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Women Who Fly: Goddesses, Witches, Mystics, and Other Airborne Females

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From the beautiful apsaras of Hindu myth to the swan maidens of European fairy tales, tales of flying women--some carried by wings, others by rainbows, floating scarves, or flying horses--reveal both fascination with and ambivalence about female power and sexuality. In Women Who Fly, Serinity Young examines the motif of the flying woman as it appears in a wide variety of c From the beautiful apsaras of Hindu myth to the swan maidens of European fairy tales, tales of flying women--some carried by wings, others by rainbows, floating scarves, or flying horses--reveal both fascination with and ambivalence about female power and sexuality. In Women Who Fly, Serinity Young examines the motif of the flying woman as it appears in a wide variety of cultures and historical periods, expressed in legends, myths, rituals, sacred narratives, and artistic productions. She introduces a wide range of such figures, including supernatural women like the Valkyries of Norse legend, who transport men to immortality; winged deities like the Greek goddesses Iris and Nike; figures of terror like the Furies, witches, and succubi, airborne Christian mystics, and wayward women like Lilith and Morgan le Fay. Looking beyond the supernatural, Young examines the extraordinary mythology surrounding twentieth-century female aviators like Amelia Earhart and Hanna Reitsch. Throughout, the book Young traces the inextricable link between female power and sexuality and the male desire to control it. This is most vividly portrayed in the twelfth-century Niebelungenlied, in which the proud warrior-queen Brunnhilde loses her great physical strength when she is tricked into giving up her virginity. Centuries earlier the theme is seen in Euripides' play Medea, in which the title character--enraged by her husband's intention to marry a younger woman--uses her divine powers in revenge, wreaking chaos and destruction around her. It is a theme that remains tangible even in the twentieth-century exploits of the comic book character Wonder Woman who, Young argues, retains her physical strength only because her love for fellow aviator Steve Trevor goes unrequited. The first book to systematically chronicle the figure of the flying woman in myth, literature, art, and pop culture, Women Who Fly is an exciting, fresh look at the ways in which women have both influenced and been understood by society and religious traditions around the world.


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From the beautiful apsaras of Hindu myth to the swan maidens of European fairy tales, tales of flying women--some carried by wings, others by rainbows, floating scarves, or flying horses--reveal both fascination with and ambivalence about female power and sexuality. In Women Who Fly, Serinity Young examines the motif of the flying woman as it appears in a wide variety of c From the beautiful apsaras of Hindu myth to the swan maidens of European fairy tales, tales of flying women--some carried by wings, others by rainbows, floating scarves, or flying horses--reveal both fascination with and ambivalence about female power and sexuality. In Women Who Fly, Serinity Young examines the motif of the flying woman as it appears in a wide variety of cultures and historical periods, expressed in legends, myths, rituals, sacred narratives, and artistic productions. She introduces a wide range of such figures, including supernatural women like the Valkyries of Norse legend, who transport men to immortality; winged deities like the Greek goddesses Iris and Nike; figures of terror like the Furies, witches, and succubi, airborne Christian mystics, and wayward women like Lilith and Morgan le Fay. Looking beyond the supernatural, Young examines the extraordinary mythology surrounding twentieth-century female aviators like Amelia Earhart and Hanna Reitsch. Throughout, the book Young traces the inextricable link between female power and sexuality and the male desire to control it. This is most vividly portrayed in the twelfth-century Niebelungenlied, in which the proud warrior-queen Brunnhilde loses her great physical strength when she is tricked into giving up her virginity. Centuries earlier the theme is seen in Euripides' play Medea, in which the title character--enraged by her husband's intention to marry a younger woman--uses her divine powers in revenge, wreaking chaos and destruction around her. It is a theme that remains tangible even in the twentieth-century exploits of the comic book character Wonder Woman who, Young argues, retains her physical strength only because her love for fellow aviator Steve Trevor goes unrequited. The first book to systematically chronicle the figure of the flying woman in myth, literature, art, and pop culture, Women Who Fly is an exciting, fresh look at the ways in which women have both influenced and been understood by society and religious traditions around the world.

