Monday, April 29, 2013

Diachronic and synchronic study of religions contra D.M. Murdock

In the study of languages, there is a clear division into the synchronic and diachronic study of languages. Synchronic study encompasses describing language as it is or was at some point, whereas diachronic study traces the changes language has gone through. Clearly, there is a relation between these.

A synchronic description benefits from a diachronic approach in that it can tell how a given configuration came about. A diachronic description requires some synchronic description as a starting point. However, diachronic methods may help figure out details in the synchronic description and vice versa - they complement each other.

What is important though, is to realize that what is true from a synchronic approach does not necessarily hold true in the diachronic approach - nor the other way around.

Example: The /v/ in wives and the /f/ in wife, were originally perceived as the same sound. These sounds have since become distinct. We cannot claim that the /f/ in cough is the same as the /v/ in cove.

We also find this with word meanings. Today, meat signifies the edible muscle tissue of various animals (but also, in various not quite literal uses, muscle, but also the significant portion, etc). However, we also find oddities: sweetmeat is maybe the most recognizable of the oddities. Meanwhile, we also know that some other Germanic languages have words that are related to meat, e.g. Swedish mat. Mat signifies food. Turns out this originally was the meaning of meat as well, but a modern English speaker speaking of meat is obviously speaking of the English meaning, not the original, ancient English meaning. The same, of course, happens in religion: if a ritual originally came about to placate the Gods and give rain, and later on became a it's-that-time-of-the-year-hey-let's-get-drunk thingy, and the original meaning has been forgotten, and the traces of the original meaning are but obvious if you happen to have historical knowledge of the process by which the meaning changed, the celebrants are no longer placating the Gods, trying to get rain, they're probably doing something else (albeit possibly just as ritualistic and mumbo-jumboey as the previous approach!)

It seems, while reading D.M. Murdock, she sometimes thinks original meaning is the main important thing there is to religions. This is strange.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Linguistics: Measuring the Age of Living Languages

(I found this one in my drafts folder, it's been sitting there for about four months or so, so I figured I may just go ahead and post it after some slight editing - including incomplete sections and all. I may edit it a bit in the future.)

Measuring the Age of Living Languages

It is fairly common to hear - even from fairly educated people - that this or that language is the oldest language. Examples I have recently heard such claims for various African languages (especially ones with clicks) such as !Kung, or languages like Basque, Latin or Sanskrit. Sometimes, it is just a dialect of some language that is considered 'the oldest' - this or that dialect of English, Swedish or German is described as "the oldest dialect of X".

What does such a statement even try to say? What determines the age of a dialect that is spoken as a living language in the present? 

Of course, if we took an old text and read it out loud, the language encoded in that text is indeed centuries old - but aspects of our rendition would be newer: it is unlikely the reader would get the pronunciation identical to the way it was pronounced centuries ago, and similar problems go for intonation and possibly  even likely  how he would understand the meaning contained therein. It will probably be at least slightly misunderstood by the reader or listener: since the written form is a zombified instance of a linguistic utterance, the language we use to parse it no longer is exactly the same language as it was back in the day, its tissue has decayed: secondary connotations of the words have been lost, as have a whole lot of other things, so we are probably at a loss in trying to understand certain implicit details in such a text - simple things like whether it is sarcasm, dead serious or something else along those lines.

The Old Testament in Masoretic or LXX form probably is in a language more than 2000 years old, and clay tablets from Mesopotamia are in languages even older than that. But this is essentially the only situation in which it makes sense to speak of the age of a language, and as explained above, we then have zombified languages, where information loss already has set in.

However, with a living, spoken dialect, what aspect of the language are we speaking of when we say it is older than another language? Is it something to do with how well it has conserved the meaning of words over time? Is it how well the grammar has been conserved? Is it the conservation of pronunciation? Is it the pragmatics - the ways we use the language to express things - which is an important aspect, but one of the hardest to pin down? How would we go about measuring any of these in an objective manner, even?

We could pick a sort of objective thing - the point in time when it diverged from another language or dialect. In that case, the language could have gone through great changes every generation since it split and still be the oldest language out of two closely related ones!

