“I don’t like it when people assume that the Goddess, the great female principle, is just God in skirts,” says Starhawk. In workshops and lectures, and in books like The Spiral Dance: A Rebirth of the Ancient Religion of the Great Goddess (1979), Dreaming in the Dark: Magic, Sex, and Politics (1982), and the very successful 1993 fantasy novel The Fifth Sacred Thing (in which a San Francisco full of Goddess devotees is attacked by a fundamentalist army from L.A.), Starhawk offers an image of the Goddess that is both more subtle and more radical than the simple replacement of spiritual patriarchy with spiritual matriarchy.
“The Goddess means that the sacred is immanent—it’s present right here and now, in nature and in ourselves,” she explains. “And by ‘sacred’ what I mean is not a great something that you bow down to, but what determines your values, what you would take a stand for. And when you locate that principle in the world, rather than beyond it, you also see that everything has its own inherent value.”
The social and political consequences are immediate: “If the forest is sacred, we can’t chop it down. If water is sacred, we can’t pollute it, even a little bit. If there is sacred authority in the human body, then no external authority can tell people what to do with it—how to love, whether or not to end a pregnancy.”
For Starhawk and Reclaiming, the San Francisco collective with which she works, living by these values implies activism—on feminist, anti-military, and ecological issues—and also a serious understanding of what a vision is. “I’m working on a ‘prequel’ novel to The Fifth Sacred Thing,” she says, “that’s about what it is to be motivated by a vision, by something that’s both very compelling and very ephemeral. Following a vision isn’t just following your bliss; it may imply a lot of very hard work. But it also brings a feeling of rightness that carries energy with it—a feeling of going with the current instead of upstream.”
The Reclaiming collective nurtures this feeling, and spreads the message of the Goddess, in week-long “witch camps” in which about a hundred people gather for daily teaching and ritual. “People have emotional crises, they bond with each other, and they learn skills for taking this message out into the world,” says Starhawk. “This is all very practical. We have the technology to live in harmony with the earth, and I’m glad we do; I don’t want to give up my computer. What stands in the way are the political and economic systems, certain values, powerful interests. But we simply must begin to take responsibility for the things that support and sustain our lives.”