Conversation on Robert Graves, the White Goddess, and related things …

This conversation between Mama Rose and Mike Nichols, of The Witches’ Sabbats fame, ranged over a great many topics in 1996.

Rose: Now: I understand to begin with that he actually changed the book with each edition, although he didn’t bother saying so. The one which got into my hands was the 1948 edition (funny what turns up in a science and engineering library!).

Mike: And I’ll have to check when I get home to see which version mine is. I wasn’t aware that the book had revisions with the different editions… verrry interesting.

Rose: I understand further that he was heavily influenced by Golden Bough, which, to my disgust, I’m gonna have to wind up reading.

Mike: Hopefully, not the original 12-volume set!!! 🙂 Most people have only ever seen the one-volume condensation. And it’s hard to over-state just how influencial “The Golden Bough” was in its day. It shook Christianity to its very core, with the suggestion that a “serious” religion like Christianity might have naturally “evolved” from more “primitive superstitions” (i.e., pre-technological religion). Most Christians at the time were certain that the origins of Christianity could only be divine revelation.

Please note, too, how much Frazer was influenced by Darwinian thinking. In fact, he applied evolutionary theory in places where it did not fit. But more about that later.

Rose: Do you yourself know whence he and Frazer got this concept of wide-spread yearly (and quite bloody, really) sacrifice? It just doesn’t make any sense to me from a lot of angles.

Mike: Well, if memory serves (and my memory is clearly in question, now that I’ve mis-remembered the Genealogy of Bride verse — but I know there is a Genealogy of Mary verse that I lately ran across and which was sticking in my mind), I think he bases it on Classical writers who recount such Year King themes in the ancient Mediterranean world. Of course, one of the most persistent criticisms of Frazer was that he accepted as true many “historical” and “travelogue” accounts that were clearly questionable.

Rose: So you’re thinking things like — oh, Innanna and Ishtar and Astarte and their relative consorts were expanded by an inappropriate analogy to other Deities? Likewise the rebellion of Gilgamesh, in pointing up the individual reaction to such a situation?

I recall one of the books by Mary Renault — and I can’t recall if it was The King Must Die or The Bull From the Sea, or one of the others — where the protagonist was invited to take part in such a ceremony. Renault was, like Taylor Caldwell, one part storyteller and three parts seer, and I’ve never known — as, indeed, both of them deny knowing — how much of that was being steeped in things like Golden Bough and how much was from other and possibly more reliable sources. Say, dreams.

Mike: Yep. I’ve noticed that lots of writers at that time had a tendency to see patterns where none existed. Look at the whole fad of “arkite” symbolism that took hold of early Celtic scholars for example. Or the early Egyptologists who thought that every myth was a variation of sun worship. It was a kind of reductionism, really, and led us astray more than it helped us. I think Joseph Campbell was one of the first people who could do this kind of pattern-matching without imposing patterns.

I’m interested in what you mean about the yearly sacrifice not making any sense to you. I think I agree with you, but it would be fun to explore that.

Rose: Okay, I’m going to expose my poor scholarship here; I am simply not well-enough read to back any of this up, so you’ll have to accept it as intuitional analysis rather than educated analysis at this point. I have my eye on some books to read in the area once I’ve finished with the Graves mess.

Mike: Please don’t apologize for that. I’ve long since come to the conclusion that all great thinkers start out with intuitive, gut-level ideas and then do the research to back it up! 🙂

Rose: Human sacrifice is wasteful of humans. That is, pretty much, its point.

  • If you have a lot of humans around, this is not a big issue: in an urban area, or an otherwise heavily populated area, where folks do not know each other intimately, the loss of one every year is no biggie: they might have been lost anyway in any number of ways.
  • If you have a situation where a great many people might soon die, then again the sacrifice becomes economical, if it is seen as acting to prevent all those other deaths. But it has to be an extraordinary rather than an ordinary situation of risk: war, invasion, drought or other famine, grave disease. It has to be plain to everyone that they are at risk, as compared with a priestly vision (or at least the vision of someone who has not previously been proven to dream true.)
  • If, however, you are talking a small to moderate population load — as Graves and presumably Frazer were discussing — then regular human sacrifice becomes uneconomical.
  1. You just can’t guarantee having a suitable prisoner each and every year.
  2. Your neighbors, as small in raw numbers as yourself, are likely to take grave exception to the yearly capture and murder of one of their number.
  3. Over a simple 10-year period, you are likely to decimate an entire age-cohort if you select from your own numbers; and if the year-king is supposed to be the best and the brightest, you are eliminating what might be highly necessary defensive personnel (not to mention hunters and plowsmen and artisans.) Granted: the genes will definitely be passed on, if at all possible (i.e., if the guy’s not sterile); but we’re talking a 13-15 year waiting period for the results, and meanwhile we’ve lost another one.
  4. Further, it is hard for me to see the rationalization for the custom getting kicked off in the first place, let alone becoming as widespread as Graves and presumably Frazer claim. Who will persuade the women that it is necessary to kill off this lovely lover, this bright grown child; and who will persuade the men that it is a noble thing to spew seed and die?

Now: there are individual cases for this: Semiramis (if not apocryphal) apparently took leadership of her people (an urban, and therefore highly populated area) and took lovers from among her guard, killing them afterward by walling them up alive. Kind of an early Scheherezade’s Prince, I suppose, only with more reason: the first wife of the Prince was simply untrue, and killing off subsequent wives meant that there would be no babies atall.

