A Purification Ritual for Vaccine Wellness

Listening with Empathy

I have been trying hard to listen, with compassion and understanding, to my friends who are resistant to getting vaccinated.  My friends are not right-wing conspiracy theorists or Trumpists—they are coming from the wellness community. They are herbalists, anti-capitalists, homesteaders, spiritual people suspicious of mainstream ideology in general and the pharmaceutical-industrial complex in particular, with whom I share many common values and ideals. 

To me, the risk of getting Covid-19, especially the new Delta variant, with its attendant risks of long-term complications and/or death, clearly outweigh the much smaller risks of complications from the vaccine. But what I hear from my friends is not so much a cold calculation of risk assessment, but more of a sense that to accept the vaccine would be to take into their bodies something that would taint them and compromise their loyalty to what they believe in. Maybe you share that sense of taint and impurity, yet also have strong reasons for getting vaccinated? That’s where ritual can help. 

As I meditated on this dilemma, a ritual began to come to me, and it developed in conversations with other friends. It’s partly inspired by the salt water purification ritual I learned from Victor Anderson, my teacher in the Feri tradition. I offer it to you—and also encourage you to change it and adapt it to make it best fit your needs.

A Ritual for Purification

Water and liquids hold memory. Add a crystal—such as salt, and you can charge water: infuse it with a particular sort of energy.  

In Reclaiming—our particular brand of earth-centered Paganism—we often work with a pentacle, a grouping of five related qualities arranged as a five-pointed star, that allows us to meditate on their interconnections.  For example, there’s the Pentacle of Pearl:  Love, Wisdom, Knowledge, Law and Power. 

For this spell, we are using the Pentacle of Vaccine Purification: 

Protection ? Purity ? Wellbeing ? Integrity ? Community

Part 1: Ritual to Prepare for Vaccination

You will need: a medium to large bowl, clean water, salt, a quiet place, crystals or stones (optional)

Find a comfortable, quiet place to perform this ritual in the days before your vaccine appointment. Fill a bowl with clean water. Sit quietly with your bowl of water for a few moments. Add some salt to the water, any kind of salt will do.

Take a moment and let all your fears and concerns about the vaccine and everything related to it rise up. Take a deep inhale, and then exhale to release them into the water. Imagine it becoming cloudy and gray. You are not trying to get rid of those feelings—just to transform the energy that has been locked up in them.

With a clean hand, stir the water counterclockwise, saying:

“Salt and water, inner and outer,

Cast out all that is harmful,”

Now stir clockwise, saying:

“Take in all that is healing and good.

By the powers of all that sustains life,
(here you can add any personal deities, ancestors or spiritual helpers you work with)

Blessed be.”

Now breathe into the water. Imagine infusing it with radiant, healing energy. 

Continue to stir as you meditate on and/or speak aloud the five qualities of Pentacle:

Protection: May I be surrounded in a circle of protection and safety. May this vaccine teach my natural immune system to recognize the virus and respond by protecting me. May it help my natural immune system to stand down when its work is done and not over-react.  

Purity:  May anything that enters my body be transformed into its purest state.

Integrity:  May this vaccine strengthen my integrity and my ability to be an agent of healing and compassion.

Community:  May this vaccine protect my community and contribute to our ability to connect, to support one another and be close to one another.

Well-Being: May this vaccine contribute to my well-being and the well-being of all those I encounter.

Sing, chant, breathe—do whatever works for you to infuse the water with radiance and love.

Now bathe your arm with the water

Select the arm you where you intend the vaccine to be administered. 

Draw this sigil of protection with the water (if you have another symbol that works for you, of course you can use that.)

Reserve your water for parts 2 & 3, don’t discard it. You can store it in a jar on your altar, or sit the water in sunlight, moonlight or starlight, add any crystals you might have. Repeat this ritual as needed to continue charging it.

