Merlin Stone Remembered by David H. Axelrod, Carol F. Thomas, and Lenny Schneir

Merlin Stone Remembered: Her Life and Works
David H. Axelrod, Carol F. Thomas and Lenny Schneir
Llewellyn Publications, 2014

sw087_nonfiction_Ardinger-Barbara_Merlin-Stone-Remembered

Review by Barbara Ardinger.

Merlin Stone’s book, When God Was a Woman, was a lightning bolt of feminist scholarship that told the world that before there was a Judeo-Christian god there were goddesses, and before there were goddesses, there was the Goddess. If you’re reading this review and you have not read When God Was a Woman, buy the book. Right now. As you sink into Stone’s book, try to imagine what it was like before we knew about Isis or Inanna or Astarte, before we knew that the tree in the Garden of Eden was probably a sacred fig and that the serpent was a symbol or aspect of the Goddess and that people who ate figs or worked with serpents were honored priestesses and prophets. The work of the second wave feminists added to the work of scholars like Merlin Stone and Marija Gimbutas, but this didn’t begin until the second half of the 20th century. Before that? Just “God the Father, maker of heaven and earth.”

Gloria Orenstein puts Stone’s work in context. Orenstein cites G. Rachel Levy’s The Gate of Horn (1948), Helen Diner’s Mothers and Amazons (1973), and Elizabeth Gould Davis’ The First Sex (1971). These books gave us some of our foundational myths, but, Orenstein writes, “we can see that although there was some writing that had already attempted to reconstruct a history of women …, much more expertise and authority were needed” (p. 8).

She continues, “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…” (p. 9).

Merlin Stone Remembered is divided into eighteen parts; one is a timeline. Stone was born as Marilyn Jacobsen in 1931, became a sculptor and teacher, and in 1972-73 traveled in the Middle East to do research. She met her life partner Lenny Schneir in 1976, was featured in Donna Reed’s film The Goddess Remembered in 1989, and died in 2011.

Another part is Schneir’s memoir, a panegyric in which he describes himself when they met as a wannabe “manly man.” Though they never married, he and Stone lived together for thirty-four years. She turned his life around. “I worshipped her,” he writes. “She … sculpted me into everything I wanted to be. I needed her energy to succeed, and she gave it to me generously, naturally, and fully” (p. 74). He describes a homey, hippie life. It’s a fascinating read.

Unraveling the Myth of Adam and Eve” is Chapter 10 from When God Was a Woman. Rereading this chapter, we see again the depth of Stone’s work. Citing the best known male scholars of the 20th century, she also tells us about evidence of Goddess cultures — not cults! —found by those scholars and others in sites around the Mediterranean.

Regarding Stone’s second book, Ancient Mirrors of Womanhood, which is descriptions of goddesses, stories about them, and liturgical free verse, editor Axelrod writes that Stone’s poetry “teaches, coaches, and sings the long-lost, the banished, the often-forbidden goddesses back into our lives” (p. 141).

There’s more in the book, including Stone’s notes for a presentation in which she carries on a conversation with the voice, named Intuition, in her head. Unpublished works, including parts of a novel, poetry, color photos, a long section on Stone as an artist and sculpture, a remembrance written by one of her daughters. You may be long familiar with Stone’s work or this may be your introduction to it; either way, this is a valuable resource. Highly recommended.

P.S. A personal note. The book was lying on my couch when a friend who is an astrologer and Tarotist came to visit. She saw it, exclaimed, picked it up, and said. “I read When God Was a Woman in 1988 or 89 and it changed my life.” Me, too.

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