The Tangled Hedge

A hedge-hopping awenydd follows the Mother of Life's trackways and brings back what is needed, connecting the village with the numinous wilds.

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Breaking The Mother Goose Code

Imagine... What if Mother Goose was the ancient European Mother Goddess in disguise, hidden from the patriarchal, monotheistic church that took over Europe, appearing in print just as the Inquisition and Witch-hunts drove anything non-Christian underground? What if the Mother Goose “nursery rhymes” taught to children over the last few centuries were a way to pass on an encoded pre-Christian worldview? Are fairy tales the carriers of the Pagan values of ancestors who had to disguise them as “peasant imbecilities” to keep them in cultural memory in a stratified society, of which the hierarchical authorities wanted to eradicate their egalitarian, animistic, and earthy worldview?

These questions are explored in Jeri Studebaker’s new book, “Breaking the Mother Goose Code: How a Fairy-Tale Character Fooled the World for 300 Years” published by Moon Books. I was excited to read the advance copy I asked for, since folklore and fairy tales have always fascinated me, and I really love reading about history - especially Pagan history. I know I’m not alone in these interests, so I thought I’d share my thoughts on the book after reading it.

Not only does the book address the specific history of the publishing of the Mother Goose tales (Charles Perrault, etc.) and the rhyme about Mother Goose, herself (Old Mother Goose When She Wanted To Wander) and the imagery in the illustrations over the centuries, but it explores the specific goddesses she resembles (Hulda/Helle/Hel, Aphrodite, the neolithic bird goddess…), and the symbolism surrounding her that matches with ancient mythology (spinning, the world egg, ducks/geese/swans…), and it looks into the tales and rhymes for what values and lessons might be encoded in them, and how they differ from the prevailing Christian cultural attitudes of the times. All of these aspects of the book were interesting in their own way. I could have read more about each subject, but I was also satisfied with the book-length presentation. There are even appendices in the back with a few relevant synopses of fairy tales, the full Grimm’s “Mother Holle” tale, and a set of discussion questions for reading the book with a group.

One weakness in the presentation was the lack of illustrations. There was much talk of book covers and illustrations, analyzing their imagery, but I had to look them up myself on the Internet as I was reading about them. The book could have really used pictures if it was going to talk about specific images so much. I would hope there will be illustrations in future editions. Perhaps if the book does well, that will happen.

It was a pleasant, transporting (to childhood, to ancient Europe, to the middle ages and more recent centuries), magical read, and I find myself hungry to go look up more about these symbols and goddesses and read even more fairy tales with an eye to what gems might be hidden within them, though I’ve long known there are lessons in them, having been a reader of the Journal of Mythic Arts’ Folkroots columns and Clarissa Pinkola Estes’ “Women Who Run With The Wolves.” Now I can look even deeper into time (before Indo-European patriarchy as well as pre-Christianity) and keep the Pagan ancestors in mind as I read the tales. I’ve also been collecting Mother Goose images on Pinterest, because now they’re full of meaning for me.

As a Pagan, I feel grateful to the ancestors for preserving what they could and sending these messages to us through time. My fascination with fairy tales does seem to be what guided me onto the path I walk now. Magic and kindness and laughter and egalitarian values did seep into my soul from my immersion in the tales and rhymes I loved so much as a child. They also seem to have made it into the contemporary fantasy being written today, and that also helped me find my way back to where I belong. I’m also grateful to the scholar and author of this book, Jeri Studebaker, for reconnecting the dots so more of us can get the message and find our way back to our heritage, which had to be hidden during a long and brutal oppression. The time has come for the knowledge to blossom again, and for us to reclaim the cultural heritage of peace, equality, and joy that was suppressed.

Have a gander (hehe) into this book if you'd like to do some reclaiming, or if you enjoy history and fairy tales. It may touch you as deeply as it did me.

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Lia is an awenydd, writer, journal editor (A Beautiful Resistance), copyeditor (Druid Magazine), hedge witch, mother, musician, OBOD Bard, and anthropology major, living in the wild, enchantingly beautiful mountain west (USA). Her spiritual influences tend toward the ancient and indigenous, with a future-focused hope that humanity will return to a spiritually-rich and thriving sustainability.


  • Constance Tippett Chandler
    Constance Tippett Chandler Sunday, 15 February 2015

    Dear Lia,
    Go to this video that I made about The Real Mother Goose if you want to see iIlustrations. This Goddess " archetype" goes back further then 300 years. I did this video to go with for When I researched the figures to put on the timeline, I notice the thread of this Mother Goose figure, so put it in a vidoe in a fairy tale form. Later, I found even another figure in Old Europe that I didn't put in the video. Another thing, I read some where that the Grim bothers. Glad to see a women reseach and wrote a book about it.
    Constance Tippett
    took the tales from a famous older women of the times, and rewrote them in their names

  • Lia Hunter
    Lia Hunter Wednesday, 18 February 2015

    Thank you for sharing your video, Constance. The intriguing artifacts like the goose boat and the chariot pulled by geese were cool to see! I liked the ending... "traveling on tongues". :)

  • Constance Tippett Chandler
    Constance Tippett Chandler Sunday, 22 February 2015

    Dear Lia,
    Just got Studebaker's book. Great read! Plus she wrote another book that i just love "Switching to Goddess" I recommend her book highly. Funny we came to the same concluions separately.. I quess Mother Goose wanted to be known.

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