Greening the Future with Starhawk
By the earth that is her body,
And by the waters of her living womb.......
By the fire of her bright spirit,
And by the air that is her breath......
May the peace of the Star Goddess go into your hearts…
Originally by Victor Anderson,
edited & adapted version from Starhawk’s The Earth Path
Starhawk is a Witch, peace activist, ecofeminist, author, and teacher in Earth Activist Training. She best known as a co-founder of the Reclaiming Collective and as the author of the contemporary Pagan classic The Spiral Dance: A Rebirth of the Ancient Religion of the Great Goddess, which has been continuously in print for thirty years. Starhawk’s early Craft teachers were Victor and Cora Anderson of the legendary Feri Tradition. Early in her career as a Craft teacher she started using the name “Starhawk” after she had a dream of a hawk flying across the starlit sky. One of Starhawk’s latest books, The Earth Path, traces her work in combining Earth-based spirituality, permaculture, organizing, and activism. She spoke to me in January, 2010 from her home near Cazadero, California.
Michael Night Sky How did your interest in Witchcraft and Paganism begin?
Star Although I was raised Jewish, I always had my deepest moments of connection in nature. So when I encountered people who were practicing the Goddess religion, I just found that whole idea of the Goddess to be so empowering, and the idea of a religion that said “the natural world is sacred,” for me just was like, “Yes! This is it!”
Michael Night Sky Do you connect more with the name “Witch” or “Pagan.” Do you see a big difference?
Star I’m definitely both. To me, “Pagan” sort of includes “Witch,” kind of like “Christian” includes “Southern Baptist.” In my practice, being a Witch is about having made a specific commitment to the Goddess. We used to say Witches were all clergy and we had no congregations, but now I think that is shifting. As the tradition grows we have some people who really do want to be clergy. We also now see people who come out for big rituals, and believe in the Goddess, but they’re busy with other things, and don’t practice ritual or magic on a regular basis.
Michael Night Sky What is your definition of Earth-based Spirituality?
Star My definition of Earth-based Spirituality includes all spiritual traditions and practices that are rooted in the understanding that the sacred is embodied in the natural world. It includes what we call Paganism, Witchcraft, and also indigenous traditions, as well as primeval forms of religion and spirituality that human beings have had on the planet for millennia.
Michael Night Sky What is your definition of permaculture?
Star Permaculture is a system of ecological designs originally developed in the 1970s by two Australians, Bill Mollison and David Holgren. Since then, it has grown into an international network and movement. When I discovered permaculture I realized that it was the perfect practical application of earth-based spirituality. Permaculture also has been called “the art of designing beneficial relationships” by Patrick Whitehead, a wonderful permaculturist from England. Permaculture is a very optimistic system, as it sees human beings as part of the natural world and as potentially as positive agents in that world.
Michael Night Sky How did you become involved in permaculture work?
Star I originally heard about it back in the 1980s from a friend who had taken a workshop. I started reading everything I could about it, and those ideas had a strong influence on my novel The Fifth Sacred Thing. I finally was able to take a standard two-week permaculture 101 course in 1996 with my friend Penny Livingston Stark (a wonderful designer and teacher). Everything flowed from there.
In 1999 I went to the famous Seattle blockade against the World Trade Organization, and became very involved with some of the younger activists who were organizing mobilizations around the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund and WTO. After spending a lot of time with all these amazing young people, I felt that I discovered a serious gap. These young people were on fire with the desire to make the world better. But most of them didn’t actually know any solutions to the problems that beset us.
Rooted as I am in the Pagan and permaculture communities, I knew that there were many different solutions and approaches and ways to heal both the earth and ourselves, and I thought, “Wouldn’t that be wonderful, to bring these communities together and to offer courses that could teach all the practical stuff-permaculture techniques, but with a grounding in spirituality?” Penny was also into that idea, so in 2001 we started Earth Activist Training together; we have been teaching it ever since. Penny has since created her own group, The Regenerative Design Institute (http://www.regenerativedesign. org/) which is where she mostly teaches now. But she often guest teaches here and we have lots of other wonderful teachers who share their wisdom.
