Dictionary of Gods and Goddesses – Michael Jordan
“The same mysteries have puzzled people on every continent, the same fears have beset them and they have all attempted to explain the mysteries and allay the fears in the same way—through the worship of gods.” – From the book

The Dictionary of Gods and Goddesses is a 402-page paperback dedicated to gods and goddesses, featuring over 2,500 entries and spanning ancient and contemporary cultures. The author provides a chart of the chronology of the principle religions and cultures covered in the book, which include:

Australian Aboriginal
African Yoruba

The author gives only brief treatments of minor gods and goddesses, but affords the major deities with a bit more coverage in the book, including original cultural source, the role of the deity, genealogy, symbols, attributes, art references, literary sources, and so on.

The Dictionary of Gods and Goddesses does not include demigods, demons, or mythological heroes. According to the author, a demigod is “a personality who was once mortal but has been elevated to the celestial ranks”. However, significant ancestral personalities who have been clearly deified and treated entirely as gods and goddesses (e.g. the Sumerian god Dumuzi or the Norse god Balder) are included, even though they’re technically demigods.

Yet, while the demigod Guatama Buddha has been included, Jesus Christ has not. This makes no sense, especially since most Christians consider Jesus to be 100% god in human form; after his ascension, he is worshipped as “one with the father” (Jehovah/YHWH) and supplicants pray to him as such even today. Why the author chooses to include some demigods, especially tribal ones, and not Jesus (one of the most influential modern deities) is a mystery.

The Dictionary of Gods and Goddesses is a comprehensive source for gods and goddesses; in fact, the author claims that it represents the most comprehensive worldwide listing of deities available in a single volume. However, he admits that it makes no claim to be exhaustive. This is quite true. For example, if you look up Abundantia, the entry reads:

“Minor fertility goddess. Roman. The personification of abundance. She continued in French mythology after the Roman occupation, as a lady who enters houses in the night, bringing prosperity.”

The author doesn’t even mention that the French called her “Lady Hobunde”. This would be valuable information should an individual want more information on how Abundantia continued in French mythology. Or, if you look up Athena, you’ll find that she offered the olive to humankind, but there is no mention of the context, which is Athena’s contention with Poseidon. By humans accepting her gift over Poseidon’s, Athena gained control of Athens. In addition, there is no mention of her being a virgin/maiden goddess, nor that Zeus entrusted her with a shield bearing the Medusa and his principle weapon, the thunderbolt. Therefore, if you want in-depth information on the mythos of particular deities, you’ll have to acquire an encyclopedia or book dedicated to a specific culture, or one that focuses squarely on mythology.

The Dictionary of Gods and Goddesses is a fine introduction to deities spanning world cultures. It would be especially good for students or general readers wanting quick references to gods and goddesses. Nevertheless, if you want to delve deeply into various deities, especially the mythos, you’ll have to look elsewhere.

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Content copyright © by Janet Boyer. All rights reserved. This review was written by Janet Boyer. If you wish to use this content in any manner, you need written permission.