Review of The White Goddess

The White Goddess: A Historical Grammar of Poetic Myth by Robert Graves purports that mythological and psychological underpinnings of poetry derive from a prototypical Goddess worshipping religion. Graves was heavily influenced by the book The Golden Bough: A Study in Magic and Religion written by the Scottish anthropologist Sir James Frazer. Graves felt that Frazer hinted at a primordial religion yet didn’t connect the dots. The White Goddess aims to decode goddess symbolism from classical literature creating a lexicon of the mythopoeic.

Graves reveals in this scholarly treatise that the source of all creativity originates from the worship of a supreme deity, the White Goddess. The White Goddess is equivalent to the Great Goddess discussed by anthropologist Marija Gimbutas in her book Living Goddesses. Graves compares and contrasts Greek, British and Irish literary accounts of muse invocation, and suggests that they are all variants of a supreme creatrix. The White Goddess is a revolting yet beautiful muse who inspires terror and awe; a “Belle Dame Sans Merci” pervading every true poem since the days of Homer. She and she alone inspires the all pervasive possession of divinity inherent in every great work of art as it is witnessed. “True” poetry inspires such spine tingling awakening of the senses. Graves discusses The White Goddess’ tripartite, fluctuating incarnations:

“As Goddess of the Underworld she was concerned with Birth, Procreation and Death. As Goddess of the Earth she was concerned with the three seasons of Spring, Summer, and Winter: she animated the trees, and plants and ruled all living creatures. As Goddess of the Sky she was the Moon, in her three phases of New Moon, Full Moon, and Waning Moon. The Triple Goddess…was the creatress and destructress. As the New Moon in the spring she was girl; as the Full Moon in Summer she was woman; as the Old Moon or Winter she was hag.”

The White Goddess is an exposé on European pre-patriarchal religious origins. Graves’ impassioned writing style is idiosyncratic and confessional; prose poems are interspersed with mythological interpretation. Graves’ seems to have been fallen under the White Goddess’ intoxicating spell given the the tone of his reverential musings. The premise of the text is that the Tuatha Dé Danann (people of the Goddess Danu) in the British Isles are descendants of displaced Greeks who encrypted goddess morphemes from Greek and Hebrew into Ogham-a 4th and 7th C CE Celtic language. Graves fashions his own archeomythological interpretational framework blending historical, mythological, archeological and linguistic analysis though according to his peers, unsuccessfully. His grandfather Charles Graves was an Ogham scholar who disagreed with Robert Graves’ linguistic interpretations.

Essentially Graves believed that all poetry was written by human males to worship the White Goddess in all her fecundity. Therefore women are not inspired to be creative in the same way that men are, from a place of sexual attraction and fear. Graves argues that women are the muse since they create life hence they don’t need to wax poetic as men do. It is unclear as to whether Graves believes women can be true poets or not. He does suggest that women write as women and not imitating men in order to be a potent poet.

Graves calls his interpretive methodology ‘iconotropic’ redaction. Iconotrophy: “the accidental or deliberate misinterpretation by one culture of the icons or myths of an earlier one, especially so as to bring them into accord with those of the later one.” Redaction is the critical study of texts. Graves’ critics accuse him of falsifying interpolation of literary material in The White Goddess. But by Graves own admission he is a poet and novelist, not a historian, archeologist or linguist.

Graves’ believes that every poetic education should begin not with the Iliad or the Odyssesy, but with the Song of Amergin, ancient Celtic verse reminiscent of Nag Hammadi Thunder Perfect Mind. I love Graves’ translation because it evokes Potnia Theron, Britomartis, Dichtynna, Mistress of Animals, Tiamet, Isis, M’aat, Astarte, Ishtar, Artemis, Demeter, Persephone, Diana, Hecate, to the hybridized Mary, and Guadalupe; the many incarnations of the Great Goddess.