In comparison, Semiramis probably reasoned that anyone who remained her lover for any length of time might begin looking to acquire power by association with her, and might re-enslave her. Children, by virtue of being in her body and not in theirs, might be allowed birth if she found that prudent, even in the absense of their fathers. And there is apparently sufficient glamour associated with being the lover of the Queen, even briefly, to make it attractive to at least some of her guard — if they felt that they had any control over the matter at all. But this is a case of a singular woman having achieved singular power and acting to protect that power. And somehow she managed to persuade others to abide by her will in these matters.

Singular cases do not a widespread, pan-European/Mediterranean cultural norm make.


Now, I can see another method by which a specifically male sacrifice might come to be a custom in a specific locale: in a reasonably well-fed (i.e. comparatively wealthy in people and their survival) and unthreatened area (so that external enemies are nonexistant), if in an otherwise egalitarian society the mothers noticed that their sons were becoming regularly destructive because of boredom, and that husbands — male co-parents of children — were becoming fewer and fewer, then they might ordain such a lethal marriage so as to ensure the passage of genes while lessening the impact of such men on the community. But as to this “tearing in pieces” business — which occurs also in Bacchae — I can see no method for beginning it, nor female justification for it.

Obviously, I shall have to investigate further. I have recently come across an argument that the bloody sacrifices of the Aztechs were invented by men who could not possibly have seen what they claimed to have seen (being 3 miles outside the city and its walls at the time, by their own testimony), and thence quoted for all time, but otherwise not attested to by any witness. Or evidence, for that matter.

Mike: Which is amazingly similar to the old claims that Druids made human sacrifices. Julius Caesar was the first to make that statement, in his “Gallic Wars” and if you read him closely he says that he has heard that this is true. Yet every writer after Caesar quotes Caesar on that point. Yet, it is not attested by witnesses, there is no evidence to confirm it, and no native Celtic tradition to support it!

Rose: There are the few surviving bog-people to consider; as well the evidence on the, what? alkalinity? acidity? — tendency of (for example) British soil to dissolve bones, thus depriving us of evidence for most years. But I agree with your main point.

Mike: Again, is this just a case of men seeing what they want to see, or expect to see, or are hard-wired to see???

Rose: Well, in both cases there’s also the political situation to consider.

Mike: I can see you’ve done a lot more thinking about this aspect of it than I have. My musings on the subject have gone along a more metaphysical path. And bear with me because I’m not sure how well I can put some of this into words. But basically, I’ve noticed that wherever the concept of human sacrifice comes to the fore, it is typically a very masculine thing. And I’ve often wondered if at some level we all see the act of creation — or rather, the “ground of being”, that from which creation springs — as essentially feminine; and therefore the flip side of nature, the “field of destruction” has to wear a masculine face. Hence, war, violence, and sacrifice, all connected to the masculine archetype.

Rose: All right, we’re immediately entering an area which has been well-trodden by feminists, and which I have examined and disagreed with.

Mike: Now I assume that most of us would agree that both life and death must be present if Nature is to exist. It is the ancient yin/yang of the universe. But if the feminine is connected to life, then the masculine is stuck with the rather odious role of being connected with death. And how does that play itself out in the psyches of actual men and women? I’m not sure I have the answer, but I am fairly sure it is an important question. Further, I’ve often wondered if the masculine fascination with snuffing out life is the result of the jealousy it feels toward the feminine ability to birth it. Which, if so, says that the masculine grows out of the feminine, the yin gives birth to the yang.

The yin is therefore the primal fabric of existence.

Rose: A tempting theory, and one which was examined thoroughly in my Women’s Studies classes. But we have seen already that there are many female faces to both war and death: Innanna, the Morrigan, Cerridwen, Skadi, Athene, Hel — heck, even Freya, if you want to go that far! and Kali-Ma, etc., all are female faces of death-by-violence or outright war or disease or just plain-ol’ death.

Mike: Utterly true; and I don’t know why I didn’t think of that in this context. Nor could I argue that such images are “mythological” only, and do not represent real, living, breathing, fighting women — not when I’m familiar with the Celtic warrior women, like Boudicca.

Rose: Right. But remember that for most of recorded history, stories of Boudicca and the Amazons and other fighting women, at least in Roman-influenced countries, were told to illustrate the evils of permitting women to fight.

(Mike: “Evil” for the members of Rome’s Ninth Legion, assuredly. 😉 ironic grin

By the way, I hearby submit to you for your enjoyment my very own made-up verse to the Pagan version of “Gimme That Old Time Religion”:

“When Boudicca called Andrasta,
Roman Legions were the master,
But she put the Ninth to pasture,
And that’s good enough for me!”

This usually meets with blank stares, even among Pagan folk. :D)

Rose: Think about that one for a while.

Let me repeat it: Greeks and Romans were aghast and appalled when they were presented with barbarian fighting women, Athene and the martial aspects of Aphrodite nothwithstanding, and did their thorough damndest to wipe out the phenomenon.

Mike: No argument there. Not that everyone would’ve agreed with them. See below…

Rose: It has taken a re-interpretation of Boudicca to present her as a heroine, rather than as a destructive force; and in this country, memory of her was completely erased between @1910 and 1968 or so, when Amazons! was published. We literally lost her momentarily.

