Encyclopedia of Goddesses and Heroines [NOOK Book]


More Than 1,000 Goddesses & Heroines from around the World

Groundbreaking scholar Patricia Monaghan spent her life researching, writing about, and documenting goddesses and heroines from all religions and all corners of the globe. Her work demonstrated that from the beginning of recorded history, goddesses reigned alongside their male counterparts as figures of inspiration and awe. Drawing on anthropology, folklore, literature, and ...
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Encyclopedia of Goddesses and Heroines

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More Than 1,000 Goddesses & Heroines from around the World

Groundbreaking scholar Patricia Monaghan spent her life researching, writing about, and documenting goddesses and heroines from all religions and all corners of the globe. Her work demonstrated that from the beginning of recorded history, goddesses reigned alongside their male counterparts as figures of inspiration and awe. Drawing on anthropology, folklore, literature, and psychology, Monaghan’s vibrant and accessible encyclopedia covers female deities from Africa, the eastern Mediterranean, Asia and Oceania, Europe, and the Americas, as well as every major religious tradition.
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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

“This beautiful volume—akin to Athena’s gift of weaving to the Greeks—provides a tapestry of glimmering threads of goddess figures from the world’s mythologies. This is an important introductory reference volume crafted with scholarship both deep and wide.”
Safron Rossi, PhD, editor of Joseph Campbell’s Goddesses: Mysteries of the Feminine Divine

“Something deep within every woman is healed and validated when she learns the rich feminine history of goddesses and heroines through history and their importance in all the world’s cultures. And it’s all here in this magnificent work.”
Christiane Northrup, MD, ob/gyn physician and author of the New York Times bestsellers The Wisdom of Menopause and Women’s Bodies, Women’s Wisdom

“It’s really valuable to have a book describing all goddesses and heroines. I’m sure many artists will find it inspiring.”
Erica Jong, author of Fear of Flying

“For almost thirty-five years, generations of students and scholars have used editions of Patricia Monaghan’s rich and detailed encyclopedias describing thousands of goddesses and heroines. This wonderful new edition contains an introduction to bring the book up-to-date, discussing the most recent finds of female figures. This will be a superb addition to anyone’s library.”
Miriam Robbins Dexter, author of Whence the Goddesses: A Source Book

Library Journal
The late Monaghan's (interdisciplinary studies, DePaul Univ.; The Book of Goddesses and Heroines) 2009 two-volume set is condensed here into a single volume, maintaining its usefulness but losing the images and the essays on other researchers and writers on the subject that were in the earlier work. The goddesses are divided by culture, region, and religion, which allows for easy maneuvering through the descriptions. For example, Africa is subcategorized according to "African Pantheon," "Egyptian Pantheon," and "African Diaspora Pantheon." Each culture has a brief, two- to three-page introduction that provides valuable historical background and sets the scene for the descriptions of goddesses that immediately follow. Monaghan's descriptions of over 1,000 goddesses and heroines provide varying degrees of detail. The majority of descriptions are shorter than a traditional encyclopedia would provide, but enough information is present to meet the needs of most readers. Access is easy with a clear table of contents and index, and researchers and scholars will find the bibliography at the end highly valuable. Monaghan also provides reader-friendly use of in-text citations by providing only the author's last name at the end of each entry to correlate to the bibliography with full information. No other book on this topic is as complete. VERDICT By an author widely considered the contemporary leader in the study of goddesses, Monaghan's book will be worthwhile to not only researchers and scholars familiar to this subject but also to the layperson simply looking to browse and learn. Recommended for public and academic libraries with religious studies, mythology, or women's studies programs.—Jason L. Steagall, Gateway Technical Coll., Elkhorn Lib., WI
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781608682188
  • Publisher: New World Library
  • Publication date: 4/1/2014
  • Sold by: Barnes & Noble
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 448
  • Sales rank: 445,697
  • File size: 4 MB

