Barbara G. Walker, The Skeptical Feminist
Barbara G. Walker is my role model as a writer. Early in her career, she wrote several knitting books that have become classics, and later she wrote many books about skepticism and feminism.Â
Barbara’s best selling classics include:
- Four Treasuries of Knitting Patterns
- Mosaic Knitting
- Knitting from the Top
- The Skeptical Feminist
- The Woman’s Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets
- Feminist Fairy Tales
- And many more…
I have been writing knitting books for several years, and am planning to write about other subjects in the future. As many of you know, I have been working on a de-conversion memoir, to tell the story of how I went from being a born-again Christian to being an atheist. Even though I had no bad experiences as a Christian and I was not abused or misused by the church or by individual Christians, ultimately I found that the teachings of my childhood could no longer sustain me spiritually or intellectually as I learned more about the world in which we live and the larger universe that surrounds us. With that in mind, I asked Barbara a few questions about knitting, atheism, and feminism.
Skepchick: What inspired you to write about knitting in the 1960s and 1970s?Â Â
Walker: Knitting just happened to be one of my “winter studies.” After marriage, it became my habit to give myself a “course” each year, by collecting all the books in the library on a given subject, and taking notes. In this way I went through astronomy, architecture, paleontology, anthropology, biology, and other matters that I felt curious about.Â
Knitting didn’t interest me much. I tried it just once, in college, and didn’t take to it at all. But years later I discovered pattern stitches, and then began furiously collecting old ones and inventing new ones. I wrote the Treasury books because I wanted a compendium of many pattern stitches and couldn’t find one at the time.Â
Basically, I am a scholar. I like doing research. I am always annoyed by people who are too intellectually lazy to do any serious study of subjects in which they claim to be interested. That’s one reason why I wrote my book on minerals, to debunk some a the foolishness that passes for “mineral lore” these days. Nature’s wonders deserve more respect. The scientific facts about minerals are so infinitely more complex and fascinating than any of the simplistic notions invented by human imaginations.Â
The same goes for my rejection of childish biblical myths — which involve, for example, trying to deny the infinitely complex and fascinating facts of evolution. What’s more, the same biblical mythology gave rise to some really pernicious doctrines, such as original sin, and the inferiority of women, which have caused unimaginably vast amounts of unnecessary human suffering.Â
Skepchick: How did you make the transition from writing about knitting to writing about feminism and atheism?Â
Walker: I didn’t make what you cali a “transition” from knitting to feminist research. I was reading and taking notes on comparative religions and feminist issues ever since I graduated from college. I wanted to know how these improbable ideas arose in the first place. Knitting was just another one of my intere sts — although it was a primary interest, of course, in the years when I was designing for yarn companies and creating the books. I don’t do much knitting anymore, simply because I Live in a warm climate, and besides, I have more than enough knitwear.Â
Skepchick: You’ve written several books about subjects such as the Goddess, the Tarot, and crystals. These topics seem to be seeped in superstition yet you are a very skeptical person. Why do you think these topics draw you?
Walker: I became interested in the Tarot when I discovered that it too was basically a religious system having strongly matriarchal, pre-Christian symbolism. I was also inspired to do all the paintings for the Barbara Walker Tarot Deck (available from US Games Systems) and for the card deck packaged with my “I Ching of the Goddess” book — another matriarchal system, quite different from the I Ching currently used, which was changed in the Confucian period when Chinese culture moved toward patriarchy. It’s time for the pendulum to swing the other way.
Skepchick: You’ve written several books about women’s spirituality, including The Essential Handbook of Women’s Spirituality and Women’s Rituals: A Sourcebook. What does the word “spiritual” mean to you? Do you think the idea of spirituality assumes a belief in the supernatural?Â
Walker: I distinguish between spirituality and religion. Spirituality is a feeling; religion is a business. As practiced by patriarchal faiths like Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, it is a business created by men, for the benefit of men and for the suppression of women. I think a woman is vulnerable to all kinds of pains and guilts as long as she tries to relate to a god called “he”.Â
Skepchick:Â I find it disturbing that so many feminists feel that science is a “man’s way of knowing” and that women have other “ways of knowing” that are based on intuition and outright superstition rather than on empirical evidence. In your books The Skeptical Feminist and The Book of Sacred Stones: Fact and Fallacy in the Crystal World you address these issues. What kind of response did you have to these books? Are you also frustrated by the conflation of feminism with superstition?
Walker: All concepts of the supernatural are childish and simplistic compared to the real wonders of the natural worId. A lifetime spent studying any aspect of it is never enough. I certainly don’t put down science as antifeminist. On the contrary, science is the only power that has finally liberated us from the chains of superstition and ignorant misunderstandings of the universe we live in.
Skepchick: What is your favorite of your own books and why?
Walker: Probably the one I most enjoyed writing was “Feminist Fairy Tales,” because it’s lighthearted, frivolous and fun. Most of my other books represent a lot of hard work.Â
Skepchick: Do you have any new books in the works that we can look forward to?
Walker: I am working on another book, but I never talk about work in progress.Â
Skepchick: Thank you! I’ve enjoyed talking with you and I look forward to reading more of your books in the future.
Cross posted on my personal blog.