The Alphabet Versus The Goddess

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The Alphabet Versus The Goddess The Conflict Between Word and ImageI found this book whilst looking for stuff about Hecate & it is fascinating…Has anyone of you read it?

“…In this groundbreaking book, Leonard Shlain, author of the bestselling Art & Physics, proposes that the process of learning alphabetic literacy rewired the human brain, with profound consequences for culture. Making remarkable connections across a wide range of subjects including brain function, anthropology, history, and religion, Shlain argues that literacy reinforced the brain’s linear, abstract, predominantly masculine left hemisphere at the expense of the holistic, iconic feminine right one. This shift upset the balance between men and women initiating the disappearance of goddesses, the abhorrence of images, and, in literacy’s early stages, the decline of women’s political status. Patriarchy and misogyny followed….

Shlain contrasts the feminine right-brained oral teachings of Socrates, Buddha, and Jesus with the masculine creeds that evolved when their spoken words were committed to writing. The first book written in an alphabet was the Old Testament and its most important passage was the Ten Commandments. The first two reject of any goddess influence and ban any form of representative art. 

“…The love of Mary, Chivalry, and courtly love arose during the illiterate Dark Ages and plummeted after the invention of the printing press in the Renaissance. The Protestant attack on holy images and Mary followed, as did ferocious religious wars and neurotic witch-hunts. The benefits of literacy are obvious; this gripping narrative explores its dark side, tallying previously unrecognized costs….”



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51 thoughts on “The Alphabet Versus The Goddess

  1. Lots of interesting comments. And now mine. We all had “participation mystique” – being at one with everything – clairvoyance clairaudience clairsentience etc. Evolutionary-wise these capacities had to die out so we could get all left- brained and separated from our true spiritual dimensions. As women and children and indigenous people particularly carried these gifts they were often killed and hunted down to hasten the process. What process? The one needed to enable us to develop freedom – the freedom to choose to make the journey to reconnect with our spiritual dimensions again and overcome being puppets of the spiritual hierarchies and evolve into co-creators.

  2. “The planets are letters” – forget where that saying comes from,

    had an experience of it once tho’… (the number degrees of planet positions
    ‘spelling out’ an answer for me,…. pretty unbelievable

    Anthroposophists say each country has it’s own angel which accounts
    for language differences…
    They always say Sanskrit is the holiest language.

    Language indeed fascinating…
    each letter probably a symbol in itself, like chinese calligraphy

    “an animal with words is an angel in the making..”

    (I have got to stop kidding around so much and being such an a-hole on this site and contribute more solidly from now on…. (guilt)

    • Teacher said that Sanskrit the oldest language also. Then Hebrew. According to him…He was/is an expert on Sanskrit but that is his teaching not mine (in case anyone wants to yell at me…)

      “(I have got to stop kidding around so much and being such an a-hole on this site and contribute more solidly from now on…. (guilt)”

      LOL…It’s contagious William. I’m nuts here half the time but it is SO FUN…

      Funist (is funist a word btw?), blog in town, er, the northern hem, er, the world, er, the galaxy….

      But yes, please share your wisdom. I’m all ears (think Minney and doing the Charleston with her little white gloves and big shoes…)

  3. Fantastic book. Was reading it before I relocated overseas and my mum found it at her house and has been obsessed with it. I especially liked the section where it differentiated between the “abstract” (Goddess) and the “fundamental” (God) schools of thought around the world, eg. Taoism vs Confucianism, Sufism vs Islam, The Gnostic Gospels vs the Actual Gospels etc. Interestingly, I believe it was Adam who given the job of naming things in the Garden, while Lilith was given the power to make things grow…. (source contentious). Perhaps there’s something in that? 😉

  4. all this divine feminine business,

    heard one teacher say, If you haven’t encountered Her darkness

    then you haven’t met Her, not really….

