Alphabet Versus Goddess Preface

Alphabet Versus Goddess Preface


ChickenBones: A Journal

for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes



There is overwhelming archaeological and historical evidence that during a long period

of prehistory and early history both men and women worshiped goddesses, women

functioned as chief priests, and property commonly passed through the mother’s lineage.



The Alphabet Versus The Goddess

The Conflict Between Word & Image

By Leonard Shlain


The thesis of this book occurred to me while I was on a tour of Mediterranean archaeological sites in 1991. Our group had the good fortune to have for its guide a knowledgeable University of Athens professor. At nearly every Greek site we visited, she patiently explained that the shrines we stood before had originally been consecrated to a female deity. And, later, for unknown reasons, unknown persons reconsecrated them to a male one.

We then traveled to Crete to wander among the impressive remains of Knossos. Elegant palace murals depicted festive court women, girl acrobats, and snake-holding priestesses–mute evidence of women’s seemingly high status in Bronze Age Minoan culture.

The trip ended at Ephesus on the Anatolian coast–the site of the ruins of the Temple of Artemis, the largest shrine to a female deity in the Western world. Until Christian authorities closed it in the late fourth century, a woman (or a man) could officially worship a goddess and priestesses could officially perform major sacraments. As our group contemplated these facts, our guide told the legend of Jesus’ mother, Mary, coming to Ephesus to die. The guide then pointed out the hillside on which Mary’s remains were purported to have been buried.

On the long bus ride back to the airport, I asked myself why Mary would have chosen a place sacred to a “pagan” goddess as her final resting place. Even if the legend was a fiction, why did it gain credence? This led me to ponder a larger question hovering over the entire trip–what caused the disappearance of goddesses from the ancient Western world?

There is overwhelming archaeological and historical evidence that during a long period of prehistory and early history both men and women worshiped goddesses, women functioned as chief priests, and property commonly passed through the mother’s lineage. What in culture changed to cause leaders in all Western religions to condemn goddess worship? Why were women forbidden o conduct a single significant sacrament in these religions? And why did property begin to pass only through the father’s line? What event in human history could have been so pervasive and immense that it literally changed the sex of God?

I was familiar with the current, most commonly accepted explanation: just before recorded history began, invading horsemen sweeping down from the north imposed their sky gods and virile ethics on the peaceful goddess cultures they vanquished. Somehow, this answer seemed to me inadequate to explain a worldwide social phenomenon that occurred everywhere civilizations emerged and which took a millennium to unfold.

My Mediterranean journey coincided with the publication of my first book, Art & Physics: Parallel Visions in Space, Time, and Light, which put forth the idea that innovations in art prefigure major discoveries in physics. Art and physics are two different languages; the artist uses image and metaphor; the physicist uses numbers and equations. To sharpen the ideas I put forth in Art & Physics, I had immersed myself in the study of how different communication media affect society.

While on that bus ride, and perhaps because of my heightened interest in how we communicate, I was struck by the thought that the demise of the Goddess, the plunge in women’s status, and the advent of harsh patriarchy and misogyny occurred around the time that people were learning how to read and write. Perhaps there was something in the way people acquired this new skill that changed the brain’s actual structure. We know that in the developing brain of a child, differing kinds of learning will strengthen some neuronal pathways and weaken others.

Extrapolating the experience of an individual to a culture, I hypothesized that when a critical mass of people within a society acquire literacy, especially alphabet literacy, left hemispheric modes of thought are reinforced at the expense of tight hemispheric ones, which manifests as a decline in the status of images, women’s rights, and goddess worship. 

The more more I turned this idea over in my mind the more correlations appeared. Like a dog worrying a bone, I found this connection compelling and could not let it go until I had superimposed it on many different historical periods and across cultural divides. The book that you now hold in your hand is the result of my teeth-gripping, head-shaking, magnificent obsession.

By profession, I am a surgeon. I head a department at my medical center and I am an associate professor of surgery at a medical school. As a vascular surgeon operating on carotid arteries that supply blood to the brain, I have led the opportunity to observe firsthand the profoundly different function performed by each of the brain’s hemispheres. My unique perspective led me to propose a neuroanatomical hypothesis to explain why goddesses and priestesses disappeared from Western religions.

My hypothesis will ask readers to reconsider many closely held beliefs and open themselves up to entirely new ways of looking at familiar events. in an effort to prevent factual errors from detracting from my ideas, I enlisted many experts to help me along the way, and the manuscript continually became smoother and finer as it sifted through the collective sieve of their multiple intelligences.