30 review for Women Who Fly: Goddesses, Witches, Mystics, and Other Airborne Females

  1. 5 out of 5

    Steve Wiggins

    This book is pretty much what it’s title says it is: a study of Women Who Fly. The subtitle qualifies it a bit, Goddesses, Witches, Mystics, and Other Airborne Females. Serinity Young approaches the topic from a religious studies angle, for the most part. She begins by noting the early bird-faced female figurines that suggest birds, and discusses many different kinds of flying females in world religions and mythologies. She also delves into folklore. The women who fly, she notes, often represent This book is pretty much what it’s title says it is: a study of Women Who Fly. The subtitle qualifies it a bit, Goddesses, Witches, Mystics, and Other Airborne Females. Serinity Young approaches the topic from a religious studies angle, for the most part. She begins by noting the early bird-faced female figurines that suggest birds, and discusses many different kinds of flying females in world religions and mythologies. She also delves into folklore. The women who fly, she notes, often represent freedom from captivity, transcendence, sexuality, and death. These are generally religious themes, so there’s no surprise about these themes. Ranging from swan goddesses to Valkyries to fairies to the dakini and yogini and apsaras figures of Hinduism, Buddhism, and Daoism, she ranges far across the globe and throughout the span of human history. She discusses angels, succubi, and witches. She treats actual human women with reputations for levitation as well, a saint or two and even some regular mystics. The tradition of flying women is remarkably widespread. And, of course, it relates to the issue of patriarchalism. If women are seeking freedom, that freedom is from men. Male oppression is a large part of women’s experience. This becomes particularly clear in her final chapter on women pilots. These include Wonder Woman as well as actual aviators such as Amelia Earhart and astronauts. These women, to this day, have to fight against male feelings of ownership of the skies. The book doesn’t go too deeply into any one subject, striving for breadth as opposed to depth, but it is a great introduction to an overlooked aspect of the somewhat universal desire of people to fly, and how religions have made the connection with the females who do. For more, please see Sects and Violence in the Ancient World.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Faith Cantrell

    An astonishing study of an age old amalgam regarding women and flight. Truly remarkable is this in depth academic dive into the symbolic and psychological mechanism of mythical flight, organic wing, and modern aviation. Carefully crafted and well written. Weaving together stories of antiquity, historical truths, and modern day grievances; constructing a tapestry image of an age old truth. No matter how clear the image is for some, many still only see a pixelated mosaic of unrelated patchwork.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Pandaduh

    I felt like many of this book’s Campbellian claims for some version of a monomyth (read: unified theme) were thrown in without much expounding to make me truly believe there’s a strong thread there. There’s definitely a thread — a theme of flight. But I don’t think it means they’re woven together. They’re just similar threads — one here and one there — and it’s the book itself tying them together. A lot of times you have to take Young at her word or look at her endnotes to connect the dots yours I felt like many of this book’s Campbellian claims for some version of a monomyth (read: unified theme) were thrown in without much expounding to make me truly believe there’s a strong thread there. There’s definitely a thread — a theme of flight. But I don’t think it means they’re woven together. They’re just similar threads — one here and one there — and it’s the book itself tying them together. A lot of times you have to take Young at her word or look at her endnotes to connect the dots yourself to work out the claims she mentions in passing. I’m not saying she doesn’t do a good job at explaining things, but she isn’t always clear. For example she states this passage with an endnote, rather than detailing how they’re interpreted as male: “The angel who drives Adam and Eve out of paradise, the one with whom Jacob wrestles, and those that appear to Hagar, Daniel, Abraham, the Virgin Mary, the women at Jesus’s tomb, anand Muhammad are all male.[2]” She states a lot of things as fact without a proper lead-in. She does eventually explain this passage with examples after a tangent or two, but up until that point you have to take her at her word until she arrives there and you’re just better off having looked at the endnote. This isn’t the best example of that, but hopefully you get the idea. You can guess what she is getting at until she makes a full circle, but all the while you have to suspend your skepticism. She makes her arguments out of order, making her chain of thought hard to follow. But that keeps you on your toes. The topic is never boring, even if you have to do a lot of the work. This work seems like a conglomeration of her musings and observations of patterns — ideas she is justifying by fitting into her frame. What also stood out is her highlighting of stories that don’t fit the pattern she’s selling; she also talks about men who fly. Of course you can’t talk about women without contrasting them to men, but the titular subject(s) are otherwise misleading for the broad area this book covers. It’s broad because so many higher beings can fly regardless of their association with wings or flight to the point that it feels like she arbitrarily chose the beings she put into the book, possibly overlooking some and shoving in others. She even talks about Amelia Earhart, so flying mortals are under this umbrella. Like I said, arbitrary. Here’s some interesting passages from the book: Read the rest of my review here: https://blackandwhitepandaduh.wordpre...

