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From southern Greece to northern Russia, people have long believed in female spirits, bringers of fertility, who spend their nights and days dancing in the fields and forests. So appealing were these spirit-maidens that they also took up residence in nineteenth-century Romantic literature. Archaeologist and linguist by profession, folk dancer by avocation, Elizabeth Wayland From southern Greece to northern Russia, people have long believed in female spirits, bringers of fertility, who spend their nights and days dancing in the fields and forests. So appealing were these spirit-maidens that they also took up residence in nineteenth-century Romantic literature. Archaeologist and linguist by profession, folk dancer by avocation, Elizabeth Wayland Barber has sleuthed through ethnographic lore and archaeological reports of east and southeast Europe, translating enchanting folktales about these “dancing goddesses” as well as eyewitness accounts of traditional rituals — texts that offer new perspectives on dance in agrarian society. She then traces these goddesses and their dances back through the Romans and Greeks to the first farmers of Europe. Along the way, she locates the origins of many customs, including coloring Easter eggs and throwing rice at the bride. The result is a detective story like no other and a joyful reminder of the human need to dance.


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From southern Greece to northern Russia, people have long believed in female spirits, bringers of fertility, who spend their nights and days dancing in the fields and forests. So appealing were these spirit-maidens that they also took up residence in nineteenth-century Romantic literature. Archaeologist and linguist by profession, folk dancer by avocation, Elizabeth Wayland From southern Greece to northern Russia, people have long believed in female spirits, bringers of fertility, who spend their nights and days dancing in the fields and forests. So appealing were these spirit-maidens that they also took up residence in nineteenth-century Romantic literature. Archaeologist and linguist by profession, folk dancer by avocation, Elizabeth Wayland Barber has sleuthed through ethnographic lore and archaeological reports of east and southeast Europe, translating enchanting folktales about these “dancing goddesses” as well as eyewitness accounts of traditional rituals — texts that offer new perspectives on dance in agrarian society. She then traces these goddesses and their dances back through the Romans and Greeks to the first farmers of Europe. Along the way, she locates the origins of many customs, including coloring Easter eggs and throwing rice at the bride. The result is a detective story like no other and a joyful reminder of the human need to dance.

30 review for The Dancing Goddesses: Folklore, Archaeology, and the Origins of European Dance