Mike: Is this true?! I had always assumed that native Celtic traditions had kept her name alive, and that Irish immigrants would have then brought her story to this country. Don’t forget, Rome was less than successful when it came to quashing the British Isles. In Wales, it never got any farther than military encampments — no civil settlements at all. When they couldn’t succeed in Scotland, they simply walled it off. And they never even touched Ireland.

Rose: In short, the Female is connected with both faces: life and death. The Male, therefore, either can also take up both roles, or can move outside these two roles into another one. But wherever He goes, the Goddess has been there before Him: Agriculture, Law, Writing, Mathematics, Smithing, Art — all have the stamps of Isis, Athene, Innanna, and Astarte (among others) all at the same time.

Mike: Also true. (As an aside, I wonder where the old argument about gay men being so creative because they are so feminine fits into this discussion, or if there is anything to it…

Rose: To follow that one up, you’d want to investigate, among other things, the “berdache” phenomenon, and the interviews and books with that African gentleman whose name escapes me for the moment — got initiated into manhood after having been taken away by the missionaries when a child to be trained up as a priest, and later returned to his tribe and tried to fit back in. He discovered that ritual homosexuality was a portion of the priestly rituals.)

In order to come up with the Woman-Life/Man-Death dichotomy, the memory of Goddess as Destroyer must be eradicated. And, according to my readings, that has been an ongoing process which only succeeded about 150-200 years ago, and even then only momentarily.

Mike: Wouldn’t there need to be an equal eradication of the “God as Creator”, then? We can’t say that has happened.

Rose: You are conflecting “Creator” with “Begettor”: God as Masculine Progenitor has certainly been lost. (Jesus is God’s only begotton son, remember?) He’s been clipped, and it’s made Him very nasty indeed. What we have here is a Mule of a God, pseudo-male but gonadless, creating mentally rather than physically, destroying in anger on the grounds of “sin,” claiming to be God of All Humanity but choosing a particular folk to patronize, rendering all other humans so much fodder to be used in relationship to that chosen folk.

Mike: Hahhaha! Not only do you make an important point, but you make it with such style! 😀 😀 😀 Bravo!

Now, I can imagine some radical Dianics saying, That’s right! That’s why men are morally reprehensible creatures and that’s why we want no part of them! And at some level I can even empathise with that view. But it misses the bigger picture. Some greater hand set the pendulum swinging long ago, and our task, so it seems to me, is to try to figure out what She had in mind when she gave it that push. That’s why I don’t accept the “blame” nor even the “responsibility” for it, even though I “am a man”. (–a statement with all kinds of problems… maybe I am a man in this life but what about other lives? Also, I believe that each man and woman is a mixture of “masculine” and “feminine”, whatever those words truly mean.)

Rose: The swing, to my mind, came in when someone, at some point, started insisting that, if women gave birth and men could not, then there must be something that men could do that women could not. (Which is, in fact, the case: men engender. But this, apparently, was insufficient.) We have to get our terms strictly defined here. “Blame” means “You did it, you did it on purpose, you benefit from it, and you will be punished for it.” “Guilt” means “I did it, I did it on purpose, I benefit from it, and I should be punished for it; and if no one else does it, I’ll punish myself.”

“Responsibility” means “I am benefiting from this situation which is harming someone, and therefore I must act to change it.”

Mike: Then, by your definition, I am NOT responsible. (playing devil’s advocate here…) Nor can I see how anyone could be responsible. Since it is my most fervid belief that no one is benefitting from this situation. My personal view is that both men and women are getting royally screwed by this situation. The fact that men are, for the most part, too stupid to realize this does not alter the facts. 😀

Rose: I don’t want you, personally, to take the blame or the guilt. But I do want you to take responsibility, even as I take responsibility.

It is incontrovertible that men as well as women are harmed by “patriarchy.” This is because it really is “patriarchy” and not “androcracy.”

That is to say, it is the Rule of the Fathers — those men who exist in a position of power over other men and over all women. The chimeric carrot is the deliberate lie that “patriarchy” translates to “androcracy,” that any man can participate in the power structure to his own benefit. The Fathers of our Nation, City Fathers, the Heads of the Armed Forces, the Captains of Industry — all stand in this position of patronage, of “benevolent” despotism which must, as its corollary, reduce the men under them to children, the women under all of them to infants, and children to mere beasts for use.

Mike: This is amazingly clear-sighted. Again, I am in your debt. So beautifully put.

Rose: Which leaves each man who has bought into the lie in the position of trying to assert that power over someone, anyone, who will acknowledge his power in a manner that he can understand. Namely, Fear-and-obedience.


Do not make the mistake of thinking that, because you are harmed, that thereby no benefit accrues to you. This is an argument which I bring up over and over again in the area of race relations. I think I’ll start with that, and then work by analogy back to the other.

Mike: Oh, but really, now! I grasp your point, and understand your analogy. But this argument cuts both ways. One can as easily argue that even though women are suppressed in our culture, certain “benefits” nonetheless acrue to them: men hold the doors open for them and give up their seats on busses and “take care of them” if they will be a “good wife”, etc. You and I may know this argument is a load of fertilizer, but don’t forget that people like Phyllis Schafley have argued that these benefits are so important that they must be defended!

Rose: My grandparents never killed any Native Americans; my family never owned slaves; in fact, my grandfather on my mother’s side was an immigrant. We never took direct part in such oppression.


