Merlin Stone Remembered

Her life and works

By David B. Axelrod, Carol F. Thomas, Lenny Schneir

Llewellyn Publications

Copyright © 2014 David B. Axelrod, Carol F. Thomas, Lenny Schneir, and Merlin Stone
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-7387-4091-1


Preface by Carol F. Thomas, xix,
Editor's Note by David B. Axelrod, xxiii,
I Want to Love Your Wife by David B. Axelrod, xxv,
Introduction: Transforming His/story into Her/story: Merlin Stone's Dramatic Entrance onto the Stage of Our Story by Gloria F. Orenstein, 1,
Merlin Stone Timeline, 21,
My Life With Merlin Stone: A Memoir by Lenny Schneir, as told to David B. Axelrod with Carol F. Thomas, 27,
Poems by Lenny Schneir, 87,
Merlin in Her Own Words: Excerpts from Talks and Articles selected by Lenny Schneir, 95,
Unraveling the Myth of Adam and Eve,Chapter 10 from When God Was a Woman, 107,
Ancient Mirrors of Womanhood: A Reflection on the Poetic Genius of Merlin Stone by David B. Axelrod, 135,
Three Thousand Years of Racism: Recurring Patterns in Racism by Merlin Stone, 145,
Unpublished Writings by Merlin Stone, 179,
Inner Voice: Intuition, 183,
The Global Garden, 200,
Women in Armed Combat, 202,
Two Poems by Merlin Stone, 207,
One Summer on the Way to Utopia, or Dreams of Getting There: Excerpts from an unpublished Novel, 211,
The Importance of Merlin Stone by Lenny Schneir, with David B. Axelrod, 229,
Merlin Stone, Artist and Sculptor by David B. Axelrod, 239,
I Remember Merlin by Cynthia Stone Davis, 269,
A Gallery of Merlin Stone Photos and Artifacts, 277,
A Great Sense of Hope: Letters to Merlin Stone, 293,
The Legacy of Merlin Stone: One Feminist's View by Carol F. Thomas, 309,
Epilogue by Carol F. Thomas, 323,
Acknowledgments, 327,
Bibliography and Works Cited, 329,


Transforming His/story into Her/story: Merlin Stone's Dramatic Entrance onto the Stage of Our Story by Gloria F. Orenstein Professor Emerita, University of Southern California, Los Angeles

As a professor of women's studies, gender studies, comparative literature, and the arts for the past forty years, I was privileged to have lived through and participated in the birth of the feminist Goddess movement. Whenever people outside of academia and the women's movement ask me, "Gloria, after all you have lived through and learned, what do you think is the most important contribution this research has made to your own understanding, knowledge, and life so far?" I am taken aback because it is such a difficult question to answer. There have been so many contributions made through research and activism that one cannot prioritize them. However, I can say, definitively, that Merlin Stone's book When God Was a Woman had the most profound impact on my teaching and writing—on all that I was involved in since its publication in 1976.

Over the many years I taught women's studies classes, students always asked me if there was any country in which patriarchy did not predominate. For a while, back in the seventies, many of us were looking for cultures that had at least the remains of matriarchal (or matrilineal, matrifocal) societies. These could be places that had vestiges of these structures in place in our contemporary era. Sometimes we located a small culture where women played the roles that men do in our culture today. Perhaps we found one or two, but it wasn't until Merlin Stone's book was published that the actual answer came to light. In the early days of the late sixties and seventies, as Merlin has emphasized, and as was true in my life, I had never been taught anything about the ancient Goddess civilization. One of the most amazing things Merlin told us was that what we used to call a Goddess cult was, in fact, an entire Goddess civilization. Merlin's research in both history and archeology presented vast amounts of information and art from those early eras. That single illustration or photo of a Goddess figurine in the history books was not at all representative of the truth. Using what Merlin revealed to us, we had to transform our notions of Goddess cults into an ever-well-documented understanding of the importance of the Goddess.

I remember sitting and contemplating that transformation for a long time. It was immense, profound, important. It was possibly the most important thing I learned from those decades in which new paradigms were being brought to light all the time. I can't say enough about how important it was. For me, it was surely as shocking as it had been for those who first learned that the earth revolved around the sun, and not the other way around, as had been accepted knowledge previously.

For me, it was always Merlin Stone who launched this movement toward revision and pioneering scholarship without tipping over into fantastic claims to paint a more original picture. However, I want to contextualize her moment by mentioning the names of others who either preceded her or wrote on these subjects during the period in which the Goddess movement began to take shape. It is important to review some of the problems critics have identified with earlier studies, which Merlin's book transcended.

