Book Review: Breaking the Mother Goose Code by Jeri Studebaker

The rhythm of words is a powerful magic. One which we learn to listen to from the earliest days of our lives. Our mother’s voice is almost instantly soothing. We listen to the music of our neighborhoods and learn so much about our culture. We are read to as children long before many pick up a book to read on their own. Books with nursery rhymes are often the first stories children hear. Mother Goose reigns supreme over nursery rhymes. But very few have questioned the origin of the magic of Mother Goose.

Jeri Studebaker’s Breaking the Mother Goose Code: How a Fairy-Tale Character Fooled the World for 300 Years* goes into great detail about the possible origins and uses of the epic character of Mother Goose. She traces the history of folklore, goddess worship, and politics in regards to the development of Mother Goose. All of this history is well cited, and readers can easily find the cited sources for themselves. I appreciated the emphasis on clear research. Even with this focus on the academics of the question, the authors own curiosity and process comes through in a lively and engaging voice.

The first part of the book focuses on the character of Mother Goose. Mother Goose doesn’t appear in every nursery rhyme or ever culture in the same way. The author does a splendid job of tracing the different aspects of Mother Goose (age, flying on a goose, ect) back to their original inspiration. The author also makes a strong case for how and why this character could be a Goddess figure.

The second part of the book focuses on the social and political forces surrounding the creation and distribution of Mother Goose. The theory is that Mother Goose, a representation of the Goddess, was hidden in nursery rhymes to help preserve a Goddess culture. I found the chapter on how specific stories could have been instructions for shamanic magic for healing, love, protecting children and finding stolen objects to be of particular interest. There does seem to be some value to an interpretation like that.

This is a sparse simplification of a great many pages of specific details and intriguing research into the use of Mother Goose over centuries. At the end of the read, which was enjoyable from page one, I’m not sure I found myself wholly convinced. There were parts that sounded so perfectly logical and others that seemed more far-fetched. I was convinced that Mother Goose is a Goddess figure. I was also convinced that some of the stories and nursery rhymes could contain hidden messages. I’m not sure I’m convinced that Mother Goose was a deliberate tool used to hide away Goddess worshiping cultures. For me to believe this theory I would have to do further outside research.

If you enjoy folklore, Goddesses, or history, this is a must read. It’s wonderful to get a book that is more “Pagan” without being about the same five topics, told in the same way that most Pagan books are. I think most people will enjoy it. Even if you disagree with the author it will give you a great deal to think and chat about.

*I received a .pdf copy of this book for free in order to give a review. All opinions and thoughts are my own. 

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