Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passion, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.
-John Adams, 1770
President John Adams was correct: facts are stubborn things. Of course his quote is extracted from the speech that he gave while defending the British soldiers that shot people during what Americans now tout as the “Boston Massacre.” But let’s leave that bit of American History for another forum, shall we? What concerns me here is the legitimacy of what President Adams spoke, and how this statement continues to be true even today. One of the arenas I frequently encounter this issue of facts vs. wishes is on many NeoPagan and Witchcraft forums. Whether it is the origins of Traditional Wicca (another blog post) or the someone’s “grandmother” stories about being trained in Irish Witchcraft called Witta, many times I find that people eschew critical thinking skills in favor of some fantastical idea about their romantic notion of Witchcraft. Why lack of critical thinking skills seems to be rampant in the modern Pagan Community is beyond my thinking, because these same people by and large will turn around and attack Christians and Political Conservatives for being “sheeple.” They’ll accuse them of following pastors and evangelists blindly. They’ll howl and rave about how the “Christians stole our holidays” and other such nonsense. In short, they’ll point a finger at everybody, but forget that while they are doing that three fingers are pointing back at them. Nowhere is this hypocritical cognitive dissonance and lack of respect about their faith more evident than when it comes to the nature of the Gods and Goddesses of our ancestors.
In 1948, a former Oxford English and Literature professor by the name of Robert von Ranke Graves published The White Goddess (formerly titled The Roebuck in the Thicket). The third son of Irish poet and Gaelic scholar Alfred Perceval Graves, Robert had quite an upbringing in a scholastic-oriented family. An educated man, Graves also had quite the passion for poetry and story-telling, as exemplified in his books such as I, Claudius, King Jesus, and The Penny Fiddle: Poems for Children to name a few among the dozens of works and collaborations in his name. Graves’ works on Mythology were also essential in the revival of modern Wicca and Paganism, laying the groundwork for much of the schema many groups today still have. One of the best known works, of course, is The White Goddess. Perhaps no other poetic interpretation of Myth has had such a substantial impact on modern Wiccan and Pagan thealogy as this one. While writing some works on Greek Myth, Graves was instantly seized with inspiration and worship of what he called his Muse. Professor Hazel Hunley from the University of Omaha in her studies of Graves writes:
Ironically, Graves’ research as a novelist led him to his poetic truth and the White Goddess or Mother-Muse…On retracing the journey of Jason and Argonauts, he noted that Goddess worship was prevalent throughout the ancient Mediterranean world in many cults. The Goddess was already familiar, at least, intellectually to Graves, the classical scholar, from the Homeric epics, Sir James Frazer’s The Golden Bough, Apuleius’ The Golden Ass, and the anthropological findings of Jane Harrison and J.J. Bachofen.
Professor Hunley continues that while charting Jason’s journey, Graves had a sudden epiphany to read the Welsh tale of The Battle of the Trees. This epiphany is what fueled his comparative Mythos studies, finding a bizarre underlying unity evident only to him between Insular Celtic and Greek Myths. This quite unorthodox pairing was explained by Graves as him simply paying homage as a true poet to his Muse Goddess, whom he believed in objectively. As a poet, Graves felt he was qualified to recount the connections since the poet was the receiver of the Mysteries. No matter where he looked, Graves inevitably wrote feverishly that, buried within the Myths he studied and wrote, lay the matriarchal White Goddess to whom a passionate love affair should be kindled by Her devoted poets: seers of Her choosing. This is important to take into account, that while Graves was indeed a scholar in his own right, he was also at heart a poet who took lavish license with his writings. They were never meant to be taken scholastically.
The Modern Triple Goddess
One of the most iconic forms that Graves gave to the modern world was the revivification of the Triple Goddess caricature. In his works, Graves outlines the Triple Goddess forms as:
Graves’ poetic correspondences to the Triple Goddess include “the birth, life, death and resurrection of the God of thee Waxing Year; the central chapters concern the God’s losing battle with the God of the Waning Year for love of the capricious and all-powerful Threefold Goddess, their mother, bride and layer-out.” He continues:
As Goddess of the Underworld she was concerned with Birth, Procreation and Death. As Goddess of the Earth she was concerned with the three season of Spring, Summer and Winter: she animated 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. […] As the New Moon or Spring she was a girl; as the Full Moon or Summer she was woman; as the Old Moon or Winter she was hag.
This Mythos, or poetic interpretation rather of Mythos, can be found readily in any book you pick up on these days. His schema of the Sacrificed King devoted to the beloved Triple Goddess of Maiden/Mother/Crone is found in many of his works including King Jesus. Graves cites sources for evidence of the Triple Goddess in antiquity, but unfortunately his citations and subsequent interpretations are two very different things. This is something that many today do not take into account.