One of the earliest books to introduce us to the feminine symbolism of the Stone Age religion was G. Rachel Levy's 1948 book The Gate of Horn, first published by Faber and Faber Ltd. in Britain and then republished by Harper and Row in the United States in 1963 under the new title Religious Conceptions of the Stone Age and Their Influence Upon European Thought. Ms. Levy was speaking as a professional, and her pronouncements on the importance of understanding the cave as a female womb and the mother as the pregnant Earth Mother were taken seriously and respected by those in her field. The book cover featured the icon of the Venus of Laussel, who stands with the horn of the moon upraised in her hand, and Levy's title, The Gate of Horn, implied entry to the cave of the Great Paleolithic Mother. That cave of the Great Mother was both the womb and the tomb of all life that cycles through the phases of life, birth, and death and awaits rebirth in the cycle of regeneration. The actual Paleolithic figurine of Venus of Laussel provided concrete evidence that proved the veracity of the concept of the Stone Age religion in which the creator was imaged as female and as the Great Mother of all life.

Another early work that attempted to construct a feminine history of culture was the historian Helen Diner's Mothers and Amazons: The First Feminine History of Culture (Anchor/Doubleday, 1973). The book was published in German forty years before its translation into English in 1965. The Introduction, by Brigitte Berger, is a critical review that, while evaluating the defects in Diner's scholarship, also appreciates the poetry of the author's vision of our past. Berger criticizes Diner for her generalizations, her lack of scientific knowledge, and the absence of precise documentation. Indeed, I would add that these earliest attempts to put this herstory together, attempts that were done with an absence of sufficient archeological and anthropological material, were often extremist in their conclusions. Diner presents generalized visions of everything that contradicted the patriarchal world in which she was living, and connected those reversals to inflated versions of all she fantasized about this unknown past.

For example, Diner begins by proclaiming that these prehistorical eras were matriarchal, which would imply governance by the female, for which we have no proof. She concludes that life began parthenogenetically, with the asexual creation of humans via the female alone. She declares, "In the beginning, there was woman. The man only appears as the son, as a biologically younger and later phenomenon. The female is the older, the more powerful, and the more aboriginal of the two mysterious, fundamental forms.... Virgin conception reaches far into our animal ancestry as parthenogenesis.... The original female in the animal species not only reproduces herself but also is the sole creatress of the male: the male never is anything without the female" (Diner, 1). By calling the many millennia of pre-patriarchal herstory "matriarchal," Diner conflates the differences between matrilineal and matrifocal to "matriarchy," and jumps to an unfounded characterization of the society's organization based upon her emphasis on parthenogenesis. She also hypothesizes a stage of sexual "promiscuity" in early cultures, where rites of initiation and other ritual functions may have explained the liberated sexual behavior better than promiscuity.

While the book has many intriguing aspects, including a herstory of Amazons, Diner then expands her information on diverse groups in multiple cultures into only one type of social organization, and names that a "gynocracy." Her book has clearly inspired the imagination of more contemporary feminists to create stories about the prowess and powers of these ancient warrior heroines. Diner's book serves as an example of earlier writing that presented original and highly speculative ideas challenging our inherited notions of women as the weaker sex and as historically and forever subordinate to men. The problem was that it was unreliable as actual scholarship.

Another precursor to Merlin Stone's study was The First Sex by Elizabeth Gould Davis (Penguin Books, 1971). Gould Davis posits the superiority of woman over man, claiming that the male is a mutation and an imperfect female. About the male's single Y chromosome as contrasted with the double Xs of the female, she writes: "It seems very logical that this small and twisted Y chromosome is a genetic error—an accident of nature, and that originally there was only one sex—the female.... The first males were mutants. Freaks produced by some damage to the genes caused perhaps by disease or a radiation bombardment from the sun.... The male sex represents a degeneration and deformity of the female"(Gould Davis, 35).

Gould Davis posits a "gynarchic age," a "Queendom" in which women were dominant, and claims that it was a matriarchal, vegetarian era where there were no animal sacrifices. It was a peace-loving epoch, having no violence, and its supreme deity was a Goddess. In her vision, this paradise on Earth was a golden age for women, where no interest in males or in the paternity of children was demonstrated. It was a world in which men served women and where women, not men, created all the crafts and technologies of civilization. She then refers to these "superior" women as "the ancient mariners," and envisages them as having traveled throughout the world spreading the wisdom and the worship of the Goddess everywhere. Gould Davis leaps from her interpretation of biology to postulate social organization and gender hierarchies throughout time. She seems to write as if any conclusion that would imply the superiority of women over men must, indeed, be valid.

Monica Sjoo's book The Great Cosmic Mother, written with Barbara Mor, was almost contemporaneous with that of Merlin Stone's work. The book appeared in a short version in 1975, published in Bristol, England, under the title of The Great Cosmic Mother of All. Only in 1987 was it more widely released by Harper and Row, retitled The Great Cosmic Mother: Rediscovering the Religion of the Earth. Monica Sjoo, originally from Sweden, was an artist, a writer, and a passionate explorer of the religion of the Great Earth Mother Goddess. Sjoo had personally slept at most of the sacred sites in Britain during all the phases of the moon, at the solstices and the equinoxes, and she recorded her visions and dreams. She also painted them and created a visual art oeuvre of iconic works about each of the sacred sites she explored in Europe. Her book is a passionate overview, with in-depth analyses of both symbols and myths relating to traditional narratives as well as to Sjoo's personal experiences at the sacred sites of the Great Mother. The book contributes to a new conception that includes relating the processes of the female body to the emotional and spiritual processes of both women and the earth. As such, Sjoo was an early ecofeminist, understanding the interrelationship not only of women and the planet but of the interconnectedness of all forms of life on Earth. She makes an important point of conceiving the communal body of women, the village of women, as a holistic body of interconnected energies and forces. This holistic vision places a social importance on the combined strength of the many great women who were our progenitors, our original inventors, healers, shamans, artists, and transmitters of energy and wisdom for generations.