  1. 4 out of 5

    Antonomasia

    Have you ever wanted a commentary on Russian fairy tales rather like Maria Tatar's on Grimm? I did, but I'd concluded there was no such thing in English, and had given up on it, until I stumbled serendipitously into Part Two of this book. I was led to Dancing Goddesses by quotes about prehistoric string skirts (from here and from an earlier book of the author's) which had a sense of joy and sexiness and revelling in one's subject - quite the antithesis of the tone of much recent historical discus Have you ever wanted a commentary on Russian fairy tales rather like Maria Tatar's on Grimm? I did, but I'd concluded there was no such thing in English, and had given up on it, until I stumbled serendipitously into Part Two of this book. I was led to Dancing Goddesses by quotes about prehistoric string skirts (from here and from an earlier book of the author's) which had a sense of joy and sexiness and revelling in one's subject - quite the antithesis of the tone of much recent historical discussion to be found online among younger scholars and graduates from the Anglosphere where one is expected to be critical of this sort of attitude in a politically rigid style. (Barber is now 80, which will have something to do with the different approach.) Reading bits of it on impulse (as I often do with non-fiction books that these days rarely make it on to my GR shelves) I soon noticed connections with many topics I love. It's difficult to get scholarly books on Eastern European folklore and customs in English, and there's material here that I can relate to the Rig Veda and… After a while I decided to read the whole thing, in the same informal way I read articles online rather than "I Am Reading A Book" mode. It's one of those books which, like The Golden Bough (as at least one other reviewer has mentioned), and the sort of prehistory written by second-wave feminists, makes a plethora of connections and tangents. It's kindest to understand the whole as an interpretation rather than a definitive work. And there is a good reason for this approach: "Analogy, in fact, forms the backbone of most mythical and magical thinking." Therefore to understand myth and magic, Barber frequently uses analogy. This orgy of apophenia produces some fascinating links which truly elucidate their subjects - especially some of the Russian fairytales. But also some things which seem too much of a stretch, or merely arbitrary - or, occasionally, there are bits missing (fertility - of game and forage - would have been pretty important not only to early farmers but also to those who directly preceded them) - or just a bit wrong, as can happen when academics are out of their area and over-reliant on one or two outdated or partial texts (Barber's suggestion that benandanti-like groups inspired the early-modern witchhunts). I've no doubt that someone from south-east Europe or Russia - where may of Barber's examples are drawn from - and who knows the folklore and archaeology, would have further nitpicking to do. However, fairytale and folklore interpretation is one of those domains - like personal and literary essays, where there is licence to make just such a a swirl of associations and call it scholarship. And indeed, Barber's interpretations of the Russian Frog Princess, of the related Animal Bride tales - considered one of the oldest European folktale types - and of Koschkei the Deathless seemed to me the strongest and most definitive arguments here. I feel I can read Afanasyev 'properly' now! Unfortunately, perhaps especially for UK readers, the book is blighted by a ridiculous word choice. Barber may also be showing her age in forgetting how ruinous to concentration and credibility a double-entendre can be to young people. The dancing spirit maidens have several names. In English one might call such a creature fairy or nixie or sometimes mermaid. Willy, an archaic word lurking in expressions such as “Dark corners give me the willies!” and possibly in will-o’-the-wisp, is probably originally the same as the widely used Slavic vila. The various Slavic groups call her vila, wilła, samovila, samodiva, rusalka, rusavka, mavka, and other names besides. Among the Greeks of today, she is a neráïda… Since all these names carry much cultural baggage in each little region of Europe, however, I will use the relatively uncluttered (because forgotten) word willy as a general designation, although in translating local descriptions I will sometimes use the local term. So - not only is that "creative" etymology ("will- o-the wisp" etc appears to originate from an unconnected English folktale and "willies" in the sense of "heebie-jeebies" is only known from the late 19th century) - but throughout this book the commonest childish/ non-sweary slang word for penis is being used as the generic term for young female spirits. Yes, the world of traditional