I am a stag of seven tines,
I am a flood across a plain,
I am a wind on a deep lake
I am a tear: the Sun less fall,
I am a hawk above the cliff,
I am a thorn beneath the nail,
I am a wonder: among flowers,
I am a wizard who but I
Sets the cool head aflame with smoke?
I am a spear that roars for blood,
I am a salmon in a pool,
I am a lure from paradise
I am a hill where poess walk
I am a boar ruthless: ruthless and red,
I am a breaker threatening doom,
I am a tide: that drags to death,
I am an infant: who but I
Peeps from the unhewn dolmen arch?
I am the womb: of every holt,
I am the blaze on every hill,
I am the queen of every hive,
I am the shield for every head,
I am the tomb: of every hope

Graves reveals that in the Minoan civilization of ancient Crete, the stag and ox were sacred animals to the moon goddess Britomartis tying the Celts to Mesopotamian history. Graves approaches interpretation of medieval lore like a marvelous riddle to be solved. Sorting through mythic relics he manages to intrigue, and leave the reader with a wide array of interesting questions rather than simplistic answers.

The White Goddess reads more like a sacramental hymn to Her than a didactic scholarly work and therein lies its power. Like many sacred works such as the Bible, the Torah etc, The White Goddess has a moral and poetic authenticity despite historical fallacies and that is why it is an important book. The White Goddess was originally published in 1948 has been germinal to the the Goddess, Wiccan, Neopagan, and matriarchal studies movements.

© Zinlavu 2011. All rights reserved.

Diorama Figurine and Vuvuzela

Another day, another blazing fireball scorching Sandra’s retinas. The torturous consistency of San Diego; the simplexity of 73 degree weather was puffing up her mind. She craved a rain shellacking where 3-D clouds would unfurl into the foreground of her equilibrium releasing a detoxifying downpour.

Sandra had a post-apocalyptic nightmare nearly every single night. She remembered snippets, wading through fallen skyscrapers, leading men in raggedy suits out of the rubble and toward a soot-stained horizon. Though her friends could gather around the water cooler laughing at the pseudo-reality show travails of Guido and Guidette, Sandra could not indulge in such luxurious escapism.

She had come to the gnawing realization that The Narrative of American life had all been a façade. No longer lulled into the collective delusion that meritocratic industriousness would guarantee her inevitable success, Sandra was growing ever more restless. She felt like a strategically placed figurine in a diorama, somehow awakened by the blare of a vuvuzela external to the diegesis. Walking among the groundlings she searched for signs that others had heard the rallying call.

Soberly she dressed for the interview and practiced feigning optimism. Her mind a spillcam of stark facts: For every nine people looking for work, only one would find gainful employment. Sandra had to find a seat before the music stopped in this maddening game of economic musical chairs.

Despite the weight of the collapsing America Dream upon her conscience, Sandra felt a curious lightness of being that infiltrated dark places she could not refudiate. Reluctantly she surrendered to an impending emotional Snowmageddon hoping to emerge free from underneath the melting heap.

© Zinlavu 2011. All rights reserved.

Hallowed Weenie

Perusing online Halloween costume stores searching for something funny and or clever, I felt dropped into a Mad Men episode! Costume choices for women boil down to being somebody’s bitch. Although ostensibly “for women” these costumes were really designed with the Hallowed Weenie in mind. 

I was incensed that there were no *real* looking women astronaut costumes; only a skin tight white spandex suit replete with plunging neckline and Nasa eblazoned across the chest.  The perfect outfit for getting off any moon hunk.

How is it that a clown can been sexualized?  Well it has boys and girls: clown nose, red yarn hair, and crotch length dolly dress that screams diddle my twiddle.

 If you want to be a queen, you’ll find no shortage of evil queen habilliments and  they come in plus sizes. 

Or how about Sacajawea? You can flaunt your curvaceous gams in a body hugging fringe number that further degrades Native American women by culturally appropriating and sexualizing Shoshone attire. 

I found the usual cavalcade of storybook costumes: Cinderella, Belle, Sleeping Beauty, Snow White made for grown up women but in teensy weensy sizes that evoke 5 year old contestants at a Dream Girl pageant. Even the female warrior costumes were featured with stilettos.

The average women’s costume consisted of about twelve inches of fabric, yet cost three times as much as the male equivalent (that I might add had more than enough material to cover their junk.) Clearly the most salient feature of a woman’s Halloween costume is the degree to which it prominently features the twins and hoo ha to would be male ogglers. 