    Venus, heard goes back pre-olympian really…. Venus goes back—
    we have been lied to …. She goes waaaayyyyy back

    in the wayback machine…

    Ishtar and that…. seems faces of divine feminine are many…

    Why so many if there is just one? sometimes dark, sometimes not….

    someone should clarify for purposes of neatness…

  5. A very deep thought inducing thread.
    As i was checking the Bible on those 2 commandaments, my Virgo friend
    born in JuJu country Louisiana & his a 7th day Adventist Minister as well,
    telephoned, so i asked her the meaning of images & idols.
    Gave me the statues in Catholic churches as examples of idols. Oops!

  6. Wowee that’s a choice reading list coming out of just one topic thread:

    Man and His Symbols edited by C.G. Jung.

    The Dinner Party, Judy Chicago, ISBN 0-14-024437-9

    The Hero with a Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell

    Amusing Ourselves to Death by Neil Postman

    I’ll seek out these before resorting to the latest Dan Brown departure lounge time-waster.

    • Lol – I just wrote them all down as well with the intent of busily wandering over to my library website and ordering them!
      Still want to read the latest Dan Brown tho…..

  7. I really feel that the power mongers (and there were women in on it too) were/are just pissed off because they ultimately could NOT get the power they wanted and so of course how DO you get the power. By FORCE, by trying to force it out of people and hoping to find it through domination.

  8. “Shlain argues that literacy reinforced the brain’s linear, abstract, predominantly masculine left hemisphere at the expense of the holistic, iconic feminine right one.”

    Literacy may have reinforced the left side of the brain and the need to communicate through reading and writing only because individuals became more ignorant and needed a way to communicate…..Possibly ~as~ individuals became more ignorant by the ego’s propensity to over focus and divide up creation.

    In ancient, ancient times all were telepathic. Understanding was transmitted through pictures and because all were clarivoyant, things could not be hidden. Eventually, to protect the earth, certain knowledges had to be hidden even from the ones who held the knowledge and so they hid it in another dimension, on another level of perception that they would only access at certain times and by certain means.

    Yes, apparently, there were the power mongers and even though there were no written words, they understood quite clearly (telepathically) what knowledge is/was and they wanted it…

  9. This is my Aries (triple Aries) Moon Virgo daughter’s fave book on sociology I believe. I an Aqua have not read it because I am more left brained probably, eh?

  10. I don’t know whether Hecate or Lillith or even Circe is reinforcing my thinking, but I am becoming increasingly suss of books by men with snappy titles & not really delivering..
    I’ve got a quote up on my wall from Buddha-
    “Believe nothing,
    no matter where you read it
    or who has said it,
    unless it agrees with your own reason
    & your own common sense”

    • Sorry SS, thats just sexist…and people need to realise that as soon as they stop identifying with their sex, sexual orientation, religion…and start being just plain humans we might get somewhere.

      • I’m sorry davidl, I’m speaking directly of my own reading experience & nothing more. I am simply much better at picking good reads with female authors, than male. Some of the most incredible books I have read are from male authors- does that vindicate me? (somehow I think not?!)
        I don’t think we can escape the intrinsic nature of our sexes, its how we experience our balance of feminine/masculine that is in question.
        Plain humans? hardly! lol x

  11. He says the first 2 commandaments negate Art.
    Here they are coz just looked them up;
    Thou shalt have no other god’s before me.
    Thou shalt not make thee ANY graven image OR likness of ANYTHING that
    is in Heaven above, or that IS in the Earth beneath, or that IS
    in the waters beneath the earth. That’s Draconian.
    It was 2000 years ago for a small group in the desert wandering round in circles
    for too long.

    (caps in copy of bible)
    Back to Babylon.

    • Do not make an image or any likeness of what is in the heavens above…”

      This prohibits the construction or fashioning of “idols” in the likeness of created things (beasts, fish, birds, people) and worshipping them.

      It didn’t mean not to have images of animals etc.

