Starhawk discussing her book The Spiral Dance
Starhawk came to the Bodhi Tree Bookstore in December, 1999 to present the 20th anniversary edition of her book The Spiral Dance. Starhawk first published The Spiral Dance, her seminal work on the goddess religion in 1979, when she was in her twenties. Today, even as it draws on the truly ancient, this book remains essential, contemporary and politically relevant. There has been tremendous growth in the goddess movement in the past twenty years. In her 1989, tenth anniversary edition introduction, Starhawk wrote about her shift away from a polarized view of the world as a dance of "female" and "male" qualities and energies, and toward an inclusive view of gender and energy. To facilitate this, and other shifts in perspective, the twentieth anniversary edition supplements the original text with a running commentary, as well as new versions of old myths and, occasionally, new interpretations of the material. The book is still an unparalleled reference on the practice and philosophies of witchcraft, and a guide to the ways in which we can turn to the goddess to develop our power, and integrate all aspects of our existence. This is brilliant, comprehensive overview of the growth, suppression, and modern-day reemergence of Wicca as a Goddess-worshipping religion that has left an indelible mark on feminist spiritual consciousness.
The following is an edited version of Starhawk's Bodhi Tree Bookstore presentation. Edited by Camilla Denton.
"There is no mystery that has not already been revealed to you. There is no power you do not already have. You share in all the love there is. The goddess awakens in infinite forms and a thousand disguises." --Starhawk.
Starhawk: The Goddess religion asserts that the earth is alive, and that everything on the earth is part of a living being. We believe that you can celebrate life in many different images and forms, that life moves in cycles of birth and growth and death and rebirth, and that the same spirit moves through nature, through the cycles of the seasons, through the birth and growth and death of plants and animals, and through our lives as human beings. There is a multiplicity of images that you can draw upon for understanding and power, but the reason we focus on the goddess is partly to counterbalance the 5,000 years worth of focus on male holy images, and partly to affirm that bringing life into the world is sacred. Our goal is not to get out of the world or to get out of life, but to integrate it, to celebrate it, to embrace it fully, and to embrace all the different cycles within it.
We tend to look at images of goddesses and gods and take them as role models, as though they are telling us how we're supposed to be as women or as men. But I don't think that only women should identify with the goddess, or that only men can identify with the god. Images represent doorways to certain energies and certain constellations of power that any of us can open if we seek access to them. They're all different potentials that we have within us. If you look at the goddess Demeter in Greece, she was the goddess of agriculture and fertility, of wheat and corn. She was goddess of the most fertile place in all of Greece, where grain grew best. Up the hill was Athens, and the goddess Athena, who was goddess of the olive. The olive is a tree that grows well on stony hillsides and can bear fruit in areas that are not very fertile, in other words, Athens had a different purpose and a different energy. Goddesses originate out of a real connection with place, and then they become vessels for the powers and qualities associated with them. The goddess religion offers sacred images of female empowerment, and an opportunity for women to take positions of authority and responsibility without having to fight their way through a male dominated hierarchy.
Still, many men are attracted to a spiritual tradition that puts the earth at the center. These are men who see themselves as children of the goddess. My partner describes his affiliation in terms of a sculpture he's seen in the Pyranees. There's a strange abstracted goddess figure that you'll find over doorways and thresholds of churches around Europe where she's holding her genitals open. In this particular one, the goddess is holding her genitals open, as the head of a green man emerges from her vulva. That's how my partner, and many men see this religion -- he emerges directly from the Goddess, knows her secrets, knows who she is and has his own expression of the life force and the cycles of growth and birth and death and rebirth.
The Spiral Dance is a seed planted twenty years ago. Over the last two decades, the goddess movement has grown from many seeds like a garden of long-life flowers and healing herbs. It's a big garden - I've tended only one corner of it. Twenty years is long enough for perennials to come into full bloom and for fruit trees to mature. We can look back now and see the results of our planting, weaving and tending. In 1979, I ended the book with a chapter called "Creating Religion Toward the Future." Now the future is here. Besides technological changes, political changes have reshaped the world in the last two decades. This book was conceived during the Carter era. Since then we've seen Reagan and Bush come and go, the waxing and waning of revolutionary movements in Central America, the fall of the Soviet Union, the end of apartheid, and the impeachment of a popular president in a drama so sleazy and bizarre, that no one in 1979 could possibly have imagined it. Ten years ago, we were still putting down roots, growing steadily but not as visibly. Today we are in that fine flesh of perennial growth when the roots reach deep for underground waters and runners begin to multiply and spread.