But my family has always, in this country, lived on land which was originally owned by, and cheated out of the hands of, Native Americans. They bought it from the people who bought it from the people who bought it from the people who bought it from the people who did the cheating; but if the cheating and/or the massacres had not occurred, the land would not have been available to them to purchase.


Right up until my generation, my family has benefited from the fact that there was a sizable portion of the population who was not permitted to compete with them for employment. My family has always worked hard, and each member has competed for employment; but only with other white people. And I myself know that artificially large numbers of people have been removed from the competition for the jobs I want because they have been, deliberately or through neglect, deprived of the educational and motivational benefits which I have had.

Even now, I have a “benefit of the doubt” from police officers which my black, large and relatively masculine-looking wife does not get. They’ll pull her over and cite her, even in this day and age, where under exactly the same circumstances they neither pull me over nor cite me.

(Mike: Yes, this is in fact so widespread that a new term has emerged for it: DWB, Driving While Black. 😉 )

Rose: I benefit from racism. I am harmed by racism to a far larger extent; but I also benefit from it. I owe, and I act on that debt.

After having said all that, I leave to your capable mind the exercise of working out male benefits under sexism.

Mike: Then I would say that, again, it cuts both ways. Both men and women receive some benefits under sexism. And both men and women are greatly more HARMED by sexism than they are benefitted by it. And both men and women must strive to change it. But what I categorically deny is that men are benefitted more than women (or that men are harmed less) simply because men’s benefits are in the political and economic arena. To say so would be to accede to the notion that there is more intrinsic value to economic and political “power” than there is in the “power” to love, to express deep feelings, to form strong emotional bonds, etc. And it is precisely this culture’s misplaced values and priorities that is at the crux of this problem. IMHO.

Rose: Or, alternately, “I have the power to alter this situation which is harming someone, and therefore I must act to alter it.”

Mike: Your alternate definition is certainly what I believe to be the case as far as what to do goes. I still think we might be stretching the word “responsibility” a little out of shape to make it cover this, however. We may just be splitting semantic hairs, at this point, though. Of course, this also hooks up to people’s individual take on how instrumental any one person can be in changing the whole system.

Rose: Well, just consider for a moment how the word “responsible” applies between parents and children.

Mike: And I’m not sure we can jettison the “blame” quite so easily, either. I think we are both agreed that we don’t deserve it, but then who does?!?! Or more to the point, how did things get so screwed up in the first place? Obviously if we could figure out where it all went wrong, we might stand a better chance of fixing it.

Rose: It’s certainly a tempting standpoint, but I begin, looking at all the reading I have left to do that I’m even qualified to comprehend, looking at the rest of the reading which I am not qualified to comprehend, and understanding that there is still more which is irretrievably lost to us, to say: We’ll never know, but we still gotta fix it.

Mike: Well, we may never know for sure, but I’m hoping we can make some good swipes at it. And I completely agree that we still gotta fix it.

By the way, in all this dialogue, I see us as being in basic agreement. I have never stopped to articulate that before, but perhaps I should. I mean, I think we are both “playing on the same side of the net”, as Stan Freeberg would say. 🙂 The many little points that we discuss and argue about is only by way of clarification. I think we both want our reasoning to be as good as we can make it, and one of the best ways to do that is by sharpening it on the whetstone of each other’s ideas. Is that how you see this, too?

Rose: Yep.

Mike: [Thinking about engendering] But wait… What about the fact that many “primitive” societies didn’t know or understand about man’s role in procreation? There have been cases even in modern times where sociologists have discovered “pre-literate” cultures that did not make this connection in humans, even though they practiced animal husbandry!

Rose: Look, though, carefully at the lines of inheritance and power of these folk. Matrilineal succession often only means that a man’s heir is his sister’s son, rather than that a woman leaves her goods to her daughter. It’s a whole bunch more complex than that.

Mike: Yes, that is correct. But it doesn’t invalidate the point I was trying to make. A man might still opt to do this because he doesn’t comprehend the part he plays in fathering his “own” son. I’ve also read that this is a later, degenerate form of matrilinear succession that only occured (in Celtic lands, at least) when the older matriarchal cultures had been “contaminated” by the newer patriarchal ones. (Are you an Evangeline Walton fan, by any chance?)

Rose: I’d like to save this one for a dedicated letter: I have some ideas on parenthood in this context.

Mike: This was also one of the reasons that many ancient societies had matrilineal lines of succession. This was true of the Celts, for example. Many feminists have argued that men first moved to suppress women when they found out they could engender. Nancy Marvall is one feminist writer who has championed this view.

Rose: Again, the ethnographic literature does not bear this out: men are perfectly capable of suppressing women even when they don’t know about engendering.

Mike: Then, you are saying that Marvall’s position on this (as well as others before her — including, I believe, Frederick Engels who was one of the first to equate women’s suppression with both the knowledge of man’s role in procreation and the simultaneous beginning of the notion of “personal property”) has been discredited?

Rose: Watch: I’d like to see a study which compares the legal/social status of women with the participation in child-care by men. And before you say so: yes, women are perfectly capable of reserving care of children to themselves. I have a hunch that such a reservation, rather than the discovery of engendering, is what really started the suppression.

Mike: But why? Why would man want to give up his role in child care to woman? I mean, assuming we don’t accept the notion that woman is primary childcare person because of “biological destiny”. I’ll be anxious to hear your views on this.