Part 2: When You Get Your Vaccine

Bathe your arm in your charged water and draw the sigil on your chosen arm before you leave home or in the car outside your vaccination site. 

When they give you the shot, they will rinse the site with alcohol, but that will not undo the magic.  (You could bring a small bottle of the charged water with you, in case for some reason they want to inject you in a different arm.  If so, you can swab the area beforehand or afterwards: the magic will still work.)

You can speak this incantation as they administer the vaccine—aloud, if you wish, or silently if it doesn’t feel right to do it publicly:

“As I am protected, so I will protect.

This I choose in freedom, with honor and respect.”

Screenshot or save this image on your mobile device so you can take it to your vaccine appointment with you, and reference it for part 3.

Part 3: After You Have Received Your Vaccine

Continue to bathe your arm each day and say the incantation for three days, or for as long as you feel any soreness, tiredness or other symptoms. I believe this ritual will help mitigate any side effects, although we won’t be able to do any double-blind trials to prove it!

This Ritual is an Offering. 

You are free to accept it, adapt it, or ignore it. I encourage you to use this if it’s helpful, share it if you feel so inclined, and if you don’t like it, just ignore it!

This is a challenging time, but with creativity and compassion, we can protect ourselves and our communities!

Thanks to Diane Baker and Anne Hill, my coauthors on Circle Round, Jewitch maggid Jonathan Furst, and techo-media-magician Alli Gallixsee for suggestions on crafting this ritual.

Auntie Starhawk’s Etiquette in Troubled Times—for White People

White People Manners 101

I’ve recently posted support for #BlackLivesMatter on social media, and have gotten back a variety of responses, most of them positive, some of them disturbing, many of them expressing the anguish, confusion and doubt many people with white-skin privilege are feeling in this moment.  I hear both “I’m ashamed to be white,”  “What can I do?” and “How do I talk to my black friends?”  And on the other side, I hear, “All lives matter” and “Why must we be divisive?”

I’d like to encourage everyone who is not, in this moment, a member of a targeted community, to fall back on something white folks are supposed to be exemplars of:  good manners.

Imagine you have a friend who has just suffered a terrible loss—maybe a child who has been murdered?  Would you say to them:

“All people suffer losses.”

Or: “Tell me what to wear to the funeral, and what to say, and what dish to bring to the wake?”

Or: “I know just how you feel—my cat died, and I’m so broken-hearted I can hardly function.  Why can’t you see that I’ve been hurt too?” 

Or: “I feel so ashamed and guilty that my life is going so well and will you please affirm what a good person I am and relieve my guilt?” 

Or: “Poor, poor you, your life must be a living hell and this trauma will blight it forever.” 

Or: “I don’t see death and loss, I just see people.”

No, you would not, because you are a kind and sensitive person, I am sure.  So why do kind and sensitive people say these things to their black friends, or post them as responses to the black community at large?

“But Don’t All Lives Matter?!?!”

Let’s look at one example—the response “All lives matter” to “Black lives matter”.

Every communication involves both text—the actual words—and subtext—all the nuances of tone, context, and the frame through which we hear something.  The phrase “black lives matter” is a text.  Those are the words.  The subtext, coming from the black community, is “In a time when black folks are being gunned down by cops on a regular basis, we assert the worth of our lives!  We are human beings, and deserve decent treatment.  Our lives are valuable.”

White people who respond “All lives matter” are hearing a different subtext—maybe “only black lives matter” or “my life doesn’t matter if I’m not black.”

Really?  Is basic human worth a zero-sum game, where if someone else’s life is valued ours must be diminished?  Are we really so insecure, so unsure of our own right to exist, that we must assert it in every moment and every interaction?

Save the Whales

Someone a while back on social media said it really well—when we say “Save the whales” it doesn’t mean “Trash all the other animals.”  It means that the whales are under a special and immediate threat.

So when someone responds “All lives matter” or “I don’t see color” or even “Can’t we all be as one?” the subtext is “I refuse to see the real threats your community is facing.  I am not willing to hear your pain, or acknowledge your reality.”

