A Vision for the New Year

At the Dawn of 2018

A new year is beginning, and many of us are relieved to leave 2017 behind, as if the change in the calendar date could signify a change in everything. For me, last year was a strange mix—politically disastrous, personally full of satisfying work and some incredible experiences. 

Reflections on the Past Year

One of the highlights of 2017 for me was the International Permaculture Conference and Convergence in Hyderabad, India. What an enormous privilege it was to co-teach a Social Permaculture track in the lead-in course with Robyn Francis from Australia, who has been teaching and practicing permaculture since the early days all over the world.  One of the highlights was a visit to the Aranya Training Center farm, a permaculture site for over twenty years, where Narsanna and Padma Koppula have developed a beautiful model of food forests and mixed-cultivation fields in an area where GMO cotton is king. 

Most inspiring was their work with the local community; helping people get land—small amounts, like an acre or two, but adequate—and shift from growing high-input crops for the market, using pesticides and poisons that are costly and leave them deeply in debt, to growing food organically for themselves and their families first. 

Now, children who once were malnourished have plenty of good-quality, healthy food to eat. Families are working their way out of poverty. And women have more social power—because they are providing food for their families and are no longer dependent on their husbands for the family economy. 

Narsanna has also worked with the men, teaching them to respect women. And the women were so joyful, in their beautiful, bright saris, singing permaculture songs that they make up, telling us how they now travel and teach and work with other farmers.

I met Julious Piti from Zimbabwe, of the Chikukwa Project, who has transformed his area, regenerating the land and the local communities, by teaching people permaculture together with conflict transformation.  

And Ego Lemos, who has established permaculture gardens in East Timor in over a hundred schools, and is on track to bring a sustainability curriculum to all 1400 of the island’s schools.  And what the children learn, they bring home to their parents. He’s founded Permatil, which is publishing The Tropical Permaculture Guidebook, available free online.   

Clea Chandmal has a permaculture center in south India next to a tiger reserve, and works with thousands of farmers to regenerate soil and clean water. She shared her recipe for soil-building jungle juice, and I’m trying a version of it on my own land. The key is the action of beneficial microorganisms from ruminant dung and forest soil.

I shared a room with Hui-i Chang, who is spreading urban permaculture throughout Taiwan, and Rowe Morrow, my shero! In her seventies, she’s spent a lifetime bringing permaculture to combat zones, refugee camps and devastated places from Kashmir to Afghanistan to Kurdistan.

And there are so many more—people all over the world who are working on regenerating land and communities. I was impressed with the scale of the work—Aranya works with hundreds of thousands of farmers—and the simple and beautiful solutions that transform lives.

Walking the Walk (and Not So Much Talk)

So this is the message I’d like to offer for the New Year: All over the world, there are people working quietly and diligently to regenerate the land and support the communities who live on it. They’re not boasting on Twitter about how great they are, they’re just doing it. 

And it works! 

We know how to regenerate ecosystems and human systems by respecting and learning from nature and advocating for justice. 

Don’t ever doubt for a moment that another world is possible—a world of balance, harmony, beauty and connection. A world where every child has abundant, nourishing food and a safe and comfortable home. Where we wake up every day knowing we are going to do the work of regeneration, and all around us we see the process of healing going on. 

We can have that world; we need that world, and that world needs all of us to bring it into being.  Let us commit ourselves ever more deeply to bring it about, beginning now!  Then, 2018 will truly be a Happy New Year!

Support Earth Activist Trainings for 2018!

Hurricanes, Earthquakes, Wildfires…

…Nazis marching in the streets and open sexual predators running for office—and that’s not even talking about who is holding the highest office of the land!  2017 has been a year of disasters, on every level. 

Now, at year’s end, I’m sure you have a hundred good causes asking for your money. I know I do—from politicians I want to support to friends who have lost their homes. It can be overwhelming!

Earth Activist Training is a Worthy Cause!

Nonetheless, I’m very proud to ask you to support Earth Activist Training’s Diversity Scholarship Programs. In the face of all the catastrophes, Earth Activist Training builds for the future. 

We teach permaculture–ecological design–with a grounding in spirit and a focus on organizing and activism. Our Diversity Program offers scholarships for people of color and differently-abled people working in environmental and social justice. We train leaders who can bring the skills of ecological design to frontline communities. 

Our graduates are teaching organic gardening and empowerment to inner-city girls in Oakland, running environmental projects with at-risk youth in Indiana, learning skills to bring back to Tribal lands at Standing Rock. 

They’ve built graywater systems at Occupy Wall Street and planted gardens on First Nations Land to block oil pipelines. They mix activism to counter the problems with a grounded understanding of regenerative solutions—and that’s a potent antidote to despair!

The Vital Role of Diversity

In the five years since we’ve been offering this program, we’ve learned some things. Diversity must be meaningful—not just token. So we offer not just one or two scholarships per course, but seven, eight, nine—enough to shift the culture of the group. 

We’ve learned to create an atmosphere where we can each be seen, welcomed and appreciated for the fullness of who we are. And in that space, we can build real relationships of trust and connection. 

In a time when tensions and divisions often seem to be driving us all apart, we’ve learned how exhilarating it can be to come together!

 

We need your support.

 

Four Things You Can Do to Support Earth Activist Trainings:

    1.  Donate to Earth Activist Training.  In Jewish numerology, 18 is the number that means Life—so in the hope that 2018 will be a better, more life-affirming year, donating $18 would be a magical act. Or $180!  Or $1800, which supports a full scholarship to one of our two-week permaculture design courses.  But feel free to go ahead and donate whatever you can:  any amount, large or small, is a huge help.