Sjoo also stresses the importance of recognizing the original Black Mother of Africa as a black goddess who was regarded as bisexual and was understood to be self-fertilizing. Mawu-Lisa was both female and male, and was both the Earth and the rainbow. Hence, Sjoo introduces racial diversity and breaks with the white male colonizers' historical stereotypes, in interpreting the power, status, and productivity of women whose ancient prestige relates to the Black Mother Goddess.

Sjoo interweaves many dimensions of women's cultures into the fabric of a vast herstory of the Goddess's role in the creation of civilization. She introduces a consideration of the rituals of women's blood mysteries, of women's ecstatic spiritual healing rituals, and the importance of the moon times and the lunar calendrical cycles, while critically revisiting the patriarchally rendered myths such as the Garden of Eden. She also conceives of the earth as possessing a soul and having her own form of earthly intelligence, with her ley lines and power centers. Sjoo's vision of the earth is one that is close to that of today's Gaia hypothesis. She is angry about the demise of the Goddess civilization, destroyed by patriarchy's violent invasions, and she firmly declares that patriarchy's greatest crime is matricide, with its witch hunts, rapes, stonings, and burnings of women. Finally, she considers the price we have paid for the complete erasure and denial of the thirty thousand years of herstory in which the Great Cosmic Mother of all prevailed—the loss to humanity of millennia of herstory and of all the wisdom that has been omitted from our human legacy. Her personal travels and experiential explorations combined with immense documentation make her book an important reference for understanding the pioneering and visionary originality of another woman artist in search of the hidden history and knowledge of the civilization of the Goddess.

Without pursuing an analysis of these books any further, we can see that although there was some writing that had already attempted to reconstruct a history of women before Merlin's book came out, much more expertise and authority were needed. These books merely launched feminist scholarship on the road to making original assertions, implying that, when necessary, the imagination and fantasy were somehow valid to invoke, in place of actual historical knowledge or other material documentation. The postulates and pronouncements made by these two authors, Elizabeth Gould Davis and Helen Diner, are largely unsubstantiated by valid scientific proof. However, in their time, despite the critical reviews they received, they were, nevertheless, inspiring to feminist authors in terms of rethinking the patriarchally inscribed notions of our origins.

Sometimes women of knowledge and power from other countries knew something about "the Goddess," and when I first heard of her, I was shocked—having only known about gods and goddesses. Thus, when I first met Surrealist artist Leonora Carrington in 1971, she put her fingers up in the sign of the horns of the moon, and I asked her what that meant. She told me, "Those are the holy horns of consecration." I asked her, "Consecration of what?" and she said nonchalantly, "Of the Goddess!" In 1971, I could not wrap my mind around the word in the singular. I had only heard of goddesses and the one God. Leonora came from a Celtic background and she had a greater range of knowledge about pre-history, but with all my education, until then, I had never heard of the Goddess. I responded, "The who?" Those were my famous last words until Merlin wrote her book and when I first saw her step onto a stage in Santa Cruz, California, in 1978.

Then, suddenly, a plethora of information and strange names of ancient eras of what today we call "herstory" came into view. I began to re-periodize our Western civilization, beginning with the Upper Paleolithic. Thus, as Merlin's book burst forth upon the women's studies scene, I was able to answer my students' questions about whether there had ever been any culture that exhibited non-patriarchal structures. I was so proud to tell them that there was not just a single culture but there were thousands of years of pre-(hence non-) patriarchal civilization in the Western world alone, all of which preceded the eras that had been written about in our history books as the origin of civilization.

Once Merlin Stone provided us with her careful scholarship and a truly feminist (not biased, patriarchal) accounting of ancient Goddess cultures, I and all who found Merlin's work were finally able to understand our herstory and answer the questions of our students. Studentpapers used to begin by saying: "From the beginning of time immemorial, men were the rulers of civilization." Now I could cross that out and correct my students—giving them hope that what they had taken for unchangeable, absolute truth was now being transformed before their very eyes. We had answers to the questions that had troubled them. Did women ever have power? What importance did women have in civilization over time? Merlin was the pathfinder for these revelations.


Excerpted from Merlin Stone Remembered by David B. Axelrod, Carol F. Thomas, Lenny Schneir. Copyright © 2014 David B. Axelrod, Carol F. Thomas, Lenny Schneir, and Merlin Stone. Excerpted by permission of Llewellyn Publications.
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