Book review: Merlin Stone Remembered: Her Life and Works by Barbara Ardinger

Barbara ArdingerWhen Merlin Stone’s book, When God Was a Woman, was published in 1976, it was a lightning bolt of feminist scholarship that told the world that before there was a Judeo-Christian god there were goddesses, and before there were goddesses, there was the Goddess. If you’re reading this review and you have not read When God Was a Woman, buy the book. Right now. As you sink into Stone’s book, try to imagine what it was like before we knew about Isis or Inanna or Astarte, before we knew that the tree in the Garden of Eden was probably a sacred fig and that the serpent was a symbol or aspect of the Goddess and that people (mostly women) who ate figs or worked with serpents were honored priestesses and prophets. Just imagine! The work of the second wave feminists added to the work of scholars like Merlin Stone and Marija Gimbutas, but it didn’t begin until the second half of the 20th century. Before that? All there was, was God the Father, maker of heaven and earth. Yes, Merlin Stone hurled lightning bolts into our hearts and minds and bookshelves.

Merline StoneMerlin Stone Remembered is a new book edited by Dr. Carol F. Thomas, Dr. David B. Axelrod, and Stone’s life partner Leonard Schneir, with an introduction by Gloria Orenstein, professor emerita, USC. Orenstein opens the book by putting Stone’s work in context. Before the 60s and 70s, she writes, no one was ever taught anything about the matristic cultures. Yes, a few books had been written. She cites G. Rachel Levy’s The Gate of Horn (published in England in 1948, republished in the U.S. in 1963), Helen Diner’s Mothers and Amazons (1973), and Elizabeth Gould Davis’ The First Sex (1971). These books gave us some of our foundational myths, but, Orenstein writes, “we can see that although there was some writing that had already attempted to reconstruct a history of women …, much more expertise and authority were needed” (p. 8). “Once Merlin Stone provided us with her careful scholarship and a truly feminist (not biased, patriarchal) accounting of ancient Goddess cultures, I and all who found Merlin’s work were finally able to understand our herstory…” (p. 9).

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