    2. Become a monthly donor.  Your regular donation is an enormous support! Again, any amount is greatly appreciated—but that magic number $18 coming in on a monthly basis makes an immense difference in helping us meet our long-term goals.
    3. Share this info with your friends and social networks.
    4. Come take one of our programs yourself:  a two-week permaculture design certificate course or a shorter course in social permaculture—group dynamics and conflict transformation—or Facilitation, or our Sacred Earth Apprenticeship. 

It has indeed been a grim year, but I have also seen so many hopeful things, from people speaking up against injustice to people building thriving gardens amidst the ruins.  Now is not the time to despair, but to plant the seeds of the future we want to live in, and to teach people how to nurture them and help them grow.  With your support, we can do it!

Thank you, and Happy New Year!

Starhawk

What Must We Lose to the Night?

Winter Solstice—

The longest night and shortest day of the year, when the powers of light and warmth seem weakest, and we are immersed in the dark. But in the ancient Goddess traditions, darkness was not something fearful. White, the color of bone, of snow, was the color of death. Black, the color of fertile soil, was connected to the darkness of the womb, to gestation, fertility, possibility and Mystery. 

Mythically, tonight the Great Mother labors to birth the sun and the New Year out of the womb of All Possibility.

Which of the myriad potentials will come to light?  What kind of year will it be?  What child will be born from that womb?

That part depends on us.  We are the midwives.  We must use our human hands to shape history, our human minds to choose what qualities we need and want to bring to birth, our human will to make the choice.

A Ritual for Release & Birthing

Tonight, light a candle. Hold up your hands to its light, and consider, what have you done with them this past year?  What have you built, nurtured, cared for, created?  What choices have you made?

 

If there are choices, or misfortunes, you wish to release, whisper them into the flame and let them go.  Here’s a chant:

“The longest night,

The wheel is turning,

What must you lose to the night?”

And you can name something:

“Fear is lost to the night…

Fear is lost to the night.”

(Or whatever it is you want to release.)

Then hold your hands to the light again. 

What do you want to bring in, to birth for yourself this year, and for your community?  What will you commit to care for and nurture, as a parent cares for an infant?

Call it forth, from the flame, imagine it a star spiraling in a bright galaxy in the womb cauldron of space.  Chant:

“The longest night,

The wheel is turning,

What is born from the night?

_____________ is born from the night…

_____________ is born from the night.”

Hold that star in your hands, and let it shine.  For a song, you can’t do better than that old civil rights song and spiritual:

“This little light of mine,

I’m going to let it shine…

This little light of mine,

I’m going to let it shine,

This little light of mine,

I’m going to let it shine,

Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine!”

Call to the Collective

Collectively, what do we need from this year? For many years, our community has been working to strengthen the power of truth—and indeed this year has been one of many revelations being brought to light. Now, we need that truth to mean something, to be believed and lead to appropriate action. We need justice—not punishment or vengeance, but restorative justice that heals the wounds of wrongdoing and repairs the fabric of community.

So when you feel your own light shining strongly, send a ray of it out to the heart of the world. Feel our rays connecting, fusing at the center, forming a radiant star of justice. See it shine over the nation—picture it lighting the torch in the hands of the statue of liberty!

“The longest night,

The wheel is turning,

Justice is born from the night!

Justice is born from the night!”

(Okay, I know some of you reading this may be in the Southern Hemisphere, celebrating the Summer Solstice, the time when the light reaches its peak and begins to decline. For you all, you may want to tweak this ritual, to consider what you have been nurturing this growing season and what you would like to release back into the Mystery. As the Sun goes into the Dream and the Dark, what do you give to be taken in to gestate, to plant the seeds of the future?)

A blessed Solstice, Happy Hanukah, Merry Christmas, Happy Kwanza, and joyous holiday season to you all!

Starhawk

A Brief Guide to Hexing

A Witch’s Dilemma

When Ronald Reagan got elected, my mother—who was never too happy about my being a Witch—nonetheless kept urging me to hex him. I kept trying to tell her that what you send out returns to you three times over, that there were other ways to work, but she wasn’t buying it. 

“What’s the good of having a daughter who’s a Witch if you won’t hex Reagan!” she lamented. In the end, she got her friends together and they named a pincushion Ronald and stuck pins in it. 

His poll numbers dropped that week.

Now we have someone in high office who makes Reagan look like the soul of compassion and integrity, and from time to time the question comes up among Witches—should we hex him?

To Hex or Not to Hex

Despite what I told my mother, there is good magical precedent for political hexing. Aradia, Goddess of the Italian Witches, was purportedly sent to earth by her mother Diana the moon to teach poor people Witchcraft so they would have some power against their overlords. When outward power is stacked against us, using magic to redress the imbalance seems like a reasonable thing to do.

And personally, it’s always a temptation to hex someone who does you wrong. The lover who dumps you, the boss who makes unreasonable demands, the predatory lawyer—when you wake up fuming in the middle of the night, it’s only human to want to make them not just go away, but hurt like they are hurting you. 

It’s human—but probably not advisable. 

There are other ways to proceed that are less likely to have undesired blowback.

The Rule of Three

To work magic, you must call up in yourself the energies, emotions and forces you are working with. If those energies are destructive, you risk becoming a target of those same forces. Rage, resentment and the lust for revenge do not bring out the best in us, nor do they attract good things to us. Hence the old saying that what you send returns on you, amplified three times over. 

Binding—preventing someone from doing harm—is an alternative to outright hexing. But bindings are notoriously tricky to do.  The reason is that a binding creates an energy stasis, and magical energies naturally want to move. It’s hard to pour out emotion, passion, and energy to achieve a static state.

But sometimes we do need protection, and justice. Those are energies we can safely call on. 

Surrounding yourself or others with protection, asking the help of spirits and deities for those menaced by unjust power, calling on Justice, and her even scarier sister, Consequence, all feed positive forces.

