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).

Continue reading “Book review: Merlin Stone Remembered: Her Life and Works by Barbara Ardinger”

A letter to feminists…from a 70-year-old white guy by Peter Wilkes

Peter Wilkes - CopyHello everyone —

I’m new at this, so be gentle…  I’m also aware that some might believe this letter to be “mansplaining” (a term I just learned).  I trust it won’t be.

First, I’m not a theologian, and definitely not an academic.  I’m just a guy, like any guy you might see on the street.

But I believe that feminism – defined as true and honest equality – is the only thing that’s going to save this messed-up world.  I’m also convinced the biggest obstacle to this happening is organized religion.  However, most importantly, I’m distressed that other guys don’t get this.  So, before I leave this life, I’m determined to do something about that.

I didn’t always think this way but, in my fifties, as I was kicking and screaming and going down for the third time, I reached for Merlin Stone’s book, When God was a Woman.  Only then did things start to make sense.  I’ve always been told I’m a late bloomer.  I never realized how late “late” would be.

But really, it’s just logical that early man watching a child grow inside the body of a woman – then seeing it emerge from that same body – must have found something amazing, wondrous, and worthy of great praise and adoration.  And also worship, for something like that to happen was, and always will be, a true miracle.  Continue reading “A letter to feminists…from a 70-year-old white guy by Peter Wilkes”

REMEMBERING MERLIN STONE, 1931-2011 by Carol P. Christ

“In the beginning…God was a woman.  Do you remember?”  Feminst foremother and author of these words Merlin Stone died in Feburary last year.

I can still remember reading the hardback copy of When God Was a Woman while lying on the bed in my bedroom overlooking the river in New York City early in 1977.  The fact that I remember this viscerally underscores the impact that When God Was a Woman had on my mind and my body.  Stone’s words had the quality of revelation:  “In the beginning…God was a woman. Do you remember?”  As I type this phrase more than thirty-five  years after first reading it, my body again reacts with chills of recognition of a knowledge that was stolen from me, a knowledge that I remembered in my body, a knowledge that re-membered my body.  My copy of When God was a Woman is copiously underlined in red and blue ink, testimony to many readings.

Though I could then and can now criticize details in the book, the amassing of information and the comprehensive perspective When God Was a Woman provided was news to me when I first read it.  Despite having earned a Ph.D. in Religious Studies from Yale, I did not “know” that Goddesses were worshipped at the very dawn of religion.  I had not heard of the theories of Indo-European invasions of warlike patriarchal peoples into areas already settled by peaceful matrilineal, matrifocal cultures in Europe and India.  I had written my undergraduate thesis on the prophets, studying their words in the original Hebrew, but I did not understand that their constant references to the Hebrew people “whoring” after “idols” and worshipping “on every high hill and under every green tree” referred to the fact that many of the Hebrew people were choosing to worship Goddesses in sacred places in nature.  Nor did I understand that the Genesis story which I had studied and taught took the sacred symbols of Goddess religion– the snake, the tree and the fruit of the tree, the female body—and turned them upside down.  Continue reading “REMEMBERING MERLIN STONE, 1931-2011 by Carol P. Christ”

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