BookMusings: (Re)Discovering Pagan Literature

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Book Review: Goddess: A Celebration in Art and Literature

Title: Goddess: A Celebration in Art and Literature

Publisher: Abrams/Stewart Tabori and Chang

Editor: Jalaja Bonheim

Pages: 240 pp

Price: varies (out of print)

ISBN: 1-55670-621-9

In this celebratory work, Bonheim draws on art and literature from around the world, from cultures ancient, medieval and modern. The book is divided into nine sections: Mother of the Universe, Elemental Magic, Heavenly Bodies, The Goddess of Love and Pleasure, The Suffering of the Goddess, A Terrible Beauty, The Goddess and Her Mate, Hidden Goddesses, and Guardian of the Soul.* Each contains paintings, statues, bas reliefs and sculptures, poems, essays, excerpts from longer fiction and nonfiction prose works, chants and hymns, and ancient oral fables. Goddesses as diverse as Isis, La Mariposa (Butterfly Woman), Akewa, Kali, Macha, Hathor, Oshun, Grandmother Spider, Eurynome, and Coatlicue are featured. Texts include those written by Apuleius, Clarissa Pinkola Estes, Nur al Jerrahi, Paula Gunn Allen, Carolyn McVickar Edwards, Ramprasad Sen, Sulpicia, Luiseh Teish, Homer, Thich Nhat Hanh, Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb, and many others.

I don't remember exactly when or where I found this book. It was probably at my hometown bookstore. But do know that I have had it for quite a while, since I carted it off to grad school and that was almost two decades ago. It is one of those books that has become so deeply embedded in my life, the images in its pages so imprinted in my brain, that I rarely give it conscious thought. It simply is.

It is also the book I have been most sorely tempted to rip to pieces so I can frame the pages ....

Bonheim did an excellent job of organizing a wealth of material, and of pairing art and text. Some of the pairings are obvious: an Aztec prayer to Coatlicue with the gigantic statue from the National Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City; or the section "Heavenly Bodies" with Sir Edward Burne-Jones' painting "Luna." Other pairings are not as obvious, but equally evocative; for instance, Erica Mead's text "Eurynome" (a fluidic Goddess is every there was one) with Henri-Edmond Cross' seascape "The Island of Gold." Or Bonheim's own text "The Descent of Inanna" with a photograph of a female-headed Greco-Phoenician sarcophagus.

Originally published in 1997 and priced at an impressive $50.00 US, the book has long since fallen out of print. To a degree, I suppose that is a good thing: with used copies priced as low as .42 cents (plus shipping) Goddess is now more affordable to a greater number of people than when it was originally released.

Highly recommended to anyone with an interest in Goddesses, and the art and literature about them. Also, anyone who needs inexpensive devotional artwork, or inspirational text for a ritual.


*Plus an index of Goddesses and a very helpful list of literary credits. My To Buy/To Read list expanded significantly after reading Goddess.

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Rebecca Buchanan is the editor of the Pagan literary ezine Eternal Haunted Summer. She is also the editor-in-chief of Bibliotheca Alexandrina. She thinks it is incredibly unfair that she must work for a living rather than being able to read all day. In her next life, she would like to be a library cat.


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