And hexing a thing, as opposed to a person, can be done without so many potential unintended consequences. 

Harpies to the Rescue!

Suppose, for example, that I wanted to stop the Republican tax scam from being made into law. First, I need to decide what magical and spiritual allies to work with. Having recently had a Nyquil-induced dream, during a bad bout of bronchitis, in which I sent Harpies to shred the tax bill, I might work with them. 

Harpies are creatures with women’s faces and bird’s talons. 

In Greek mythology, they carried wrongdoers off to the Erinyes, the Furies, who punished those who offended the natural order—including perjurers.  In even more ancient times, before patriarchy, the Great Goddess herself was often seen in bird form, representing transformation and regeneration. The Harpies may be an example of how one culture’s gods becomes another’s monsters when the original power and meaning is suppressed. 

Harpies may be what we need to shred patriarchy and bring us to a time when we can again experience the egg-bearing Goddess of Renewal.

Crafting A Ceremony for Justice

With the Harpies as my allies, I might choose a time—perhaps Monday night, December 18, the new moon right before the scheduled vote. I might take a big piece of paper or cardboard, write “Republican Tax Bill” on it, create sacred space, ask the Harpies for their help, ring a loud bell and tear it to pieces. 

All the while, I could chant:

“Harpies, harpies, wing and claw,

Only justice becomes law!

Now the warning bell is rung,

Shred the tax bill into dung!”

Then, ringing the bell, I might call on the forces of true integrity, and call the Republicans into the integrity that surely must lie somewhere in the depths of even their souls. I could focus on a few in particular, on call in Integrity in general.  To do so, I’d have to get in touch with my own, and follow up (or precede the spell) by calling or writing my own representatives or those I hope to influence. Then I’d thank my allies, and open the circle.

Am I suggesting we do this?  I plan on it. As for you, that’s up to you—if you feel called to it.  (If you’re reading this long after the fate of the tax bill has been settled, I’m sure there will be other ill-advised pieces of legislation to which this may apply.) 

The spell works by calling forth integrity—so that is the energy it may call into your own life. Of course, that too could have unintended consequences. It may open up opportunities to walk your talk, or new challenges. If you regularly lie, cheat and steal, or act for your own self-interest against your ideals, you may not want to do this spell. 

Image: “Harpy” by Сергей Панасенко-Михалкин CC BY-SA 3.0

Will it work? 

It’s an experiment, carefully crafted so it can’t hurt, and might help to turn the tide.

In our greater Reclaiming community we had much discussion of these issues during and after the last elections. I was originally all for binding Trump, but was persuaded by my friend Oak that doing a binding risks binding us to its object. Instead, we decided to focus on spells and rituals to reinforce the power of truth, to bring the truth out into the light and to help it have impact. We continue to work that magic. 

At our big, Bay Area Spiral Dance ritual this past Samhain, we worked with the Norns, the Nordic fates, to unravel the tangles web of lies and weave a future of justice, balance and compassion.

Truth is definitely coming out—but in a climate where there is so much disinformation and outright lying going on, it’s not always possible to tell what the truth is, or to get people to believe it. 

All I Want for Solstice is… JUSTICE! 

Now, I think, we need Justice—truth made manifest. So for the greater magical work of Solstice itself (Solstice Eve is Wednesday, December 20), when Mother Night labors to bring to birth the New Year, I intend to focus on midwifing more justice into the world, and to extend protection for all who serve the cause of justice.

Hexing or binding out of anger or a thirst for revenge aligns us with negative forces, even if our ultimate intentions are good.  Working with integrity, justice, protection and truth, we draw more of those energies into the world and challenge ourselves to embody them more fully. 

That type of magic is sorely needed in the world right now!

Political spells aside, and regardless of your political opinions and orientation, if you feel drawn to join me in some personal Solstice magic, and collective spiritual work for justice, I am hosting a live, online Winter Solstice Ceremony on Tuesday Dec 19th.
The focus of this ritual will not be this spell-casting, but going into the dark womb of possibility to release our personal wounds from this past year, and draw out our own spark of creativity and potential. Our collective magic will focus on lighting the spark of justice. You can learn more HERE…

The Story We Need to Tell; the Movement We Need to Build

Monster Hurricanes, Raging Wildfires, Massive Floods, Unprecedented Heat Waves…

This disastrous summer has shown that climate change is no longer a theory but a full, galloping reality. Now is the moment to organize around it, and build a movement broader and stronger than ever before.

Great efforts have indeed been made to mobilize people at places like Standing Rock and by organizations such as 350.org.  And yet.. and yet.. somehow even in the aftermath of this disastrous summer it is hard to get the outrage and momentum around this issue that it deserves. It’s as if some spell forces our eyes away as soon as we try to focus on it. 

Why Do We Continue to Look Away?

The spell may be tied into the stories we are telling. In a recent article in the Guardian, environmental writer George Monbiot suggests that to truly address climate meltdown and make the enormous changes called for, we need a new story. 

Both of the major competing mainstream economic visions—Keynesian democracy and neo-liberalism—are telling a meta-story of Restoration: disorder plagues the world, and the hero fights it and restores order. It’s a powerful narrative that runs deeply through Western myths and literature. Trump played on the same underlying archetype: “Make America great!” would be a call for change. “Make America great again!” centers Trump as the hero who can restore our former glory—whatever that is supposed to be.

Our Cultural Stories

Monbiot, along with linguist George Lakoff and many others, point out that people are not motivated by facts, but by stories. Stories give the world shape and meaning, and the stories embedded in our minds (and Lakoff would say, our neural circuitry) shape how we perceive the world.