folk culture loves its filthy little innuendos, but the correspondences are more appropriately shaped (they are analogous to the thing itself, not to what the culture desires it is paired with) as this example from later in the book shows: This same imagery, patently sexual, occurs sometimes on traditional wedding chests containing the linens and woolens the bride has made up ahead for her married life. For example, a symbol of the female vulva on the front edge of the lid would fit down over an arrow painted on the chest. Storeroom door locks also often took a vulvalike lozenge shape; inserting the key gave access to the goods. Little fell to the imagination. Arrows, too, were placed in each corner of the room in which the nuptial bed had been laid—laid, in fact, on sheaves of grain, to augment the fertility of the marriage act. She should have just called the spirits veelas (assuming Rowling hasn't copyrighted the word) or nymphs or one of the other well-known terms. So, the central thesis: Willies, in Slavic lore especially, are the spirits of girls who died “before their time” and returned to live as spirit beings in our world, near where they had once lived and died.7 Dying “before their time” meant specifically that, although these girls were daughters of the ancestral line, they had not yet become mothers. Hence they had no descendants, had not become ancestors of anyone, and thus had no stake in the problems of those who still lived. So people could not count on these spirits, unlike those of dead mothers, fathers, and grandparents, to help their living offspring in a crisis. They represented loose ends on the family tree, and—worse yet—if they had died disappointed or abused, they surely carried a grudge and might behave spitefully. But the farm folk also saw these dead maidens as possessing a precious commodity that was very much needed and (in this worldview) thought to be transferable: the ability to reproduce that all females have by nature but that these particular girls had not “used up” yet. Perhaps, by understanding their ways, one could persuade them to bestow that unused fertility on one’s family, flocks, and fields? That 7 is Zelenin, and it's doing a heck of a lot of work. Too much work, in the eyes of someone who sees Ronald Hutton's careful scholarship as the gold standard for this sort of thing. Though this understanding of them was apparently widespread enough that Gogol used it too: At the hour when dark fades, . . . from the waves of the Dnepr the maidens who destroyed their own lives [i.e., committed suicide] come forth in flocks; hair cascades from their green heads onto their shoulders, and water, plashing noisily, runs from their long hair to the ground, while the girls shine through the water as though a glass shirt; their mouths smile wonderfully, their cheeks blaze, their eyes bewitch the soul. . . . She would burn with love, she would kiss passionately. . . . Flee, Christian man! Her lips are poison, her couch cold water; she will tickle you mercilessly and drag you off into the river. Which sounds like the crazy/hot girl archetype (and associated diagnoses) at least as much as Christian demonisation of older pagan lore. There's a story from Simbirsk - that Zelenin again! - of Marina who actually got her man after death, having become a rusalka, quite the worst thing for girls inclined that way to hear. (I wondered if one of them, or her friend or sister left behind, originally invented it.) But how did it work in local lore when one of these girls had died recently and a lot of the people had found her annoying because she created so much drama? In Heathers, after the first Heather was thought to have killed herself, she acquired 'depth of character as far as the interesting gothy kids were concerned. But what about if it was the intense obsessive goth-equivalent girl, how did the village Heathers respond to the idea of her become a veela/rusalka they were now obliged to propitiate? This should be a historical low-fantasy story, though not sure it would get published these days. Barber includes among these beings, though, not just girls who killed themselves, but all girls and young women who died from puberty but before first childbirth. What isn't considered here - and which I would expect to find in a historian's scholarly account of folklore - is to consider whether, and when and where, lore of female nature/water spirits may have become conflated with memories and legends of dead young girls. Instead she just assumes the dead girls were the origins of the tales of supernatural beings as a form of collateral ancestor-worship, without examining if they perhaps became merged over time and/or were influenced to do so by lore from adjacent regions. At least some of the sources she quotes are rigorous - over a century ago, Bulgarian ethnographer Marinov conducted interviews with people who experienced trance states or cures during folk rituals, and the insights from these are amazing. There's some wonderful evidence quoted in the book about customs when they were still active, about how participants felt and thought, not just eyewitness accounts - but Barber gives more credence given to old interpretations than one might expect these days. Now, on to those Russian fairytales. 