The Woman's Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets

by Barbara G. Walker

Paperback, 1983




HarperOne (1983), Edition: 1, 1136 pages


Do You Know... where the legend of a cat's nine lives comes from? why "mama" is a word understood in nearly all languages? how the custom of kissing began? whether there really was a female pope? why Cinderella's glass slipper was so important to the Prince? The answers to these and countless other intriguing questions are given in this compulsively readable, feminist encyclopedia. Twenty-five years in preparation, this unique, comprehensive sourcebook focuses on mythology anthropology, religion, and sexuality to uncover precisely what other encyclopedias leave out or misrepresent. The Woman's Encyclopedia presents the fascinating stories behind word origins, legends, superstitions, and customs. A browser's delight and an indispensable resource, it offers 1,350 entries on magic, witchcraft, fairies, elves, giants, goddesses, gods, and psychological anomalies such as demonic possession; the mystical meanings of sun, moon, earth, sea, time, and space; ideas of the soul, reincarnation, creation and doomsday; ancient and modern attitudes toward sex, prostitution, romance, rape, warfare, death and sin, and more. Tracing these concepts to their prepatriarchal origins, Barbara G. Walker explores a "thousand hidden pockets of history and custom in addition to the valuable material recovered by archaeologists, orientalists, and other scholars." Not only a compendium of fascinating lore and scholarship, The Woman's Encyclopedia is a revolutionary book that offers a rare opportunity for both women and men to see our cultural heritage in a fresh light, and draw upon the past for a more humane future.… (more)


½ (107 ratings; 3.9)

User reviews

LibraryThing member ArlieS
This is a work of fiction presented as if it were non-fiction, complete with footnotes to real works that don't support the author's points. I don't know what parts of this work are actually true, but once I found the dishonest footnotes, I didn't care.

I understand the desire to have lots of
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history favorable to one's group, and to imagine a better past when one doesn't like current conditions. Any number of authors of honest fiction do an excellent job of imagining such pasts. I can even kind of understand selecting the least likely explanation for some fact, if that's the one that feels most congenial, and writing it up with "could be ..." and "some researchers suggest ...".

But none of that excuses dishonest footnotes.

You can't learn anything from this work, even if parts of it are in fact true, because you'll never know which parts were basically made up. Checking for reliable-seeming sources won't help; you need to actually read the author's supposed sources.
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LibraryThing member melannen
This is a fun book - in a kitsch sort of way, not as good anthropology. Read it for what it tells you about the author, not for what it tells you about mythology. In this book, the biases are so transparent that it's a good guide for reading other interpretations, also biased but less ridiculously
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so. And it's a great example of a constructed mythology, if you're interesting in building your own. It's also fun to play 'six degrees of Kali'.
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LibraryThing member PinkPandaParade
Despite the title, Barbara G. Walker's incredibly thorough handling of female connections and allusions in different cultures, ethnicities, histories, etc. is highly useful and engaging for anyone interested in myth, history, or society in general. In fact, the synopsis includes a highly praising
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quote from Russell Hoban, the author of _Riddley Walker_. The _Encyclopedia_ covers a huge number of interesting topics that is told in a style of writing that is not "monotone" as most normal encyclopedias are. Among other things, it covers the significance of Cinderella's glass slipper, the various mythologies and beliefs surrounding the moon, and the symbolic qualities of things like pomegranates and hair. It answers questions like, "Who was Adam's first wife?" "Why is breaking a mirror considered to be bad luck?" and "Was there ever a female pope or a real Easter bunny?" I have gained so much knowledge from this book, which is best-read by flipping through it and stopping at different points of interest or curiosity. Aside from her entries, Walker includes interesting trivia on the margins and begins each section with various images of historic statues, sculptures, paintings, and photographs.Walker is really worthy of much praise here. Over 1100 pages and over 20 years of research has resulted in an amazing fusion of myth, history, legend, culture, religion, and so many countless other disciplines. The detail is simply unbelievable. I found myself so enthralled in this book, much like I would be caught up in a good suspense novel. It is easy to get completely caught up in this book. So many topics are covered, and once I came up with one at random and found Walker's coverage and research on it, my mind popped up with yet another possibility to discover.
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LibraryThing member maiadeb
Vital ingrediant to a feminist library
LibraryThing member lilinah
A real piece of junk. This was very popular among Pagans, Goddess-worshippers, and feminists when it came out. But Walker's resources are antiquated and long out-dated by newer studies.

Unreliable and not to be taken seriously. It's more wishful thinking then real thought.

Clearly NOT recommended.
LibraryThing member mysterytramp
NOT just for women!! The best one volume reference on mythology, "hidden" history, & feminine origins of just about everything. Extended essays throughout are scholarly & extraordinarily informative. Highly recommended.
LibraryThing member adriadne
When I read this years ago, I checked some of her "sources" because some of what I read just didn't seem plausible. I thought it was quite a stretch from the supposed source to her interpretation in many cases. Interesting ideas and perhaps a good jumping off point for further research and
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exploration though.
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LibraryThing member Czrbr
Book Description: San Francisco: Harper Row, 1983. Good. First Edition. 8vo - over 7�" - 9¾" tall.
LibraryThing member allyshaw
The prolific Barbara G. Walker-- what would we do without her? I refer to this epic endeavor of hers quite often. It is a wealth of information, idiosyncratically presented in such a way that it reminds me of Johnson's first dictionary-- a willful presentation of a myriad silenced histories with no
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pretense of being objective about it.
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LibraryThing member ftmckinstry
There is a great deal of information in this book, but it's written with such a heavy bias that I found myself irritated and questioning the research. I would have preferred to get this information in a more thoughtful, well-researched way, instead of being bludgeoned by the author's slanted point
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of view.
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Original language


Original publication date


Physical description

1124 p.; 6.13 inches


006250925X / 9780062509253
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