We have trouble addressing climate change—and deniers find traction in our minds—because to acknowledge climate change contradicts one of our deeply-held cultural stories, the story of Progress:  the promise that thing are getting better and better, for science has finally triumphed over nature, removing us at last from being subject to the dangerous chances and vicissitudes of the natural world. We are “Masters of the Universe,” defying gravity, curing infectious diseases that ravaged our ancestors, carrying in our pockets magic devices that let us communicate across the world.  Soon we may even triumph over death itself, and become like gods.

To admit climate change is real is to admit our own finitude and accept our limitations, to acknowledge that nature ultimately is more powerful than we are, and in the end, we die. What fun is that?

The environmental movement tends to counter the story of Progress with a story of Sin and Retribution. I would like to say Sin and Redemption—but most often the story doesn’t quite get there. It is, in its essence, a narrative that draws on some very reduced elements of a certain take on Christianity: Human beings are essentially flawed. Everything we touch is tainted. We might, through repentance, expiation and sacrifice, be able to make a slight difference, but basically we’re doomed. This narrative dovetails nicely with the Story of Apocalypse—soon our flawed nature will result in the destruction of the world. (And, just to be clear, there are many, many other Christian narratives that center creation, love and compassion.)

Is it any wonder that we have not yet motivated the masses to throng behind the climate change banner? 

The Story as the Solution

A response to climate change calls for enormous changes in our economy, technology, energy systems, food-growing systems and overarching culture, to name a few—and we need energy, excitement, imagination, outrage and optimism to make them. We can’t get there by telling people that the world is better off without them.

And the changes we need to make do not actually require self-abnegation. Here’s the hidden truth that should outrage us: to counter climate change, what we need to do are things that will actually make life better for the vast majority of people.

Climate change doesn’t require us to dress in gray lindsey-wolsey and stand in bread lines waiting for a dollop of gruel—although NOT addressing it may well get us there. It doesn’t ask us to torture little children or spill toxic substances over pristine lands. 

In fact, it’s just the opposite. To deal with climate change, we need to stop with the toxic substances already, and switch to nice clean things; stop burning stuff for energy, and instead use the flows of sunlight and wind and water that shower the world with energy every day. We need to preserve our pristine rain forests and old growth, stop using poisons on our food and rebuild healthy soil, put more people with trained eyes and hands out of the land to restore damaged ecosystems, graze animals on tree-studded pastures instead of torturing them in feedlots, and encourage more local food, local enterprises, local culture and connection. 

We need to eat better, live in healthier and more beautiful albeit smaller homes, spend more time relating to our friends and family, and create vibrant communities. Where, exactly, is the sacrifice? 

 

The sacrifice is simply this: the massive profits of the fossil fuel industry and the few who benefit from them. Yes, there are many changes we’ll need to make in our habits, our consumption, our systems. But those are tradeoffs, not sacrifices.

Yes, we need to consume less stuff, but we actually need to do more of the things that truly make life fulfilling and worthwhile. Everything we need to do to address climate change is exactly what we should be doing even if it weren’t a factor to make the world cleaner, healthier, more vibrant and more just. When we adopt a tone of ‘sacrifice’, we conceal the truth that the people who really have something to lose are those who have gained it at the expense of the rest of the world. 

Re-Framing the Story

A new story needs a new frame. Lakoff describes a ‘frame’ as an overarching metaphorical structure that determines how we see the world. Both Progress and Sin share a common, underlying frame. Nature is something separate from human beings.  Culture and nature exist in separate realms, and humans are separate from the natural world. In one story, we’re capable of controlling nature—in the other, we’re doomed to mess her up. In both, we exist outside of her domain.

A countering frame comes from the worldview of indigenous cultures. 

Granted, there are tens of thousands of indigenous cultures, current and past. I do not want to lump them together and erase their distinctiveness. Yet there is a frame common to many, if not most, indigenous cultures—We are not separate from nature… we are nature, part of an inseparable web of life and relationship. The plants, animals, rivers, stones, and micro-organisms are our family members.

“All my relations”—“aho mitákuye oyás’iŋ,” is how the Lakota say it. 

According to Luisah Teish, author and priestess of Oshun in the African diaspora traditions, the Yoruba frame is that we are all cells in the body of God. 

Like cells, we each have a unique function, and we are all part of a whole. No one of us is charged with being the sole savior of the world, yet we each have a vital role to play in an alive, dynamic and ever-changing world. 

The elders of Standing Rock evoked this frame brilliantly in the campaign against the Dakota Access Pipeline, with their call to action: “M’ni wiconi—water is sacred.  Water is life!” Activists were not called ‘protestors’ but ‘water protectors’.

Inherent in the understanding that we are part of a living earth is honoring the sacred—that the things that sustain our lives, such as water, have a value that supersedes profit or convenience, that they are not to be despoiled but must be cherished and defended.

A Story of Connection

This framework of interconnection and relationship is our common, human heritage. It underlies the beginnings of European and Middle Eastern cultures even as it continues in unbroken lineage today in many parts of the world. The most deplorable, basement-dwelling, video-game and junk food addict is nonetheless descended from skilled trackers and sensitive foragers and able hunters, from people who lived close to the earth and understood our deep interrelationship with all aspects of the living world. Had they not, they would not have survived.

Indigenous mind is not something exotic that European-heritage folks need to appropriate from other cultures.  Europeans, too, have ancestors who lived in close connection to the natural world for tens of thousands of years. But the remnants of Euro-indigeneity, the traditions of magic and nature spirits and herbalism, the understanding of the world as alive, dynamic and infused with consciousness, were attacked and driven underground by the Witch persecutions and the rise of mechanistic science and capitalism in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries**. 

** That’s another long story and I do not have the space to tell it here, but I would refer people to the appendix in my book Dreaming the Dark, as well as Sylvia Federici’s Caliban and the Witch, and David Kubrin’s Marxism and Witchcraft.