      • my interpretation is that the commandment is to have no “image ” of what is ‘formless’ by nature…….( the unmanifest God has no material form )….only when the energy is transcduced into Goddess does it take on material form…..the Goddess is the God essence flowing into form….all material creations.

  12. Yup, read it in 2001 and thoroughly enjoyed it. He does make some interesting correlations and it makes you think about gender power balances over time. A good thematic history

    Whether his thesis is viable or not, I’ve no idea, I’ve not read and criticism of it.

    To further explore the idea of visual information versus written information you might also be interested in: “Amusing Ourselves to Death” by Neil Postman

  13. If we are talking symbols, a quiet read of The Hero with a Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell is a good start. we studied it at uni in philosophy.

  14. Yes, i borrowed it from The Theosophical Society Library.
    I saw it & called it ‘The Alphabet AND the Goddess,whereupon, the
    80 year old lady librarian, corrected me severely & said ‘VERSUS, Dear, Versus’.

    Kalilil Gibran said ‘read a woman’s mouth, instead of her words’.
    Could be where ‘read my lips, comes from.

    Truly cannot remember it,the book, but thought a woman wrote it.
    Did not have a huge impact, not at all, cept to know
    how different things would have tuned out without letters. What’s it say about symbols?
    Telepathy is probably the way to go eventually, or do whale talk?
    Next to this book was ‘Mother Sun Father Moon’.
    Spin me around why not??????
    Will re reading it help me at the bank:?……………………’s a female manager, often tougher
    than ze men, i have found.

  15. Um, that’s nice poetic idea and everything, but isn’t it a bit far fetched to suggest patriarchy and misogyny ‘followed’ alphabetic literacy?

    It doesn’t add up. To suggest misogyny came from neurological rewiring brought on by reading the alphabet denies its true source, patriarchal political power mongering. Patriarchal elites denied women and the poor literacy to keep them in their place, for the same reasons goddess worship was denigrated. In other words, alphabetic literacy has been used as a weapon against the feminine but it’s not the origin of patriarchal power mongering just as literacy elitism is a symptom but not a cause of patriarchy.

    Men gravitate to misogyny out of a desire for power and domination, just as anyone with a physical and economic advantage can easily get used to the priveliges that entails and want to protect those. Bullying and degrading noisy women into keeping quiet about patriarchal violence and injustice are ways to maintain that power, but I’m kind of outraged that this guy is saying the alphabet brought that behaviour about.

    Neither do I buy that Greece switched from Goddess worship with the development of writing. As far as I know, they were pretty bloody patriarchal in Socrates time. India was a distinctly patriarchal society long before the development of writing there, unless someone can dig up evidence that women were transmitting the Vedas. Also, Goddess worship has been huge in India before and after the development of writing there, although literacy has always been elitist.

    • Uber, compassion think Quan Yin & forgiveness.
      I work with men, i need to Kwan Yin constantly to deal.
      It’s a problem. It’s not their fault.
      God created man, then the Goddess thought She could do better, and created Woman:)

      • I agree pegs, men aren’t the problem. Misogyny and patriarchal abuses of power are. Men are certainly disadvantaged by it too and it’s not above certain women to exploit it as well.

        My rant is about this author and his trivializing (apologies to Hekate) of misogyny as originating from a bit of linguistic hocus pocus.

        ‘Shlain contrasts the feminine right-brained oral teachings of Socrates, Buddha, and Jesus with the masculine creeds that evolved when their spoken words were committed to writing.’

        They didn’t transform into masculine creeds because of some hypnotic power of the alphabet, but because literate men in powerful positions were the only ones able to read them for about two thousand years.

