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When God Was a Woman

3.99 of 5 stars 3.99  ·  rating details  ·  2,545 ratings  ·  164 reviews
Here, archaeologically documented, is the story of the religion of the Goddess. Under her, women's roles were far more prominent than in patriarchal Judeo-Christian cultures. Stone describes this ancient system and, with its disintegration, the decline in women's status. Index, maps and illustrations.
Hardcover, 265 pages
Published January 1st 1990 by Marboro Books (first published 1976)
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The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret AtwoodThe Second Sex by Simone de BeauvoirA Room of One's Own by Virginia WoolfThe Bell Jar by Sylvia PlathJane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë
Best Feminist Books
106th out of 1,048 books — 1,250 voters
When God Was a Woman by Merlin StoneDemons of the Flesh by Nikolas SchreckThe Chalice and the Blade by Riane EislerThe Living Goddesses by Marija GimbutasStone of the Goddess by Grizel Sandilands
best books on goddess religion
1st out of 25 books — 27 voters

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Community Reviews

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Sam Grace
It's definitely written in a way that is accessible to pretty much anyone, and should be part of your education in that it remains a perspective that people hold on to. But most academics - feminist archaeologists, Classicists and historians included - agree that the majority of the evidence cited doesn't really hold up to snuff. (I'm speaking in particular of Marija Gimbutas' work, which is the most often cited.)

If you loved this book, I strongly recommend following it with Cynthia Eller's The
Lage von Dissen
Stone discusses the history behind the religion(s) of the Goddess. Various religions in the past held that "God" was a female deity, as only females are the creators of life. There is anthropological and archaeological evidence which suggest that the earliest religions were those with a female deity. It wasn't until Indo-European religions (which eventually developed the Judeo-Christian cultures) came through with their male-dominator culture, that the Goddess was first suppressed. With this sup ...more
David Rauschenbach
May 07, 2013 David Rauschenbach rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommended to David by: Claire Penneau
Favorite Quotes:

Jacquetta Hawkes wrote in 1963 that “...Australian and a few other primitive peoples did not understand biological paternity or accept a necessary connection between sexual intercourse and conception.” In that same year, S. G. F. Brandon, Professor of Comparative Religion at the University of Manchester in England, observed, “How the infant came to be in the womb was undoubtedly a mystery to primitive man... in view of the period that separates impregnation from birth, it seems
This was a very insightful look into a wide variety of past religions and cultures where women were revered and had much higher standings than in current cultures. I only wish that Stone could have read the beginning of Captivating before writing her introduction. How sad it is that the continuous misreading of the Christian creation story has led so many women to shy away from this religion and has led so many men to think themselves superior.
Aaron Meyer
An overly feminist book to say the least, at the beginning and cropping up from time to time, but besides that I did enjoy it to a degree. There are many things which I definitely don't agree with her on and I can say I marked the book up pretty good while reading it. She tries to present goddess worshipping peoples as the pinnacle of achievement and present the Indo-European "invaders" as warmongers and the bringers of patriarchal society. She doesn't show you that these goddess worshippers wer ...more
An important book. Two things: One, this book reads academically meaning it can run dry at times. Secondly, though academic in nature the sources of Stone's theories have been questioned and posed as conjecture by some "experts" since the publication of this book in 1978. Now that we got that out of the way let's talk about the meat and potatoes:

There is no question, regardless of the exact methods of worship or the exact conduct of the women in relation to business and sex, families and worship
Sharon Miller
This book is a classic for a reason. It is engrossingly compelling. I do wish it were longer, the author states one idea after another, and more explanation and development of her ideas would have been great. I am sorry to say that I am not well-read enough to know how dated Merlin Stone's scholarship is or how this book holds up today. One small item is that I have noticed in my own exploration is that Steven Mithen in "After the Ice" states that Gobekli Tepe shows no evidence of a Mother Godde ...more
Rabbit {Paint me like one of your 19th century gothic heroines!}
I will pick which letter I will use for the a to z author challenge later.