That may not be the message you intend, but it is the message that others are hearing, and it exacerbates the pain that black folks are feeling.  It reinforces the more brutally conveyed message of the bullet and the boot:  “Black lives don’t matter.”

Good Etiquette Requires That We Don’t Deliberately Say Things That Others Tell Us Will Cause Pain

In the last few weeks, we’ve seen a bound and handcuffed black man murdered in cold blood, in broad daylight, in a crowd, by a cop kneeling on his neck for nine minutes, subjecting him to the gross humiliation, torture, and ultimate death. 

That follows on a young black woman shot by cops in her own home, a black jogger stalked and murdered by white vigilantes, a black birdwatcher threatened with racist accusations by a white belligerent dog-walker in Central Park—and these are just the ones that made the news.  These are just a small selection of the most recent of hundreds of similar targetings. 

All this plays out against a backdrop of a pandemic that is disproportionately killing people of color.

Can we not understand that the black community is in deep grief?  Of course, everybody who has a drop of human compassion flowing in their veins is feeling this, but we don’t all experience the visceral fear that goes with being a target; the immediate, acute grief akin to losing a close family member. Grief encompasses many aspects:  sorrow, fear, helplessness, and exhaustion, and rage, just to name a few.

So What Do You Say to Your Black Friends?

How about, “I’m thinking of you. I care about you. Your life is valuable to me, and to the world. You are a precious, unique human being, and I will do everything I can to make this world safe and just.”

What if you don’t have any black friends? Many white people don’t—not necessarily because of their own prejudices, but because of the many invisible structures that keep us divided. 

Let us take a pause and acknowledge the grief of that—the incredible friendships, creativity, and sheer fun you are missing out on. Then ask, “How would the world have to be different for my circle of friends to be diverse?  What can I do to make it so?”

Etiquette—it’s there to help us navigate situations that are awkward, uncomfortable or painful. It’s hard to imagine a moment that calls for it more than this one. 

Use your manners.  

Work for justice. 

Then we can make a world where there is less grief, more joy, more true connection, more safety, freedom and justice for all.

Starhawk’s Helpful Hints for Happy Holidays in the End Times!

Winter Solstice: The Light Begins to Return 

It’s also the holiday season—a time to enjoy friends, family, and feasting. And yet this year it’s also the time of intense political stress. The Democrats are finally holding the occupant of the White House accountable, more and more corruption is coming to light, and the Republicans are almost certain to acquit him. Meanwhile, the Arctic is melting down, and our window for addressing the devastation of climate change is rapidly closing.

How do we get through these times and stay sane, and energized enough to actually do something about the situation? Below are my helpful hints, drawn from the perspective of magical activism. 

What’s Magical Activism? It’s activism that takes into account the forces working below the surface, those that encourages self-awareness and self-reflection.  It’s not ‘magical thinking’—the term psychologists use for the delusion that just by thinking or saying something is so, I make it so. Instead, it is a much more sophisticated understanding of how mind affects matter.

How To Enjoy the Season When the World Outside Is Frightful

1.  Just Because Things Are Bad, You Don’t Have to Feel Bad All the Time 

We need to be aware of the uncomfortable realities around us, and we need to get angry about corruption, injustice, and cruelty. We should truly be alarmed at the state of the world. But we don’t need to stay mad and afraid every moment of the day and night. Anger and fear are life-force emotions, designed to mobilize us to fight or flight. When we acknowledge them and let them move through us, they can energize us. But when we constantly stay in that aroused state, we burn out.  

So when you find yourself suffused with low-level rage or nail-biting worry, let the emotion flow. Release it by breathing it out, singing it out, whacking pillows, chopping wood—or by doing something about the situation, getting out in the streets, organizing others to get out in the streets, calling up your Representatives and giving them a piece of your mind, whatever works for you.  

