Encyclopedia of Goddesses & Heroines
by Patricia Monaghan

New World Library, 2014. ISBN 978-1-608-68217-1.
Reviewed by Mary Ann Moore
Posted on 07/16/2014

Nonfiction: History/Current Events; Nonfiction: American Women in Their Cultural/Historical Context

"Who knew she had so many names?" Vicki Nobel says in her endorsement of the Encyclopedia of Goddesses & Heroines by Patricia Monaghan. She's referring to the Goddess known by different names, in various forms throughout time and the many cultures of the world. The book is a paperback version of two volumes originally published in hardcover in 2009.

I remember a university professor with whom I took an evening course on goddess spirituality in the mid-nineties saying that polytheism is so much more relevant for women than monotheism. The exact word may not have been "relevant" but what stays with me are words and terms like welcoming, multi-faceted, all-embracing, and women-affirming.

Dr. Christiane Northrup's endorsement echoes what I'm attempting to remember: "Something deep within every woman is healed and validated when she learns the rich feminine history of goddesses and heroines through history and their importance in all the world's cultures. And it's all here in this magnificent work."

The encyclopedia is divided into sections based on geographical and cultural divisions. An introduction to each section describes the role of women in that part of the world. Modern revivals of ancient goddess religions are mentioned as well as "ethical" or other concerns about such revivals.

In each section, individual entries describe important goddesses and heroines. For instance, "The Americas" includes North America, Mesoamerica and South America, and the Caribbean.

With more than 500 Native American cultures, Patricia Monaghan would have had a lot of archaeological, mythological, literary, and First Nations' research to do on that section alone. Sheer numbers wouldn't have been the only challenge. There would have been the necessity to condense mountains of information.

The Pacific Northwest, where I live, is home to many groups whose customs still flourish. They include the Haida, Tlingit, Chinook, Tsimshian, the people of Bella Coola and Bella Bella and the Kwakiutl.

"Many of the cultures were exterminated or suppressed by warfare intended to take their lands," Monaghan points out. Researchers in the past often failed to record names of goddesses and female figures were given "status names" like "Old Mother" or "Young Girl."

The names are alphabetical so one has to search for one's region. Nono'osqua is the Bella Coola "mother of flowers" who "lives in the House of Myths, from which she brings forth all the plants every spring, when two old women call forth her power in ritual." (Bella Coola is on the coast of British Columbia.)

Tacoma is the earth goddess of the Salish, Nisqualli, Puyallup, and Yakima embodied in the snowy peak of Mount Rainier in Washington State.

The Greek pantheon includes goddesses familiar to many: Ariadne, Artemis and Athena. The Amazons are described as well. They were "warriors bearing ivy-shaped shields and double-bladed axes as they marched under their war queen."

There's so much rich material and fascinating stories to dip into here. Monaghan's research went on for most of her life as she began publishing books on women's spirituality more than thirty years ago. You can have a look at your own part of the world, and have a look at the part of the world your ancestors came from, as well as find many resources for further reading in the extensive bibliography. The encyclopedia is an ideal resource for women of all ages and a definite antidote to the portrayals of women in advertising and the media in our contemporary lives.

Patricia Monaghan, Ph.D. (1946-2012), was a leader in the contemporary women's spirituality movement as well as an award-winning poet, scholar, activist, and mentor. In 1979, she published the first encyclopedia of female divinities, a book that has remained in print since then in various formats and that she later expanded into the current volume.

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