  4. 4 out of 5

    Stephanie

    This book was densely jammed with all sorts of great history and info. It read like a really dull textbook despite the fun subject matter. The ending was the most clear thing in the whole work so start there and dive into specifics as needed. Because of the scope of the information covered (both in terms of time period and geography) many of the scholars that were pointed out were not readily known and were not identified beyond just a first and last name making it even more difficult to care ab This book was densely jammed with all sorts of great history and info. It read like a really dull textbook despite the fun subject matter. The ending was the most clear thing in the whole work so start there and dive into specifics as needed. Because of the scope of the information covered (both in terms of time period and geography) many of the scholars that were pointed out were not readily known and were not identified beyond just a first and last name making it even more difficult to care about their take on the matter at hand.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Lucy

    This is a really fascinating book. If you are interested in women in mythology, theology, or folklore, definitely pick this up.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Andreia

    A collection of surface information, half of which I knew, some was new, some I forgot the second I turned the page. This can be a start to a long list of reads, if anyone wants to expand their knowledge on the subject.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Randal

    Found this incredibly boring due to endless summaries of myths that never seemed to go anywhere or lead to any interesting insights, analysis, or thoughtful conclusions; a lot of times, she just retold the story and added no commentary. If I wanted to read the Nibelungenlied again, then I would read the Nibelungenlied again... I don't need it repackaged in a boring summary. This book should've gone on my "Did not finish" shelf, but I forced myself through to the end. Do not recommend. Found this incredibly boring due to endless summaries of myths that never seemed to go anywhere or lead to any interesting insights, analysis, or thoughtful conclusions; a lot of times, she just retold the story and added no commentary. If I wanted to read the Nibelungenlied again, then I would read the Nibelungenlied again... I don't need it repackaged in a boring summary. This book should've gone on my "Did not finish" shelf, but I forced myself through to the end. Do not recommend.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Tiffany

    This book deserves at least ten stars.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Linda Robinson

    Appreciated the way this book is organized - the sections cover types of aerial women, rather than a timeline history - and the foreword introduces us to what flying means in terms of transendance and immanence. Dr. Young shows us women who soar, and then shows us that flying women needed to be brought back to the ground to maintain societal and religious ideologies. Read in one book, the journey from goddesses with bird heads and wings - commanding, free, powerful - to goddesses springing from Appreciated the way this book is organized - the sections cover types of aerial women, rather than a timeline history - and the foreword introduces us to what flying means in terms of transendance and immanence. Dr. Young shows us women who soar, and then shows us that flying women needed to be brought back to the ground to maintain societal and religious ideologies. Read in one book, the journey from goddesses with bird heads and wings - commanding, free, powerful - to goddesses springing from the heads of male gods, who can only fly first with winged sandals supplied from the Guy God footwear store, to Wonder Woman with her plane. Note that the plane is invisible. Still don't get why that's an important feature, except that maybe Marsden didn't want to piss of the men by giving Diana Prince the power of unaided flight. When read in one book, the global storytelling is also striking. Goddesses, lesser goddesses, minions and administrative assistants become the beings that seduce men at night. While they sleep. Because it couldn't possibly be anything else that forces a man to stray from his religious, societal, familial obligations. She made me do it! In every culture, there are those trickstery night raiders. For those who enjoy a monstrous-feminine nonfiction account of the myths and legends of women with power, an idea of the breadth of women influence in ancient history, and the depths to which humanity will sink to capture and control the monstrous-feminine, this is an excellent source. While chockablock with facts and timeframes, the writing is accessible and free of evaluation about what the facts might mean. This happened, and continues to happen. We have the power to make up our minds, even while grounded.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Michelle