Meet the Author

Patricia Monaghan, PhD (1946–2012), was a leader in the contemporary women’s spirituality movement as well as an award-winning poet, scholar, activist, and mentor. In 1979, she published the first encyclopedia of female divinities, a book that has remained in print since then in various formats and that she later expanded into the current volume.
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Read an Excerpt


In 2008, archaeologists in Germany made a startling discovery. In Swabian Jura, where caves in limestone cliffs sheltered ancient humans, a figurine was unearthed from rubble. Carved from mammoth ivory, the figure showed a naked woman. Such figures have been found before where this “Venus” emerged, for the figure found in Hohle Fels Cave was named fora Roman goddess, as has been common since these figures were first discovered more than a century ago. In Austria (Willendorf and Galgenberg), France (Brassempouy, Laussel) and other European sites (Dolní Vûstonice in the Czech Republic, Moravany in Slovakia, Monruz in Switzerland, Mal’ta in Russia), archaeologists have found tiny figures of naked women. They are among the most ancient artworks of humanity, carved from stone or bone or molded from clay between twenty and thirty thousand years ago.

That long ago, during the Paleolithic Era, humans lived in small groups hunting and gathering foods. Recent studies suggest a large proportion, up to 80%, of their diet came from plant foods like berries, fruits and roots, which scholars assume were gathered by women. Meat, while providing necessary nutrients, was less readily available and required significant strength and skill to acquire, and it is presumed hunting was a predominantly male occupation, although women may have trapped small mammals and caught fish. What distinguishes this period of human history from earlier ones is, for the first time, humans began to use stone tools. This revolution led to others, such as the establishment of year-round villages and the invention of art.
What knowledge we have of these ancestors comes from scanty traces of their daily lives. Only material resistant to decay survives the millennia: bone, stone, fired clay. We have no way of knowing how ancient humans dressed or what footwear they favored. We have no Paleolithic fishing nets or traps, no spears, no baskets. We do not know how they organized their societies or traced their descent lines. We have no idea what languages they used. But, because they carved bone and painted on stone, we can see and appreciate their art.

The cave paintings at Lascaux and Pech-Merle in France show these ancient humans had a sophisticated sense of beauty and a command of painterly techniques. In Lascaux, animals leap and prance around the walls and roof of a series of interlocking caves. At Pech-Merle, spotted horses and wooly mammoths adorn the walls, and the outline of a hand suggests the presence of the artist. In addition to such painted galleries, we have dozens of examples of Paleolithic portable art in the form of expressive incised drawings of animals on bone and delicate carvings of “Venus” figurines.

Before 2008, experts dated these figures to between 28,000 and 24,000 years ago. Despite the span of time involved and despite the stylistic diversity in the figures, the Venuses share an emphasis on female sexual characteristics. Breasts and pubic triangle are always exaggerated; thighs and buttocks can be disproportionately large as well. This emphasis seems to have been so important that many Venuses have no facial features and only sketchy arms and legs. They are never clothed, although some wear what appear to be woven belts, and most have elaborate hairstyles. Contemporaneous cave paintings, with their highly realistic depiction of prey animals, show these artists did not lack pictoralability. Rather, the artists appear to have selectively exaggerated certain aspects of female anatomy.

Although we cannot know whether men or women (or both) made the carvings, or what they meant, interpretations abound. Among these is the idea the images represent the first known deity: a goddess. This theory is supported by the fact that virtually the only human images found in such ancient art are these full-bodied naked females, with the artists otherwise focusing their energies on animals. But this idea is a controversial one, especially among male scholars, some of whom prefer to label the figures as “Paleolithic pornography,” projecting today’s sexual behavior into the distant past. Because for nearly 2,000 years, male monotheism has been the dominant religious pattern, the idea that ancient humans honored a goddess as their primary divinity is unsettling to many, scholars and non-scholars alike.