This book was interesting in the fact, while not that historically accurate* (it was also originally written in 1976), that did not bother me. I read this as more of a spiritual contemplation then a historical document. I am debating on putting this on the feminism shelf, but at the same time not sure if it belongs there. We shall see how my bookshelves progress. LOL

*To be fair, academically. historically, and scientifical
Nancy Szul
This book was read in defiance of the patiarchal order of things. In a quest for spirituality, I had to go back to my ten year old logic and rebuild what worked, from there. The book was actually a spin off of Joseph Campbell's earlier readings. I liked the historical view, but i can't say I agree with the spin of the logic, but then again, I can't agree with the opposing spin. Fun, lifts your wings sisters!
What can I say about this book that has not already been said? It was not a complete eye-opener, having previously been exposed to ritual and belief systems that venerated the sacred feminine, but Stone's work is a landmark on this topic.
I just found this in a box of books
I just found again...Every good feminist should read this. ;)
Feb 15, 2013 Heather rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: everyone
Merlin Stone really knocked this introduction into how the Goddess religions were conquered by monotheism. It's very short and many ideas are skimmed over. I also wish she had used foot/end notes instead of just a bibliography. It makes it a lot harder to see specific books that match with specific ideas and quotes.

She talks about the evidence found through archeological digs, ancient documents, religious practices, etc about the actual existence of Goddess worship. Where it was practiced: mainl
Zoe Zuniga
I was raised with the ideas that are counter cultural and this was one of the basic texts that my mother quoted often. None of this seems controversial or weird to me though I have come to learn that it does to most people.

I thought it was common knowledge that women were seen as positive, smart and leaders who where of course equal to men, for ten or 20 thousand years and that things only changed very recently within the last 2 to 3 thousand years.

She also told me that the king james version of
Filippus  Sergius Angelus
From an historical perspective, this book is almost entirely fictitious. Merlin Stone confuses religion with the church/temple and it's leaders. She draws a distinct line between early Neolithic-Mesopotamian paganism and the Abrahamic religions, even though the latter clearly developed from the former. She confuses ancient legal documents for spiritual texts, even if they hold that place in today's society. They did not during the time she is refering to. I don't think she understands that 2500 ...more
Jude Arnold
WHEN GOD WAS A WOMAN by Merlin Stone
“I am Nature, the Universal Mother, mistress of all elements, primordial child of time, sovereign of all things spiritual, queen of the dead, queen also of the immortals, the single manifestation of all gods and goddesses that are. My nod governs the shining heights of Heaven, the wholesome sea breezes, the lamentable silences of the world below. Though I am worshipped in many aspects, known by countless names, and propitiated with all manner of different rite
Janet Parfitt
I thought this book was extremely factual and interesting. It details how the original matriarchal religions were destroyed by later patriarchal religions and goes on to describe how this affected the treatment of women in general. A really eye-opening read!
Esther-maria Lindner
Although this is a slow read as a lot of information and history needs to be digested, I believe it is an incredible book, that should be made compulsary literature in schools as it gives a new and different perspective and account of the development of religion from originally matriarchal religions and societies that were then thwarted for patriarchal power and religions. However a core of today's patriarchal religions have their foundation in the original goddess societies. It is a great book ...more
It's a classic, and there are definitely some interesting ideas that I think have merit. But there are also a whole lot of bad research techniques that are pretty jarring, and in the copy that I had, no real citations. She'll mention an author and give a block quote, but not give enough detail to track down a source. In one section she went on at length about what a Greek writer said about the lifestyle of Egyptian women. The entire section had a really exaggerated feel that could easily be acco ...more
Merlin Stone synthesizes a great deal of the scholarship and ancient narratives of the goddess religions (though, as she points out, at the time of the Upper Paleolithic, everything was a goddess religion.) She reminds us of Innin, Inanna, Nana, Nut, Anat, Anahita, Istar, isis, Au Set, Ishara, Asherah, Ashtart, Attoret, Attar and Hathor, amongst others. She takes us on an ambition journey, travelling from the dawn of the Neolithic, through the Sumerian myths and writing, over to Cret, and then g ...more
I can't believe I forgot to review this book. I read it months and months ago.

Anyway, I couldn't even finish it. It was boring and dry and ridiculous.

The author has no background in archeology or anthropology. She's an artist.... with an agenda. And she twists everything to fit that agenda.

