Many people had a formative influence on the development of Neo-Paganism before its inception in 1967. The most important of these, and perhaps the least appreciated, is Robert Graves.
Gerald Gardner is considered by most to be the father of Wicca. But, in spite of the influence of Wicca on Neo-Paganism, the intellectual and spiritual forbearer of American Neo-Paganism is not Gerald Gardner, but Robert Graves. Graves’ book, The White Goddess (1948), had only a minor influence on British Traditional Wicca, but was a significant inspiration behind American forms of Neo-Paganism. Graves was an important influence on such Neo-Pagan notables as Fred Adams, Aidan Kelly, Zsuzsanna Budapest, Morgan McFarland, Starhawk, and Janet and Stewart Farrar.
Robert Graves’ White Goddess is the source for the Triple Goddess imagery in Neo-Paganism, as well as much of the Mythos behind the Neo-Pagan Wheel of the Year. According to occultist, John Michael Greer, Graves’ White Goddess “was the most influential source of Goddess imagery and ideology for the modern Pagan revival.” According to religious studies scholar, Barbara Davies, Graves “gave Paganism a lasting mythic vision of the relationship between the Goddess and her consort” and was “a rich source for the seasonal mythic cycle in [Neo-Paganism].”
“It is from Graves, as well as other literary sources, that [Neo-Pagans] get their concept of the Goddess as triune. The Goddess had been presented previously in triple form, but Graves was unusual in celebrating not just her mother and maiden forms, but also the Crone. … Graves used Frazer as a source for his mythic vision of the Goddess and her consort. He split Frazer’s dying and resurrecting god into the gods of the waxing and waning year, probably from Welsh stories of annual fights, such as Gwyn ap Nudd and Gwythr in the Mabinogion. Graves’ understanding of the seasonal relationship between the Goddess and the God became integrated into the [Neo-Pagan] festival cycle. He constructed a poetic myth that contributed to making Goddess religion explicit in the form of [Neo-Paganism].”
While Wicca began in England with Gerald Gardner, it can be argued that, in the United States, especially on the West Coast, Neo-Paganism really began when groups gathered together to read Robert Graves. In 1969, in an interview with The Paris Review, Graves himself observed that a “curious result” of the publication of The White Goddess was that “various White Goddess religions started in New York State and California. I’m today’s hero of the love-and-flowers cult out in the Screwy State, so they tell me.” Richard Perceval Graves reports that Elizabeth Gould-Davis, author of The First Sex (1971), corresponded with Robert Graves for several years. In 1973, Gould-Davis told Graves:
“I suppose you know that you are the God of the new Movement here, the newest of the new women’s movements, and you are the only male creature who is admitted to godhead in the movement. It has all sorts of names because it is not yet co-ordinated. Small groups from California to New York have formed to defy Christianity and all organized religion, to worship the female principle, and to bring back the Great Goddess.”