Mesoamerica’s mythology has drawn little attention from scholars of women’s spirituality. A possible reason is human sacrifice offered to goddesses as well as gods, a practice that runs counter to essentialist gender presumptions. This was not the predominant form of worship but was practiced in urban cultures. Elsewhere, decentralized cultures survived until modern times despite colonization, first by regional cultures, then by European invaders. Myths of interest to scholars of women’s spirituality can be found in these cultures and among the Maya and Aztec. Mesoamerican religion presents multiplicity rather than uniformity throughout its development.

The centralized and literate cultures of central Mexico are the best known. The Mayan, thrived for hundreds of years then declined, possibly because of drought. Much of what's known of Mayan religion derives from a document called the Popol Vuh, in which the Maya described the world as moving through various stages (“suns”), each ending with a cataclysmic event, hence the Mayan attention to eclipses, comets and other celestial events over sometimes thousands of years.

In the 12th century CE, the Huaxtec were dominant in central Mexico. The names of a few of their goddesses remain, usually due to conflation with later divinities. Then came the Aztecs, who were flourishing when the Spanish arrived in the early 16th century. In 1299, the Aztecs had settled in Toltec territory but when, in 1323, the Aztecs sacrificed the Toltec king’s daughter, the group was expelled. They drained swamps to create their city of Tenochtitlan. In 1426 the Aztec empire began, controlling much of Mexico for a century until Cortés arrived. Two generations of war led to the control of the region by Spain.

Epidemics of diseases brought by the conquerors and previously unknown in Mesoamerica, killed as much as 50% of the population. Some survivors adapted to the new regime and left invaluable records. Christian missionaries recorded information about Aztec religion, although generally with the aim of destroying rather than preserving it.

Beyond the literate centralized societies, ethnographers and anthropologists have recorded myths from oral sources, which represent a fraction of what were rich traditions. Indigenous religious revivals have not been widespread in Central America, in part because some religious ways were absorbed into Catholic rituals and in part because of the extirpation of tribal people. North Americans’ interest in the region often focuses on shamanic aspects, an interest not entirely welcomed by native Central Americans. Revival of ritualized goddess religion has not been prominent, although feminists have recently worked to claim the image of Guadalupe as a symbol of indigenous feminine power.

Central American Pantheon

Chalchihuitlicue This jade skirted goddess ruled streams and rain. Lake waters were also under her command, for her people lived in flood areas. Chalchihuitlicue ruled salt water, controlling the sea and those who traveled on it. In her honor, the Aztecs called the Gulf of Mexico Chalchiuhcueyécat, “water of Chalchihuitlicue.”

Chalchihuitlicue was depicted in jade necklace, turquoise earrings, a crown of iridescent blue feathers and a skirt trimmed with lilies. Her headdress featured large tassels that hung on each side of her face. She may have been honored at Teotihuacán in the cave under the Pyramid of the Sun, where a statue of her was found. After Christianization, Chalchihuitlicue appeared as Doña María Matlacoya, invoked in prayers for rain.

Chicomecóatl “Seven Serpent,” an Aztec agricultural goddess who promoted human as well as vegetative reproduction, had many forms: a maiden decked with water flowers, a young woman whose embrace brought death, a mother carrying the sun as a shield. Chicomecóatl had several festivals. On April 5, homes were decorated with herbs sprinkled with blood. Everyone marched to the fields where they offered corn-sprouts decked with flowers and bundles of the previous year’s harvest, with petitions for abundance. Every family offered a basket of food, topped with a cooked frog to remind the goddess of her need to work with Chalchihuitlicue to produce a good crop.
Another festival lasted from late June to mid-July, when wind pollinated corn. Women wore hair loose to encourage corn-silk to gather pollen. Corn pudding was eaten; people made merry. In the goddess’s temple, a slave danced, adorned with face-paint. On the final night of the festival, the woman danced all night, meeting her death at daybreak when she was sacrificed. It was important her heart be beating when it was offered to Chicomecóatl with prayers for an abundant harvest. (Caso; Clendinnen; Durán; Léon-Portilla; Sahagún I; Weigle.)

