Goddess: 50 Goddesses, Spirits, Saints and Other Female Figures Who Have Shaped Belief (British Museum)
By Author / Illustrator
Dr Janina Ramirez, illus Sarah Walsh
Myths & Legends
Nosy Crow Ltd
Tales of powerful female figures have been told since the beginning of time and this collection, Goddess: 50 Goddesses, Spirits, Saints and Other Female Figures Who Have Shaped Belief (British Museum), brings together 50 stories from around the world. There are loving creators, wise leaders, fearsome warriors, gentle healers and mystical protectors, and they can each inspire you to find strength within yourself...
Beautifully written by cultural historian and broadcaster, Dr Janina Ramirez, and stunningly illustrated by Sarah Walsh, this amazing book contains goddesses, guides, spirits, saints, witches, demons and many more female figures that have played an important role in shaping belief today. Based on original sources and with photographs from the British Museum collection, this incredible introduction to goddesses throughout history will entertain, engage and empower readers everywhere.
List of goddesses featured: Inanna, Athena, Mami Wata, Nut, Ezili Danto, Rhiannon, Xiwangmu, Baba Yaga, Durga, Juno, Venus, Chalchiutitcue, Brigid, Mokosh, Pattini, Ariadne, Asase Yaa, Gaia, Eve, Mawu, Lilith, Sekhmet, Diana, Freyja, Izanami, Anat, Hel, Rangda, Medusa, Kali, Mary, Guanyin, Isis, Hecate, Sarasvati, Tara, Chang'e, Pte San Win, Lakshmi, Popa Medaw, Sedna, Itzpapalotl, Pele, Badb Catha, Oshun, Spider Mother, Tiamat, Amaterasu, Papatuanuku, Mazu.
Spreads & Q&A with Dr Janina Ramirez
Upon opening the box that this copy of Goddess: 50 Goddessess, Spirits, Saints and other Female Figures who have Shaped Belief arrived in, I was immediately struck by the fluorescent shocking pink that appears prominently on the jacket and peeps out from the hardback underneath. On opening the book, I saw the eye-popping splash of this lurid pink clash violently with the expanse of the brightest most vivid yellow possible on the endpapers. I saw the rich blue of the jacket and the gold detailing on the cast of female figures staring out of it, some looking menacing, others quite serene. On taking in this scene, I thought its designers were determined that this book should demand attention and if they could, would have attached a speaker shouting "look at me" on it.
You might think pink is either an obvious or odd colour to choose to decorate a book about formidable female characters that have shaped civilisations for millennia, but this isn't the typical insipid girly pink just as these characters aren't the stereotypical simpering female. The confronting, powerful pink represents how each of the 50 characters -goddesses, saints, witches, demons, spirits, even an ogress - have dominated their worlds and have shaped beliefs and cultures. They and the book are fierce and strong, not gentle and meek.
Written by a cultural historian who teaches at Oxford University and presents programmes for the BBC and in association with The British Museum, this is an engaging, thought-provoking exploration of "timeless beings ... [who] entrance and empower people across time and space, [whose] stories tap into the needs, desires, fears and hopes inside all of us".
Across five thematic sections, 50 legendary female characters from across the world throughout time are introduced. From Ruling and Guarding's Mesopotamia's Inanna to New Life's Celtic Brigid; from War and Death's Roman Diana to Love and Wisdom's Hindu Lakshmi, and finally Animals and Nature's Native American Spider Mother. Each being has their own double page spread with four short headed paragraphs telling their story, how they shaped belief, and how they are celebrated. There is also a feature portrait and many smaller surrounding illustrations, and an image of a real artefact that has been created in their name.
As is typical with stories of saints, myths, and legends and so on there is plenty of death, destruction, violence, gruesome and gory details included which, despite being dealt with in a gentle manner, I think could still require caution and demand further explanation, especially with younger readers. There is a glossary, index, and even a striking pink ribbon bookmark but one thing missing is a guide to pronunciation of the characters' names. Of the 50 characters depicted I was familiar with a few, had slightly heard of a few others and the rest were completely new to me. This mixture was another reason why I found this book so captivating and as Ramirez says, they are a small sample of inspirational females from all of the belief systems worldwide, which definitely demands a sequel.
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.
240 pages / Reviewed by Natalie J McChrystal Plimmer, librarian
Suggested Reading Age 9+