    • Yes I agree UV…book does sound very interesting, but a bit way off way in several aspects…and to suggest “the love of Mary, courtly love..” as a means to illustrate the rise of the feminine etc arose during the illiterate Middle Ages and its’ disappearance with the arrival of the Renaissance and printing press is taking things a bit far – after all, it’s also believed it was the monks in the Middle Ages who, transcribing the Testaments, took out the references to reincarnation/eternal life etc and Mary as Jesus’ right hand (in particular deciding the Gospels of St Thomas and Mary shouldn’t be included) as a way to keep the people subservient and terrified regular churchgoers -didn’t want people to think they had a 2nd chance and for women to think they could be important and influential… Courtly love may have been one thing, but women were still treated as pawns and chattel, everyone was too scared not to go church (witness the grotesque gargoyles on every medieval church precisely intended to petrify the commoners) and NONE of them could read…

  16. This book looks interesting – will read it once exams are over.

    For a big dose of high quality literature with regard to image and its relevance to being human, read ‘Man and His Symbols’ edited by C.G. Jung. First time I read it I had mind-blowing dreams each night…

    • Fishy, that one was a study book of mine for 2 years whilst on retreat in Belgium.
      High Impact, oui?

      Symbols = Art = Communication.

      • mais oui, very high impact pegasus…the interesting thing is that people are distanced (these days) from the unconscious understanding of symbols so reading a book like this can help people to have a conscious understanding of symbols and therefore of their own dreams (and other messages from the unconscious, such as works of art).

        i’d be interested to know what were you studying?

    • This is one of my serious faves- as an artist, I’ve been saved by this book 1000 times & its a real bible of inspiration…good luck exams sfishy…

  17. Interesting … I think that rejection of the right-brained intuitive feminine is the root of most of modern Western problems today.

    Through language our brains are wired to problem solve, rather than listen to our bodies – our emotions and sensations (anxiety, fear, pain, anger, joy, guilt etc) are messengers we need to listen to, observe, sometimes act and sometimes just be with for a while and often that will include some discomfort. The multibillion dollar happiness industry (and the advertising industry) relies on it. Here just buy this label, drink this, pop this pill, get breast implants, blah blah and you’ll be happy. And if you buy into that, it just spirals because there will always something uncomfortable to deal with and the lure of the easy solution. Life isn’t about happiness, happiness is just another passing emotion (that hopefully drops in often), contentment is the goal and you can’t have that without a balance of the right/left brain use or feminine/masculine balance.

    • agree. i’d even add that technology is making us doubt our intuition. and its put out there as logic v magic. our senses as being some foreign/mumbo jumbo/time waster. how many times have we ignored our instinct in favour of ‘common sense’ only to find we should have gone with the former?

    • Right On Feline, you give good words, MM gives good thoughts.
      We are wired for sound.
      First there was…..followed by…..what is that again?
      First there was the word & the word was made god or made god?
      Hebrew (Aramaic) & Sanscrit are sacred languages.
      Master the sounds & it is supposed to be a direct link to The Higher/Universe/Whatevs.

      Throat Chakra is communication AND creativity. That resonates:)

  18. OOPS also I meant to drop in the words ‘Gutenburg’ and ‘printing press’ there when speaking of a culture of literature only half a century old….

  19. Well snail or not I’m among the first to comment in this thread.

    A fascinating topic. Just on the weekend I went to a Brisbane Festival lecture presented by film maker Peter Greenaway. Yes, he of the racy films which arts-scene satirists loves to send up.

    Anyway, his lecture topic was ostensibly about Rembrandt’s ‘Nightwatch’, instead he rabbitted on for 2 1/4 hours about visual literacy.

    Greenaway argues cinema has not fulfilled its potential because it is still welded to the narrative, the bookshop and the print bestseller list (yes, I know but what about Jerry Bruckheimer, Adam Sandler, Will Smith et al I hear you say).

    PG (those initials, so ironic since most of his ‘high quality art house’ moofies are in fact MA15+ or R) spoke about a culture of images stretching back 8000 years, while the culture of letters has only had legs for 600 – 700 years. In terms of universal literacy suffrage well, churches only bothered to show sheilas how to read since… hmm I’m not good in this area – well Miles Franklin wrote some good stuff… oh and George Eliot.. oh I better stop there.