Rose: This is also why I have rejected the (Victorian, no earlier) image of Woman as The Good Angel, the Civilizing One, She who Tames the Beast: it was set up originally in order to resign middle and upper class women to the thought of breast-feeding and caring for their own children, so as to lower the rate of infant mortality. But it isn’t all that old.

Mike: A small quibble here. There are apparently very old Irish legends of women using their sexual charms to calm down Cuchulain from his “battle frenzy”. Some feminist (can’t think of her name, sorry) wrote a book about this theme in myth, called “The Women Who Slept With Men And Took The War Out Of Them”, or something like that. Wouldn’t that be a much-preVictorian example of She Who Tames the Beast, etc.? Of course, this is the same society that had the Morrigan, and Macha, and Bobh, so at the very least it is telling us that the archetype has both faces.

Rose: I spoke less than fully. Certainly such a characterization is old: apparently part of the job of certain priestesses in the oldest days was to (we really need a more descriptive word here) have ritual sex with returning soldiers in order to purify them of the blood-sickness.

Mike: Yep. And I fully agree about needing a better word for it.

(Rose: And for that matter, recent chimp studies have noticed that, in the place of masculine motions of submissions, female chimps will offer sex in order to cool off angry males.

Mike: Fascinating.)

Rose: BUT.

I was speaking of the Myth of True Womanhood, which claims that, for women who are more than mere beasts (i.e., not peasants or laborers or slaves), their ONLY function was so to tame and civilize men.

Mike: Well, that certainly squares with the Judeo-Christian mindset (virgin/whore) that has predominated in Western civilization. Still, I once again find myself saying, yes but what about pagan traditions that survived well into Christian times? There is plentiful evidence of the sexual license that accompanies various ritual and folk customs practiced on the old holidays, etc. To me, that argues for a “back- water” of cultural resistance to the Judeo-Christian party line. In other words, not everybody bought what they were selling. I think the same could be said of the older Greek and Roman attitudes you spoke of, as well. It has always seemed to me that there was a minority view in each age (just like our own!) that still championed the matriarchal values.

Rose: Moreover, whilst it has been attached to the label “feminist,” it is really more connected to the older Madonna/Whore dichotomy from the middle ages, and to the earlier Graeco-Roman insistence on private (good) women and public (sexually indiscriminate and also bad) women.

Mike: Well, but, once again, the women who were sent out to meet Cuchulain and other Celtic warriors were seen as both “sexually indiscriminate” and yet good, because they quenched the battle- frenzy and saved their own society from being destroyed by it.

Rose: And, again, I’d like to make the distinction between Celtic and Germanic and other barbaric European tribes, and the Romans who came in to civilize them.

Mike: And again, my point would be that these efforts to “civilize” them didn’t completely “take”. 🙂

Rose: As such, it plays directly into the assumptions of patriarchal requirements that women be identifiable immediately as Good or Bad, with the behavior of men toward then dependent on this identification.

Mike: Yes, that requirement has always plagued me. All my life, I have greatly championed women who break this rule and blur this tradition. I find women who accept this Good\Bad dichotomy as dull and boring to the max. (Have you seen this new book called “The Rules”? Written by two women who are preaching this as a way to “get a man”. If you ever accidentally swallow poison, this is the book to read!) 😉

Rose: And when we look at the older images of the Goddess (i.e., the more encompassing versions rather than those of restricted spheres) we see that She is much more ambiguous socially: the definitions, for example, of “virgin” change such that it is a renewable quality and is attached more to the status of the particular woman or Goddess as “owned” or not.

Mike: Absolutely. This is a point I have often made to my Wicca classes when discussing the “virgin” aspect of the goddess. If I remember correctly, Barbara Walker has written some good stuff on this. (Incidentally, she also has written what I consider to be the definitive essay on so-called “temple prostitution”. Have you read it?

Rose: grin Yep yep yep

In relation to which, I have discovered that the one true loss of virginity is experienced when one becomes a mother [and, presumable, a father, but I lack direct or even second-hand experience to speak to that]: a child owns you more thoroughly, and longer, than any mere mate possibly can.

Mike: Amen, sister!!! 😀 I don’t know if it is true of “fathers”, but it is certainly true of “daddies”. ;D Still, the flip side of that particular coin is that having a child can make you young again, as you see everything through a kid’s eyes. My son, Colin, is six, and this year we are fighting the nay-sayers about the existence of Santa Claus. (He is having a pretty unique upbringing, considering he lives in a household where it’s perfectly acceptable not to believe in God; but, by God!, we’re gonna believe in Santa!!! Hahahhaha!))To some extent, I think the whole masculine fascination with human sacrifice, both in war, and in the 2000-year-old obsession our Western culture has with a man hanging on a cross, is an attempt to figure out how to come to grips with this “yang” side of nature, i.e. how can you cast something so “dark” in a positive light?

Rose: Right; and since it arises out of the determination to separate the spheres of action, the only way, to my mind, for men to escape is to cast themselves as partners of women in all these spheres.

Mike: I like this. 🙂 (You did mean equal partners, I assume?)

Rose: I mean equal, and I mean responsible partners. Co-responsible partners. I look at my marriage, and I look at most heterosexual marriages, and I wonder how straight folks can stand themselves, let alone each other. I’d like to see a world in which it was the norm for marital partners to behave toward each other as my wife and I do; and in which it was a cause for community alarm when other behaviors manifested.