Scenario: on an island, Island A, in the pacific, people speak a language. We will call it Islandean. As population grows, a group set off to settle another island – Island B  far away, which they have spotted during their frequent fishing expeditions. Contact between the populations on Island A and Island B is infrequent after the initial settlement. They both start out speaking Islandean, but as the amount of contact as been reduced, Islandean at A and Islandean at B therefore diverge, and a while down the line, the descendant versions Islandean, Islandean A' and Islandean' B (where ' marks "new version") have diverged enough not to be mutually intelligible. They are now two languages. A time appears, again, when Island A gets crowded, and its population sets off to colonize Island C. The linguistic divergence again sets off - both start speaking Islandean A', but as time goes by, Island A has Islandean A'', and Island C has Islandean C (which too is a derivative of Islandean A'). Going by a family tree model, Islandean B is the oldest of these languages - it split from its two relatives the earliest:

What happens if Islandean A' or Islandean C goes extinct? The most recent split that either of Islandean B' and Islandean A' have had from each other still remains unchanged at the root of the tree- yet we know a later split happened in Islandean A'/C, a split whose one branch just happened to terminate - should we then claim Islandean B' is the older one, since it's been diverging for two generations, while A' only diverged for one since its most recent sibling - regardless of this sibling having since gone extinct?

The time at which mutual intelligibility was lost - and thus distinct languagehood, if we go by some definitions -  might not be entirely trivial to decide, as different speakers probably would have different ability to quickly adapt their linguistic skills in order to understand the other language - and it is possible one of the languages would be more difficult for speakers of the other to understand. 

Let us ignore that kind of tricky question for now, and instead decide that the 'older' language is whichever one is the more 'conservative' among them. As I already pointed out, that's not trivial. Do we count the number of sound changes, and pick the language that has had the fewest of them? The number of semantic changes? The number of grammar changes? Should we assign different significance to different kinds of grammar/sound/semantic changes? 

Even if we roughly can guess what the ancestral language was like, we're still taking a stab in the dark when it comes to measuring these things. There may have been countless changes that haven't altered any structural features of the languages, and there may have been changes that we cannot even be sure whether they happened at all, since later changes may have eradicated their results or made further structural changes. Trying to measure the age of a living language is a meaningless task and this is why real linguists do not talk about which dialect or language is older than the other.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Language Complexity, pt I

[This post has been in the drafts folder for about half a year already, with me occasionally adding or removing bits. I decided to complete the first half of it, and split it in two. There will also be a third post which in part answers what this has to do with the more general idea of this blog.]

Language Complexity

One common idea is that primitive people speak primitive languages, or vice versa: that primitive language is a mark of primitive people. This idea is badly mistaken - not only is it mistaken, it is also badly defined.

I found a rather intriguing but specific example of this on a forum recently: the idea that omission of vowels in the writing of Semitic languages is a sign of backwardsness and primitiveness. The person opining thus did so in order to present Muslims in particular (and the Quran) as savages from a linguistic point of view. It might appear to the average speaker of a language written using the Latin alphabet that regularly omitting a kind of sound from writing, indeed, is primitive and rather inefficient.

However, let us look into this idea a bit closer: is it perchance possible that our writing too omits phonetic information? Almost trivially, this turns out to be true - English neither marks pitch nor timing in its script. Yet both of those can convey very crucial information, sometimes essentially negating the meaning of the entire utterance! Meanwile, omiting te ocasional leter and faling to us the rite word and faling t use capitalizaton correcly in english does not make an English text impossible to parse.

It would be interesting to know the Shannon entropy of Quranic Arabic, Biblical Hebrew, Persian in different scripts (including Arabic), English, Runic versions of Germanic and so on. I suspect that, indeed, there is slightly greater density to the information coded per letter in Arabic and Hebrew than in English. This would mean that a lost or damaged letter in a text with greater likelihood alters the meaning or makes the meaning irretrievable than in a language with less density in the writing system. Still, as I said - sometimes a rather significant piece of information may be entirely unmarked in English writing.

Where do we draw the line between backwards and too dense or advanced and sufficiently full of redundancy? It is all arbitrary.