Michael Night Sky What are the principles behind EAT?
Star The basics of EAT follow from the three core ethics in permaculture: care for the earth, care for people; and share the surplus. Some other basics of our work are the concepts that everything is inter-related and that we rely on relationships between beings, not on individuals. We are trying to create structures — whether in a garden or a city — in which the system benefits all its participants.
Michael Night Sky What happens with your students after they leave your program?
Star EAT has inspired both new permaculture work and new approaches to political activism. One of the things we focus on is bio-remediation: using nature’s own methods to heal toxins in the soil and water. Several groups of us went down to New Orleans after hurricane Katrina and were able to train folks simple backyard approaches to bio-remediation.
Many of our students have gone on to organize “climate change camps” where they set up the encampment with permaculture principles; we did this at the WTO meeting in Cancun in 2003 as well. A number of intentional communities have also started up out of our courses
Michael Night Sky Why should Pagans care about permaculture?
Star Those of us who believe that the Earth is sacred can’t just sit back and let the idiots destroy Her. I believe we really have to be involved, we have to be active. Questions like, “How do we grow our food and support people who can produce food locally?” and “What policies might bring us through the climate change crisis?” are addressed in permaculture theory and practice.
I look around the Pagan community and say, “Okay, we say that we believe the Earth is sacred, we sing about it, we do rituals about it, but we don’t always put that into practice in our daily lives. But there’s no reason that we can’t do so; it’s not just some fantasy idea, permaculture actually does work better!
Thirty years ago, in The Spiral Dance I talked about the Elements and their traditional colors, and their associations, and you know, their gods and goddesses that go with them. But what about understanding the Elements in terms of their concrete reality? For example, how do we actually protect the quality of the Air? How do we clean the air in and around our homes? For the element of Fire, how do we actually shift our use of energy to things that are truly renewable? For Water, how do we catch and store water and conserve water? For Earth, how do we actually build soil, and create compost, build living soil, and make sure our soil is healthy and heal it’s when its been damaged? I believe it is essential to see those things as part of our spiritual practice, part of our daily “making it real.”
Michael Night Sky Why should permaculturalists care about Paganism?
Star I’ve always felt that at the heart of our ecological crisis is there’s a deep spiritual malaise. Our culture has developed with belief systems that have told us that Heaven is a sacred someplace else outside this material world. For me it is deeply important to say, “No! The Goddess is embodied in the living earth, and the way that we interact with the Earth is the enactment of our spiritual path.”
Michael Night Sky What is your more interesting work right now?
Star We are currently developing a program working with at-risk young adults teaching sustainability and helping to cultivate two community gardens in the most toxic areas of inner-city San Francisco. We want to expand that program so we are able to train people to develop businesses and green jobs in areas where people have the least resources.
Michael Night Sky What keeps your spirits up?
Star There have been times when I have been really in panic or despair. But when I actually go out into the forest and talk to the trees, or open up and listen for the voice of the Goddess, the message I get over and over again is that there are Great Powers working with us for the healing of the Earth. We may be surprised how resilient the Earth can be, and how much we can regenerate and create.
I strongly recommend adding time into your daily spiritual practice to be in connection with the natural world. Just go and open yourself up to be in a state where you are listening, and noticing what’s going on around you, and be open to the Earth speaking to you. That is how we start to develop that core connection. I believe that Nature is always communicating and always speaking to us, and if we open our ears and listen, She’ll talk.
For More Information
- Earth Activist Training P.O. Box 170177 San Francisco, CA 94117-0177
Interviewer Michael Night Sky is a Witch and student of Magick, currently Red Priest with the Circle of the Heartbeat’s Drum. He has been a longtime contributor to both PanGaia and newWitch (now merged as Witches & Pagans), conducting interviews with some of the worlds’ most notable Witches, Pagans, wizards, and magicians. He lives in Northern San Diego county in California and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article first appeared in Witches&Pagans #21
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