Breaking the Mother Goose Code

I did not really expect to be convinced by Jerri Studebaker’s book about finding signs of ancient Goddess worship in fairy tales. I’m just not the sort of person who is easily persuaded by much, and the sleight of hand history of Dr Anne Ross, and the chicanery of Robert Graves have left me resistant, to say the least. I’m very wary of circular logic, too. Go out looking for evidence of sacrifice and you’ll see it any time there’s a dead person. Go out looking for Goddess survivals and you can all too easily infer them into anything with breasts.

I ended up persuaded to a degree that surprised me.

What makes this book such an interesting and provocative read isn’t, I thought, the main thrust at all. It’s the details. The histories of where nursery stories have come from and how they’ve changed over time. The correlations between fairy stories and other major cultural shifts. I’d not thought before about the way in which many fairy stories are really at odds with Christian stories. I was, I confess, too busy being cross about the princesses. But now I have reasons to rethink those, as well.

The historical correlations Jeri Studebaker brings together in her book are intriguing. There are many unanswered mysteries here, that will leave you wondering. She has evidence for the political use of the fairy story as a way of making commentary, and the literary place for the fairy tale in Europe as well. That’s without getting into the issues of goose footed women, egg laying, and shamanism. Oh, and magic spells. And how we might envisage a non-patriarchal world. I love this book because the author is cautious about her claims, and keen to remind us when she is speculating and the limits of what the evidence can support. Speculation is so much more enjoyable when we hold our uncertainties with such honour, I think.

At this point, whether or not Mother Goose is really, historically and provably a goddess survival seems a lot less important than what we try to do with her stories, and other such stories, moving forward. It is in the nature of stories to change and evolve over time, being re-imagined to fit the new context. Stories that survive are often stories that can be adapted, or that give us powerful archetypes to work with. So the question to ask may really be, how do we want to work with those archetypes in the first place? What stories do we want to tell, and why? Do we understand the implications of the stories we are sharing?

For me, the book raised another question as well. (Bear in mind here that I am a maybeist, not a theist nor an atheist.) If religion is imagined into existence by people, as well it might be, then to connect with the religions of our ancestors we need their stories, or whatever fragments survive. Take away its stories and Christianity ceases to exist. If religion is based on the experience of living, then through shared experiences, we can come to similar conclusions as our ancestors did. If we reverence the things life depends on, then we can find our way to the importance of the mother, the goose, the eggs and all the other ideas about life fairy tales can carry. If the deities are independently real and active, then of course things that look like them will keep turning up in people’s stories and ideas, for all the same reasons that they turned up in the first place – because they are offered to us by the divine as inspiration.

I don’t know. I still don’t know. I’m fine with this, and I enjoy books like this one that are able to challenge my carefully chosen uncertainty.

More about the book here –


About Nimue Brown

Druid, author, dreamer, folk enthusiast, parent, wife to the most amazing artist -Tom Brown. Drinker of coffee, maker of puddings. Exploring life as a Pagan, seeking good and meaningful ways to be, struggling with mental health issues and worried about many things. View all posts by Nimue Brown

7 responses to “Breaking the Mother Goose Code

  • Faemon

    Reblogged this on The Codex of Poesy and commented:
    Jeri Studebaker’s speculations on Goddess survival in Mother Goose tales cuts in line of my to-read list, based on this review by Nimue Brown.

  • Éilis Niamh

    Thank you Nimue. Will definitely check out the book! 🙂

  • crychydd

    Folklorists often point out that folk and fairy story motifs are international and so exist in different cultures. But they are culturally specific in the stories that are told. So they come from roots deeply embedded in all humans. But are special and local to particular groups of humans in particular places and cultures. This sounds to me very much like the gods. But whether a goddess or a god inhabits a particular story can only be determined by whether or not the reader finds them there – or the hearing group in an oral story-telling culture finds them present when the story is read.

  • Mother Goose & Stories | Elen Sentier

    […] Nimue Brown pointed me to Jerri Studebaker’s book, Breaking the Mother Goose Code, and I’m really pleased she did. I’ve not read it yet but it looks like one I’ll get. One of the things Nimue says that particularly struck me is, “I’d not thought before about the way in which many fairy stories are really at odds with Christian stories.” Indeed they are … I hope that will become apparent to more people and maybe give them to think! One of the things about these old stories – and many of them are far, far older than the 300+ years Studebaker speaks of – is that they come out of the old ways, the ways of folk for the near one million years of human life before christianity happened! […]

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