Cihuacóatl The Aztec goddess of life’s trials has been considered a form of Coatlicue. Her alternative names include Quauhciuatl (“eagle woman”), Yoaciuatl (“warrior woman”) and Tzitziminciuatl (“devil woman”), perhaps each a separate aspect of the goddess.

Cihuacóatl wandered decked in jewels, moaning about coming disasters. In Tenochtitlan, she had a temple before which a perpetual fire burned. Within it, effigies of captured gods were imprisoned. She was depicted with an open mouth, eager for victims, wearing obsidian earplugs but otherwise dressed in white. More human sacrifices were offered to her than any other divinity.

In her pre-Aztec identity, she was a goddess of wilderness, but by Aztec times she was a divinity of war and sacrifice. She retained her identity as a goddess of creation, for she received the bones of the dead and ground them into paste from which she created humans. She was served by the Cihuateteo. (Brundage; Clendinnen; Durán; Josserand and Dakin; Sahagún I; Weigle.)

Cihuateteo Women who died in childbirth were envisioned by Aztecs as roaming the world weeping. They haunted crossroads, where they captured children. The Cihuateteo (“goddess women”) were also called Ciuapipiltin (“honored women”) because the deaths of women in childbirth equaled heroic deaths in war.

The innumerable Cihuateteo lived in a western paradise called Cincalco, “house of corn.” When they appeared every 52 days, they stood out from living women by golden eyebrows and stark white complexions. Sometimes they were fearsome, with claws for hands and a skull instead of a head. Temples were erected at crossroads, and cakes offered to keep them from stealing children.

In contemporary folklore, she has been transformed into La Llorona, who carries a dead child through the streets. This “weeping woman” appears as a seducer of men who die violently, as a kidnapper of children or as a grieving mother. New Mexican legend claims she was never heard weeping until Cortés invaded Mexico, after which she drowned her children and roamedmoonlit streets. She has been identified as Cortés’s interpreter, La Malinche, described as a traitor for collaborating with the invader and cursed to wander after death. (Barakat; Caso; Sahagún I 19; Weigle; Weigle and White.)

China and Korea
The nearby kingdom of Korea kept its women’s shamanic tradition alive into the present. Such shamans come from two traditions. Southern-tradition shamans derive their powers from matrilineally inherited access to spirits. Northern shamans are self-selected by “spirit sickness" before being initiated by a practitioner. Located historically in territory that is now North Korea, this tradition is now predominant in Seoul, to which many northern shamans fled to escape Communist suppression.

Persecution of shamans is not new in Korea. Its strategic location between China and Japan led to invasion and occupation by both. When the Chinese brought Confucianism and later Buddhism, they tried to eliminate the native religion. Shamans survived marginally as healers, because no provision had been made to train doctors. But in 1409 CE, all shamanic books were burned; in 1472, the shamans were driven from Seoul.

The mudang survived, going underground until the end of colonial rulership. In the North, dictator Kim Il-sung made it his mission to end all religious practices save a token Buddhism. Shamanism in Communist Korea ended with the flight of mudang to Seoul, where they formed the basis of South Korean shamanism. The new Korean democracy did not welcome the refugee shamans.. But the Fifth Republic, dedicated under its 1980 constitution to preserving Korean cultural heritage, permits public announcement of rituals; dedicatory rituals led by mudang have opened several skyscrapers in Seoul. Yet like Native American tribal dances, these public performancesdo not mean the new government supports the old religion.

Alan Qo’a The ancestress of the Mongol hero ?Cinggis Khan was visited nightly by a yellow man who descended through the smoke-hole, rubbed his stomach, then turned into a yellow dog. This visitor fathered five sons. One day their mother gave them arrows to break. Although they could break single arrows, none could break five held together. Thus Alan Qo’a showed her sons the necessity of cooperation. Another Mongol ancestral mother, Ala Nur, gave birth after encountering a lion.