In the Time of the Great Meltdown

From the framework of interconnection and interrelationship, we might reframe climate change as not just about carbon numbers, but as massive ecosystem degeneration—which includes human social and political systems. It’s Meltdown Time—and the solution is not just Restoration but regeneration—massive ecosystem regeneration on a global scale, informed and guided by a resurgence of the indigenous.

In the time of the great Meltdown, we must reclaim our ancient understanding of our sacred relationship to the earth and all living beings. Each of us has unique gifts and a unique role to play. We have the knowledge, the skills and the technology we need.

While we face powerful opponents, when we commit to the work of regeneration, we find great allies: the living indigenous cultures who survive today, the ancient teachings and wisdom, the gifts of modern science and technology applied to serve sacred values, boundless creativity and the resilient earth herself with all her creatures.

Together we can regenerate the land and create just and thriving human communities living in sacred relationship with one another and the earth.

Where Water Flows Through the Cracks: A Visit to Aranya Farm, India

Today We Visited the Aranya Farm

It’s a beautiful example of food forests, inter-cropped annuals and biodiversity, a paradise on a plot of land that was a barren crust of thin soil over rock twenty years ago. Now it is rich with mangos, bananas, papayas, soursop, acacia, mulberry, pigeon pea, sorghum, tomatoes and hundreds of other edible and useful trees and plants. Narsanna and Padma Koppula designed it to be an educational center and an example for farmers in the region, so everything is done with a minimum of resources. 

Trees are dry-farmed, without irrigation. They have no electricity and use no fertilizers. 

“I believe permaculture in India has to support local communities and draw on their traditional farming methods and culture,” Narsanna tells us.

 

The Women of Aranya

The highlight of the day is meeting the women from the local community. Dressed in their beautiful, bright saris, they begin by singing a song they have made about permaculture and all it has brought them, all the different grains they grow, the lentils and pulses and vegetables—singing with such joy and glee! 

The Women Tell Us the Story

When Aranya Farm started, most of the villagers were landless laborers. Their diet was mostly rice—vegetables were an unobtainable luxury, and malnutrition was rampant. Narsanna worked with the local community to pressure the government to give them the land that was their legal due. He worked with the women to teach them permaculture farming techniques, and met with the men to encourage them to treat women with respect.

Now They Have Land 

They grow a great variety of food in abundance, and have a full and healthy diet. One of the women, Parama, tells us how she saves seeds and provides them for her neighbors to use. When they have grown enough food for their families’ needs, they have some to sell. They don’t spend money on chemicals or fertilizers—everything they need, they can now provide. And because of their work, they no longer depend on their husbands for food, and the men respect them. 

“Relationships are more equal now,” says the woman in the beautiful pink and green sari, with a wide smile.  “I sweep inside the house, and my husband sweeps outside.  They even help with the children!”

The women are glowing with pride and infectious happiness as they sing us a closing song that they create on the spot. 

 

Land, and the Knowledge and Tools to Make it Productive  

Food. Health. Respect. The things that genuinely make life better are simple, and in improving their own lives, these women also create healthy ecosystems and wildlife habitat, sequester carbon and cool their micro-climate. 

I Wish I Could Stay…

But our day is coming to an end. One last song, that the women make up on the spot. They create songs to teach about permaculture, and for the joy of singing together, and so we end with the rhythm of drums and finger cymbals and joyful voices.

One of our students in our social permaculture track asks me if I feel hopeful. He’s from Kashmir, where hope is hard to find.  I tell him I honestly don’t know. The situation is so dire, and those who hold power are inflicting so much destruction, and exhibit so much callousness and arrogance, that it’s hard to be optimistic. 

 

And yet, the world is rich with men like Narsanna, who uses his education and caste privilege to empower communities, with women like Padma, who teaches and educates and lifts up the women, like these women who have grasped this opportunity not just to farm but to share with others, to teach and train and take leadership. In this permaculture course, leading up to the International Permaculture Conference and Convergence, I am surrounded by people doing really good work.

So Maybe Hopeful Isn’t the Point

Trees can grow in this laterite rock. They sink their roots deep, find the cracks, make the soil that they need. 

We can create a world of empowered villagers and joyful song. 

Just find the cracks in the blocks, split them open, and let the water flow.

Auntie Starhawk’s Sex Advice for Troubled Times

Resist the Patriarchy: Have Good Sex!

All the #metoo posts and continual revelations of what women have always known and experienced about the ubiquity of sexual harassment and assault are tremendously important, empowering and liberating as they blow away the smokescreen that has obscured the truth of women’s lives. 

But in all the ferment that results, I hope we can remember that, while sexual assault is a Bad Thing, sex itself is a Good Thing!

The Bad is the assault part, the harassment, the rapes and quasi-rapes and coercion, the abuses of power—not sex. Sex is good! If we forget that, we sink deeper into the quicksands of life-denying, world-destroying patriarchy.

Life Force is Sexy

By sex I mean any way people come together in any combination that is mutual, consensual, pleasurable and life-affirming. Sex is life-force—whether that life becomes a new being or simply a reason for us older folks to enjoy living.  In earth-based Pagan spirituality, sex is a way of experiencing the Goddess (or any form of the divine you prefer) within—the pulsating, vibrating, untamed passion of life itself. 

That’s really, really different from misusing sex to display power, to humiliate, embarrass, possess or control another. 

We live in a pleasure-denigrating culture, steeped in old religious thought-forms and current economic conditioning that removes value from our embodied experiences of passion, ecstasy and connection in order to control and exploit us. Rape culture underlies patriarchy, and it’s the opposite of a life-embracing, loving and sex-loving culture. 