And then—it’s okay to feel better, at least for a while. It’s good to enjoy a walk in nature, a dinner with your loved ones, a cuddle with your children.  It’s okay to love those family members whose politics are widely divergent from your own. We need to enjoy the warmth, the comfort and the pleasures of life—they are what will feed and nourish us and keep us capable of making change. And they will give us more energy and ability to respond to those things that scare and anger us.

2.  You Must Sleep! 

No matter how bad the situation is out there, losing sleep over it will only make you sick and less effective. So, if you find yourself tossing and turning in the night, ruminating about what’s happening to the world, think of it as an opportunity to develop the magical ability to direct your own thoughts. 

So That Means…

  • No thinking about politics after 11 pm!  (Unless it really relaxes you to watch those late-night comedians tear the hypocrites apart!)  
  • Provide yourself with soothing bedside reading.  NOT the latest expose of Russian interference in the election, but a nice travelogue, a book on spirituality, a British cozy mystery, whatever gently broadens the mind and relaxes you.
  • Provide yourself with other things to think about. A nice, distracting fantasy (not sexual, as that will generally keep you awake!), preferably about something you don’t actually want to do. If I start planning the menu for the holiday dinner, I’ll rapidly start making a mental to-do list and worrying about it. If I start planning the show-stopper I would bake for the Great British Bake-Off (which I will never be on because a. I’m not British and b. I’m not that great a baker!) I can drift happily off on a scented cloud of cinnamon and sugar.
  • Say a bedtime prayer.  This could be from your childhood religious tradition, or one you create yourself.  But if you always say the same thing before you go to sleep, it entrains your mind and body to feel sleepy when you say the prayer.
  • If you wake up in the middle of the night and start obsessing on something stressful, try this:  Sit or stand up.  Raise your arms above your head in the posture of invocation (physically, holding them up for 90 seconds will lower the rate of cortisol, the stress hormone, in your body.)  Pray to the great forces of love and compassion in the universe, however you conceive of them, to release the negativity that plagues you and bring in forces of healing, compassion and love.  Then think of five things you are grateful for.  (I always end with Ruth Bader Ginsburg—may she live long in radiant health and enjoy a happy retirement, leaving a worthy successor!)

3. Practice Gratitude and Generosity. 

Every day the news treats us to the spectacle of an extremely privileged, powerful man who nonetheless complains constantly about being a victim—and somehow persuades others to go along with it. Don’t be like that! 

Even if you truly are being targeted or attacked, reinforce your sense of strength and resilience by acknowledging the gifts and blessings in your life—and we all have some. Doing so will make you stronger, more able to withstand adversity and more capable of challenging injustice. 

Out of that sense of fullness, you can give to others, whether that’s an act of kindness to a friend, or an act of solidarity and support for someone else who is under attack. Gratitude and generosity help us move out of cycles of resentment and self-pity and restore a sense of our own power and agency.  

So there you have it—Starhawk’s Helpful Hints for Happy Holidays in the End Times! May we all stay sane, sleep well, and emerge from the dark active, engaged and committed to create a world of balance, compassion and justice!

Merry Solstice and Happy Holidays! 


P.s. It’s easy to feel hopeless right now, but there is hope, on many fronts. Climate change represents massive ecosystem degradation—and the cure is regeneration of natural and human systems. We know how to do that, and my non-profit permaculture education organization, Earth Activist Training is doing that right now: we teach the skills and tools of permaculture design with a grounding in spirit and a focus on organizing and activism.

We have a long-term commitment to share the knowledge with the folks
on the front lines of struggle. Our new Regenerative Land Management program is training the Mother Earth’s regeneration team, and working with communities to restore damaged land. Our students are planting trees with schoolchildren, working in inner city school gardens, directing ecological education centers, working to restore native habitat in the countryside and to restore hope, vision and opportunity for impacted youth in our cities.

If you’re looking to give to an organization that will have a big ripple effect, consider a donation to EAT so we can continue providing these tools to those on the front lines!

