Breaking the Mother Goose Code:How a Fairy-Tale character Fooled the World for 300 Years
Studebaker, J. (20015). Washington:Moon Books
As I began to read Jeri Studebaker’s thoughtful exploration of the creation, development, and use of fairy-tales I had the fleeting thought: ‘why didn’t I know this before?’. Her thesis that fairy stories are coded works that safeguard the holy mysteries of early goddess-based religions in the face of oppression and suppression felt so right to me that it was an experience of knowing what I didn’t know I knew. I have been on a personal quest to re-discover the Goddess for some time now and this addition to my library has given me a touch-point – the Goddess never really went away, she just went into hiding, and now in our post-modern society it is safe for her to return to view.
Studebaker has engaged in a work of scholarship and with the wealth of information she has assembled has organized her book into two sections. The first section explores her thesis that Mother Goose is a representation of the Goddess drawn from a time before the introduction of patriarchy into society and its banishment of the thoughts and values that preceded it. The only nursery rhyme that we have about Mother Goose is found in a book by a Frenchman, Charles Perrault, Tales and Stories from Times Past, or Tales of Mother Goose published in 1697. Studebaker uses this tale as the foundation for her research, taking her cues on what to look for and where to look.
Were there goddesses associated with geese and, if so, who were they? Studebaker attempts to uncover the meanings behind the imagery of this tale: goose, owl, dove, moon, gold, goose eggs, sea, and forest. She also looks at the dynamic of parent/child interactions and the character of the Harlequin. She then builds an argument that indicates the probability of Mother Goose as representing the goddess Holda/Perchta or Aphrodite/Venus.
In addition to parsing the meaning of the Mother Goose story, Studebaker looks at the metamorphosis of the graphic image of Mother Goose across time. While the graphic image within the original 1697 work depicts Mother as a comely young woman, by 1764 she was shown to be an old, crippled, sharp-faced crone. Such a change cannot be overlooked and expresses the changes within society that is seeking to turn this tale into a warning. Her exploration of this leads her to the discovery of the missing link of these two extremes, a play dating from 1806 titled Harlequin and Mother Goose; or, the Golden Egg! A Comic Pantomime, by Thomas Dibdin. that portrays Mother as a supernatural being with great powers. It is also the first time, in print, that Mother flies on the back of a goose. It is thought that the play draws on older sources and traditions that are no longer available to us, and it certainly fleshes out the original story.
The last piece of this analysis focuses on the movement within society, following the Christian conquest of Rome, toward a patriarchal and hierarchical orientation. Studebaker offers interesting correlations between major religio-political events, such as the Inquisition, and the morphology of the fairy-tale.
Studebaker builds, brick by brick or fact by fact, a strong foundation to support her thesis and, having done so, then proceeds to analyse each of the Mother Goose tales accordingly. The Tales are then grouped according to the hidden meanings she uncovers:
- History and Future of Europe’s Old Religions
- Creation, Cosmology, and Theology
- Spells and Incantations
- Rights and Wrongs
All of this is supplemented by a number of appendices, footnotes, and bibliography that offer the reader further resources should she/he wish to delve further.
I enjoyed this book and found it to be a good addition to my library. While there were a few points with which I disagreed or a few arguments that I felt should have been taken further, the scholarship is excellent and the topic intriguing. I recommend this to both seekers on the journey and budding scholars interested in a starting point. The book encourages critical thinking in a new way, and I have found that my awareness of the shaping by a dominant culture of what topics are discussed and the shape those discussions are allowed to take has been broadened significantly as a result.