But back to the more general issue - language complexity. Until the second half of the 19th century, those linguists who considered the genesis of languages assumed something along these lines: as a civilization emerges and consolidates, its scholars and leaders design and establish its language. Once the civilization reaches a certain level, laziness kicks in, and the language starts slipping into disarray.

These linguists felt this explained why languages such as Ancient Greek, Latin, Sanskrit, Persian and so on were such sophisticated languages, while their early descendants - Vulgar Latin and the early transitional forms leading into the medieval vernaculars of Romance-speaking Europe, various Prakrits, ... - were such haphazard and shoddy things.

How do we measure haphazardness in a language? How do we measure shoddiness? These were of course not the terms they would have used, but it is quite clear they thought of it in such terms. Latin was admirable, Sanskrit was "almost perfect", and so on - all quite subjective and emotional terms.

Meanwhile, they held that primitive peoples had not gone through this language-building stage, and thus spoke languages with imperfect grammar or downright less grammar. We would expect, if this were true, that languages such as English, Russian, Japanese, Swedish, Finnish and so on would have advanced and complicated grammars, whereas languages such as those spoken by Australian Aboriginals should have simple and primitive grammars: you Jane, me Yarrawalluma. Me have boomerang go kill Kangaroo. (Even then, the previous two sentences, although very bad English, could very well have been constructed using complicated grammatical rules, although obvious distinct from those of English. 'go kill, 'have X (verb phrase)', etc, all could be grammaticalized constructions.)

To test this, we would need to have some kind of means to quantify complexity of a grammar. Another question: does complexity imply expressivity? Does expressivity imply complexity? Is it really expressivity we should quantify? - But expressivity is way more culture-specific, and it is very easy for a person having grown up in one culture not even to realize the other culture can express a lot of things we do not even realize are being expressed.

Compare how Higgins thought Hebrew's perfect and imperfect aspects did not really express anything - they were just a failed attempt at emulating the tenses of more advanced languages. It is clear we cannot just assume that our not understanding a feature is proof that it does not really have any function.

Further, we cannot just count the number of forms and constructions we can see - clearly, one form can have multiple functions, and one function can affect multiple forms. (That is, a given function can be encoded as a change in the form of more than one word, in the rearrangement of morphology, word order, extra particles, intonation, ...) Let us consider one pretty cool example which is rather difficult to detect: hierarchies. To get there, though, we will have to consider the subject and object distinction, and how it is marked:

There are languages that distinguish subject and object by noun case:
mies osti auton (man buy.past.3sg car.acc)
auto paloi (car burn.past.3sg
karhu raateli miehen. (bear savage.past.3sg man.acc)
In this case, the leftmost nouns are all nominative, which in Finnish is marked with a zero ending in most nouns. The -s in mies only appears in the nominative, so I consider that a nominative suffix for now.
Rearranging the word order may sound awkward for some of these particular sentences - few would ever say auton osti mies, altho' auton mies osti flies a bit lower under my radar for weird syntax. With different subjects and objects, however, both of those orders can work really well. Rearranging may alter the connotations of the sentence. A given order may code for more than one connotation:
miehen karhu raateli:  ~it was a man the bear savaged
karhu miehen raateli: ~it was a bear that savaged the man
miehen raateli karhu: ~the man was savaged by a bear, a bear savaged the man
karhu raateli miehen: ~the/a bear savaged a man

As I do not fully have native intuition for Finnish, I can only tell you these are roughly how a native would understand the connotations of different rearrangements - at least introspection doesn't tell me all the possible interpretations these sentences could have in different situations, and of course there's a double translation issue here, as I am no native speaker of English either. The most common one is subject first, verb in the middle. Case marking need not be in the form of suffixes - particles qualify as well, and we find this in Spanish (a, used with direct objects with certain properties) and Hebrew (et, again, restricted to objects with certain properties and apparently not mandatory).

This method of distinction is familiar to anyone having studied Russian, German, Greek, Latin, Sanskrit, and a whole bunch of other languages. It can be found on every continent.