'The Frog Princess' is a series of bride-tests. Which, in the way of a really good interpretation, seems obvious now I've heard, though the intricate relationship of this to other folk customs and archaeology is exhilarating. The hero may be a prince, but Vasilisa the frog has to have all the capabilities of a good peasant wife (and which, noticeable having read the Odyssey this year, most of which were still expected of an aristocratic woman in the Homeric age). Some are obvious: she has to make cloth and clothing well - even better if it is beautiful - and likewise bake great bread. Her physical strength for farm and household work is tested by strenuous dances. (Examples are given of Balkan dances which are a particular test of strength and agility for the woman.) And she was expected to be fertile and produce the next generation of workers: this is where it's significant she's a frog - it means the prince made her pregnant (the metaphor for which was shooting the arrow at the beginning). Frogs were a fertility symbol both because of their shape and because they produced eggs, like birds another fertility symbol; in the Christian era offerings of model frogs were made to Mary in some regions - and Barber shows a prehistoric figurine of a frog-woman from Anatolia and frog-like shapes in Slavic art suggesting women squatting to give birth. [Peasants often would not get married before the woman was pregnant, Barber says, as reproduction, along with work, was the most important requirement of the marriage. This generalisation (which I've seen plenty of times about British history) is broken down somewhat, albeit in a slightly confusing manner, saying that girls in the northern part of the region she discusses - especially central and northern Great Russia - were not necessarily expected to be virgins at marriage, but had less say over who they married, whereas the further south you went, into Bulgaria and Greece, there was a stricter requirement of virginity, but more say in the choice of husband. Even a passing awareness of some Balkan cultures, and of Ancient Greece, shows this needs a more granular time/place breakdown.] There's still more to it than that. In a sideline that requires less explanation, variants on the story also include another of the most ancient tale types, Aarne-Thompson type 554, the Grateful Animals, who help out the groom in the later part of his quest. But another of the great interpretations here works for any bird-bride tale type. Barber noticed these coalesced in regions bordering the Arctic - the region where many migratory birds spend the summer and raise their young. The supernatural bride who dons her feathers and flies away again must have been inspired by these. Yet one of the closest-to-original forms of this tale type is found in Bulgaria - brought, she says, by Ugric-speaking Bulgars who had moved gradually southwards during the Migration Period. And then there is the mysterious sleeve dance or wing dance, a sacred dance with very long sleeves covering one's hands - a motif Barber observes in this fairytale and in artwork going back from medieval Kievan bracelets to 700BC northern Greece. In recent decades there's been a lot of deliberate covering of hands with sleeves that seems to be about trying to look cute and little (in my twenties there were girls who often did this in front of men in the winter); now it'll become one of those unwitting echoes, like when a poncho accidentally resembles a priest's chasuble. And Koschkei the deathless is a shaman in the Siberan tradition! It makes so much sense now - and he may have been made into more of a villain in the Christian era (though another clan's shaman could be a danger anyway.) Barber has a small website with further notes to the book, and one of the stronger notes on it is further supporting evidence for this theory. But even after these revelatory insights, Barber doesn't have a key to Baba Yaga in the same way: she appears as mysterious and large a force as she always did. There are small ones: the South Great Russians, Barber says, didn't have bathhouses, unlike their northern counterparts, but used their ovens as a sort of half-body sauna (frustratingly unreferenced); she hypothesises from this that tales of Baba Yaga shoving people in the oven came from outsiders seeing this. This is the sort of point on which the book could really benefit from reviews from the regions she discusses. continued below in comment field (Read & reviewed November 2020)