In our world, sex is also an arena of tremendous vulnerability and wounding. So, how is a sensitive person to proceed? How can we ever connect with potential partners-in-pleasure in a world that sometimes feels like a minefield of opportunities to inadvertently offend or injure someone? What should I do if I’m genuinely attracted to someone and want to pursue the possibilities?

Take Your Old Auntie Starhawk’s Advice

1.  Examine the power relationships

Are you this person’s boss, teacher, elder relation, spiritual leader, caregiver, casting agent, doctor, potential funder, or something like that?  Is there some power differential between you, beyond the variances of privilege that are always with us?  If so, I’m sorry, forget it.  If the attraction is a true one, it can wait until you extricate yourself from the power relationship, until the course is over or one of you moves to a different job.  Until then, there’s no way to have a truly consensual relationship—no matter how many attending physicians sleep with their interns on Grey’s Anatomy!

2. Examine the Situation

Are you both/all awake, conscious and capable of making clear decisions?  As in, not drugged, inebriated, in the midst of a mental health crisis, etc.  If the answer is no, stop and wait.

3.  Use your words  

A lot of sexual attraction proceeds from body language and subtle signals.  I was raised in the ‘50s, when women were taught not to be the aggressors, but to signal our willingness in subtle ways.  And our unwillingness, for that matter—not to slap Uncle Joe’s hand when it strayed to our thigh but to quietly move away and not spoil the party.  That worked great for abusers, not so great for most of us.  Plus men were never taught how to read those signals.  Some intuitively got it right—others read everything short of a sock to the jaw as a sign of attraction.

Happily, in these enlightened days, we are all free to ask directly, and that’s probably a good policy no matter how honed your intuition.  Saying something like:

“I’m feeling very attracted to you—are you interested?”

is not harassment, provided no other power differentials are in operation, and provided the object of your desire is truly free to say ‘no’. 

Talking doesn’t have to be a legal negotiation—it can be romantic and sexy, as in this (I hope, tantalizing) excerpt from my latest novel, City of Refuge, where a priestess of the Temple of Love initiates a former soldier into the mysteries of sacred sexuality:

She smiled back, her eyes teasing again. “Then let’s play a game. I’ll ask you for something, and then you can ask me. Either one of us can say ‘no’ at any time, or ‘yes.’ But I want you to describe in detail everything you want to do to me, and everything you want me to do to you. It will heighten the pleasure. Do you agree?”

“Give it a try.”

“Then ask me for something,” she breathed into his ear. “And say ‘I.’ Always say ‘I.’”

“Can I kiss you again?” he whispered softly.

“Yes.”

Kissing. They had never bothered with such preliminaries in the rec room. But he liked it. His lips touched hers, his daring tongue sought the cave of her mouth, a foretaste of that deeper cave.

After a long moment, she pulled back and in a husky voice asked him, “Will you caress my nipple with your fingers, through my gown?”

They played a duet of request and fulfillment.

“Kiss you one more time? With your eyes open?”

“And now unbutton my gown, if you will, and do the same on my bare flesh … please …”

“And can I touch your ass?”

“And would you now stroke the fringes of the flower …”

The game went on for hours. The sun went down, and Lilith drew him inside, into a candle-lit chamber with a big, soft bed in the middle and mirrors on the walls. River found that the talking and describing slowed their lovemaking to a maddening pace. But then he relaxed into it, and began to enjoy it. He experienced everything twice, once in the describing, once in the doing.

Until finally she asked him, “May I prepare your shaft to enter the chamber?”

“Oh yes!”

She slipped a condom over him, stroking him as she did, and murmuring what sounded like a prayer: “I place this here as a sign of our deepest love and respect for the great powers that generate life. I place this to honor the act we are about to do with reverence and care for one another, for our health and safety. All acts of love and pleasure are my rituals!”

She drew him into her. Their eyes locked.

“Now, no more talking,” she said. “No more need to ask. I am yours. You are mine.”

4. Use protection  

Condoms or other barrier protection if STDs are an issue, birth control if a pregnancy is possible and unwanted.  Incorporate them into sex play if they seem too clinical—you’re an imaginative being and I’m sure you can figure out how.

5.  Bad sex happens  

Even when it’s all consensual, sometimes the fireworks just fizzle.  You don’t share the same tastes or get into the same rhythm.  Sometimes, especially in long relationships, you may respond more out of accommodation than overwhelming passion:  “My partner is eager, I’m frankly more into reading a book and going to sleep, but I enjoy pleasing them and I know I’ll get into it once we start.”  Life is full of ambiguities.  Leave room for them.  Relationships are fraught with imperfections and disappointments,  but we’re humans, and working through those things is how we embrace the wonderful depths and richness of other humans.  For undying, unflagging devotion—get a dog!

6.  The Most Important Thing

Treat your partners with consideration and respect. That’s really what it all comes down to, isn’t it? That goes for how you talk about the incident afterwards as well as what you do and say before and during. You don’t have to pledge undying love or get married. Sex can be many things—the glue that holds together a life-long commitment, or a fleeting interlude of ecstasy, or everything in between. But you do have to honor and respect your partners, speak well of them, keep the boundaries that allow for true intimacy and speak the truths that make for real connection.

Follow these simple guidelines, and maybe we can create a culture that encourages pleasure, joy, and true romance between empowered, lusty, passionate, life-loving beings adoring and pleasing one another in a world where all of life can thrive.

The Magical Battle of This Time

The World Has Gone Bonko.

Devout Christians vote for a self-admitted sexual predator. Climate change revs up hurricanes and whips up wildfires into holocausts—and the deniers in government respond by rolling back programs to mitigate it. 

Having spent the ‘60s and beyond debunking the right-wing assertions that every progressive movement was secretly controlled by the Commie Russians, now we learn that the neo-fascist Russians are mimicking progressive movements online in order to stir up dissension. It’s as if the world has fallen under some evil spell that keeps our eyes riveted on the antics of the Creep in Chief while impotent to do anything about him.