Mike: But it makes me curious… Are there any spheres in which you feel there is a valid separation of gender/archetype? And, does this mean you see the “primal ground of existence” as equally male and female?

Rose: Well, this is really where I stand back and wait for you guys to get your act together, actually.

Mike: Hahhahhahaa! You’re gonna have a looooooong wait. ;D

Rose: Lacking the male mind I can’t tell what it is that you can do that I can’t do, except engender. From the outside, I see it in terms of color shifts: russet/brown, carmine/scarlet, pink/violet, royal blue/navy blue, etc. In other words, we do a hell of a lot of the same things, but we seem to do them with a different attitude, a different flair, from a different angle.

And then, of course, you bump into the fact that any two women do the same thing with a different attitude. Even with this, though, and accepting the fact that a male and a female American will have a lot more in common with each other than each will with a Venezualan of the same gender, I do perceive a masculine difference which seems more than merely cultural. I just cannot describe, let alone name it.

Mike: For all that women have been repressed throughout patriarchal times, I still think they are much closer to understanding what they are all about, what they are here for, than men have ever been. Maybe I’m biased, but I just think that we have a much harder row to hoe, metaphysically.


Not that I am offering that as an excuse for any of the atrocities that men have visited on women through the ages! Not at all! But I do think it might provide insight into why men have done some of the things they’ve done through the ages. And why they are into some of the things they are into, from human sacrifices to sacrifices at the coliseum, to fights to the death, to violent sporting events.


The trouble is that most men are absolutely clueless about all this; they don’t understand that these things are all part of the same thing, and even if someone pointed it out, they wouldn’t be interested in it! And women can be of little help to men in this because first, they are not men and so don’t see it the same way, and second, they have too often been victims of men which doesn’t predispose them to helping. And quite frankly, many women are often just as clueless about all of this as the men are.

I think if help is to come, it will come from both the men and the women who are travelling a spiritual path, and willing to –at least on occasion –share their ideas with one another.

Rose: Next, according to a slim volume I’m reading at the moment titled Robert Graves and the White Goddess,

(Mike: By…? And when was it written?

Rose: Robert Graves and the White Goddess, by John B. Vickery. Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press, 1972. ISBN 0803208170.I’m not the only one who has noticed his total blindness to the Mother side of the Goddess in any other than an engendering and bearing sort of a way. Aside from noting that this probably relates to his abandonment of his first wife and three children, this gives me some clues as to why he kept seeing the Goddess as cruel, and what face of the God he was missing in his thesis. Do you have any thoughts on this matter?

Mike: Tons. First, let me try to give you a bit of my perspective on Graves generally. I am quite the Graves fan — not that I’m not aware of the flaws and holes in his thinking! But, I see him as a pioneer and inspired visionary, capable of immense intuitive leaps, who brought us forward to a new understanding of Goddess-theology. The fact that we can see the flaws and holes in his thinking is due, in large measure, to the fact that he gave us the tools to investigate this archetype. After all, no one before him had so clearly articulated the basic idea of the three-fold Goddess and how she touches all of life.

I feel much the same way about Freud. It is so fashionable these days to rip him to shreds for the mistakes he made. Yes, he made mistakes! No question. And like every human, those mistake greatly relfected the flaws and holes in his own personality. But my god! That totally misses the point as to what Freud accomplished! He gave us a completely new way of thinking about the human mind! He made Jung possible. So, to me, it is important to acknowledge the man’s great achievements first. And then we can do the nit-picking about where he went off the beam. Same with Graves. 🙂

Now that I’ve got that off my chest… 😉 Yes, there is a good deal that Graves misses and distorts about all three aspects of the Goddess, IMHO, not just the Mother. For example, there is a bit too much “Hugh Hefner-ism” in his approach to the Maiden. Not that this aspect isn’t in the Maiden — it’s just not a complete picture. (I am bothered by some radical feminists who would like to banish that aspect of the Maiden… that’s not a complete picture, either.)

Rose: understanding nod You need to understand that desire in the context of folks who feel every bit as embattled as Great Britain in 1940, who have been trained in the process of demonizing enemies quite thoroughly. They wish to end the war for all time, and see the Lover as “comforting the enemy.” It is aye frightful, but it is a normal portion of the process for people in this society. May we heal soon.

Mike: understanding nod back Just like I said about men’s behavior above, it’s an understandable reason, but a terrible excuse. And may we each do our part to hurry the healing. And with the Crone, I think Graves concentrates WAY too much on her Kali aspect, all the fearful spooky stuff, and forgets that she is also Grandma, the Wise Woman, etc. In fact, going Jungian for a sec, I think each of the three aspects can be shown to have both a bright and dark side.

Rose: Kinda like Diane Duane’s Shadowed Goddesses?

Mike: It’s also fascinating the way Graves, while putting Woman on a pedestal, also quite clearly fears Her.

Rose: This, I think, is something more: it’s kinda like the sickness of mind that makes people fascinated with vampires.

Mike: Still, I suppose that’s the norm any time you deify something. But it makes me think that he wasn’t too close to any real women in his life. I confess that I know next to nothing about his personal life. Your info about his abandonment of his first wife and three kids was new to me. But I suspect you are on the right track here.

