For a believer in spiritual magic and the Tarot, a disengaged life was never in the cards.
You might expect Starhawk, the woman perhaps most responsible for the recent resurgence of neopagan spirituality, to be leading full moon rituals in the hills of Berkeley rather than running from soldiers in a Palestinian refugee camp. Yet political concerns have always motivated this best-selling author, whose books The Spiral Dance and Dreaming the Dark were embraced by thousands as guides to rediscovering ancient nature-based religions. Her popular fantasy novel The Fifth Sacred Thing depicts a Utopian green society in northern California under siege from militaristic and mechanistic invaders.
“After the Seattle WTO [World Trade Organization] protests, I got a strong message that now is the time to do more political work,” she said in a phone interview from her home in California right before leaving for the September WTO meeting in Cancún, Mexico. Her in-the-streets diary of prodemocracy actions in Genoa, Italy, in 2001 was widely circulated on the Internet (www.starhawk.org) and printed in the independent press. It later appeared in Webs of Power: Notes from the Global Uprising (New Society), a collection of her dispatches from the front lines of the anti-globalization movement, published last year.
In 2002 she visited the Balata refugee camp in occupied Palestine as part of the International Solidarity Movement, or ISM (www.palsolidarity.org). That's when the events of this story took place. Balata, erected in 1948, is one of the oldest and largest refugee camps, with 22,000 inhabitants. Since its founding in 2001, ISM has sent human-rights witnesses from North America, Europe, Japan, and Israel itself into Palestinian communities occupied by the Israeli army.
“I always try to bring some spiritual magic into my political work,” Starhawk notes. “That's why I brought my Tarot cards to Balata. But in Palestine it is really a challenge.”
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has a special resonance for Starhawk, since she was raised in a strongly Jewish family in Los Angeles, where she attended Hebrew High School and the University of Judaism. At UCLA, she studied witchcraft as part of an anthropology project and found herself drawn to Celtic paganism. “Aha! This is what I always believed,” she wrote. “I just never knew there was a framework or other people [who] believed the same thing.”
Yet she still feels kinship with Judaism, noting in the Jerusalem Post that she “was taught that God was not male or female, but spirit. . . . In that sense, the Goddess tradition is not that separate from the Jewish conception of God.”