The author and activist Starhawk has been mentioned a few times on the BD
Now! list. For those who may be unfamiliar with her work, here is an
account of a lecture she presented recently. This article previously
appeared in earthlight! magazine, issue #10.
Weaving the Spiral Dance
Copyright 1998 by Guy McCarthy
A feminist and peace activist, Starhawk is one of the foremost voices of
modern eco-spirituality and travels widely in North America and Europe
giving lectures and workshops. On February 18, 1998, she presented a
lecture sponsored by the Women's Studies Program at Gettysburg College.
[end of intro text]
I arrived after dark, parked my car, and walked several blocks in a cold
drizzle to reach the College Union. There was a buzz of anticipation in the
air. I heard someone say that the lecture had been moved from a smaller
setting to the large ballroom.
Once inside, I found my way to a seat and waited as others arrived. I
counted 180 chairs set in neat rows, but this amount was not nearly enough.
For several minutes dozens of extra chairs creaked and groaned into
position while I thought about why I had come.
Last year a friend had given me a well-read copy of The Fifth Sacred Thing,
Starhawk's visionary novel set some 30 years into the future. It is the
story of an isolated community (once known as San Francisco), struggling to
rebuild their city amid the moral, economic, and environmental wreckage of
post-modern America. Their hard-won commitment to diversity and sacred
values is sorely tested when another group arrives on the scene.
In her book, Starhawk offers us two visions of the future. Each is
well-crafted and lavishly detailed. Those who would build a better world
will find plenty of inspiration in its pages. I found it to be a deeply
moving work, and was very excited by the chance to meet the author in
"What kind of culture might we create if air,
water, fire, and earth were sacred to us;
if we honored diversity, community, and freedom?"
As we settled in expectantly, Starhawk loosened the folds of her traveling
clothes and gently began to offer the wisdom she had gleaned from a
"What is earth-based spirituality about?
It's about learning to understand the language
of Nature. This takes time, and patience...
the way back to a better world is to observe Nature,
and to learn to value the things that She values."
In the forest, nature offers us a profound lesson about cooperation. A root
fungus called mycorrhiza forms an intricate web that ties together the root
systems of almost all trees in the forest. Trees that grow near the edge
where there is plenty of sunlight actually share nutrition with others
deeper inside. In this way many diverse species work together for the
common good of all.
Nature values diversity. The more diverse a system in nature, the more
resilient it is. The prairie, for instance, is home to nearly 400 different
species. The lives of each are woven together. No single species dominates,
and all thrive in a complex ecosystem that constantly renews itself and
maintains great fertility. If sickness or blight should attack one species,
the prairie survives through its diversity and the other organisms continue
Compare this to a modern cornfield, where acre after acre is dominated by a
single, genetically engineered species. Each year it must be re-seeded,
because the mutant is sterile. Each year greater amounts of chemical
fertilizer are needed, because the soil is depleted and has no way to renew
itself. The crop is constantly under attack by predators whose natural
function is to eradicate weak, mutant plants. Pesticides are applied in a
"toxic rescue" scenario, keeping the plants alive so they may be harvested,
sold, and served at our tables. Eventually the soil dies altogether, and
when heavy rains come, it washes away to fill the riverbeds downstream.
"The Goddess tradition is not a belief system...
it's about shifting your sense of value to what
you can see and hear... everything is connected
and all things of nature have a value beyond our
The plants we call "weeds" are actually quite beneficial. Nature sows them
in soils that have been depleted and abused through monoculture. Often
their roots grow deep to draw up minerals from layers far below. The
minerals are then stored in stems and leaves until the cold weather comes,
when the plant dutifully dies and these valuable gifts become part of the
"The willow is a symbol of our interconnectedness.
Its branches reach up toward the heavens, and also
dip low to touch the earth."
In the oldest days women and men lived in harmony with nature, planting and
harvesting in rhythm with her natural cycles. We recognized our place
within the web of existence, where all things are connected. In these times
the willow tree was considered sacred. Its branches were used for weaving
baskets, and baskets were needed to carry food. The bark of the willow was
used for healing. Later it was discovered that willow bark contains
Willow comes from the Anglo-Saxon root word meaning "to bend or shape." The
terms wicca and witch also come from this root. These were persons who
could bend or shape unseen forces to their will. Healers, teachers, poets,
and midwives, they were central figures in every community.
"Darwin gave us the concept of nature in competition.
With this license the generations that came after
sought to dominate and conquer nature. But the premise
is false. The evolution of complex organisms is a model
of cooperation - myriad tiny subsystems working together
for the good of the larger community."
The lesson we must re-learn is that all things are interconnected. Every
place, every thing, is part of the whole. Once we really understand this,
we realize that there is no such thing as "away." In a world where all
things are connected, how can you throw something "away?"
In order to heal the Earth we must return to our sacred values, our sacred
roots. A good way to do this is by reviving old rituals, or by creating new
ones. Through ritual we experience rhythm, and when rituals are built
around natural cycles, we begin the journey back to intimacy with nature.
Much of our wiccan heritage has been lost through centuries of fear and
persecution. But the teacher is still with us, and by observing nature the
knowledge can be learned again. Starhawk talked at length about her
experiences in creating new rituals. The process is playful, creative, and
Towards the end of the evening, Starhawk announced that she would teach us
all a ritual. Clearly this made some uncomfortable, and as the chairs were
being put away, the group thinned out a bit. Still, there must have been at
least 160 of us remaining as the lights were lowered. Starhawk placed a
cloth in the center of the hall, upon which was set a large bowl of water
and a floating candle. She began to drum and a circle was created:
"We welcome the East,
with your Air and Knowledge.
We welcome the South,
with your Fire and Life.
We welcome the West,
with your Water and Emotion.
We welcome the North,
with your Earth and Sustenance."
Within the circle, she asked each of us to look inward and name the things
we consider sacred. Then she asked us to think of what things in our lives
we might change to more fully honor these sacred things. And for those of
us already performing sacred work, what resources did we need to be more
productive? Finally, she taught us a simple song, and led us in the Spiral
"Weave and spin, weave and spin,
this is how our work begins.
Mend and heal, mend and heal,
take the dream and make it real."
The Spiral Dance is a blend of song and movement that gives every person a
chance to look into the faces of the others. In a pattern both simple and
complex, we were led dancing and singing into the center where we converged
around the candle. There our voices and good intentions had created a cone
of energy that was thick in the air. We were urged to draw some into our
lives, and the rest was returned to the Earth to heal and replenish her.
We left that evening feeling enlivened and inspired. Everyone, that is,
except perhaps Starhawk herself. As she tightened her traveling clothes, I
perceived a hint of weariness from her. She travels and lectures
extensively, and I realized how deeply committed she is to her mission. I
thanked her sincerely, then turned and made my own way into the night.
Starhawk is the author of several books including The Fifth Sacred Thing
and The Spiral Dance. She works within a larger community whose political
agenda includes: sacred values, diversity, self-determination, environment,
human needs and social justice. A series of on-going classes and summer
programs are sponsored by:
P.O. Box 14404
San Francisco, CA 94114
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