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The Woman’s Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets by Sophie Duquette 


            This encyclopedia by Barbara G. Walker helps to understand the origin of many words, symbols, and concepts associated with women. It explains and traces what used to be the meaning of the word and also what it represented at the beginning. I will introduce a couple of entries in this book.  

            We all know this story popularized by Walt Disney: A stepdaughter is forced to work all day while her stepsisters just lay around not doing anything. Although she is sad, she has friends she can count on, the mice and her fairy godmother. Of course I am talking about Cinderella who then goes on to live happily ever after with her prince charming. The Grim Brothers also wrote down this folk tale, but theirs was more bloody and punishing at the end. In her book, Walker deconstructs the story to explain the analogies in the book. For example Cinderella was considered the daughter of Mother Earth and the “ugly stepmother was the new church. Her ugly stepsisters were the church’s darlings, the military aristocracy and the clergy” (168). Also the prince is a representation of mankind and in the original stories the ‘fairy godmother’ was not a person, but a tree that was sent by Cinderella’s mother, the Earth. Just knowing that the characters in the story can stand as something different than what is usually showed in fairy tales brings another perspective to the story. In this entry Walker also explains other aspects and symbolism in the story which makes us realized how Disney shaped Cinderella as the perfect princess and forgetting what she represented at the beginning.    

            Another entry in the encyclopedia is that of a strong unbreakable woman, Medusa (p.629). Her power of turning men to stone and having a head full of snake are legendary. Also who knew that she was the goddess representing the female wisdom? That she represented the past, present and future? She was even considered the mother of all gods. Walker explains how Medusa came to be represented as turning men into stone. With the ancient beliefs there are actually two different explanations to her particular ability. Walker also explains that the serpent-like hair of Medusa was a known symbol for “divine female wisdom.” There is more information on Medusa including explanations on why some of the myths are based on the fact that she is a woman.   

            These are just two examples of entries included in this book. There are over a thousand pages of information on a wide variety of subjects, but always with a reference to women. In the book, Walker explains the fear of ‘moon-blood’; she talks about Eve; the fact that there once was a female pope; and many more information and facts are included. It is a very interesting encyclopedia where each page brings more explanations and teaches us many things that we were unaware of. Since there is no index included in the book, Cheryl Brooks compiled a 40-page index available for free. Here is a link to this index:


Work Cited

WALKER, G. Barbara. The Woman’s Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets. New York:    HarperOne, 1983. 






Woman's Dictionary: Symbols and Sacred Objects by Kate Goulet

 Barbara G. Walker was born in July 1930 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. She studied journalism at the University of Pennsylvania and began working for the Washington Star in Washington, D.C. In the 1970’s, Walker was serving on a local hotline helping battered woman and pregnant teen; It is through this life experience that she became interested in feminism.

Even if she is a specialist in knitting and has written several books and encyclopedias on the subject, she also writes about other topics like religion, spirituality, cultural anthropology and mythology from the point of view of Pre-Indo-European Neolithic matriarchies. During the 1960’s and the 1970’s, she has written more than 15 books about knitting which became very popular thanks to their clear explanations. Despite this propensity for this hobby, Walker was an accomplished feminist and this reality is present in her other novels such as " Woman’s Dictionary: Symbols and Sacred Objects.” She said of herself that she was an atheist and she wrote about her beliefs in her book “The Skeptical Feminist: Discovering the Virgin, Mother, and Crone,” telling that for her, there was no God. On the other side, even if she was atheist, she was convinced that people, particularly women, could use the images of Goddess in their everyday lives; that is why this author uses the imagery of Mother Goddess to discuss Neolithic matriarchies. She also uses one of her meditation book to explain this technique to all women: “Woman's Rituals: a Sourcebook.” Following the creation of all these books, she received in 1995, the “Women Making Herstory” award from the New Jersey National Organization for Women and in 1993, The American Humanist Association named her "Humanist Heroine."

One of her most popular books is probably the “Woman’s Dictionary: Symbols and Sacred Objects” in which she describes each symbol used over time to represent women. This book was written as a mini dictionary in which Barbara G. Walker describes the nature of sacred symbols and more than 700 objects in ancient myths. It talks about nature and objects that come from it like stones, plants, shells. This writing also concerns body parts, animals, colors and much more. In this book, the author talks about several legends, especially legends from Europe, India and the Middle East. In summary, most of the book is about feminist spirituality.

Personally, I enjoyed this book because it was easy to read. The author wrote it so that the explanation of each symbol is easy to understand, without going into details about the sacred traditions of people mentioned in the legends it uses. The author talks mainly about every different interpretation and meaning which may be associated with a symbol. Some of these symbols are related to the uterus of the woman or her fertility; some others refer to Greek alphabet. The symbol of Celtic cross for example, refers in a way to a sign of sexual union, but from another point of view, it refers to Christianity.

In fact, I believe that Barbara G. Walker wrote this book to make us understand how the symbols that surround us are often related to women. Hundreds of images, symbols and designs have hidden meanings and I believe it worth a closer look, it is possible to learn many things about people past.


Work Cited


Walker, Barbara. Woman’s Dictionary: Symbols and Sacred Objects.  San Francisco, Harper & Row : 1988





©Martine Pelletier