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The Ogham Stone presents
a review of Robert Graves' "The White Goddess"

Much of the current information about Ogham on the web and in the neo-pagan community is based on the book "The White Goddess" by Robert Graves.

  picture of book cover, The White Goddess

This book, first published in 1948, is subtitled "A Historical Grammar of Poetic Myth."

Graves' book is a very interesting read. In it he attempts to "uncover" the earliest religions, especially those dealing with the "mother-goddess" and nature worship, primarily through ancient poetic stories. Graves analyzes what stories have been written down and saved from the times when all tales were memorized and orally transmitted, and claims to reveal their "secrets".

He seems to summarize this approach in writing "(I have no knowledge even of modern Welsh; and) I am not a mediaeval historian. But my profession is poetry, and I agree with the Welsh minstrels that the poet's first enrichment is a knowledge and understanding of myths." (from Chapter 2; emphasis mine.)

In the forward he explains "My thesis is that the 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-goddess, or Muse, some of them dating from the Old Stone Age, and that this remains the language of true poetry..."

It is important to note that Graves was first and foremost a story-teller and only incidentally a "historian": he wrote primarily "historical novels" in which he based events and characters on the research he had done and the hypothesis he drew from that research. All historians are guilty, to one degree or another, of finding only what they want to find in the past; gathering only those pieces of information which confirm their suspicions and leaving the others. But Graves may be more guilty of this than many, being of a self-proclaimed "unscientific" mind and having a well-developed imagination. He approaches his subjects with a certain amount of "faith", or at least a desire to believe, and claims to unravel riddles based almost entirely on intuition and conjecture.

Two items in particular he appears to have just "made up" (with no proof) are a thirteen-month lunar calandar and a claim that there is another order to Ogham letters (see notes ). The omission of a list of Sources from his book is glaring.

Despite often being historically inaccurate, the book makes a good reference work. The stories and poems will be of interest to anyone learning about Celtic history. Graves also served as a pioneer in the current resurgence of "nature-worship" inquiry (but unfortuately has been a source for much misinformation). His work has formed the basis for a lot of interesting research (e.g., see Curtis Clark's Website).

I would recommend this book, but only if you are willing to find other sources to complement it.


for review purposes only:

(discounted book offer from amazon.com in association with lyberty.com)


Last Updated: 08/20/99