Take last year's fiasco in Seattle. In 1995, the World Trade Organization was formed after a global agreement on taxes and tariffs, and in November 1999, the organization met in Seattle to establish new global trade agreements. The WTO makes rulings that overrule the laws that we have made, democratically, through our representatives. For example, it ruled - under threat of sanction -- that the United States cannot ban products made with child labor, or that we cannot ban tuna fish caught in nets that also kill dolphins, or shrimp caught in nets that kill sea turtles. I went up to Seattle to help a group called The Direct Action Network in its protest effort. It's the group that organized the civil disobedience that took place where over 500 people were arrested, including myself. The police totally ran amuck and attacked non-violent people. Anyway, though the media said the police were disorganized, they also said that the protesters were disorganized, and that they didn't seem to have any leaders. Well, the protesters weren't disorganized, they were differently organized into affinity groups; we worked by consensus. We weren't expected to answer to some external leadership telling us what to do. So we shut the thing down and the WTO went home without an agreement on the next round of talks, and has since been put in the hot seat. The whole issue of globalization and how it should proceed and what values it should include are out on the table. And, as a community, we are now able to consider such things as who laws should serve and who they would hurt.
The word witch is related to the root of the word "willow," a very flexible tree. Since ancient times witches have been known as those who can bend or shape fate. We twist the energies. The idea of witch became synonymous with wise woman, and with others who were herbalists and healers and keepers of the old traditions after the advent of Christianity. We were the ones who really knew the land and knew what grew there, and how to use it. Today, to be a witch is to be someone with a deep personal commitment to the goddess tradition and to wicca or witchcraft. Witches can be men as well as women, in fact men who follow this path are also called witches. It also often means being part of a circle or a coven or a group of people who celebrate together, teach each other, and support each other in doing their spiritual work. For some people to be a witch means embarking on a ritual initiation into a particular coven or tradition. There's witchcraft, there's paganism, there's goddess religion, there's feminist spirituality, there's earth-based spirituality. All of these things describe different facets of a growing, spiritual, political movement of people who are connected to the idea that the earth is alive, that it is sacred, and that we should be doing something about it.
When The Spiral Dance was first published, its major thrust was to challenge the spiritual supremacy of patriarchal males and male images. I would have hoped those issues would be outdated by now, but they are not. Yet the goddess remains a manifest deity. We connect with her through the moon, the stars, the ocean, and the earth; through trees, animals, other human beings and ourselves. She is within us all. She is the full circle. She is air, fire, water and essence, body, mind, spirit, emotions, change . . . and first of all, earth, the dark, nurturing mother who brings forth all life. She is the power of fertility and generation, the womb and also the receptive tomb, the power of death. All proceeds from her, all returns to her. As earth, she is also plant life, trees, the herbs and greens that sustain life. She is the body and the body is sacred. She is room, breast, belly, mouth, vagina, penis, bone and blood. No part of the body is unclean. No aspect of the life processes is stained by any concept of sin. Birth, death and decay are equally sacred parts of the cycle. Whether we are eating, sleeping, making love or eliminating bodily wastes, we are manifesting the goddess.
And the god? He is no stereotype, neither that of the macho male, nor its reverse. He's gentle, tender and comforting, but he is also the hunter. He is the dying god, but his death is always in the service of life force. He's untamed sexuality, but sexuality is a deep holy connecting power. He is the power of feeling in the image of what men could be if they were liberated from the constraints of patriarchal culture. For men the god is the image of an inner power and of a potency that is more than merely sexual. He is the undivided self in which mind is not split from body, nor spirit from flesh. United, both can function at the peak of creative and emotional power. It is a violation of the male body to use it as a weapon just as it is a violation of the female body to use it as an object or a proving ground for male virility. The god is Eros, but he is also Logos, the power of the mind. In witchcraft there is no opposition between the two. The bodily desire for union and the emotional desire for connection are transmuted into the intellectual desire for knowledge, which is also a form of union. Knowledge can be both analytic and synthetic; it can take these apart and look at differences, or form a pattern from unintegrated parts and see the whole.