(See: The myths of Robert Graves
The New York Review of Books
New York
Apr 4, 1996

Mike: Thank you so much for the wonderful review of Graves. There was much there about his personal life that I did not know. And too much to reflect on to dig into it here. One view I did not share with the author, though, is that his greatest work was his poems. I personally detest Graves’s poetry, but the way he connects ideas in The White Goddess and, to a lesser extent, in The Greek Myths is utterly brilliant.

Rose: Thirdly, can you point me, of your own knowledge, at any reputable critiques of Golden Bough?

Mike: Yes. One of the best one-volume editions of The Golden Bough was edited by Theodor Gaster, a famous scholar of comparative religion. His Preface or Introduction is a brilliant critique of Frazer’s work. He takes Frazer to task over a number of things, including the idiotic idea that all religions follow an evolutionary course from primitive superstition to “morally superior” monotheism, and the somewhat false separation of religion and magic which this view implies. And the influence of Frazer’s Victorian perspective in discussing “fertility religion” — i.e. the idiotic notion that sexual rituals were always only done for fertility, etc. (Some “primitive” cultures did not, of course, even realize the connection between sex and birth — yet sexual rites were important to them.)

Rose: It seems now to me very clear where most of the Wiccan thealogy comes from; I also find it more than clear why certain of my male acquaintances have been protesting over the lowly place of the God and men in the system, and why more Traditional covens were so blown away by Dianics.

Mike: Well, yes, I think a lot of it does come from Graves, but some of the early sociologists who championed matriarchy are also pretty influential: Brifault, Bachofen, etc. (although most modern Pagans would probably not recognize their names!)

Rose: grin I do! Women’s Studies classes are useful!

Mike: Good for you! 🙂 And I am very glad to know these names are not forgotten in contemporary Women’s Studies classes! I’m afraid I was forced to grope my way toward these authors on my own back in the 60’s and 70’s, and so may not have the perspective that a structured class can give. (I also hope that the works of the suffragists and other advocates of women’s rights from the turn of the century are kept alive! I’m a big fan of Elizabeth Cady Stanton, as you might imagine.)

Rose: I had these classes back in the mid-80s; dunno what modern classes might teach of them. Important to know that Bachoven was pretty much full of (well-composted) shit: Scholars checking his premises, even feminist ones, disagree with his conclusions concerning “matriarchy,” if we define that as “rule of the mothers excluding men from power.”

Mike: Right. But I was thinking that Bachoven (or was it one of the other early male writers in the field? Briffault?) did emphasize that “matriarchy” meant egalitarian, despite how the word sounded.

Rose: grin Right, as though each successively more distant reader would retain the alternate definition ….

Mike: Yes, I think we are all agreed that it was a poorly coined word, for what it intended to describe, from the start. Elizabeth Shanklin had some very funny things to say about this in a lecture I attended of hers once.

Rose: Which is why you see folks like Gimbutas and Eisler talking about egalitarian societies. Interesting to note that in places where women had real political power of a different nature than that of the men, as in the Iroquois confederacy and in certain African tribes, it was so impossible for the European visitors to comprehend that they either were completely blind to it, or described it as a “matriarchy.”

Mike: And yes, the lowly place of the God is a serious problem for, not just Pagan men, but men in our society in general. Good ol’ Jehovah is a terrible model for men, yet that’s all we’ve got in the Western world. Graves did nothing to help out with this, in my opinion. And I’ve been consistantly UNDERwhelmed by all the modern writers on the topic of “men’s mysteries”. Most of it is just breast-beating and chanting “mea culpa”. NOT healthy OR helpful.

We have yet to see anybody address this problem capably.

Rose: I would agree. I am reading His Story by Nicholas R. Mann, and though I haven’t gotten very far into it, I find myself intrigued by what he says and who he cites. There’s a lot of … not guilt, really, for guilt is counterproductive, but responsibility and awareness that modern American men need to have.

Mike: Like I said earlier, I’m not sure I’d agree with responsibility, at least in the usual usage of meaning, being the cause of the problem. But I think the word awareness is awfully well-chosen here. American men, in my opinion, are not self-aware. And I think they are more than a little terrified at the prospect of becoming self-aware. Can you blame them! But it is exactly what’s needed.

Rose: Simultaneously with this there has to arise a … a goal, perhaps, or a pattern of health and valid adulthood. And it is of primary importance that this goal and this pattern not arise from women, but rather from men themselves. We can say what we value, but it is inherently impossible for us to describe how that shall arise, or into what matrix it will go, just as it was impossible for men accurately to describe those things for women.

Mike: Yep yep yep. Couldn’t agree more. I think an awfully good start would be for men to recognize that even though they have been politically and economically “superior to” women, that doesn’t make them better off. In fact, using values that really matter (i.e. self-awareness, ability to make deep friendships, demonstrate intimacy, etc.), women are far superior to men. The bottom line is that both sexes have suffered and have been badly damaged. Men just don’t happen to realize it yet! (DUH!)

Rose: grin Or, as is happening currently on ISCABBS, they blame it on women — either as conspirators in patriarchy, or as feminists. (Talk about schizoid! those two arguments from the same individual!)