  2. 5 out of 5

    Kelly

    This is one of those "unified theory of everything" books that kind of rearranged my brain. It's most of the mythic themes I've been obsessed with for decades, all tied together into a coherent whole. Two more things that come to mind: I wonder if Baba Yaga's rotating hut is at all connected to the Celtic revolving castles, which I've seen theorized as barrow mounds that only let the light in one day a year, like on the solstice (like Brugh na Boinne). Also, of the two most famous Cretan snake go This is one of those "unified theory of everything" books that kind of rearranged my brain. It's most of the mythic themes I've been obsessed with for decades, all tied together into a coherent whole. Two more things that come to mind: I wonder if Baba Yaga's rotating hut is at all connected to the Celtic revolving castles, which I've seen theorized as barrow mounds that only let the light in one day a year, like on the solstice (like Brugh na Boinne). Also, of the two most famous Cretan snake goddesses, one of them's in the Mother position and one in the Maiden position (and I've seen it suggested that she might have originally been holding a thread, not a snake). I feel like poking some more in those directions. Anyway, though, the book was totally engrossing, and made me want to take dance classes.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Alesa

    This book is an archeologist's ode to her passion for Eastern European folk dance. Parts are erudite, and full of fascinating facts about the region's culture and history. She explains, for instance, why the colors of white, red and black are so popular. Why embroidery goes around the neck and sleeves (to protect the wearer from evil spirits), why some dances go clockwise and others the reverse, why dances from some regions have "regular" beats, such as 3/4 or 4/4, and other regions have odder o This book is an archeologist's ode to her passion for Eastern European folk dance. Parts are erudite, and full of fascinating facts about the region's culture and history. She explains, for instance, why the colors of white, red and black are so popular. Why embroidery goes around the neck and sleeves (to protect the wearer from evil spirits), why some dances go clockwise and others the reverse, why dances from some regions have "regular" beats, such as 3/4 or 4/4, and other regions have odder ones like 7/8, 9/8, etc. Why Western Europe does partner dances, and Eastern Europe does line dances. My favorite parts of the book, however, and the ones that will stick most in my mind, are about Balkan dances themselves. As an avid folk dancer in my teens, I had an intuitive understanding of the sacredness of these dances. Barber explains where this comes from, namely the ritual nature of the dances themselves, which were used to ensure fertility and connect with earth and water goddesses. She had two quotes in the book from William McNeill, author of Keeping Together in Time, about the psychological effects of soldiers marching together. I absolutely loved these, because it was the first time I had ever seen anybody describe the magic of moving in unison with a group of people -- in the case of dancing, to timeless tunes and rhythms: "Marching aimlessly about on the drill field, swaggering in conformity with prescribed military postures, conscious only of keeping in step so as to make the next move correctly and in time somehow felt good... A sense of pervasive well-being is what I recall; more specifically, a strange sense of personal enlargement; a sort of swelling out, becoming bigger than life, thanks to participation in collective ritual... It was something felt, not talked about ... Moving briskly and keeping in time was enough to make us feel good about ourselves, satisfied to be moving together, and vaguely pleased with the world at large." "the emotion it arouses constitutes an indefinitely expansible basis for social cohesion among any and every group that keeps together in time,moving big muscles together and chanting, singing, or shouting rhythmically. 'Muscular bonding' is the most economical label I could find for this phenomenon, and I hope the phrase will be understood to mean the euphoric fellow feeling that prolonged and rhythmic muscular movement arouses in nearly all participants in such exercises." Isn't that beautiful? Isn't that exactly what a person feels in something like folk dance? I will keep this book as a reference for a long time.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Josh

    I finished this book back in the summer, but wanted to write a sorta detailed review for a while, just never got around to it. Barber’s scholarship is immense. At some moments of reading I was reminded of reading Frazer’s Golden Bough: some general principle or observation is noted, then illustrated with numerous examples and instantiations. Sounds exciting enough right? But, Barber’s book has some issue with structure and direction, in my assessment at least. The general premise of the book is I finished this book back in the summer, but wanted to write a sorta detailed review for a while, just never got around to it. Barber’s scholarship is immense. At some moments of reading I was reminded of reading Frazer’s Golden Bough: some general principle or observation is noted, then illustrated with numerous examples and instantiations. Sounds exciting enough right? But, Barber’s book has some issue with structure and direction, in my assessment at least. The general premise of the book is that throughout European cultures you see a folktale tradition of ‘Rusalki’ (or ‘willies’, ‘samovila’, ‘mavka’, etc.): spirits of virgin girls who died before marriage/childbirth. They inhabit the wilds, generally by rivers, and spend their time dancing, playing tricks on passerby’s etc. Since they never bore children, they have lots of stored up, unused fertility. If you could tap into that fertility, through appeasement, tricks, etc., you could have that fertility spread to your crops and livestock. This is where the book description starts in the dust jacket, it’s where we start in the first chapter, but the focus of the book soon expands greatly. Very soon and we’re reading about dancing male troupes, ancient methods of marking time, and more. Barber always returns to the core theme of women dancing in order to bestow fertility in an agricultural world, but the tangents, asides, and side-paths are numerous and it makes the book feel less coherent. Of course, it’s all informative and interesting, but it’s often hard to make it back to the theme. And of course, what I described so far holds for about the first third of the book. The middle is an extended analysis of the tale of the Frog Princess, and the final third is a sort of tracing of a tale of a magical animal-woman bride back through the ages to the dawn of agricultural. And again, here we take various forays into various subjects, and dancing maidens seem to feel like one facet amongst many in what seems to be a general exploration of European cultures and how their development was shaped by the need for fertility in agriculture, husbandry, and humans. Beyond the loose focus, the writing style seemed incoherent, shifting between an almost academic analysis of the subject to a tone that clearly felt like Barber trying to reach a general audience. On top of that there were some footnotes that felt entirely extraneous and there was one instance where I double checked a primary source just out of curiosity on the matter and found somewhat trivial discrepancy between the source and what Barber wrote. I really wanted to like this book more, but these issues are bringing me to just give it 3 stars.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Carolyn Kost

