Starhawk is eco-feminist, activist, Neo-Pagan witch, and author. Starhawk’s book, The Spiral Dance, has probably introduced more peo-Paganism than any other book, with the possible exception of Margot Adler’s Drawing Down the Moon, which was published on the same day in 1979. In The Spiral Dance, Starhawk describes a variant of Victor Anderson’s Faerie Tradition, bringing together Robert Graves’ mythos, with eco-feminism, Jungian psychology, and Neo-Pagan witchcraft. Neo-Paganism had been around for a decade before The Spiral Dance was published, but the book brought together its disparate themes and defined the course of Neo-Paganism for the next two decades. Ronald Hutton writes:
“Starhawk is a writer of remarkable talent; it is difficult to take notes from her books without copying entire sentences, so perfectly are her thought expressed and so marked is her genius for aphorism. A clear and melodious prose is enhanced by man underlying passion of feeling, so that her sentences seem to heave with emotion. The second tremendous virtue of the book was that it reworked the shoe image of witchcraft to give it new significant, and respectability, to a modern liberal reader. … The tendency of The Spiral Dance was not to explain or to instruct so much as to intoxicate; which doubtless explains much of its tremendous popularity.”
Borrowing from Victor Anderson, Starhawk taught that human beings have three levels of consciousness, which she calls the conscious “Talking Self”, the atavistic “Younger Self”, and the divine “Deep Self”. The Younger Self corresponds to Jung’s conception of the unconscious and the Deep Self corresponds to Jung’s conception of the “Self”, the numinous wholeness of the psyche. In The Spiral Dance, Starhawk writes that the purpose of Witchcraft was to get these “selves” communicating, and this is accomplished through ritual. According to Starhawk, the only way to reach the Deep Self is through the Younger Self:
“It is not the conscious mind, with its abstract concepts, that ever actually communicates with the Divine; it is the unconscious mind, the Younger Self, that responds only to images, pictures, sensations, tangibles. To communicate with the Deep Self, the Goddess/God Within, we resort to symbols, to art, poetry, music, myth, and the actions of ritual that translate abstract concepts into the language of the unconscious.”
Starhawk describes divinatory practices as a kind of “spiritual and psychological counseling” and magic primarily in terms of its psychological effects. Inverting the way the relationship is typically described, she writes: “Psychology is simply a branch of magic.” She describes magic in terms that many secularists might find acceptable today:
“Spells are extremely sophisticated psychological tools that have subtle but important effects on a person’s inner growth. … Practical results may be far less important than psychological insights that arise during magical working. … Spells go one step further than most forms of psychotherapy. They allow us not only to listen to an interpret the unconscious but also to speak to it, in the language it understands. Symbols, images, and objects used in spells communicate directly with the Younger Self, who is the seat of our emotions and who is barely touched by the intellect. We often understand our feelings and behavior, but find ourselves unable to change them. Through spells, we can attain the most important power–the power to change ourselves.”
The same year she published The Spiral Dance, Starhawk founded Reclaiming tradition of witchcraft in San Francisco. Reclaiming became one of the most influential traditions within Neo-Paganism. Starhawk’s name is synonymous with action. She has consistently advanced a vision of Neo-Paganism as practical and of spirituality as political. She has led protests seeking peace and justice for the environment and for women and sees these as an expression of her spirituality. In addition to The Spiral Dance, Starhawk is the author of Dreaming the Dark (1982) and Truth or Dare (1988), both of which bridge Neo-Paganism and political action. Neo-Pagans can be sometimes be prone to narcissism, so Starhawk’s practicality is a needed corrective. Starhawk’s activist spirit and poetic style earns her the place as one of the “mothers” of contemporary Neo-Paganism.
Below is a video celebrating Reclaiming’s annual Spiral Dance ritual, narrated by Starhawk.
Reclaiming Principles of Unity
The values of the Reclaiming tradition stem from our understanding that the earth is alive and all of life is sacred and interconnected. We see the Goddess as immanent in the earth’s cycles of birth, growth, death, decay and regeneration. Our practice arises from a deep, spiritual commitment to the earth, to healing and to the linking of magic with political action.
Each of us embodies the divine. Our ultimate spiritual authority is within, and we need no other person to interpret the sacred to us. We foster the questioning attitude, and honor intellectual, spiritual and creative freedom.
We are an evolving, dynamic tradition and proudly call ourselves Witches. Our diverse practices and experiences of the divine weave a tapestry of many different threads. We include those who honor Mysterious Ones, Goddesses, and Gods of myriad expressions, genders, and states of being, remembering that mystery goes beyond form. Our community rituals are participatory and ecstatic, celebrating the cycles of the seasons and our lives, and raising energy for personal, collective and earth healing.
We know that everyone can do the life-changing, world-renewing work of magic, the art of changing consciousness at will. We strive to teach and practice in ways that foster personal and collective empowerment, to model shared power and to open leadership roles to all. We make decisions by consensus, and balance individual autonomy with social responsibility.
Our tradition honors the wild, and calls for service to the earth and the community. We value peace and practice non-violence, in keeping with the Rede, “Harm none, and do what you will.” We work for all forms of justice: environmental, social, political, racial, gender and economic. Our feminism includes a radical analysis of power, seeing all systems of oppression as interrelated, rooted in structures of domination and control.
We welcome all genders, all gender histories, all races, all ages and sexual orientations and all those differences of life situation, background, and ability that increase our diversity. We strive to make our public rituals and events accessible and safe. We try to balance the need to be justly compensated for our labor with our commitment to make our work available to people of all economic levels.
All living beings are worthy of respect. All are supported by the sacred elements of air, fire, water and earth. We work to create and sustain communities and cultures that embody our values, that can help to heal the wounds of the earth and her peoples, and that can sustain us and nurture future generations.
(last updated at the 2012 Dandelion Gathering)