“What about Frida Kahlo, Hathshepsut, the Minoan Snake Priestess, or Harriet Quimby?” I asked my co-workers in the lunch room recently.

“Oh, you’re one of those trouble makers,” they sang in unison.

“Yawn,” said the office manager.

“It’s all about the Tits and the Ass,” said the janitor insinuating himself into the converation.

I wonder if the women who are letting it all hang out are compensating for a boring sex life? Maybe if they’d take those costumes into the bedroom they’d feel a little less inclined to parade around like Daddy’s Little Girl just waiting for a spanking in front of the rest of us.

It has become so common place for women to dress like tarts that no one even raises an eyebrow anymore.  And yet breast feeding mothers are kicked off airplanes faster than you can say ‘double standard.’

We women keep buying these regressive costumes year in and year out so they never go out of style-just like sexism. While men’s costumes consistently portray them as principals,  women’s costumes emphasize their role as hypersexualized adjuncts to men.

Some would argue that by willfully displaying their bodies at Halloween, these women are evincing sexual liberation, a Girls Gone Wild for adults. Do these exhibitionists feel a certain voyeuristic power over those who careen their necks to drool in their presence? Or might they be revealing a servile disposition, the equivalent of an “I’m the bottom” signal to prowling alphas they hope will satisfy their masochistic sexual desires?

And what of my rant? Am I just a she-woman man hater? I mean surely I’ve never stooped so low as to prance around as a naughty angel, or a sexy kitty. I’m afraid I have to admit that I have, and too many times to count. This year I grew bored with these non-options, and began questioning the water we swim in by asking, “What do our Halloween costumes say about the status of women in America?”

I’ve concluded that I might have to resort to making my own costume this year. Choice number one: a Cereal Killer: Stab miniature cereal boxes with plastic knives and glue them on a t-shirt. Choice number two: Global Warming: Make and wear a paper mache earth, wrapped in a hospital gown, and dangle a thermometer from my mouth. Or for the naughty version, I could dangle my thermometer from the South Pole!

Cutesy has trumped moxie, but the tide seems to be turning.  For those courageous women who refuse to pimp themselves out, check out This feminist website offers suggestions to counter the usual androcentric chauvinism so prevalent during this time of year.

© Zinlavu 2011. All rights reserved.

Owl on a Fence Post (Prose Pantoum)

This prose is written in the style of a pantoum, defined as “a Malay verse form consisting of an indefinite number of quatrains with the second and fourth lines of each quatrain repeated as the first and third lines of the following one.”


It was dusk in November when driving on a winding country road I saw the magnificent owl standing on a fence post.

She extended her tremendous wings at the provocation of my headlights.

With a furious beating of majestic brown and black feathers, the owl rose straight up in the air and hovered for a moment.

Mesmerized I stopped my car in the middle of the road to regard the owl in the blackening sky.


The owl extended her tremendous wings at my provocation and gradually vanished into the darkness.

The fence post upon which the owl had been perched was decorated with silk flowers and a white sign.

Mesmerized I stopped in the middle of the road to regard the owl although she had vanished into the blackening sky.

I rolled down my window to listen for the owl but heard nothing not even the sound of the frogs or the crickets.


There was a bicycle with streamers threaded through the spokes leaning against the post decorated with silk flowers and a white sign.

The reflectors on the spokes caught the moonlight and twinkled under a starless sky.

I shut off my headlights and listened in silence for the sound of the frogs or the crickets or any trace of the owl.

The crisp fall breeze fragrant with the scent of burning wood rustled through the trees as they swayed together in silhouette under the moonlight.


The reflectors twinkled along with the faint stars now dotting the indigo sky as the rainbow of ribbons and streamers on the bicycle blew gently in the breeze.

Only the moonlight illumined the crooked back country road.

The crisp fall breeze fragrant with the scent of burning wood rustled through the trees as they swayed together in a chorus of sighs.

The wind caressed the golden grasses of the meadow and they quivered as if fingers had stroked them.


Only the moonlight illumined the back country road that twisted through meadows and up around hills.

Breathing with the wind, I became attuned to a solitary cricket playing his fiddle legs to woo a mate.

The meadow quivered in the wind as if fingers had caressed the golden grasses.