20 Years Later: How We Really Shut Down the WTO

Originally published in December 1999 in Webs of Power: Notes from the Global Uprising

It’s been two weeks now since the morning when I awoke before dawn to join the blockade that shut down the opening meeting of the WTO.

Since getting out of jail, I’ve been reading the media coverage and trying to make sense out of the divergence between what I know happened and what has been reported.

For once in a political protest, when we chanted “The whole world is watching!” we were telling the truth. I’ve never seen so much media attention on a political action. However, most of what has been written is so inaccurate that I can’t decide if the reporters in question should be charged with conspiracy or simply incompetence.

The reports have pontificated endlessly about a few broken windows, and mostly ignored the Direct Action Network, the group that successfully organized the nonviolent direct action that ultimately involved thousands of people. The true story of what made the action a success is not being told.

What Really Happened

The police, in defending their brutal and stupid mishandling of the situation, have said they were “not prepared for the violence.” In reality, they were unprepared for the nonviolence and the numbers and commitment of the nonviolent activists– even though the blockade was organized in open, public meetings and there was nothing secret about our strategy.

My suspicion is that our model of organization and decision making was so foreign to their picture of what constitutes leadership that they literally could not see what was going on in front of them. When authoritarians think about leadership, the picture in their minds is of one person, usually a guy, or a small group standing up and telling other people what to do. Power is centralized and requires obedience.

In contrast, our model of power was decentralized, and leadership was invested in the group as a whole. People were empowered to make their own decisions, and the centralized structures were for co-ordination, not control. As a result, we had great flexibility and resilience, and many people were inspired to acts of courage they could never have been ordered to do.

Key Aspects of Our Organizing Model

1. Training and Preparation 

In the weeks and days before the bockade, thousands of people were given nonviolence training– a three hour course that combined the history and philosophy of nonviolence with real life practice through role plays in staying calm in tense situations, using nonviolent tactics, responding to brutality, and making decisions together.

Thousands also went through a second-level training in jail preparation, solidarity strategies and tactics and legal aspects. As well, there were first aid trainings, trainings in blockade tactics, street theater, meeting facilitation, and other skills. While many more thousands of people took part in the blockade who had not attended any of these trainings, a nucleus of groups existed who were prepared to face police brutality and who could provide a core of resistance and strength.

In jail, I saw many situations that played out just like the role plays. Activists were able to protect members of their group from being singled out or removed by using tactics introduced in the trainings. The solidarity tactics we had prepared became a real block to the functioning of the system.

2. Common Agreements 

Each participant in the action was asked to agree to the nonviolence guidelines:

  • Refrain from violence, physical or verbal;
  • Do not carry weapons,
  • Don’t bring or use illegal drugs or alcohol,
  • Do not destroy property.

We were asked to agree only for the purpose of the 11/30 action–not to sign on to any of these as a life philosophy, and the group acknowledged that there is much diversity of opinion around some of these guidelines.

3. Affinity Groups, Clusters and Spokescouncils 

The participants in the action were organized into small groups called Affinity Groups. Each group was empowered to make its own decisions around how it would participate in the blockade. There were groups doing street theater, others preparing to lock themselves to structures, groups with banners and giant puppets, others simply prepared to link arms and nonviolently block delegates. Within each group, there were generally some people prepared to risk arrest and others who would be their support people in jail, as well as a first aid person.

Affinity groups were organized into clusters. The area around the Convention Center was broken down into thirteen sections, and affinity groups and clusters committed to hold particular sections. As well, some groups were ‘flying groups’– free to move to wherever they were most needed. All of this was co-ordinated at Spokescouncil meetings, where Affinity Groups each sent a representative who was empowered to speak for the group.

In practice, this form of organization meant that groups could move and react with great flexibility during the blockade. If a call went out for more people at a certain location, an affinity group could assess the numbers holding the line where they were and choose whether or not to move.