Mike: Hahahhaa! This person sounds entertaining, at least. 🙂 Oh, I believe that women can be conspirators in partriarchy — Phyllis Schlafley being a case in point. Just as I believe that men can be conspirators in feminism — myself, hopefully, a case in point. It fact, it has always been my contention that supporters of feminism and supporters of patriarchy cross gender lines! (Of course, one can always claim that poor Phyllis is only acting out of ignorance or brain-washing, but that always seemed a specious arguement to me, and one based on a priori point-of-view. A patriarchist might as easily say that I have been “seduced by the dark side of the Force”.) 😉

Rose: I would say, from my semi-essentialist standpoint, that women tend to be far more conservative than men, from this perspective: a woman who intends to be a mother must plan at least thirty years, and preferably sixty years, into the future: she has to make plans for acquiring a mate who can support a family and engender healthy children, and for raising those children so that they will successfully survive and grow up. So: for a five-year-old girl, we’re talking a minimum of 10 and a maximum of 25 years of self-directed plans, training, and actions, and an additional 20 to 50 years of child-directed plans.

You like to be able to know what to expect, under those circumstances.

It’s when you are robbed of your original plans (generally handed to you by your mom) for whatever reason, that you begin looking at changing the situation as a whole. I like to say that I am a conservative; I simply do not live in the society which I wish to conserve.

Mike: My dear, that is sooooo well put. And I feel exactly the same way. I know I’m not supposed to, being a white, hetero, married male, but it’s how I feel, nonetheless. I just have a harder time getting other people to take me seriously about it. ;D

Rose: Moreover, due to the interesting (and sometimes alarming) patterns of female power in this country, within the similarly interesting patterns of male power, it is, I think, nearly impossible for any group of men to listen to any group of women speak without beginning to feel the sullen rebelliousness they associate with their teen aged interactions with their mothers.

Mike: That is a fascinating point I had not considered before. 🙂 Not sure what you meant by Traditional covens being blown away by the Dianics. In terms of numbers? Theology? What? Please clarify.

Rose: I was thinking: in terms of the stress laid on female- male- female- male energy flows and teaching and thought structure in traditional covens. In that they found it blasphemous to honor solely the Goddess and ignore the God. In the rule I was recently shown which calls on the HPS to treat her HP with .. what, kindness, I think? understanding that her power comes from him, there is definitely the sense that women rule by men’s permission.

Mike: Actually, I think you may be mixing two things together here…
I think the concept of the HPS ruling by the HP’s permission is a legacy of the Gardnerians.

Rose: That would be correct: it was a set of Gardnerian rules I was reading.

Mike: I don’t think that was the case with the older, “Traditional” British covens. Most of their sources seem to stress the God and Goddess, the High Priestess and High Priest equally. Although you are exactly right about them using the female- male- female- male energy flows and thinking it blasphemous to honor EITHER the God or Goddess solely.

Rose: How old are we talking, here? I was mainly thinking of the post-Gardnerians, m’self.

Mike: I’m talking about all the Covens that came out of the woodwork after Gerald published his first book, saying things like, “Well, that’s all very interesting, but it’s not Witchcraft as we have always practiced it.” A lot of their stuff was published in the British publication called “The Pentagram”, and by the British Witchcraft Research Society.

(Rose: Do you have access to any of this? I’m not finding either of them in OCLC.

Mike: I had some of it back in the sixties (much of it quoted in occasional newsletters, etc.) but I didn’t save it, since magazines and “broadsheets” were thought of as “disposable” back then. I’d be surprised if any of it was still in print. Too bad, really, since they were pivotal in the early British scene (much as the Church of All Worlds, and the publication “The Green Egg” was here in the U.S.). Margot Adler repeatedly mentions both in her work (they are in the index of Drawing Down the Moon — and by the way, it’s the Witchcraft Research Association, not Society) but still doesn’t give them the coverage they deserve.) For my part, I’ve never understood why these two approaches are considered mutually exclusive. After all, in most “primitive” societies, there is always the need for both “womens’s mysteries” and “men’s mysteries” AS WELL AS the great festivals of celebration with both men and women together. It seems obvious to me that both modes of expression are valid — and that both are needed!

Rose: Anyway: Dianics request no man’s permission. They have no men in their circles. No man teaches them anything. Sex may not even be a portion of their practice. The power comes, atomically, from the realization that each woman is holy, is an image of the divine, lacks nothing within herself that is needed for full, creative, successful life. A complete undermining of all the assumptions on which traditional Wicca is based.

Mike: You present this as a much more strict dichotomy than my own experience has made it seem. As I said above, I think there will always be a place for separate women’s mysteries (and men’s), and a very real need for it. In our society, because of the great need for healing, I can even see the need for it to continue over the course of many years. But at some point, I would expect that person (unless they were very badly hurt or damaged) to want to participate with their greater community. In pre-literate societies where we have the strongest examples of such “women’s mysteries”, I can’t think of a single example where those mysteries work in total isolation from the larger cultural or tribal unit.

Rose: Right, and that is the very view I have presented to one such traditionalist. It was from him that I learned of the depth of the anger on the part of traditionalists; I think that there was more in Drawing Down the Moon, although I am unsure of it.

Mike: Well-ll-ll… I’m sorry, but I can’t help but wonder if he was truly representative of traditionalists on this point. At least as regards the depth of his anger. I have even talked to quite a few traditionalists who have no particular problem with this at all. Granted, those talks were more recent.In the end, I indeed hope that men can learn from women, and women can learn from men, and we can all learn from each other. My first allegiance has alway been to humanity first, to my gender second. I’ve always felt I have more in common with a woman, because we are both people, than we have differences.

Tuppence in the change bowl.

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