THE LANGUAGE OF THE GODDESS, by Marija Gimbutas; Harper & Row, San Francisco, 1989; hardcover.

THE ONCE AND FUTURE GODDESS: A Symbol for Our Time, by Elinor W. Gadon; Harper & Row, Sun Francisco, 1989.

THE HEART OF THE GODDESS, by Hallie Iglehart Austen; Wingbow Press, Berkeley, 1990; paperback.

The Goddess peers at us from the covers of many books these days as she reenters society jaded from too much science and rationality. Women and men are looking to her more and more for inspiration and are invoking her spirit to create a new pattern of partnership, peace, and harmony. Three Goddess books in particular are notable for their profuse and stunning images.

In The Language of the Goddess anthropologist and prehistorian Marija Gimbutas documents the prehistoric Goddess era with over 2000 symbolic artifacts (shown in black and white) dating from Neolithic times, She adds more archaeological data to the growing evidence that the Goddess as Earth Mother was worshipped for millennia through a vast area of Europe to the Near East. Gimbutas attempts to recreate the worldview of these prehistoric agrarian cultures by interpreting the images they left. For example, she cites the persistence of images of snakes as a sign of devotion to snake Goddesses and Gods as symbols of the life force, of fertility and increase, of regeneration and healing. The scope of the material is dazzling, and one wants to accept the author's conclusions. However, skeptics could accuse her of reading too much into the designs of these people whose inner lives are lost in the mists of time. One wonders if the zig-zag or the chevron, for instance, always were meant to convey spiritual meaning, and if so if they had the same meaning from one culture to another.

However, Joseph Campbell is one who was convinced. In his foreword he writes. “The iconography of the Great Goddess arose in reflection and veneration of the laws of Nature.” For him “the message of [this book] is of an actual age of harmony and peace in accord with the creative energies of nature.”

In The Once and Future Goddess, art historian Elinor Gadon traces the vast sweep of history from the Ice Age to the present. Through 200 black-and-white and 50 color photos, along with full explanations, she illustrates the varied visions of the Goddess and ways of worshipping her through the ages. Yet, according to the author, “While the Goddess has indeed had many names, many manifestations throughout human history, she is ultimately one supreme reality.” The richly illustrated accounts reveal the feminine deity as earth-centered and body-affirming; not otherworldly; holistic; immanent and part of nature. The way of lie she inspires is peaceful and promotes harmony among men and women and with the natural environment. To bring her spirit into our times, contemporary artists from many backgrounds are reimaging the Goddess as a symbol of resacralizing the feminine in our male-dominated world, and their creations are well represented in the book.

Again, the author's thesis is appealing. But when she tries to recreate the mindset of preliterate peoples, we could wish that she would distinguish more clearly between fact and interpretation and back up her interpretations more thoroughly. Still, this is a book that those who appreciate the Goddess will treasure.

The Heart of the Goddess by Hallie Iglehart Austen is not a scholarly treatise about the Goddess. Rather it is a visual meditation on some of her manifestations. The author has assembled beautiful images of seventy  Goddesses from cultures throughout the world, each a piece of sacred art that was at one time worshipped and revered. A description of the cultural background of each image is given. And for each Goddess a bit of a story or myth or a poem or song offers another mode for sensing her essence, as does a visualization, prayer or ritual prescribed for each. The gentle, meditative practices suggested for restoring an appreciation for the sanctity of life are a welcome complement to the more aggressive methods of some environmentalists and feminists.

As more and more Goddess books come out every year, we realize, as a bumper sticker says, that “The Goddess is alive and magic is afoot.”


Summer 1991