The Ancient Triple Goddess
I wrote in another blog post that among Indo-Europeans, “3” was a sacred number. In many Indo-European cultures such as India, Greece, Rome, the Arabian Middle East and Ireland, the motif of Triple Gods and Goddesses can readily be found. For example, we have the Goddess Brighid who is the Triple Goddess of the Smiths, the Bards and the Healers. Greece had the Three Sons of Kronos, the Three Consorts of Poseidon, the Three-Headed Kerberos, and the Three Muses. More examples can be given but I think you get the idea. The presence of the number 3 in the various Mythologies of our ancestors is very prevalent. But the evidence for the Triple Goddess does not automatically mean that the theme of the Maiden/Mother/Crone (from here on shortened to MMC) is applicable. A famous modern example that is given for the MMC in ancient times is that of the Three Fates: Klotho, Lakhesis, amd Atropos. While not specifically named as MMC, respectively, nonetheless some descriptions are pulled to assert that the Three Fates embody an ancient concept of the MMC. It is believed that because Klotho rules over birth, Lakhesis over life, and Atropos over death, that these are a perfect embodiment of the MMC caricature. Nothing, however, could be further from the truth. The ancient world was much more complex than we care to admit, and it is perhaps our Linnaeun efforts at over-analyzing and attempting to neatly create a Holy Trinity of Pagandom that perhaps is the reason for the modern Pagan Community’s stubbornness. In essence, I guess we also want a very neat “Father/Son/Holy Spirit” equivalent.
The Three Fates, or Moirae, weren’t always three in number. We have to keep into account that there was never such a thing as a pan-Hellenic Mythos. Ever. Mythologies differed from cultus to cultus and region to region. This may be a shock to many who have studied Classical Greek and Latin literature, for example. But, bear in mind there existed other Hellenic regions besides Athens. Pausanias, for example, states that at Delphi only Two Moirae existed, which was odd to him since he knew that elsewhere the Fates could be counted as Three:
In the temple has been built an altar of Poseidon, because Poseidon too possessed in part the most ancient oracle. There are also images of two Fates; but in place of the third Fate there stand by their side Zeus, Guide of Fate, and Apollo, Guide of Fate. (Pausanias, Descriptions of Greece, Book XIV, circa 2nd century CE).
Ovid wrote that, rather than the Moirae (Parcae in Latin) being separated into three functions, all three shared in one function – that of spinning and cutting the thread of life:
You, too, dear father [Chiron], immortal now and by the law of your birth created to live forever: A time will come when you will be in agony from the poisonous blood of the vicious Hydra that has entered your body through a wound, and you’ll wish that you could die; and then the Gods will release you from divinity and give you death, and the Three Fates will cut the threads of your life. (Ovid, The Metamorphoses, circa 1st century CE)
And still earlier than these sources Plato writes that the Moirae each shared in the spindle:
The Moirai, daughters of Ananke, clad in white vestments with filleted heads, Lakhesis, and Klotho, and Atropos, who sang in unison with the music of the Seirenes: Lakhesis singing the things that were, Klotho the things that are, and Atropos the things that are to be. And Klotho with the touch of her right hand helped to turn the outer circumference of the spindle, pausing from time to time. Atropos with her left hand in like manner helped to turn the inner circles, and Lakhesis alternately with either hand lent a hand to each. (Plato, The Republic, circa 4th century BCE).
The descriptions of the Moirae are also contradictory of the MMC motif. A Latin poet by the name of Catullus writes that the Parcae (Latin equivalent of the Greek Moirae) are all aged:
Then the Gods seated Their limbs at the white benches, at tables richly heaped with various foods, while, moving their bodies in trembling dance, the Fates (Parcae) began to utter their prophetic song. Quivering seized their bodies, their white ankles wholly covered by the red hem of their dresses, and a red headband circling their white hair, and their hands were busy, as ever, at their eternal work. (Catullus, The Complete Poems: Poem 64, circa 1st century BCE).
It has often been stated by many people within the modern Pagan Community that our Mythic images are “evolving,” in the sense that somehow the purview of the ancients is less developed than us more advanced and enlightened folks. This progressive hubris – for that’s what it is – demeans the very Souls and Songs of the ancestors whom we claim our Mythic heritage from in the first place. It is almost as if we have grafted our consciousness onto the Christian-infused mentality that “primitive peoples” knew nothing about the world they inhabit, and instead we must rely on our Pagan Colonialism to impart the Unverified Personal Gnosis of the Gods as we individually see Them. Let’s forget for a moment that important word: unverified. Let’s forget that other important word: personal. Let’s instead focus on the third word: gnosis, which I think hearing in conversations about UPG makes me want to give myself another brain injury by slamming my head onto a hard wooden surface because the sheer overwhelming use of the word escapes the user. I feel like Inigo Montoya: “That word, I do not think it means what you think it means.” (If you don’t get the reference you need a life).