    This book reminded me of papers I wrote my freshman year of college, before I really knew how to organize my information or develop a proper thesis statement. The author has a thread she follows (women who fly, how women and men may see these stories differently, women's power being used for the benefit of men) but it's all so broad and monomyth-y and I didn't think Young tied everything together. The book being so broad causes problems: you naturally start thinking of all the flying women she d This book reminded me of papers I wrote my freshman year of college, before I really knew how to organize my information or develop a proper thesis statement. The author has a thread she follows (women who fly, how women and men may see these stories differently, women's power being used for the benefit of men) but it's all so broad and monomyth-y and I didn't think Young tied everything together. The book being so broad causes problems: you naturally start thinking of all the flying women she didn't include (no Mórrígan?), and nothing gets discussed in much detail. There are also many little factual mistakes, likely made because, again, the book is so broad that the author can't be an expert on every culture she discusses. I mainly noticed mistakes involving Japan and Buddhism because that's what I know, but it made me wonder if there were others. Young also ends up often straying from "flying women" into women/mythological women who were identified with birds or who wrote about birds/air or lived in high places instead of women/mythological women who were actually said to have flown. Overall if you're interested in this topic I'd recommend getting this book from the library, skimming the parts you're interested in, then looking at the footnotes and bibliography to get more in depth into specifics.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Nightshade

    While this book is an interesting survey of flying women in various cultures, mythologies and religions, I remain unconvinced of her own conclusions. This books feels both too broad and yet not wide enough- with much focus on certain areas and little to no focus on others. Figures like The Morrigan are not discussed in detail and when she is mentioned it is not accurate. Figures like Baba Yaga are never mentioned at all. I feel some ommisions are due to the figures not quite fitting with her ove While this book is an interesting survey of flying women in various cultures, mythologies and religions, I remain unconvinced of her own conclusions. This books feels both too broad and yet not wide enough- with much focus on certain areas and little to no focus on others. Figures like The Morrigan are not discussed in detail and when she is mentioned it is not accurate. Figures like Baba Yaga are never mentioned at all. I feel some ommisions are due to the figures not quite fitting with her overall conclusions which she attempts to drive at the reader over and over again with far too much repitition. Some sections were of more interest than others and therefore some sections just dragged on for me. In one area where I was quite interested to see where she would go - fairies- she was ultimately disappointing not only with some inaccuracies but also with her lack of depth and understanding of fairy lore which is much more complex than her conclusion allows for. Overall I can see that she had a notion particularly regarding Swan Maidens and Valkyries and sexuality, sex and misogyny and female freedom but that the notion does not stand strong in the face of figures she left out and even amongst some of the figures she mentions.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Yasmin