Because there is patriarchy even in non-alphabetic Easter cultures, I felt compelled to make a brief detour into their history to see if it would fit within the framework of my thesis. The result is a book covering many centuries and many belief systems, a few of which, unfortunately, received short shrift. My mission was to present my reasoning in a manageable space while providing a panoramic view of the human condition. I am aware that numerous other respected explanations have been given for the dramatic events I recount. I could not in this book present accounts of all other historical theories, and chose to focus on the relationship between literacy and patriarchy.

I am by nature a storyteller. I have tried to make this book a lively read devoid of technical jargon. I had to balance this goal with my love for the luxuriant diversity of English. at times, I could not restrain myself from trying to rescue a few of my favorite words from what I fear may be their impending extinction due to neglect. Therefore, in the following pages t the reader may occasionally sight an unfamiliar member of an endangered species of the English language. I as the reader’s indulgence.

As I sit here on a beautiful spring day thumbing through the freshly printed hefty cube of manuscript that sits upon my desktop, I realize that my part in this engaging, maddening, wonderful, complicated, exciting writing project is complete. Now it is your truth. Have a good read.

Leornard Shlain

Mill Valley, California, 1998

Source: The Alphabet Versus The Goddess: The Conflict Between Word and Image (1998) by Leonard Shlain

*   *   *   *   *’s 25 Best Selling Books

For July 1st through August 31st 2011  


#1 – Justify My Thug by Wahida Clark #2 – Flyy Girl by Omar Tyree #3 – Head Bangers: An APF Sexcapade by Zane #4 – Life Is Short But Wide by J. California Cooper #5 – Stackin’ Paper 2 Genesis’ Payback by Joy King #6 – Thug Lovin’ (Thug 4) by Wahida Clark #7 – When I Get Where I’m Going by Cheryl Robinson #8 – Casting the First Stone by Kimberla Lawson Roby #9 – The Sex Chronicles: Shattering the Myth by Zane

#10 – Covenant: A Thriller  by Brandon Massey

#11 – Diary Of A Street Diva  by Ashley and JaQuavis

#12 – Don’t Ever Tell  by Brandon Massey

#13 – For colored girls who have considered suicide  by Ntozake Shange

#14 – For the Love of Money : A Novel by Omar Tyree

#15 – Homemade Loves  by J. California Cooper

#16 – The Future Has a Past: Stories by J. California Cooper

#17 – Player Haters by Carl Weber

#18 – Purple Panties: An Anthology by Sidney Molare

#19 – Stackin’ Paper by Joy King

#20 – Children of the Street: An Inspector Darko Dawson Mystery by Kwei Quartey

#21 – The Upper Room by Mary Monroe

#22 – Thug Matrimony  by Wahida Clark

#23 – Thugs And The Women Who Love Them by Wahida Clark

#24 – Married Men by Carl Weber

#25 – I Dreamt I Was in Heaven – The Rampage of the Rufus Buck Gang by Leonce Gaiter


#1 – Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention by Manning Marable #2 – Confessions of a Video Vixen by Karrine Steffans #3 – Dear G-Spot: Straight Talk About Sex and Love by Zane #4 – Letters to a Young Brother: MANifest Your Destiny by Hill Harper #5 – Peace from Broken Pieces: How to Get Through What You’re Going Through by Iyanla Vanzant #6 – Selected Writings and Speeches of Marcus Garvey by Marcus Garvey #7 – The Ebony Cookbook: A Date with a Dish by Freda DeKnight #8 – The Isis Papers: The Keys to the Colors by Frances Cress Welsing #9 – The Mis-Education of the Negro by Carter Godwin Woodson

#10 – John Henrik Clarke and the Power of Africana History  by Ahati N. N. Toure

#11 – Fail Up: 20 Lessons on Building Success from Failure by Tavis Smiley

#12 –The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander

#13 – The Black Male Handbook: A Blueprint for Life by Kevin Powell

#14 – The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates by Wes Moore

#15 – Why Men Fear Marriage: The Surprising Truth Behind Why So Many Men Can’t Commit  by RM Johnson

#16 – Black Titan: A.G. Gaston and the Making of a Black American Millionaire by Carol Jenkins

#17 – Brainwashed: Challenging the Myth of Black Inferiority by Tom Burrell

#18 – A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose by Eckhart Tolle

#19 – John Oliver Killens: A Life of Black Literary Activism by Keith Gilyard

#20 – Alain L. Locke: The Biography of a Philosopher by Leonard Harris

#21 – Age Ain’t Nothing but a Number: Black Women Explore Midlife by Carleen Brice

