Janina Ramirez

Goddess: 50 Goddesses, Spirits, Saints and Other Female Figures Who Have Shaped Belief (British Museum)
Janina Ramirez

About Author

Janina Ramirez's new collection of stories for the British Museum - Goddess: 50 Goddesses, Spirits, Saints and Other Female Figures Who Have Shaped Belief  (Nosy Crow Books) - explores powerful female figures.

Janina is a cultural historian, broadcaster and author based at the University of Oxford. she has been writing and presenting documentaries for the BBC since 2010, as well as hosting an art history podcast 'The Art Detective' on the History Hit network.

She has brought her passion for history to a new generation of young readers with her children's fiction series, Riddle of the Runes, and with her non fiction book, British Museum: Goddess: 50 Goddesses, Spirits, Saints and Other Female Figures Who Have Shaped Belief.



British Museum: Goddess: 50 Goddesses, Spirits, Saints and Other Female Figures Who Have Shaped Belief   (Nosy Crow Books)

March 2022

Review:  "Goddess is a beautiful, absorbing book with vivid, engrossing illustrations. Part of the Inspiring Lives series, it definitely inspires and empowers and as such is a wonderful and unusual resource, particularly for International Women's Day."

This intriguing, empowering and stunning collection of goddesses, saints and female figures from history and mythology celebrates the power of women within a rich tapestry of stories from around the world. Not always beautiful or meek, these female figures demonstrate how women have been celebrated, feared and admired throughout our histories.

Author Janina Ramirez tells us how the collection, published by Nosy Crow Books, came about:

Q&A with Dr Janina Ramirez

1.   Did you always want to be an author?

For as long as I can remember I've wanted to be a children's author. I always had my nose in a book and my young mind was full of the characters and stories I had devoured. I've been collecting ideas for books since I was 13, but got side-tracked by my passion for history. Goddess is my opportunity to combine both my loves - writing about the past and writing for children!

2.   What is Goddess about, and who is included? 

Goddess builds on the books I loved as a child, like Enid Blyton's 'Tales of Long Ago', which take ancient myths and makes them fascinating for young readers. But it is the first time women from across the globe have been brought together in this way. I searched long and hard to make sure I could introduce lesser-known figures from cultures that aren't so often included in such collections. I was inspired by the exhibition which will be coming to the British Museum soon, but I hand-picked all the goddesses, saints and spirits myself.

3.   Why do you call it Goddess when it includes figures who are also described as demons, witches etc?

Good point! The title goes on to say that it includes 'Spirits, Saints and other female figures who have shaped belief'. I wanted to play with our assumptions about the word 'Goddess'. We might have an image of a Venus-like perfect woman in our minds when we hear it, but in fact the figures I have chosen reveal every aspect of humanity - the good as well as the monstrous!

4.   When choosing which figures to include, did you have specific attributes in mind?

I didn't have any particular attributes in mind. My main concern was to represent all the continents and stretch our understanding of what the word 'goddess' means. I did want to find individuals that had interesting stories attached to them, so that was mainly what governed my choices.

5.   How much research did you need to do, as the figures come from many different cultures?

So much research!!!! While I present each of the goddesses on just two pages, I had to delve incredibly deeply into each one, and the religions and cultures they came from. It really was a labour of love!  I searched archives for the most accurate accounts and even turned to live recordings and films to understand how some of these figures are understood today. I had the added concern that each of my chapters was poured over by a team of expert curators from the British Museum, so I had to be absolutely spot on with my research.

6.   Can you tell us about the mix of content you provide about each figure - the cultural information about the goddess as well as the storytelling aspect of their history?

As a historian it was important to me that the past and present relevance of each goddess was highlighted. Yes, each has an excellent story, often with love, hate, revenge, war and more at its heart. But they emerge out of specific cultural contexts, and I wanted that to be included too.  Because there is an exhibition coming to the British Museum which will feature representations of many of the figures I included, I was also able to draw in visuals in my research, as well as texts that survive, sometimes from thousands of years ago.

7.   Which goddess(s) stood out for you? Were there any that held surprises?

I was greatly surprised by Kali. I include a few Hindu goddesses in the book, but the sheer violence and passion of her story revealed a side to femininity that was truly eye-opening. I was also surprised by some of the African figures, as they have had to transform in the face of trans-Atlantic slavery and suppression.

8.   What do you hope your readers will take away from Goddess and from their stories?

That the world is a fascinating place that is almost impossible to grasp in its beauty and variety! This book isn't just about introducing spiritual females from the past. It is also about travelling the globe in your mind and discovering how different cultures celebrate the things that make us human.

9.   It's a beautiful book - what did you think of Sarah's illustrations? Did you help in researching how these goddesses are depicted?

Oh my! Sarah's illustrations are divine! Every time I saw a new one come through I simply burst with excitement!   I included lots of images with my texts, as that's how my mind works - I need visuals to support what I write. Sarah used these but ultimately created these powerful women from her own mind. As with my text, Sarah had to run the illustrations past a team of experts, and they are all the better because they are so accurate.

10.   Do you have any favourite spreads or depictions of the goddesses?

The Sedna spread is a particular favourite. Not only do I find the story very tragic and moving, but Sarah has created this underwater atmosphere which takes me straight into the Arctic oceans.

11.   Do you have any more collections planned?

Not at the moment, as I've just finished my big history book for adults, 'Femina', which will be out in the summer. But I would love to do more like Goddess, particularly as I adored working with Nosy Crow.

12.   How do you include writing in the mix of your very busy days? 

I always write late at night when my children are in bed. I've always been a night owl - happy to get up in the afternoon and work into the early hours. I am also a lecturer and a television presenter, so my days are VERY full. But writing is my passion, so I make time for the thing I love.

Writing for children is actually, I think, harder than writing for adults. Children are very discerning and it has taught me to express my ideas clearly, rather than trying to cloak them in seemingly 'intelligent' adult language. Communicating is my passion and how better to do that than through writing for children?

13. What is your favourite way to spend your downtime?

I have four cats and seven chickens, so I enjoy hanging out with them. I spend a lot of time getting up to all sorts of adventures with my son and daughter, and we love what they call 'mummy's history runs', where I take them to historic sites and try to bring them to life. I also love painting, doing jigsaw puzzles and simply relaxing in front of the TV.


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