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Fighting over the Triple Goddess: Graves and Frazer vs Revisionism

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The following is presented as a scholarly essay on a subject of interest from an alternative standpoint. It is neither to be taken at face value as being a consensus view of the community in the scientific field it addresses, nor is it to be deleted or hacked to pieces by edits, for not being such. For evidence of "the debunkers"' view of the subject, see Wikipedia:Triple Goddess; this article can be seen as a rebuttal of that one

File:Mímer and Balder Consulting the Norns (1821-1822) by H. E. Freund.jpg
Mímer and Balder Consulting the Norns (1821-1822) by H. E. Freund

The evidence of the Triple Goddess' true roots in mythology is easy enough to find. One Google Books search is enough.[1] Amy Gazin-Schwartz and Cornelius Holtorf 1999 book, Archaeology and folklore, in particular, has two pages of triple goddess figures in the mythology of Wales and Ireland, and, more convincingly to some, carved in stone throughout Roman Gaul.[2]

The triple goddess is not discussed in Anthropology, or in Archaeology, or in Psychology, as much or at least as loudly as in recent studies of Neopaganism, which consist primarily of an attempt to debunk the idea completely. As ethereal a science as prehistorical History can seem at times, Neopaganism critiques can be based on no more fact than their subject is, but while the subject has every right and in fact a responsibility to behave in that fashion, scholarly studies, if they are to be considered scholarly, must adhere to the facts alone.

But there is not only the three factions here to consider. Revisionist debunkers and disinterested true scientists there are, and the Neopagans themselves, but also mythological scientists, whose studies are of mythology as a science, but whose methods are as much in the nature of creating myth as studying it. Carlos Castaneda did much the same for anthropology, creating a useful myth, and an entertaining anthropology, and some science, too. Robert Graves and JG Frazer are the primary mythological scientists here, who created glowing entertainments that carried with them so many essential truths that to criticize them is to run perilously close to doing the wrong thing. But it is not possible to accurately portray the acts of the revisionist debunkers without doing so.

The debunkers are the Roundheads to Graves' and Frazer's Royalists; it is time for Kings to move on, and it would require a Gandhi to make it so without a bloody purge (We not only get the opposite of Gandhi, it is much more likely we would get the opposite. Not because humans are born evil, but because they are born ignorant). Like all partial truths, which contain within them untruths, Graves' imaginative hypotheses are a danger to the truth, the more insidious for being clothed in the trusted innocuous lab coat of science. The need to make right attracts first those who are willing to do wrong to achieve it and those who are the most motivated are often least capable of remaining unbiased.

Three gowned figures with long, grey hair hold forked sticks.
The Three Witches in Orson Welles' controversial 1948 film adaptation of Macbeth

The most effective (it is already complete, and the argument has moved on) part of the debunker's lies is that Graves invented the Triple Goddess. This is simply not true, any more than Shakespeare invented them, or the composer of the myths describing the Nordic triad of the Norns with their mundane and yet transcendent task of tending to the World Tree Yggdrasil, which holds the life of the world, or the composer of the myth before that of Perseus stealing the eye from the Three Fates, and holding to ransom their work on the tapestry of humankind's fate, to compel them to aid him.[3]

Norns weaving destiny, by Arthur Rackham (1912). An amalgamation of the Norns and the Three Fates, in that the Norns were best known for their caretaking of the Yggdrasil tree, and the Fates, weaving the web of life

History has always been an interpretation of the truth, or the most plausible speculation. The former is not entirely necessary, until one comes to pre-history, when it becomes redundant, and the second form of history completely takes over. Without a time machine, it is impossible to see exactly what went on at any time in history outside of living memory, but without written records, it is anybody's guess; the best guess wins. That is not to say that the guesses are necessarily far from the truth, or that they do not replicate it any less accurately than modern history warped by bias. These guys are not stupid. All of prehistory is based on not just guesses independently, but a self-supporting network of internally consistent deductions based on what can be empirically observed in the world today. 'Hard' scientific disciplines aid a lot in this deduction; it can always be deduced that humans will have at least wanted to put a fair amount of resources into the pursuit of pleasure, for example, because Psychology tells us that our brains are wired that way. There has to be something influencing humans in another direction for that human constant to change.

If that sounded like an anti-scientific rant, it was not intended to be. The point is that history, in order to maintain the maximum grasp on a historical record, has always assumed a continuity of practices. If something cannot be shown to have changed, then it stayed the same. Similar words, for example, separated by time, are assumed to be the same word. That Greek and Nordic and Welsh and Irish and Gaulic traditions contain groups of three goddesses, or wise women, or supernatural beings, is not a fact to be discarded casually.

The revisonists broke with that tradition for personal gain, and furthermore conducted their arguments as ad nauseum, ignoring evidence to the contrary. Because hypotheses had been proposed in recent years, there was only the need to say loudly and long enough that recent history was completely wrong because it had fanciful and elaborate hypotheses, without actually saying what was wrong with that, and all the evidence backing up its notions would go away.


  1. triple+goddess+archaeology Google Books search
  2. Archaeology and folklore by Amy Gazin-Schwartz and Cornelius Holtorf, 1999
  3. The Spiritual Runes: A Guide to the Ancestral Wisdom By Harmonia Saille