Goddess Artemis

Women's Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets

by Barbara G. Walker

Barbara Walker's The Woman's Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets (HarperCollins, 1983) is an extremely valuable reference, based on the author's wide reading in folklore and mythology. It documents, entry by entry, the fate and historic distortion of matriarchal religion by triumphant patriarchy in the last few thousand years and makes sense of many of the seemingly senseless customs and rationalizations of creeds and beliefs of our major religions and our folkloric traditions.

A recurring theme is the metamorphosis of feminine deities into masculine form, especially within the Christian and Judaic traditions.

  The book's publication in 1983 was greeted with cheers and accolades such as this one from the Philadelphia Inquirer:

"Walker has written a tribute to the goddess. Like the witches and wise women of old, Walker has eyes to see what the rest of us cannot: the figure of the goddess hidden behind rites, dogma, fairy tales, nursery rhymes, superstitions, even our very language. She sees the restoring of the goddess to her rightful place as an essential healing act for women and our whole culture ... You can rely on it to be witty and compulsive reading."

(More reviews appear below.)

Click on the image to read about the book or buy it at amazon.com


goddess Artemis

A perfect book?? Perhaps. Although that opinion is widely held, the Encyclopedia has had its detractors . . . a bit more on that follows in the discussion below.  

I, for one, have found it wondrously made. . . a fascinating read and an excellent reference. But, I confess, when I return to find some delicious morsel that I'd like to re-read or quote, occasionally I find myself frustrated, cursing that I can't easily find the section in the book's index.

Great news!! A new, extensive index is at hand. (Just leave it to women to notice a problem, roll up their sleeves to fix it and then offer it to the world for free!)

goddess Artemis

The index was produced by Cheryl Brooks, a professional indexer, in 2003, at the instigation of B. Parker who was frustrated by not being able to retrieve many of the fascinating references in the Encyclopedia which does not have its own alphabetic entries.

Barbara Walker herself, who was contacted, said that the publisher did not feel that an enormous index, added to an already large book (1124 pp) would make sense. So Cheryl Brooks and Beedy Parker (see information below) undertook to do it themselves and are now making it available to others.

 ~~Use this link  or the one at the bottom of the page to download the Advanced Index to Barbara Walker's Women's Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets.  ~~

More Reviews:

The Womans Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets by Barbara G. Walker, HarperCollins, 1983, honored by the London Times Educational Supplement as 1986 "Book of the Year"
Quotes from book reviews following the publication:
 "Awesomely researched....Walker has distilled 20 years of research into an absorbing treasurehouse.... This is a feminist-scholar's gold mine and a browser's delight." --- Los Angeles Times
"Whoever ventures into this ... book runs the risk of being totally absorbed."---- The New York Times


"A mountain of scholarship, a vast mass of supremely documented material....demonstrat[ing] the dominant role women have played in the cultural evolution of our species." --- San Francisco Chronicle
"Barbara Walker upsets the complacent Judeo-Christian applecart of orthodoxy. [An] outstanding endless well of information.... Her literary excellence and unrelentingly fascinating material .... redresses two millennia of cultural and sexual misrepresentation."
--- East West Journal


A Note From The Index Builders

A comprehensive (40 page, 6400 entries) index to The Woman's Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets by Barbara G Walker, is available, by e-mail or as print copy (at cost of copying and postage), from Beedy Parker at
beedyparker@ gwi.net , (207) 236-8732, or 68 Washington St., Camden, ME, 04843. We view this as an ongoing project, subject to correction if errors are found or more entries should be made. 
I understand that the WEMS, as we have come to call it, is not entirely respected in all academic circles. Barbara herself sees this as largely patriarchal backlash. It is also based on scholarly doubts about some of her sources (a marvelous bibliography of some 385 books), within the context of  a battle for academic high ground in the shifting world of history of religion since the arrival of Women's Studies.

Barbara Walker has the advantage and disadvantage of not being an academic, free to read as she pleases and judge for herself, as does the reader, but not held to scholarly proof and peer approval. She also has written on more esoteric subjects, tarot, sacred stones, women's rituals, and is a gifted and well known designer of graphic knitting patterns, all rather suspect to serious students. Her book The Woman's Dictionary of Symbols and Sacred Objects (HarperCollins, 1988)  provides an iconic adjunct to the WEMS, and it would appear that her work in researching women's religious history stems from her fascination with pattern and symbol, which are often keys to a hidden and repressed past, seemingly innocent.

The book was welcomed with accolades in the 80's and has been on course reading lists and many bibliographies. The essays at particular entries are excellent, well written and often stand by themselves as thoughtful critiques of  cryptic subjects. I hope that an index will make it even more useful as a reference to information which is not readily available to people, particularly women, who wonder how we got to where we are.

goddess Artemis

My purpose in making the index available is actually as an environmentalist, because I see, as does Barbara Walker, our treatment of women, socially and within the great religions, as part and parcel of our destructive treatment of the "environment", as "Other", and disposable, by the dominant mind set. Feminine and Nature are often seen as similar and even the same, now and in the past, whether worshipped or abused. I do not think we can survive our abusive views and behavior. Shaking this domineering foundation at its historic and prehistoric roots could help bring us round to the respect, care and love of the natural world we are a part of, to true awe. I see this reference as a revolutionary resource.
Beedy Parker, 2004       
68 Washington St, Camden ME USA 04843


Download Instructions

To read the Index to Women's Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets you’ll need Adobe Acrobat Reader. To download and install Acrobat, click here.   Use this link to download the Advanced Index to Barbara Walker's Women's Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets.


Goddess Quiz





Return To Goddess Gift