    Barber, Professor Emerita of Archeology and Linguistics at Occidental College, sets out to document the origins of dance in the region ranging from Crete through the Balkans to the Baltic. In the effort, however, she spans not only her native disciplines but also women's herstory, the social sciences, ethnology, and folkloristics to systematically explore the gestalt of agrarian culture, from folktales and ballads, herbalism and textile arts, to courtship and marriage rituals, as well as dance, Barber, Professor Emerita of Archeology and Linguistics at Occidental College, sets out to document the origins of dance in the region ranging from Crete through the Balkans to the Baltic. In the effort, however, she spans not only her native disciplines but also women's herstory, the social sciences, ethnology, and folkloristics to systematically explore the gestalt of agrarian culture, from folktales and ballads, herbalism and textile arts, to courtship and marriage rituals, as well as dance, and proves that "'perishable' customs and beliefs can survive for millennia." Part I examines the functional origins of dance in the region of interest. Most important among these is the appeasement of the spirits, especially ancestors and the volatile spirits of maidens who had died before giving birth, as their fertility remained latent and transferable to the earth if placated, but their power could be destructive if not. Dance served as part of the rituals that marked time, often as sympathetic magic, inducing the earth to perform in various ways mimicking or responding to the actions of the dancers. It also established and affirmed the bonds of community that are so important to survival particularly in agrarian societies. Part II uses the folktale The Frog Princess to reveal the role of dance and women's arts to prove the bride's fitness for marriage and likely fertility. In agrarian cultures, fecundity was paramount to provide extra hands for labor and marriage often took place only after the bride proved fertile by pregnancy. (Christianity was largely an urban phenomenon and its valuation of virginal brides was limited in its influence). In Part III, extensive archaeological evidence traces the rituals and beliefs discussed in the previous sections back to the Age of Rome, Greece, and the Bronze Age. Part IV, the shortest chapter, draws upon social and cognitive sciences to answer the question of "Why dance?" Why? Because we are hardwired for rhythm, because we feel solidarity moving together, because "our brains go into ecstatic hyperdrive when several cognitive systems [muscular, emotional, etc.] get fully synchronized, all firing in unison." This is an eminently readable, though primarily scholarly treatment. It is extensively researched, and the detail and various versions of the practices and folktales can be either tedious or engrossing, depending on one's disposition. This is an essential addition to Dance Studies and Women's Studies collections and belongs beside the work of Marija Gimbutas and Mary B. Kelly's Goddess Embroideries series.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Margaret Sankey

    As anyone who has ever sung a work song while digging knows, communal song and dance are a community bonding activity that channels energy. Barber looks at Eastern European folk dance and triangulates it with folklore and archaeological materials, especially textile and pottery designs, to make the case that it is a very stable transmitter of useful information about the calendar, work techniques, the natural environment and cultural values--which often boil down to "don't marry anyone stupid or As anyone who has ever sung a work song while digging knows, communal song and dance are a community bonding activity that channels energy. Barber looks at Eastern European folk dance and triangulates it with folklore and archaeological materials, especially textile and pottery designs, to make the case that it is a very stable transmitter of useful information about the calendar, work techniques, the natural environment and cultural values--which often boil down to "don't marry anyone stupid or too delicate to shovel goat shit or we'll all die".

  7. 4 out of 5

    Melissa

    So thorough, and inclusive of both extensive book research and work she did going and actually talking to real live people, which is rare in this kind of book. It covers a vast swath of lore, connecting the Slavs, Greeks, and Germanic tribes. I learned a great deal, and have a lot of blog posts to write using this one. The only thing I wish is that she had studied and included research on the Baltic peoples as well.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Danielle

    Amazing anthropological work on the origins of folk dance and folklore in Eastern Europe.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Tiffany Johnson