We do rituals to mark all that we know in the goddess religion. We do rituals for the cycles of the seasons, and rites of passage for various stages of life. There are rituals for marriage, coming of age rituals, such as first blood rituals to mark a girl's first menstruation, death rituals, and funeral rituals. A ritual is simply an orchestrated flow of energy. We always call in the four directions and the four elements and the goddess and the god. During her first menstruation, we take a young girl down to the beach with her mother and tie their hands together with a red cord, and they run together as far as the mother can run, and when she can't run any further, we cut them apart and let the daughter run on alone. After that we take her back and spend a little time telling her stories about our own first menstruation, even though, for many of us, the stories aren't too wonderful. Sometimes we were shamed, or it was painful, but we have a way of talking about them that puts them into the context of women's history and makes them sacred. After we have all shared our stories, we celebrate with the men as well. Often, they prepare the food for the group in honor of this new part of our daughter. A similar ritual is conducted for the boys, where they are taken off to do a private men's thing and then returned for celebration with all the women. Our young boys grow up knowing that women can also celebrate their manhood, their coming of age, their masculinity, and it doesn't have to be something negative and scary and awful to women.
I'm going to end with a vision I have for the winter solstice: There are bonfires everywhere strung along the beaches, blazing on twin peaks on all the high places. In the parks and on rooftops small groups gather around cauldrons. There are no mass meetings, only circles. From the hilltops the city is a mosaic set in green. Everywhere are gardens. The last rays of the sun gleam rose in a thousand solar collectors. The witches take hands around the fire. The wind rises, rattling the eucalyptus branches. Across the city thousands of gaily painted windmills spin to life. Candles are blown out, altars topple over. No one minds. They have what they need to make magic. Their voices, their breath, each other. Through the long night they chant each other's names. They sing hymns to the newborn sun, to the eternally revolving goddess. They pour libations and give thanks, especially the very old ones who remember when it was different. I am thankful that in this city no one goes hungry. I am thankful that in the city no one is left to die alone. I give thanks that I can walk the dark streets without fearing violence. I give thanks that the air is clean, that life has returned to the waters of the bay, that we are at peace. I give thanks that everyone has work to do. The next day there will be a parade, concerts, parties, masquerade balls, and special theater performances. The last day of the celebration is quiet and peaceful. Families and covens eat together. At night everyone returns to the hillsides to rekindle the fires. We join together to earth the power of the season and to slip between the worlds, the voices saying to every one of us, "Wake up, you are it, you are a part of the circle of the wise. There is no mystery that has not already been revealed to you. There is no power you do not already have. You share in all the love there is. The goddess awakens in infinite forms and a thousand disguises. She is found where she is least expected, appears out of nowhere and everywhere to illumine the open heart. She is singing, crying, moaning, wailing, shrieking, crooning to us, to be awake, to commit ourselves to life, to be a lover in the world and of the world, to join our voices in the single song of constant change and creation. For her law is to love all beings, and she is the cup of the drink of life. The circle is ever open, ever unbroken.
The Spiral Dance: A Rebirth of the Ancient Religion of the Great Goddess by Starhawk (HarperSF)
Starhawk first published The Spiral Dance, her seminal work on the goddess religion in 1979, when she was in her twenties. Today, even as it draws on the truly ancient, this book remains essential, contemporary and politically relevant. There has been tremendous growth in the goddess movement in the decades following its publication. In her introduction to the tenth anniversary edition, published in 1989, Star hawk wrote about her shift away from a polarized view of the world as a dance of “female" and "male" qualities and energies, and The Spiral toward an inclusive view of gender and energy. To facilitate this, and others shifts in perspective, the twentieth anniversary edition supplements the original text with a running commentary, as well as new versions of old myths and occasionally, new interpretations of the material. The book is still an unparalleled reference on the practice and philosophies of witchcraft, and a guide to the ways in which we can turn to the goddess to develop our power, and integrate all aspects of our existence. This is a brilliant, comprehensive overview of the growth, suppression, and modern-day reemergence of Wicca as a Goddess-worshipping religion that has left and indelible mark on feminist spiritual consciousness.