The chrome bicycle glinted in the headlights of an oncoming car.


The solitary cricket fervently played his fiddle legs in courtship as I turned the key in the ignition of my car on the dark road.

The passing car lit up the sign that read, “We Miss You Dad!”

The chrome bicycle glinted as the car rounded the sharp curve and drove up the hill and out of sight.

As I became aware of time’s passing, I set upon leaving with great reluctance and searched the sky and meadow again for the owl.


Though unreadable in the black of night, the sign wailed to the stars and to the grasses and to the trees and to the wind and to the cricket.

The wind whooshed through the meadow like an angry whisper and a cloud began creeping over the moon.

I set upon leaving with great reluctance and with a lingering glance in my rear view mirror saw the bicycle shimmering in my taillights.

Eventually the shrine faded out of view and back into the recesses of night.


The wind whooshed through the meadow like an angry whisper and the moon and stars were covered by dark grey clouds.

Solemnly I drove the switchback still breathing with the grasses of the meadow.

As I reached the hilltop, I stopped for a moment to look in the direction of the bicycle.

There in the shadows of the cool November night the magnificent owl reappeared, and with a furious beating of her great wings returned to the post.

© Zinlavu 2011.  All rights reserved.

Inspired by a shrine that sprang up on McKewen Road back in the fall of 2008, that I later learned was in memorial to cyclist Mark Pendleton who was killed by a hit and run driver just five minutes from his home.

The Patchwork Quilt of Memory Lane

The patchwork quilt of memory lane
A prepubescent refrain

We lived in a ragged mule of a town
Renown for Emmett Kelly the clown

Some of the things that I remember
Making a snowman in December

Blowing dandelions into the wind
A tire swing at the river bend

Vagabonds riding circus cars
Chokeberry juice in mason jars

Red nosed carolers on hay rides
Blackberry cobbler fireside

Holy rollers in hair curlers
Drill team baton twirlers

After school Doorknob Ditch
Dunking teachers with a baseball pitch

Tennis shoe skating on the frozen pond
Hiding under an elephant ear frond

Daydream doodles and cartoon dreams
Toilet papering the trees

Daisies gathered in a milk carton
The kitchen table cute but spartan

Love poem in the hollow of a tree
He loves me not, he does love me

Catching frogs and jumping rope
Popsicles for a sore throat

Fried squirrel and Jesus Christ
I walked a mile for a bag of ice

Red velvet cake walk
Sun tea and porch swing talks

Chasing after fireflies
The thrill of a ghost story surprise

Riverbed mud fights and water hose wars
Laughing at grandpa when he snored

Double dare kisses and falling star wishes
Sleepover pranks and telephone cranks

Light as a feather heavy as a brick
Séance levitating parlor trick

Thunderstorms that rocked the house
Mama ironing a blouse

Hound dog braying at a junkyard rainbow
Starshine streaming in my bedroom window.

© Zinlavu 2011. All rights reserved.


A nightmare whistles
through the marrow
of a sleeping dancer
trembling in tangled sheets-
naked and pink in swaddled cocoon-
the bed a river of strewn books.
Hot staccoto puffs in frigid air-
butterscotch baptism; Moonrise
Priestess, rotting and green,
then reborn on a meat
hook. Blooming wombs, seeded
soil. Etched on the horizon
a pair of condors circling
ROADKILL. A lone cypress weeps.
In gloaming and fog, a lamb bleats.
Scampering cats riff on car roofs.
An agitated wind on the coughing hedgerow
grumbling an engine starts,
scattering squirrels on telephone wires.
Morning is a virgin birth,
reverie an abandoned diving bell.
Unfathomable joy; hallowed gallows.
The salty veil of ecstasy
lifted by sorrow.
Undulating ompholos and heart drum.
Diaphanous membrane memory-
an involutionary paradox;
the futility of cupping smoke eclipsed
by a swarm of orange leaves
and flickering sparrows.
Tattered dreams are winged away
by the gravity of a thousand sighs;
Wretched longing; forgotten
wish. Hidden among the pine boughs
are dew diamonds-
radiant in the shadow of wild geese.

© Zinlavu 2011. All rights reserved.