When faced with tear gas, pepper spray, rubber bullets and horses, groups and individuals could assess their own ability to withstand the brutality. As a result, blockade lines held in the face of incredible police violence. When one group of people was finally swept away by gas and clubs, another would move in to take their place.

Yet there was also room for those of us in the middle-aged, bad lungs/bad backs affinity group to hold lines in areas that were relatively peaceful, to interact and dialogue with the delegates we turned back, and to support the labor march that brought tens of thousands through the area at midday.

No centralized leader could have co-ordinated the scene in the midst of the chaos, and none was needed– the organic, autonomous organization we had proved far more powerful and effective. No authoritarian figure could have compelled people to hold a blockade line while being tear gassed–but empowered people free to make their own decisions did choose to do that.

4. Consensus Decision Making 

The affinity groups, clusters, spokescouncils and working groups involved with DAN made decisions by consensus– a process that allows every voice to be heard and that stresses respect for minority opinions. Consensus was part of the nonviolence and jail trainings and we made a small attempt to also offer some special training in meeting facilitation.

We did not interpret consensus to mean unanimity. The only mandatory agreement was to act within the nonviolent guidelines. Beyond that, the DAN organizers set a tone that valued autonomy and freedom over conformity, and stressed co-ordination rather than pressure to conform.

So, for example, our jail solidarity strategy involved staying in jail where we could use the pressure of our numbers to protect individuals from being singled out for heavier charges or more brutal treatment. No one was pressured to stay in jail, or made to feel guilty for bailing out before the others. We recognized that each person has their own needs and life situation, and that what was important was to have taken action at whatever level we each could.

Had we pressured people to stay in jail, many would have resisted and felt resentful and misused. Because we didn’t, because people felt empowered, not manipulated, the vast majority decided for themselves to remain in, and many people pushed themselves far beyond the boundaries of what they had expected to do.

5. Vision and Spirit 

The action included art, dance, celebration, song, ritual and magic. It was more than a protest; it was an uprising of a vision of true abundance, a celebration of life and creativity and connection, that remained joyful in the face of brutality and brought alive the creative forces that can truly counter those of injustice and control.

Many people brought the strength of their personal spiritual practice to the action. I saw Buddhists turn away angry delegates with loving kindness. We Witches led rituals before the action and in jail, and called on the elements of nature to sustain us. I was given Reiki when sick, and we celebrated Hanukah with no candles, only the blessings and the story of the struggle for religious freedom.

We found the spirit to sing in our cells, to dance a spiral dance in the holding cell, to laugh at the hundred petty humiliations the jail inflicts, to comfort each other and listen to each other in tense moments, to use our time together to continue teaching and organizing and envisioning the flourishing of this movement. For me, it was one of the most profound spiritual experiences of my life.

Why Share My Experience?

I’m writing this for two reasons. First, I want to give credit to the DAN organizers who did a brilliant and difficult job, who learned and applied the lessons of the last twenty years of nonviolent direct action, and who created a powerful, successful and life-changing action in the face of enormous odds, an action that has changed the global political landscape and radicalized a new generation.

And secondly, because the true story of how this action was organized provides a powerful model that activists can learn from. Seattle was only a beginning. We have before us the task of building a global movement to overthrow corporate control and create a new economy based on fairness and justice, on a sound ecology and a healthy environment, one that protects human rights and serves freedom. We have many campaigns ahead of us, and we deserve to learn the true lessons of our successes. 

Copyright (c) 1999 by Starhawk. All rights reserved. This copyright protects Starhawk’s right to future publication of her work. Nonprofit, activist, and educational groups may circulate this essay (forward it, reprint it, translate it, post it, or reproduce it) for nonprofit uses. Please do not change any part of it without permission. Readers are invited to visit the web site: www.starhawk.org. 

The Amazon Is Burning.