And no one knows any more what to believe.

Through the Lens of Magic

When hard logic fails us, we might gain more clarity by looking at the situation through the lens of magic. Magic—by Dion Fortune’s definition “the art of changing consciousness at will”—in this sense is not waving wands or pulling rabbits out of hats. It’s the heritage of ancient psychologies that admit multiple forms of consciousness—the remnant, in the West, of old indigenous understandings of the world as infused with life, consciousness, presence and underlying patterns.

A magical understanding of the world looks at energies, which we often experience in the form of emotions. If we look at the last few years energetically, 2016 appears to have been one poisonous, roiling mass of toxic smoke. 

Or maybe a plague of dementor-like creatures that spew umbrage and feed on a kind of self-righteous outrage and vitriol coming from both the right and the left, all amplified by social media. 

We now know that the Russians were involved in boosting that signal—but obsessing about conspiracy theories only increases the energetic stench. More important is to learn how to counter it—for that particular energy feeds authoritarianism.

Let me say that again—the energy that comes with obsessing about conspiracy theories, whether they are left or right, wrong or right, only feeds authoritarianism. Stay out of it!

Tools for the Magical Warrior

Audre Lorde said “The Master’s tools will never dismantle the Master’s house.” Magically speaking, you can’t counter an evil with the same energy that created it.

Magical training teaches us to first recognize what state of consciousness we’re in—to look for the energetic/emotional signature of that state. We think in terms of metaphors. So, for example—this riled-up, puffed-up self-righteousness might be perceived as a nasty spell, as a lung-searing smoke, as a particular color or feel in the body or a sound like nails screeching on a blackboard. 

Step 1: Identify

Try it—can you remember a moment when you’ve been caught up in that energy? What did it feel like?  If it were a smell, what would it be? Is there a place in your body you feel it—or does your body tense in certain ways or your breathing change? Is there an inner dialogue that runs through your mind?

Step 2: Name It

Once you’ve identified it, name it. Knowing something’s name gives us power over it. For me, I think I’ll call that state Toxic Righteousness. It’s something like the dementors of Harry Potter—but instead of just spreading despair and hopelessness, Toxic Righteousness riles up that heady mix of anger and self-certainty. It’s a high-energy state, and so it is seductive, because it feels much better than depression or despondence, and it feeds our sense of self-importance. 

You may find a name for it that works better for you. Once you’ve identified and named Toxic Righteousness, the next step is to notice when you slip into it. When you’re reading that inflammatory Facebook post and your blood pressure rises—can you smell a whiff of that stench? Are your shoulders contracting in that way? Is that inner dialogue looping?

Now, when you notice yourself overcome with that energy, you can say:

“Oh no, I’m falling under the spell of Toxic Righteousness again!”

Step 3: Call Forth Allies

Harry Potter learns to counter the dementors by calling forth a patronus—a positive, protective energy formed of memories of things he loves. 

To counter any negative energy, you can’t merely negate it—you need to call forth something different, a positive energetic-emotional state.

So, to create your own version of the patronus, think of a time when you have acted with courage and integrity, when you’ve valued yourself enough to act in service of what you love. Or, if that’s too complicated, think of something or someone you love and care for. 

What happens to your breathing, your body, your inner dialogue?  If that feeling were a color, or a smell, or a sound, a snatch of song or an affirmation, what would it be? 

Give that state a name, or link it to a word or phrase or affirmation. It can be simple, it doesn’t have to be great poetry, and you don’t have to believe it for it to work. But make sure it is framed positively—for again, names have power. If you say “I am immune to the forces of despair”—then despair is still in your mind. Rather, name what you want to call in:  “Strong in my integrity, I radiate love and truth.”

Step 4: Use Your Tools

Use that affirmation, call up the imagery, the smells, the bodily feelings to counter the toxic energies. Before you share that post, or make that late-night call, or send that irate email, stop. 

Call yourself into that positive state. 

For myself, I like to call it a state of honor. Honor is one of the old Pagan virtues—it means acting with integrity and courage, in accordance with our true values. It’s also what is preached by all the mainstream religions. 

Despite that, honor is sorely lacking in the world today—and yet now and again we see it surface, sometimes in unexpected places. When we do, we should welcome it—even when it comes from people whose political beliefs or policies are diametrically opposed to ours—for it is a strong counter to the self-serving callousness and cruelty that Toxic Righteousness evokes.

The Root of Toxic Righteousness

Underlying the appeal of Toxic Righteousness is a great well of hopelessness and despair, rooted in a lack of a sense of self-worth, in which many are sinking. The dominant culture devalues so much of what is best in us, in favor of external markers of success or extraneous features. 

Real honor comes from the choices we make—not from money or position or skin color or who our ancestors were.  Someone whose biggest claim to value is their whiteness is pretty sad and pathetic, really. Pumped-up Toxic Righteousness may seem like a lifebelt when you’re drowning in a sea of depression.

Transmute It

To counter the energy of Toxic Righteousness in others, try to avoid name-calling and condemnation, no matter how deserved. Condemn the acts, but instead try calling the actors back to their own true honor. Not “You’re a vile and worthless piece of shit”, (no matter how well-deserved that assessment might be), but “You are better than this. You are here on earth to make a contribution, and it’s your job to find out what that is. You have gifts to give, and the world needs you to find them and offer them.”

Our culture is falling apart at the seams, leaving us without a moral compass or a standard of behavior. The scary part of this moment is that when society decompensates, authoritarian regimes arise. Scared and confused people easily grasp at anything that promises order. 

The hopeful part of this moment is that when false values fail and a culture based on them comes apart, we have an opportunity to build something new. If enough of us channel that clear wind of integrity, honor and truth, we can dispel the toxic clouds, and make space for the clear light of a new day.

