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A Review of

The Woman's Dictionary
Of Symbols And Sacred Objects

by Barbara G. Walker

 

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Summary

Presented in dictionary format, this book contains entries describing the role that over 700 objects had as symbols and sacred objects in ancient myths. It covers body parts, nature, birds, plants, minerals, stones, shells, and more. Cover

 

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Fact Sheet

Title

The Woman's Dictionary Of Symbols And Sacred Objects

Author

Barbara G. Walker

ISBN

0062509233

Publisher

Harper Collins Publishers

Category

Non-Fiction: Ancient Cultures

Rating

StarStarStar

Number of Pages

527

Published In

1988

 

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Description

This is a reference book, presented in dictionary format, which offers descriptions of the symbolism or sacred nature of over 700 objects in ancient myths. It covers body parts, nature, birds, plants, minerals, stones, shells, and more. The book draws from legends of the Middle East, India, and Europe.

Here is a sample entry:

Turquoise

Turquoise means "Turkish stone". Turks greatly prized it as an amulet, calling it Fayruz, the lucky stone. It was perhaps identical with the Moslem sakhrat, a sacred stone from Mount Qaf, the residence of fairies and giants. This stone was "the color of an emerald reflecting the blue sky." Miracles could be worked with a single grain of it. This stone also had a tenuous connection with the ancient Goddess, for one of the ancient Egyptian titles of Isis was "Lady of Turquoise." However, the original reference may have been to lapis lazuli; mineral names in old writings are often inaccurate and arbitrary.

Buddhists claimed that Buddha once destroyed a monster with the help of a magic turquoise. In Arabia it was believed that the stone would warn of approaching danger by changing its color. The color of some varieties can in fact be changed by environmental factors such as heat, light, oil, perspiration, or dryness.

Turquoise was used as a horse amulet because it was believed to keep horses from foundering, and to protect both horses and their riders from falls. European writers insisted that turquoise would at least soften the effects of a fall: "Whoever owns the true turquoise set in gold will not injure any of his limbs when he falls, whether he be riding or walking, so long as he has the stone with him."

Each page contains 2 or 3 line drawings illustrating a couple of the symbols that appear on that page. They provide a useful function, but it would have been better to have illustrations for all the entries, not just a couple per page.

 

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Is It Right for You?

 

You Will Probably Enjoy This Book If...

  • You embrace feminist spirituality.
  • You would like historical information about the underlying symbolism behind various images.
  • You're looking for a book that's easy to pick up for just a few minutes then put down, as when waiting at a doctor's office.
  • You wonder whether a design that you're interested in using in a costume or set design has any historical connotations in the Middle East.
  • You are looking for a source of creative inspiration.

 

This Book Probably Isn't Right for You If...

  • You're looking for a resource that includes the sacred traditions of the native people of the Western Hemisphere and East Asia.
  • You expect reference books to identify the sources of the "facts" they put forward.
  • You're a Christian, Jew, or Muslim who would be offended by a book that seems to be hostile to your religion and its Patriarchal traditions.

 

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What I Liked, What I Didn't

 

What I Liked:

  • This book is very comprehensive in its listing of ancient symbols.
  • I learned a great deal about ancient myths and legends simply by thumbing through this book and reading entries at random.
  • I find the format to be very readable - each entry is reasonably short, but packs a great deal of information into a small space.
  • The book is well-suited to read when waiting for something - doctor's office, airline departure lounge, etc. - because it's easy to pick up where I left off without losing the thread of a narrative.
  • There are many line drawings to illustrate what many of the symbols look like.
  • I enjoy letting this book fall open wherever it wants to, and reading the entries on those pages.
  • The book is very well suited to browsing, as well as to reference.

 

What I Didn't Like:

  • A few topics don't receive the coverage I might have expected. For example, one topic I had hoped to see was the Islamic Hand Of Fatima, but this book mentions it only in passing in the entry under Hand.
  • Some of the entries feel more like "wishtory" (what the author wishes history was like) rather than fact.
  • Although this book includes extensive information from the mythical traditions of Europe, the Middle East, and India, it has almost no coverage of other parts of the world such as eastern Asia or the Western Hemisphere.
  • I would have preferred more footnotes identifying where the author's information came from. It's frustrating to want more information on certain topics with no indication of where the author's facts came from.

 

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Conclusion

Many women from the 1970's and 1980's generation of feminists were attracted to the idea that there was once an era, before the Abraham-based religions, when cultures were matriarchal, people worshiped all-powerful goddesses, and women ruled society. This book is one of the works that was published in that genre of feminist spirituality.

Although this book contains a large amount of information that matches my personal research, I'm still skeptical about its credibility as a whole. There are just too many claimed "facts" for which no sources are identified. I enjoy thumbing through it and reading segments, but I'd want to fact-check the information I find in it with information from other, better-documented sources before relying on it as a source of knowledge.

I think it's a useful book, however, for stimulating my creative thought processes. It fuels my imagination to explore the many symbols and to read the tales of what they signified. It inspires me with ideas for costumes or theatrical pieces. T

 

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Disclosures

There is nothing to disclose. I have never had any contact with anyone associated with this book.

 

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