    Having studied Middle Eastern culture and history extensively, I didn't think that Ms. Barber's tome would have many surprises for me. I was wrong! From the earliest civilizations, we learn that dance was used to promote unity among farming communities, that dancing spirit maidens living in deep woods were said to promote prosperity and abundant crops in nearby villages, and that indeed dance was a means of communication long before language evolved. Rater than separating cultures and ideas, Ms. Having studied Middle Eastern culture and history extensively, I didn't think that Ms. Barber's tome would have many surprises for me. I was wrong! From the earliest civilizations, we learn that dance was used to promote unity among farming communities, that dancing spirit maidens living in deep woods were said to promote prosperity and abundant crops in nearby villages, and that indeed dance was a means of communication long before language evolved. Rater than separating cultures and ideas, Ms. Barber seeks to find connecting threads between communities and civilizations, even those living in different times and across continents. She is successful, using evidence from potsherds, paintings, writings and peoples whose oral traditions have preserved a long and enduring practice of dancing rituals. As a dancer, this book had particular interest to me. Throughout my studies in dance, I never understood that the particular pattern on a costume held deep cultural significance, or that a movement in a dance I performed had been passed down for generations to have a physical effect in the outer world. Therefore, this material utterly fascinated me. My understanding of why I and other peoples have and have always had an insatiable need to dance has been greatly furthered due to Ms. Barber's research and work. I am indebted to her and her willingness to cross cultural borders, to journey to the beginning of civilization where dance first began.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Salena

    I loved reading this book! I learned so many incredibly interesting things, and I would say my biggest takeaways were how much folklore has been lost in the last few hundred years, but also how deep the roots of folklore go. So many parts of our lives are influenced by this history in ways it isn't always easy to see without the framework of that folklore to guide you. For example, I never knew that there was an actual folkloric history to Yankee Doodle and his macaroni. I am surprised by seeing I loved reading this book! I learned so many incredibly interesting things, and I would say my biggest takeaways were how much folklore has been lost in the last few hundred years, but also how deep the roots of folklore go. So many parts of our lives are influenced by this history in ways it isn't always easy to see without the framework of that folklore to guide you. For example, I never knew that there was an actual folkloric history to Yankee Doodle and his macaroni. I am surprised by seeing how much more full this awareness can make my life, and how I can being to see this history in parts of our lives she didn't even mention, like the long short walk of our modern brides down the aisle or even the folklore and symbolism in Christmas carols. I also really enjoyed her argument that we allow the folklore to live on, but not for adults. We give it to the children--hobby horses and dances in circles and Santa Claus as examples. I definitely recommend the book.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Horus

    Another good and comprehensive analysis of a particular part of history (in this case folk dancing). While the subject focusses mostly on thr Russian and slavic traditions, she also discusses the Celts and other european cultures and traces the history back through Romany, Indian, Roman and Greek influences, all the way back to paleolithic times. Besides dancing, there is discussion and theories based on linguistics, archeological finds, clothing, fairy tales and numerous other interesting tidbi Another good and comprehensive analysis of a particular part of history (in this case folk dancing). While the subject focusses mostly on thr Russian and slavic traditions, she also discusses the Celts and other european cultures and traces the history back through Romany, Indian, Roman and Greek influences, all the way back to paleolithic times. Besides dancing, there is discussion and theories based on linguistics, archeological finds, clothing, fairy tales and numerous other interesting tidbits. I would recommend this book to any student of dance, slavic cultures or with an interest in her other publications.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Caitlin

    Full of wonderful illustrations, linguistic references and childhood stories. This book was a chronology of women's history through their rituals, material culture and how place of origin affected our ancestors daily lives. By re-arranging the importance of women's activities, crafts and places within the home, Wayland-Barber systematically dismantles myth, folklore and modern patriarchal understandings of the lives women in Europe led. A long read, but a good read. Full of wonderful illustrations, linguistic references and childhood stories. This book was a chronology of women's history through their rituals, material culture and how place of origin affected our ancestors daily lives. By re-arranging the importance of women's activities, crafts and places within the home, Wayland-Barber systematically dismantles myth, folklore and modern patriarchal understandings of the lives women in Europe led. A long read, but a good read.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Michele