Billkis The Uighur, a Chinese minority, tell of the princess Billkis, who began at the age of eight to embroider a veil for her wedding. It took eight years, so when Billkis turned sixteen, the veil was finished. She told her father the man who could understand her veil would become her husband, for he would able to read her inmost thoughts. One after another, princes came and looked at the veil, but all they saw was embroidered silk. They could not interpret Billkis’s designs.

Finally, a raggedly young man discerned the veil’s meaning. In the swirls of color, he saw a mountain, on which a witch stood guard over a green bird. His interpretation was correct, but Billkis wanted him to get the bird for her. Asking only for the pearl she wore in her right ear, he set off.

Finding the mountain, he climbed to the top, where he discovered the bird and the witch. Calling for the pearl to help him, he threw it into the air. There it glittered so strongly that the witch had to cover her eyes, allowing the hero to capture the bird and escape with it. This heroic action satisfied Billkis that the young man was her intended mate, but her father was horrified that she would not marry wealth. The king set impossible tasks for Billkis’s beloved, saying he would cut off the lad’s head if anything went awry. Instead, Billkis and her lover escaped on the bird and lived happily together.

Bixia Yuanjun This mountain goddess, honored by women through the early part of the 20th century, represented untamed femininity, sometimes perceived as dangerous. Midwives and healers were devoted to her, as were young wives. Both rich and poor worshiped her, with as many as 47 festivals offered in her honor, most significantly her birthday, celebrated with a month of drumming and chanting.

Ch’ang O The Chinese moon goddess originally lived on earth, where her husband was the archer Yi. Yi killed her brother and shot an arrow into her hair to show her life was in his control. Because of his skill, the gods gave Yi the elixir of immortality, which Ch’ang O found and drank. Then she fled to the moon, where she begged the moon-hare for protection. The hare breathed out a strong wind, and the pursuing Yi was unable to mount to the sky. Ch’ang O remained in the moon, transformed into a toad.

Changxi Changxi was distinct from Ch’ang O, although the two moon goddesses may have originally been the same. Changxi was mother of the 12 moons, each a dif¬ferent shape, that daily crossed the sky. She was an important early goddess demoted to a minor position.

Chhit-niu-ma In Taiwan, this collective of birth goddesses protected children. Their festival was celebrated on the seventh day of the seventh month, when people vowed to do good works. On a child’s sixteenth birthday, prayers thanked the Old Maids’ protection through childhood. The weaving goddess Chih Nu shared the festival. Some stories say she lived with her six unmarried sisters, connecting her with this collective.

Chhng-Bú This Taiwanese spirit kept babies from crying at night or contracting childhood illnesses. To invoke Chhng-Bú’s aid, parents filled bowls with rice and unsalted fried pork. The offerings were placed in the crib to nourish the bed spirit.

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Table of Contents


Note on Spelling and Pronunciation


African Pantheon
Egyptian Pantheon
African Diaspora Pantheon

Eastern Mediterranean

Eastern Mediterranean Pantheon
Christian and Jewish Pantheon

Asia and Oceania

China and Korea
Chinese, Mongol, and Taiwanese Pantheon
Korean Pantheon

Circumpolar North
Circumpolar North Pantheon

Hindu and Buddhist Pantheon of India, Nepal, and Tibet

Southeast Asia and Indonesia
Southeast Asian and Indonesian Pantheon

Japanese and Ainu Pantheon

The Pacific Islands and Australia
Pacific Islands Pantheon
Australian Pantheon


The Baltic
Baltic Pantheon

The Celtic World
Continental Celtic and Breton Pantheon
Irish and Scottish Pantheon
British and Manx Pantheon
Welsh, Cornish, and Arthurian Pantheon

Finno-Ugric Cultures
Finno-Ugric Pantheon

Greek Pantheon

Roman and Italic Pantheon
Etruscan Pantheon

Scandinavian Pantheon

Southeastern Europe
Southeastern European Pantheon

Slavic Peoples
Slavic Pantheon

The Americas

North America
North American Pantheon

Mesoamerican Pantheon

South America and the Caribbean
South American and Caribbean Pantheon

About the Author

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