    More emphasis was placed by PG on the relative infancy of the moving image as an art form over the static one – Lumiere Bros et al commenced with the flickering projecter circa 1895. So cinema is around 115 years old, vs. images commencing with carvings and cave art carbon dated back 8000-odd years (sorry creationists – I know you have faith leading you to think the world is younger than that).

    PG argued the explosion of image making (static and moving) that has come about through increasing technological innovation since the mid 1980’s will see a big swing back to image as king/queen NOT text.

    I am noting the recent blogging here about Dan Brown and astro in Washington, the greater awareness of symbolic design in the U.S. democratic capital, and the incredible dissemination of esoteric symbols and images via the WWW which were once the exclusive domain of initiates in (mostly all-male) societies such as Rosicrucians, gnostics and Masons.

    I am ready for my queen the image, not the word as king. Long live the queen!

    • ASM – last year I saw Greenaway’s projection onto DaVinci’s Last Supper in Milan. breath taking.

      there’s a great interview with him on ABC arts – that ppl can download should they wanna know more re his POV…..

      I reckon he’s right – image be king/queen vs text c/ technology!!
      His projection series are breath taking.

      thanks for your insightful comment!

    • Greenaway is a provocateur and he loves to inhabit that periphery where cinema meets art, but most of his films are either unwatchable or borderline unwatchable.

      I admire him for stirring things up and loved ‘The Cook The Thief etc’, and truly the best cinema, Bergman, Fellini et al, is primarily image focussed, however, you can go to art galleries to see images, and a lot of people do, but a hell of a lot more go to the cinema, and people, including me not only love compelling stories, but want those as well–with or without images. Greenaway’s statement that cinema is dead does a massive disservice to director/visionaries like Almodovar or Chen Kaige and a huge number of living cinema geniuses.

    • Way back in 85, i drew an alien goddess manga type of woman’s face.
      Hand painted with windsor & newton heavily applied watercoulours with #00-3 sablebrushes.
      With gold & silver ink throuout.
      Did it freehand as it had many straight angled lines, tidied with a ruler prior painting.

      When displayed told it was a Manadala as it could be turned upside down & sideways.
      That aspect was unplanned………pppffft 30 years ago!
      Well, she has been imprinted in my psyche.

      With my new Pixma MP630, shall scan it & put it as my gravatar.
      This may take 6 months as the moving yellow & blue faces still in the In Basket.

      Do Aqua’s make the best tech heads? Regret my Aqua rising turned into Capricorn since MM’s teachings.

      • hey Pegs – scan it pleeeeeeease!!
        you had me at “Hand painted with windsor & newton heavily applied watercoulours with #00-3 sable brushes….” – really!!

        segue – tonight – at prev reffed serious Art Foundation ‘do’ – had to hand in homework, a collage destined for a widely distrbuted industry tome. upon handing over I quizzed their motive re including a marketing/biz person to collage “what inspires you, fave colour, ideal chair, your interp of light blah blah” per template. well YAY – not only am I the only NON creative contributor (tho I studied interior architecture, my practice is marketing creative things), among industry leaders – mine was the SOLE HAND MADE collage. no surpires the glue stick pasted inspired by skateboard god (Jay Adams) & the likes of Chrysler Chargers, fave colours (box of crayons), ideal chair – Sacco – the original bean bag designed in 1968 & licensed to Zanotta….you get the picture……mine had hand writing (not typing) & 4 leaf clovers…….ALL the others are sophisticated computer renders.

        seriously – as the world becomes more digital – I head analogue.
        am I alone in this?

        • No it’s been predicted by some musicians.
          Have been seeing some brill collages around displayed in windows of local shops.
          Art Baby Art.

          • Pegs heard today French Duo AIR – ditched their producers & built their own ANALOGUE studio – & new album be analogue……out next week!

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