    A very fascinating read! As we speak I am poring over the sources to expand my interest in the various interesting elements found in this book. Although, I see she used source about the Yoruba culture I had rather she had delved more into cultures, other than near Middle East and Europe. I think there is more of a wealth of diverse history and mythical elements if she had used examples from the less obvious tropes of Europe, etc. As well as focusing some more on the black female aviators. Otherw A very fascinating read! As we speak I am poring over the sources to expand my interest in the various interesting elements found in this book. Although, I see she used source about the Yoruba culture I had rather she had delved more into cultures, other than near Middle East and Europe. I think there is more of a wealth of diverse history and mythical elements if she had used examples from the less obvious tropes of Europe, etc. As well as focusing some more on the black female aviators. Otherwise a worth while read that I recommend strongly.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Amy

    A lot of history and myth stories gathered together. The writing style is a bit textbooky, but she has pulled together fun information. " Most extraordinarily, the swan can take flight from water by rising up and skimming the surface with its webbed feet while flapping its wings vigorously until it is airborne. When swans land on the ground their mobility is limited and they are vulnerable - a feature that easily fed into tales about captured swan maidens." pg 73 A lot of history and myth stories gathered together. The writing style is a bit textbooky, but she has pulled together fun information. " Most extraordinarily, the swan can take flight from water by rising up and skimming the surface with its webbed feet while flapping its wings vigorously until it is airborne. When swans land on the ground their mobility is limited and they are vulnerable - a feature that easily fed into tales about captured swan maidens." pg 73

  14. 5 out of 5

    İzzet Erten

    Interesting topic, but focus is occasionally lost in text. Has many repetitions. Concept might have been more detailed as a topic in matriarchate transformation. Real aviators, Middle age stories do not connect to Isis or Athena of Minos.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Melissa

    I enjoyed this book very much and I think that anyone who is interested in swan maidens or bird shamans would enjoy it too. It's inspired me to read more about Taoist mysticism, which is something I haven't studied for 20 years. I enjoyed this book very much and I think that anyone who is interested in swan maidens or bird shamans would enjoy it too. It's inspired me to read more about Taoist mysticism, which is something I haven't studied for 20 years.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Jbondandrews

    While I enjoyed reading the book, I found that the author was too quick to move away from the positive beginning and more interested in focusing on the negative aspects of Women Who Fly.

  17. 4 out of 5

    D

    A well written overview of myths and some real life woman who fly. These stories are connected together well. I ended many chapters with my jaw dropped in awe. If you like myths, exploring female archetypes, and are fascinated by how myths and stories change over time, this book is for you.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Chad Brock

    3.5; interesting, but could use some editing.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Karen

    Researched with scholarly levels of detail, Women Who Fly remains accessible to a general audience interested in mythology, women's history, and feminism. Eby’s narration is so lively and engaging she significantly increases the appeal of this overview of mythology, folklore, and history from around the globe. Her rapid delivery keeps the pace from dragging as Young explores the cross-cultural universality of flying women who cross the division between life and death, representing immortality an Researched with scholarly levels of detail, Women Who Fly remains accessible to a general audience interested in mythology, women's history, and feminism. Eby’s narration is so lively and engaging she significantly increases the appeal of this overview of mythology, folklore, and history from around the globe. Her rapid delivery keeps the pace from dragging as Young explores the cross-cultural universality of flying women who cross the division between life and death, representing immortality and fertility. Starting from formidably powerful female goddesses moving gradually through time to women aviatrix, Young highlights how the rise of patriarchies and the evolution of women’s societal status directly reflected in the authority and prominence of supernatural females. Despite the decline in divine and real women’s autonomy and standing, Eby’s upbeat tone keeps the listener absorbed and challenged to accept current perspectives regarding history. The improved review was published in Booklist March 1, 2019 issue.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Bari Dzomba

    Boring

  21. 4 out of 5

    Sara Dillon

  22. 4 out of 5

    Lauren

  23. 5 out of 5

    Gabriele

  24. 5 out of 5

    Jolayne

  25. 5 out of 5

    Yinzadi

  26. 4 out of 5

    Sarah Macalus

  27. 5 out of 5

    Serena

  28. 5 out of 5

    Erin

  29. 5 out of 5

    Emily

  30. 5 out of 5

    Kevin Pryor

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