The word Gnosis is used in common parlance in these kinds of topics (such as UPG) that it is equivalent to the phrase, “I go by what I feel.” The person who states this many times loudly proclaims that they eschew Traditions, Lineages and even the knowledge of our ancestors in an attempt to reinvent the Mythic Wheel. They tout that no one can tell them what to do, that it doesn’t matter how they practice. Why, if they want to have Hekate or Persephone as a Crone, then by golly that’s what they’ll do. If they want to cast a square and mix Kali-Ma with Herne, then there you go. If they want to call the Morrighan a War Goddess capable of kicking ass and helping them deal with their low self-esteem, then that’s alright too. It’s “gnosis,” after all: you can’t be authoritative and tell them how to worship and what to do. … In a way, they’re right: no one has the right to tell others how to believe or be dictators of conscience. But, on the obverse, when you enter the world of Myth and the faith of our ancestors and you eschew the Gods and spirits for poetic licensing because you just want to be an anarchist in the wrong sense of the word, you and I will have words.
Gnosis, if you do your research, is actually rooted in tradition. The various Gnostics in the early centuries of the Christian Era wrote down their sacred scriptures and built on the spiritual traditions that were flooding the Near East at the time (the discovery of the Nag Hammadi library confirms this, as well as other Gnostic works such as the Corpus Hermeticum). Rather than a discombobulated movement, the Gnosticism which is portrayed by writings and archaeological evidence supports the assertion that it was a much more unified movement that reacted against the growing orthodoxy and establishment of the Early Church. The main goal of the teachings within Gnosticism was to break from the need to join an institution to find salvation and instead look within to attain Enlightenment. Thus, it was a complete system that was workable and made sense: it wasn’t just an eclectic mishmash of whims and fancies. It was a careful and select synthesis. Although there were and are various schools of thought within Gnosticism, nonetheless a coherency and thread can be traced. (For further information as a starting point I encourage Gnosis: The Nature and History of Gnosticism by Kurt Rudolph).
In this rationale, UPG makes no sense. Gnosis is the equivalent of Enlightenment: liberation by finding Unity. It is a process that takes discipline and intense training to gain a “Holy Fuck!” moment that can neither be described nor transcribed. It is unique to the oriental systems which pollinated into the West. So with that being said, I repeat: the term UPG makes no sense. None. Gnosis is a spiritual experience rooted in a cohesive system designed to kick the living shit out of you in order to laboriously push through the suffering in this world and the illusion of matter and achieve the long sought for Unity of Self with Godhood. That’s bullshit when it comes to viewing Hekate as a Crone. You know what that is? That’s spiritual laziness. That’s slothfulness. That’s disrespect, pure and simple.
The MMC motif as proscribed by Robert Graves was his own poetic reinterpretation of the Myths that he studied. Graves was a poet at heart, and this is important to keep in mind in order to separate his classical scholarly studies with his poetry. Although his poetry is beautiful, it isn’t Myth. Myth, or Mythos, is a sacred story traditionally passed on from one generation to another. It is rooted in the collective consciousness and morphogenetic fields of a clan, a tribe, a people. The Myths teach and impart to the people how to become better human beings, how to link with the Gods and spirits of their culture, and preserve the sacred identity that is inherent within their community. The Gods and spirits of our own ancestors are complex in nature, and are like the proverbial square peg in the round hole when it comes to the MMC images. For example, the Goddess Persephone is not only the Maiden Kore, but She is also Queen and Nymph in Her cult at Lokri. Demeter is both Mother of both the Earth Harvest as well as possessing chthonic qualities. Hekate is always a Maiden. Selene is a Maiden. Artemis is a Maiden. All of these Goddesses that people try and fit into MMC are robbing these Deities of their own Personalities and Characters in order for them to make some sense of Them that fits into their narrow mindsets. Do you know what this reveals? It’s not about the Gods; it’s about them. It’s not about accepting Them, it’s about changing Them to fit a mortal’s paradigm. Hence, it’s a form of hubris, and it’s no wonder these are the sorts of people that have little value of knowledge and would rather remain stuck in their ways. They don’t critically think and examine. They sloppily eat up and then regurgitate what everyone else has written. They claim that they are evolving, when in fact they are entropic to the core.
Eirene kai Hugieia!
(Peace and Health!)