I also found it obnoxious that she vehemently accused others of bias when she is INCREDIBLY biased herself.

Basically, I didn't believe much of what she said.
Not what I hoped it would be. Perhaps if I read this in an academic setting then I would appreciate it more but it was simply too dry for me. There were large sections, particularly in the middle where I felt like I was reading the bible and became lost/desensitized by all of the names. I appreciate that the author was building a case to defend her thesis by listing ALL of the various tribes, nations, etc that worshipped female figures or attacked and suppressed said worshippers but it all got o ...more
Some iffy scholarship and several naive conclusions (a global network of prehistoric civilizations?) cannot overturn the basic premise of Stone's work. Rejecting the androcentric bias of conventional academia, When God Was a Woman digs out the complex interplay of gender spirituality in pre-Biblical times. Very worth reading.
I keep re-reading this book. Such a great resource, although there are flaws in it. It was originally published 40 years ago after all, and anthroplogy has certainly made discoveries since then. But a definite read for any of those interested in women and religion.
I'm giving this book three stars because of its sloppy scholarship. But when I read it back in the early eighties, I loved it, and it certainly opened my mind to new ways of looking at scripture and mythology.
This book intrigued me. The archaeological evidence is definitely there regarding the worship of goddesses, but I just can't get too excited over the whole patriarchal/matriarchal fight and injustices.
It's 30 years old and, as another review notes, the conclusions reached from the archeology are hotly contested but, if nothing else, it illustrates just how little we know about preliterate civilizations.
Inaccurate and overly opinionated, but this was probably the first book of it's kind. I know it impressed me when it first came out. Probably doesn't hold up, but worth a look.
5/13/15 2.5 While it was interesting, I felt that too much of it was based on speculation and myth without enough facts to back it up.
Diana Libby
A "MUST READ" for every woman and girl...and for educated men who want to be more so. Some may mistakenly read this as a "Feminist" book. Given the years and years of patriarchal crap women have had to live with, I think it eloquently attempts to balance the equation. I can't say enough GOOD about this book. It is historically interesting and insightful. It is not written for women or by women - it is written for humans. Hopefully, the bright ones out there will read it and spread the wisdom it ...more
Required reading for anyone who has ever encountered or been affected by patriarchal religion.

And the last sentence... Just, damn! Way to end on a high note, she was kind of losing me in the last chapter, but she tied it together.

I understand that some scholars differ on most (every?) assertion made in this book, but the author states from the very beginning that the point is not as much to inform, but to raise the question. To make people curious and get people to dig into the research for them
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Merlin Stone is a sculptor and professor of art and art history, perhaps best-known for her feminist book, When God Was a Woman.

Merlin Stone became interested in archaeology and ancient religions from her study of ancient art. She taught at the State University of New York at Buffalo. From 1958 to 1967 she worked as a sculptor, exhibiting widely and executing numerous commissions. (Accord
More about Merlin Stone...
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“Yet rather than calling the earliest religions, which embraced such an open acceptance of all human sexuality, 'fertility cults,' we might consider the religions of today as strange in that they seem to associate shame and even sin with the very process of conceiving new human life. Perhaps centuries from now scholars and historians will be classifying them as 'sterility cults.” 27 likes
“Many questions come to mind. How influenced by contemporary religions were many of the scholars who wrote the texts available today? How many scholars have simply assumed that males have always played the dominant role in leadership and creative invention and projected this assumption into their analysis of ancient cultures? Why do so many people educated in this century think of classical Greece as the first major culture when written language was in use and great cities built at least twenty-five centuries before that time? And perhaps most important, why is it continually inferred that the age of the "pagan" religions, the time of the worship of female deities (if mentioned at all), was dark and chaotic, mysterious and evil, without the light of order and reason that supposedly accompanied the later male religions, when it has been archaeologically confirmed that the earliest law, government, medicine, agriculture, architecture, metallurgy, wheeled vehicles, ceramics, textiles and written language were initially developed in societies that worshiped the Goddess? We may find ourselves wondering about the reasons for the lack of easily available information on societies who, for thousands of years, worshiped the ancient Creatress of the Universe.” 13 likes
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