    If you read this book, you will be enlightened about history, anthropology, folkways, language, the lives of women, and dance. Barber takes us from current-day Balkan people back through medieval times to the Romans and Greeks back to Bronze and Neolithic times. This is a readable, though scholarly treatment. It is extensively researched, and the detail and various versions of the practices and folktales can be either tedious or engrossing, depending on one's interest level. If you read this book, you will be enlightened about history, anthropology, folkways, language, the lives of women, and dance. Barber takes us from current-day Balkan people back through medieval times to the Romans and Greeks back to Bronze and Neolithic times. This is a readable, though scholarly treatment. It is extensively researched, and the detail and various versions of the practices and folktales can be either tedious or engrossing, depending on one's interest level.

  14. 4 out of 5

    MJ

    Author taught linguistics, archaeology, and cognitive science and has gathered together what is known and conjectured about the origin of European dance. A lot of it went over my head but I loved her piecing together what is know about women and dance in her areas of expertise...and she has a sense of humor. Off to look for Women's Work: the first 20,000 years. Author taught linguistics, archaeology, and cognitive science and has gathered together what is known and conjectured about the origin of European dance. A lot of it went over my head but I loved her piecing together what is know about women and dance in her areas of expertise...and she has a sense of humor. Off to look for Women's Work: the first 20,000 years.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Kathy

    fascinating compilation of traditions and legends, especially from Russia and all of eastern Europe. a lot to wade through, even more to digest....found myself wondering if the "string skirts" are somehow related to the corn dollies, etc... fascinating compilation of traditions and legends, especially from Russia and all of eastern Europe. a lot to wade through, even more to digest....found myself wondering if the "string skirts" are somehow related to the corn dollies, etc...

  16. 5 out of 5

    Baanoo

    A brilliant & fascinating dig into ritual, dance, deities, & folklore. Like everything else EWB has written, the prose is both scholarly & conversational, packed with witty insights & thoughtful observation.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Ted Garvin

    I couldn't put it down. I checked the book out from the library as a result of doing a keyword search for Bronze Age Europe. The book didn't immediately look promising, but I soon found myself engrossed. I even got some info for this novel I'm writing. I couldn't put it down. I checked the book out from the library as a result of doing a keyword search for Bronze Age Europe. The book didn't immediately look promising, but I soon found myself engrossed. I even got some info for this novel I'm writing.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Elizabeth

    Fascinating.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Kirsten

    Loads of information, some gets repetitive.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Natasha

    Interesting ideas but I felt that it was a bit repetitive.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Benet

    Full of ethnographic lore, but the wealth of line drawings of archaeological pieces was the true bonus for me. Lots of artistic inspiration including Minoan frescoes and Hellenistic clay figures.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Jamie Kimmel

    Loved it! Reads more like a textbook/reference guide. Learned a lot and wished I wrote it, myself.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Rae Coleman

    Will read anything she writes, she is brilliant.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Elentarri

    Beautifully written and extremely interesting.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Monica

    I need this book. Just saw it last night at Pegasus. Think I'm going to go back with my store credit and get it. I need this book. Just saw it last night at Pegasus. Think I'm going to go back with my store credit and get it.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Mills College Library

    398.20949 B2343 2013

  27. 4 out of 5

    ArielEve

    Truly fascinating book if you want to learn about ancient Slavic customs and traditions. I like that the author didn't just spew a bunch of neo-pagan propaganda about the power of the goddess, but used real archeological evidence and psychology to explain what the lives of actual women were like in ancient times. Truly fascinating book if you want to learn about ancient Slavic customs and traditions. I like that the author didn't just spew a bunch of neo-pagan propaganda about the power of the goddess, but used real archeological evidence and psychology to explain what the lives of actual women were like in ancient times.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Amy

    Review in Journal of Folklore Research Review in Journal of Folklore Research

  29. 4 out of 5

    Appoline Piotrowski

  30. 5 out of 5

    Brooke

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