The Alphabet Versus the Goddess

If you’ve ever wondered what happened to the Goddess in ancient belief and myth, why She vanished, as well as why women have been treated so abysmally at certain times in history in nearly every culture, this makes fascinating and disturbing reading. It’s just a theory, mind you, and I find myself hoping he’s wrong.

According to the author, in nearly every culture that has a phonetic alphabet, there was a kind of culture shock that occurred, first when the alphabet was developed and a lot of people became literate, and later when printing became common. These culture shocks came in waves accompanied by violence and/or oppression, especially against women. These periods of time, at least in the West, also coincided with the growth and spread of monotheistic religions that banished images as “graven” or evil, and reformations of those religions, particularly those that renewed the idea that images were bad and the written word was good. (Confucianism apparently arrived with similar shock waves in the East.) In addition to these effects coinciding with the spread of alphabetic writing and monotheistic religion, they also coincided with the spread of Cartesian ideals that put science and rational thought above faith, nature, irrational thought and the arts, and again with the rise of both atheism and Marxism.

I won’t go into much detail, because really the details need to be read as they’re presented in the book in order to make the most sense, and I feel that I have a loose grasp on them. This book bears rereading, for me at least. But I recommend it. Any tiny inaccuracies are excusable considering the amount of information the author sifted through to draw his conclusions.

Overall, the conclusions drawn make sense to me. The book doesn’t promote illiteracy or a return to a more “backward” culture, as one might conclude before reading it. It promotes balance, much like what Jung would no doubt encourage, between rational and irrational, masculine and feminine, Logos and Eros, science and belief, and nature and civilization. It’s easy to see how the spread of the written word and the banishing of images occurring at the same time created an imbalance that people didn’t know how to adapt to. One hopes that our increased understanding of human psychology and our need for balance will help us to adapt better to the similar shock waves that occur as we continue to evolve.

The Alphabet Versus the Goddess
Leonard Shlain
Penguin 1999
ISBN-10: 0140196013
ISBN-13: 978-0140196016

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