A method common in lots of languages in Africa - but also attested elsewhere, including, in some analyses, spoken French! - is to have the verb have agreement markers for the subject and object. Thus, in most Bantu languages, there is a rigid order of prefixes to the verb, one agreeing in noun class (a lot like gender) with the subject, another with the object, and depending on the language there may be several other prefixes as well. Since the verb tells us which of the nouns is subject and which is object, there is little need to mark the nouns or use any other method. However, what if the nouns are of the same class? We will get to that a bit later. Subject agreement on the verb - which is common in large parts of the world too - does already by itself help a lot of the time, especially if there is gender and number agreement (or comparable) in the morphology. In Russian, neuter nouns do not distinguish accusative and nominative, nor do inanimate masculine nouns. I do not know which method is used to resolve which is the subject and object in case one noun of each of those types act on each other, except that in the past tense, the verb agrees with the subject in gender - which would resolve this situation.

Another common method is word order. This is present in English and Swedish, and partially in many languages that do have the above style of object marking as well. In English, rearranging the order of subject and object is not really permissible at all, although you can front the object at times - but in those cases, you obtain OSV rather than OVS. Swedish requires OVS in such frontings, and seems to be more permissive when it comes to inverting the object and subject, without any grammatical marking involved. Oftentimes, this involves pronouns - which in English and Swedish still carry case object marking - or nouns that are strongly semantically associated with their verbs.

Such association should probably count as part of grammar! Similar things probably apply in the situation where both subject and object in a language marking them on the verb are of the same class. How do we quantify that aspect of a grammar? To really drive that point home, though, let's look at a final class of languages:

There are languages where neither word order, case marking or verb inflections are used, yet speakers can with great likelihood identify which is subject and which is object. What magic is this?

The explanation for this is the presence of grammatical hierarchies. In these languages, subject and object are resolved by recourse to a hierarchy: the noun higher in the hierarchy, is the noun that generally is more likely to be the subject. Is this grammar? Yes. It quite clearly is, yet it is also rather obvious that it might not be easy to spot the existence of such a grammatical detail.

How does that hierarchy compare, quantificatively, to a case marking system or a verb marking system?  Is it even a well-defined question?

The reason we have discovered that grammatical detail, probably, is along these lines: in many languages, the subject-object distinction is rather central. (The existence of subjects in language is not, apparently, universal, though! Objects, however, apparently are.) When linguists have come across languages where there is no immediately apparent way of distinguishing subjects from objects, they have studied the language until they have realized what exactly is going on under the hood.

It should be rather obvious that other distinctions that may be encoded in similar ways, but which we have no idea to go looking for, very well may exist in languages around the world - even in European languages! For this reason alone, it should be obvious that speaking about one language or another having more or less complex grammar. I find it likely the basic amount of grammar to get simple statements and queries understood varies a bit, but I am pretty certain the difference in amount of grammar between languages is not large. However, that of course would be predicated on having a reasonable way of quantifying grammar in the first place - and a way of being sure when we have mapped out all the grammar present in a -lect of some kind (idiolect, sociolect, dialect, ...).

Even now, the assumption among those without any education in linguistics seems to be that the complexity of a language stands in direct relation to the advancedness of a culture or the social standing of the speaker community. This mistaken notion should have been abandoned decades ago.

We know now that complexity in languages is not a result of a cabal of clever people developing the language as civilization emerges, and we know language change is not the result of their meticulous work being abandoned due to laziness in subsequent generations. I will leave the obvious question - where does language complexity come from - to the next post on the issue.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Acharya, Higgins and Drummond: Etymological fun, again

In chapter 10 of The Christ Conspiracy, Acharya repeats a claim that is worth investigating closer.

In reality, virtually all Hebrew place-names have astronomical meanings. [1, p. 132]
She does provide sources for this statement, viz. Higgins' Anacalypsis, vol 1, p. 423 and vol 2, p. 136. Tracing these sources down we find two very similar statements, so similar that I will only type one of them here:

... We must not forget that Sir William Drummond proved that all the Hebrew names of places in the holy land were astronomical. I have no doubt that these names were given by Joshua when he conquered, settled, and divided it among his twelve tribes, and that all those names had a reference to the solar mythos. [2, p. 136, c.f. 3, p. 432]
The work in which Drummond mostly sets forth this is his Oedipus Judaicus, which sometimes does manage to get etymologies right, but a lot of the time Drummond's work seems to be tortuous guesswork. At least I must admit Drummond is thorough - he goes through long lists of names, and tries coming up with - sometimes quite fanciful - explanations as to what they mean and how they have an astrological significance. Examples include:
ענב, Anab, signifies a grape in Hebrew, and why would a mountain not be called a grape? Let us observe, that the season for gathering grapes was when the sun was in the sign of Leo, the emblem of Judah.[4, p. 174]
בית ישמות, Bith Jeshimoth,  Mr Hutchinson has written at great length on these words. I cannot follow him in all his whimsical though ingenious notions. I understand generally that Bith Jeshimoth signifies "the temple of the Heavens."[4, p 178-179] 
This is but a sample. Some of his etymologies are likely to be correct - I will readily admit that much - but a lot of the time, they offer nothing but goropism - not the kind that tries to derive every word from some specific language, but one that is ready to find an astrological root in any language in the ancient mid east,  by far-fetched derivations like the example above with Leo and grapes. In the case of Jeshimoth, most experts seem to think it means something like 'desolation', especially as forms of the same word appear with that clear meaning even in parallel constructions:
בְּכֹל מֹושְׁבֹותֵיכֶם הֶעָרִים תֶּחֱרַבְנָה וְהַבָּמֹות תִּישָׁמְנָה לְמַעַן יֶחֶרְבוּ וְיֶאְשְׁמוּ מִזְבְּחֹֽותֵיכֶם וְנִשְׁבְּרוּ וְנִשְׁבְּתוּ גִּלּוּלֵיכֶם וְנִגְדְּעוּ חַמָּנֵיכֶם וְנִמְחוּ מַעֲשֵׂיכֶֽם׃
[Ezekiel, 6:6]
KJV translation:
 In all your dwellingplaces the cities shall be laid waste, and the high places shall be desolate; that your altars may be laid waste and made desolate, and your idols may be broken and cease, and your images may be cut down, and your works may be abolished. 
It seems rather unlikely Ezekiel would say something like 'in all your dwellingplaces the cities shall be laid waste, and the high places shall be of heaven' or anything along those lines.

If the entire argument is based on far-fetched ad hoc explanations, probably mistaken etymologies and so on, we must keep rejecting it. If there is good evidence for it, let that evidence be produced. Accepting this interpretation as proof of an hidden astrological message in the bible fails on account of petitio principii. 

William Drummond lived and did his research in the 18th and early 19th centuries, which were times before a proper understanding of linguistic evolution had been achieved. I would be much less suspicious if someone with neogrammarian precision were to make claims such as these.

I may make a post sometime in the future where I document some shoddy etymologies of Drummond's. Don't wait for it, though, as it will probably be far into the future.

[1] Acharya S; The Christ Conspiracy
[2] Higgins, Godfrey; Anacalypsis, volume 2, available at
[3] Higgins, Godfrey; Anacalypsis, volume 1, available at
[4] Drummond, William; The Oedipus Judaicus, available at

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Barbara Walker: August, Azazel


Roman month of the oracular Juno Augusta. Oracles were augustae in the semi-matriarchal "republican" period. The term was later applied to male priests, then to emperors. An "august" man was one filled with the spirit of the Goddess. Augur, the old name for a seer, meant "increaser," once referring to the mother-priestess. The first emperor Augustus took his title from the Great Mother of the Gods, presumed incarnate in his wife Livia Augusta. Their house stood opposite the temple of the Great Mother, whom Augustus honored as the national Goddess.
Churchmen repeatedly tried to obliterate the Goddess's connections with her harvest month. It was officially claimed that August had been named for St. Augustine - "prophetically" of course, since the name had been given to the month centuries before Augustine was born.5[1, p. 79-80]
Here, her source - Pomeroy Brewster's Saints and Festivals of the Christian Church, 1904 - does essentially say what she says it says, viz. that August was given that name centuries before the birth of Augustine. However, most people would probably accept that without a source - her source does not say that any official claims that August was named for St. Augustine ever have existed, and of these statements, that is definitely the one that needs backing up. Google's scanning and subsequent OCR is slightly damaged, alas:

The eighth was August, being rich arrayed
In garment all ofgold, down to the ground :
Yet rode he not, but led a lovelv maid
Forth by the lily hand, the which was crowned
With ears of corn, and full her hand was found.
— Spenser,
the old Roman Kalendars August bore the name of Sextilis 
le sbcth month and it contained but twenty-nine days. Julius 
ar in reforming the Kalendar, added a day to it ; but when 
ustine conferred upon it his own name he took a day from 
nary and added it thus making the thirty-one days now 
rded it.
[2, p. 348, google's OCR]

The non-OCR versions available have some similar problems, as the leftmost part is missing for this particular page. "sbcth" should properly be sixth, though, and is visible in the scanned version. I figure the author had a slip of mind - or used a now obsolete name for Augustus (?), c.f. from the same book:
But when Augustus to honour 
his own month increased the days of August to thirty-one he took 
the day from Februare leaving that month in ordinary years but 
twenty-eight days.
[2, p. 87, google's OCR]
(Which, by the way, seems to be a generally discredited claim too, as the month lengths apparently were changed at some other time. However, it is not my task to provide sources for such things here. Just pointing the interested reader to go find out for themselves.)


"God's Messenger," the deity who received sacrificial goats on the Jewish Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur, New Year). Azazel was not originally Hebraic, but Syrian.1[1, p. 80]
As a source she gives Cumont, Oriental Religions in Roman Paganism [at 1, p. 80-81]. Cumont says:
There were, for instance, Baltis, an "Our Lady" from Osroene beyond the Euphrates; Aziz,  the "strong god" of Edessa, who was identified with the star Lucifer; Malakbel, the "Lord's messenger," patron of the soldiers from Palmyra, who appeared with several companions at Rome, in Numidia and in Dacia.[3, p. 113]
In reading this text, she manages to misidentify which God is the Lord's messenger - Malakbel is (and to anyone familiar with Hebrew, the cognates to Hebrew should be obvious), not Aziz. Aziz is a word meaning strong - she does get the geographical origin of Aziz right, as Edessa is in Assyria. In fact, it's not surprising that a word signifying strength appear in names of supernatural beings (however, the etymology of Azazel does seem somewhat unclear, and he is not a popular topic in the Old Testament, although he did appear in later works a bit. An honest scholar would mention that there is quite a bit of unknowns regarding Azazel). Anyways, no matter - later Hebrew mystics and writers did develop Azazel, and they may very well have adapted the Syrian Aziz into their doctrines even if he was not part of the original Azazel-concept (which I do not deny anyway, as it indeed is possible). The problem here is misrepresenting what a source says, as the source does not say anything along the lines of what Walker makes it out to say, and she apparently also fails to read the rest of the text properly, explaining the 'Lord's messenger' blunder. Burden of proof clearly rests on her shoulders regarding claims such as these - "it is possible" does not make it so.

In addition, Yom Kippur is not the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah is (although there does, actually, exist three other Jewish New Years - 1st Elul, 1st Shevat and 1st Nisan - for different purposes, and potentially other ones as well.)

[1] Walker, Barbara, Women's Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets
[2] Brewster, Pomery - Saints and Festivals of the Christian Church, 1904, available on
[3] Cumont, Franz; Oriental Religions in Roman Paganism, 1911

---- some general musings ----


Antichrist, Antinomianism, Apex, Apostles, Apple, Arianism, Ark. A few more after that, and the letter 'A' will be complete. How about that. This leads to a secondary issue: how does one quantify the number of claims made in a text? A primary observation could be that all claims are not equal in significance, and another observation is that it is easier to spot that something is a claim if it also is wrong, and thus there is a notable likelihood that the ratio of incorrect claims to correct claims will get skewed by a flaw in the method.

Of course, I only point out mistakes that have passed through this simple algorithm:

  • I find something that look suspicious.
  • I try to obtain the source for the statement. If that source appears credible, and it disagrees with the statement, bingo.
  • If the statement correctly represents the source, I see if the source appears credible. I may obtain sources that contradict it to show that it's not a closed case. 
Anyways, the first step there is kind of important - how many mistakes pass by without me noticing them? May be any number!

