to you, but it really feels like an achievement to me, especially given that I have a long history of not reading this book. Let me explain: I received this copy from one of my favourite English teachers in the latter years of high school back in the mists of time. He was a wonderfully mad Celtic poet who I imagine shared a number of similarities with that whacky scholar-bard Robert Graves himself. Indeed he called this strange tome ‘his bible’ and I im ...more
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! ...more
Feb 25, 2008 rated it liked it
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
Titus L
Jul 15, 2011 rated it it was amazing
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
Oct 15, 2011 rated it really liked it
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
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
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. ...more
Caspar Bryant
Jan 05, 2022 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Honestly a bizarre little number but quite fun all in all. My closest comparison to this is Manly P. Hall's Secret Teachings of All Ages - though Graves is more convincing and less masonic. It's an anthropological text originally published in the 40s so I wouldn't recommend this for its accuracy.

A large factor was the renown this book has among poets in English as soon as it was published. I first encountered this book while reading the letters of WSG. He's rapturously enthusiastic and I'd quot
Czarny Pies
Oct 16, 2014 rated it did not like it
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 Katz
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
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
Judyta Szacillo
At the long last, after many years of occasional remindings that I should read this book, I sort of did - skipping through a lot as I'm not good at digesting nonsense. Sweet nonsense it is, but still... Do not get confused by the title's claim. The book has very little to do with historical research in the modern sense. It is rather a continuation of the noble tradition of the medieval biblical exegesis as well as Jewish Kabbalah. It's interesting and amusing to observe that ancient methodology ...more
Jun 22, 2013 rated it it was ok
Illogical, unscientific, ahistorical, and weirdly entertaining.
Sep 21, 2010 added it
Shelves: theory-criticism
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 Morte D'
Jason Hare
Dec 08, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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
Jan 27, 2008 rated it it was amazing
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
Feb 01, 2008 rated it it was ok
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.
E Hamilton
Apr 24, 2011 rated it it was amazing
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.
Nov 12, 2018 rated it it was amazing
It's the unofficial Golden Bough sequel the world was clamoring for! ...more
Jan 13, 2018 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
What absolute twaddle.

Sure, I went to this book with the intention of reading it as quickly as possible so I could shit-can the thing in context—but boy oh boy is this daft. Graves was an unorthodox scholar to such a frustrating degree that one should hardly call him a scholar. The man's historical novels and prose translations are fine reads (even if the premiss of 'Homer's Daughter' is dafter than beastiality), but his treatment of myth is the work of a nutter par excellence, with a gleeful d
Apr 26, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
Sometimes it's hard to tell erudition from bullshit, and at times, The White Goddess seems to me to sort of walk that line. Certainly it is packed full of erudition about ancient history, religions, languages, trees, and customs/rituals, but the breezy way in which Graves strings these things together sometimes seems suspect. It's not so different from what I've read of Frazer's The Golden Bough (whom Graves cites here and there, at times with the modest assertion that old Frazer in his giant wo ...more
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
May 11, 2009 rated it really liked it
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.
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Mankato Pagan Boo...: Reflections upon the nature of the Goddess 1 4 Sep 12, 2019 07:11AM  
Am I missing something, or is this rambling nonsense? 48 152 Jan 11, 2019 03:55AM  
Heathens, Pagans ...: The White Goddess 111 219 Jul 30, 2014 12:06AM  

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Robert von 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, Gr ...more

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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!” 33 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.”
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