Me too!

Reading all the stories about sexual harassment under the #metoo thread has evoked a lot of memories for me.

I find myself reflecting on how deeply conditioned I was, and other women of my generation were, NOT to speak up.  So I want to share the story of the French Woman on the Train…

I was nineteen.

Traveling around Europe that summer of 1970, some of the time hitchhiking, some of that alone, let’s just say I experienced A Series of Unfortunate Events. I’m still alive to tell the tale, so it could have been worse. But in my proto-feminist consciousness of the time, my attitude was, “Why shouldn’t I do what I want just because men are creepy?”  Nonetheless, I had decided never to hitchhike again, but to go from Barcelona to Paris safely by train.

In the compartment with me were two men, European, fairly young and good-looking. On the seat across sat a young French woman, demurely reading a book.

One of the men sat next to me.

As the train sped northward through the night, he moved closer. His hand brushed my thigh. I moved over. He moved closer. His hand crept up my thigh. I moved further away. He moved closer…

Before long, I found myself sitting on the floor to get away from him.

He switched seats, and sat down next to the young French woman. She continued reading her book. He moved closer. His hand snaked up her thigh.

She picked it up, regarded it calmly for a moment, then took his ring finger and sharply jerked it backwards. I don’t think she actually broke it, but he yelped, swore violently, and moved away.

I looked at her with awe. Why hadn’t I thought of that?

Why was I sitting on the fucking floor?  It wasn’t as if I had considered fighting the guy or confronting the guy and decided not to. I hadn’t stopped myself out of fear. I simply hadn’t thought at all.

Confronting or raising a fuss or fighting back just weren’t even in my universe of possibilities. The creepy guy next to you at the movie theater is breathing hot and heavy—you move away. Who has ever stood up and yelled, “Help—this guy is harassing me!”

Until I saw that woman fight back, it had literally never occurred to me that you could.

That’s the ‘culture’ part of rape culture

—the invisible web of assumptions and expectations that we don’t think about because they have already shaped how we think and respond.  So don’t ask why women didn’t speak out.  Women didn’t speak out because women didn’t speak out.

And now we do.  That is how culture changes.

Lessons from the Fires

“Sacred fire, that shapes this land,

Summer teacher, winter friend.

Protect us as we learn anew,

To work, to heal, to live with you.”

This is the chant we sing each summer as part of the fire protection ritual we do on my land in Western Sonoma County.  As the fires rage, as I worry for our land and ache for our neighbors who have lost homes and even lives, I want to honor fire for the great teacher she is. Those of us who live in places where wildfire is a constant summer threat learn some deep lessons—the very lessons we all need to navigate a world where climate change has intensified the dryness and the winds.

Nature is more powerful than we are.  If you doubt it, look at the pictures of the devastated neighborhoods of Santa Rosa, or for that matter, the flattened towns of the Caribbean or the flooded neighborhoods of Houston.  We are part of nature, but we exist within her constraints, and we ignore them to our peril.

The indigenous people of California understood fire.  They regularly burned the land to keep the underbrush down and reduce pests and diseases.  The fires remained low and relatively cool, the forests open and parklike, perfect habitat for game.  But conditions are so different today, and human settlement so much more dense, we find it hard to apply those lessons.

There are many things we can do to reduce the threat of fire—and we do them! Thinning, grazing, keeping a defensible perimeter around our structures, cleaning up, trimming the grass.  But in the end, in a firestorm like we’ve just seen, none of that may avail.  Nature is more powerful than we are.

Possessions are impermanent.  We may enjoy them, even cherish them, but we cannot be defined by them. In fire country we know that they are on loan. If they go, we will mourn, but we will not be surprised. Lives are more important.

We survive by the grace of our neighbors. Our homes are protected by those brave and honorable folks who join the volunteer fire department. They go through hours and hours of training—which also require long hours of driving, and meetings, and more and more trainings. In fire season they are on call day and night, responding also to medical emergencies, and do their best to save homes and lives without judging. We are dependent on their generosity and courage.

Even more than that, we are dependent on our neighbors’ vigilance, their care of their land, their caution with candles and cigarettes, their alertness to report smoke or the glow of fire. We depend on their help in times of emergency, and their company in times of celebration. 

Anyone who thinks they are entirely self-reliant does not live in fire country. Fire does not discriminate—it will not spare you because of your skin color or your prosperity or your affiliation for power, or even because of your virtue. Loss comes to those that deserve better, and luck comes to the undeserving. 

Hope lies in the good will, the courage, skills and selflessness of your neighbors, and the sheer common sense of strangers to guard their cigarette butts. We are all in this together, and the conditions of life here demand that we recognize that truth and help one another.

If the land goes up in flames, there are many possessions I will miss. I will mourn the loss of structures we have built and money we’ve invested. But the greatest loss—once lives are safe—will be the trees we’ve planted, the food forests, the hedgerows of lavender and rosemary, the hours and hours of work gone into the land. We know, when we plant, that everything we do is on sufferance, yet we plant anyway. In that lies our faith—that there is value in the planting, the work, the vision. 

After destruction comes regeneration. 

Redwoods push out new needles; Doug fir seeds sprout. Bees return, and wildflowers bloom. Fire is the destroyer, but also the great renewer.  What comes after will be different, but it may thrive in a new way.

In an impermanent world, I remain grateful for what I have, for each day when the land remains green, for each drop of rain that falls, for the help and stalwart courage of the firefighters and the devotion of the medics, for the friendship of those that surround me. I remain grateful to fire, our comfort in winter, our harsh teacher in these dry and windy autumn days. Despite the worry, the losses, the fear in these lessons, I am grateful to live in a web of relationships forged by fire.