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Index of posts related to Barbara Walker:

This post will be updated for each Barbara Walker-related finding I make.

The works of Walker's that I have been looking into are relatively helpful in one sense - find a suspect statement, look if it has a source, look what the source actually says. This is relatively straightforward.

At times the sources are difficult to obtain. If I find a statement which I am certain is wrong, and I can find reasonably good sources contradicting it, I will not bother obtaining her sources at all. However, if I suspect some claim of hers to be incorrect, the relevant article will be listed here, and if I find she was right after all, I will mark the item in the list as ok. With green, all-caps letters and all.

Being right is not enough though - if she is right, yet misrepresents a source I will list that as an error. In those cases I will point out that she essentially probably is right, though.

The Woman's Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets:

  • A, misrepresenting source
  • Anima, mistaken etymology, misrepresenting source
  • August, misrepresenting source
  • Azazael, misrepresenting source
  • Baal-Hadad, misrepresenting source
  • Brother, mistaken etymology (as far as origin goes)
  • Horseshoe, weird claims about the Greek alphabet
  • Houri, weirdly mistaken etymology
  • Kingship, mistaken etymology (rex <- sanskrit), misrepresenting source
  • Senate, mistaken etymology

The Women's Dictionary of Symbols and Sacred Objects:

  • Altar, (Moses' horn, misrepresenting source)

Barbara Walker: Women's Dictionary of Symbols and Sacred Objects: Altars

The Horned Moses
Walker states some things about Horns and Moses, and misrepresents her source. Let us first see what her source says this time:
"In Hebrew a 'radiated' and a 'horned' head is signified by the same word. Hence, when Moses came down from the Mount, cornuta fuit facies ejus, according to the Vulgate; and in virtue of this mistranslation hath the Law-giver ever been graced with those appendages". Without entering into the nice controversy here foreshadowed, it is quite enough for the present purpose to point to the fact that the authors of the Vulgate translation believed, from their own training and habit, that the Hebrew meaning was that the great, almost divine Moses, came down with actual horns upon his head. [Elworthy, Frederick, "Evil Eye: The Origins and Practices of Superstition", 1895, pp. 185-186; seems the reissue Walker used has reused the same pagination.]
In The Women's Dictionary of Symbols and Sacred Objects, p. 82, in the article "Altars", Barbara Walker has read this text to mean:
The Bible speaks of altars bearing horns, and of Moses coming down from the holy mountain with a horned head, according to the original Hebrew, which translators usually render "radiant."
This actually brought me to think a bit about the polysemy in general of words denoting rays/beams, e.g.
English: beam - cognate to German Baum, etc, original meaning: tree
German, Swedish: Strahl, stråle - also signifying jets of liquid (among other things).
Latin: radius, also signifying the spokes of a wheel (among other things) - also the origin of 'ray'.
Finnish: säde, also signifying a detail in the anatomy of equine hooves (by extension), originally signifying a spark.
Russian: луч, also signifying a bone (the radius bone, coincidentally enough) (and some other, probably more modern meanings in geometry, physics and such, as well as 'a glimpse'. 
Hebrew: קרן, also signifying horns.
If the Bible had been originally written in English, we would not claim the biblical authors had meant to state that Moses had a tree or a spoke in his face, if it were originally in Finnish, I doubt anyone would claim the authors had tried saying Moses was having a tiny bit of a horse foot protruding from his face (or sparks), and jets of liquid are also out. (Well, that would explain the cloth he was wearing - which neither horns, spokes, or equine bits really fit with; a wet cloth might extinguish sparks, though, in case there's a risk for fire.) Given the context, beams of light is not only a reasonable interpretation - it is probably the best possible interpretation, and given the above sample of polysemy with regard to words denoting a "perceived unit" of light, Hebrew is not particularly weird using 'horn' to denote beams of light. It seems a sample of relatively non-weird languages all have what could be considered 'strange' polysemy going for it.

Seems to me all of these use some more concrete things to denote a somewhat more untouchable thing.

Anyways, yet another instance of Barbara Walker failing to accurately restate what her source says.