#22 – 2012 Guide to Literary Agents by Chuck Sambuchino #23 – Chicken Soup for the Prisoner’s Soul by Tom Lagana #24 – 101 Things Every Boy/Young Man of Color Should Know by LaMarr Darnell Shields

#25 – Beyond the Black Lady: Sexuality and the New African American Middle Class  by Lisa B. Thompson

*   *   *   *   *


Blacks in Hispanic Literature: Critical Essays

Edited by Miriam DeCosta-Willis 

Blacks in Hispanic Literature is a collection of fourteen essays by scholars and creative writers from Africa and the Americas. Called one of two significant critical works on Afro-Hispanic literature to appear in the late 1970s, it includes the pioneering studies of Carter G. Woodson and Valaurez B. Spratlin, published in the 1930s, as well as the essays of scholars whose interpretations were shaped by the Black aesthetic. The early essays, primarily of the Black-as-subject in Spanish medieval and Golden Age literature, provide an historical context for understanding 20th-century creative works by African-descended, Hispanophone writers, such as Cuban Nicolás Guillén and Ecuadorean poet, novelist, and scholar Adalberto Ortiz, whose essay analyzes the significance of Negritude in Latin America. This collaborative text set the tone for later conferences in which writers and scholars worked together to promote, disseminate, and critique the literature of Spanish-speaking people of African descent. . . . Cited by a literary critic in 2004 as “the seminal study in the field of Afro-Hispanic Literature . . . on which most scholars in the field ‘cut their teeth’.”

*   *   *   *   *

Confidence Men: Wall Street, Washington, and the Education of a President

By Ron Suskind

A new book offering an insider’s account of the White House’s response to the financial crisis says that U.S. Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner ignored an order from President Barack Obama calling for reconstruction of major banks. According to Pulitzer Prize-winning author Ron Suskind, the incident is just one of several in which Obama struggled with a divided group of advisers, some of whom he didn’t initially consider for their high-profile roles. Suskind interviewed more than 200 people, including Obama, Geithner and other top officials . . . The book states Geithner and the Treasury Department ignored a March 2009 order to consider dissolving banking giant Citigroup while continuing stress tests on banks, which were burdened with toxic mortgage assets. . . .Suskind states that Obama accepts the blame for mismanagement in his administration while noting that restructuring the financial system was complicated and could have resulted in deeper financial harm. . . . In a February 2011 interview with Suskind, Obama acknowledges another ongoing criticism—that he is too focused on policy and not on telling a larger story, one the public could relate to. Obama is quoted as saying he was elected in part because “he had connected our current predicaments with the broader arc of American history,” but that such a “narrative thread” had been lost.—Gopusa

*   *   *   *   *


Leonard Shlain — Surgeon, Author, Educator, Inventor, Speaker — has received many distinctions and awards both as a surgeon and educator.  He began his writing career in the late 1970’s contributing articles to magazines and newspapers including the Los Angeles Times.

In addition to being an author, Shlain is also Chief of Laparoscopic Surgery at California Pacific Medical Center in San Francisco and Associate Professor of Surgery at UCSF.  He was a pioneer in the field of video-assisted laparoscopic surgery and presently holds five patents for surgical devices. His Art & Physics is presently used as a textbook in many universities, high schools, and art academies.

In a more recent book,  Sex, Time, and Power, Shlain offers carefully reasoned, and certain to be controversial discussions on such subjects as menstruation, orgasm, puberty, circumcision, male aggression, menopause, baldness, left-handedness, the evolution of language, homosexuality, and the origin of marriage. Written in a lively and accessible style, Sex, Time, and Power is certain to generate heated debate in the media and among readers interested in human evolution and the history of sexuality.

*   *   *   *   *

The White Masters of the World

From The World and Africa, 1965

By W. E. B. Du Bois

W. E. B. Du Bois’ Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization (Fletcher)

*   *   *   *   *

Ancient African Nations

*   *   *   *   *

If you like this page consider making a donation

online through PayPal

*   *   *   *   *

Negro Digest / Black World

Browse all issues

1950        1960        1965        1970        1975        1980        1985        1990        1995        2000 ____ 2005        


*   *   *   *   *

The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan  The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll  Only a Pawn in Their Game

Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson Thanks America for Slavery /

George Jackson  / Hurricane Carter

*   *   *   *   *

The Journal of Negro History issues at Project Gutenberg

The Haitian Declaration of Independence 1804  / January 1, 1804 — The Founding of Haiti 

*   *   *   *   *


*   *   *   *   *






update 31 July 2010 




Home  Jamie Walker Table

Related files:  Sex Time and Power  Alphabet Versus Goddes Reviews  Alphabet Versus Goddess Preface Alphabet vs Goddess Epilogue 

Post Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.