All summer, I’ve been traveling and teaching regenerative approaches to our current environmental and social breakdowns, showing people how we can redesign our way of living to meet our needs while healing the environment around us. It’s been an inspiring but very packed trip, with few days when I haven’t been working or traveling, and no time to write long, reflective pieces.

And meanwhile—the Amazon in burning. Fires rage across Africa and the tundra, and instead of responsible global leadership, we have a collection of white supremacist, misogynist, blustering sociopaths making the situation worse.

Ok… But What Can I Do About It?

Someday I will write the long, thoughtful, reflective post about why that’s no accident, about how racism, misogyny and all their kin isms go together with assaults on the earth.

But for now, I see my students and friends in anguish about what to do at this moment. So I offer this:

What can we do about the planet burning?

Take action! 

1.Get Involved With the Climate Movement

It’s burgeoning, led by the youth who know that they will live through the worst of what’s coming. Support them! 

Do you have friends who are also stressed and angry about the situation? Get together, form an affinity group, and do something!  Choose the level of risk that feels right to you, whether that’s a legal march or a risk-arrest bockade.

There are climate actions planned all over the world for the week of September 20-27.  I’m so thankful I’ll be home in time to join the action in San Francisco on September 25! 

2. Educate Yourself Ecologically

We live in a world of simplistic memes and blanket solutions, but nature doesn’t work that way. She works in complex systems and cycles, not linear cause-and-effect. In permaculture, the single thing we say most often is ‘it depends’.

But here’s the good news—if we think of climate change as massive ecological dysfunction, then the solution is massive ecological repair. And we know how to do that! This is precisely what we teach at Earth Activist Trainings. Join us for an upcoming course!

What we need to do are generally nice things—get off fossil fuels and switch to clean renewables, protect our existing forests, build soil, plant trees, localize production of food and goods, build community.

We absolutely must stop pumping carbon into the atmosphere—and when we do, we stop a hundred other abuses of land and people, from the fouling of Nigerian estuaries to the pollution of Ecuadorian rain forests. We can draw down the excess carbon that is already present—and when we do, we’ll reduce erosion, mitigate droughts and floods, increase soil health and food quality and wildlife habitat. 

Knowing this makes me even more enraged at our current stupidities—because nothing truly stands in the way of a healing, regenerating world except the profit-driven greed of a few—and the ignorance and ill-will they mobilize to support them.

We Are Approaching A Critical Mass of Voices

We need a big, loud, fearless, powerful climate movement to pressure politicians and corporations to do the right thing—or better, to take power away from those who use it irresponsibly. Thank Gaia, we have one growing! And thank the organizers of the Sunrise Movement, Extinction Rebellion, 350.org and all the others who have been building this movement for decades! 

The power of committed and organized people is the only thing that can counter the entrenched power of the oil interests and their political lackeys.

Take Heart, the Earth is Calling You!

The situation is urgent and grim, and it’s natural to have moments of despair and overwhelm. Acknowledge the feelings, let them flow, and then remember that both the earth and human beings are incredibly resilient and creative. 

We were born for this crucial time, to midwife the great transformation, and the earth is calling each of us to bring our unique gifts to make this change.  You are part of her team, and there is something in this struggle that only you can do. When we all step up together, when we ally with the great powers of regeneration, we can and will transform the world.

How Do We Call A Truce in the Gender Wars?

The Storm Cycle

In an earlier post, I made what to me seems like a no-brainer suggestion—that we need a unified movement for gender justice that can span the chasm between trans folks, feminist separatists and everyone in between. Such a movement would be based in solidarity and support for our common, basic human rights—to self-determination, to bodily sovereignty and to be our own moral authority. 

That post generated a storm of outrage—not unexpected as even broaching this topic is likely to piss off everybody. But storms bring the rain that nourishes the land, and without them, everything stagnates, so let me now step even further into the tempest and suggest some of the ways we might begin to build such a movement.  It starts with calling a truce in our intra-movement battles.

Culture Change is Hard!

We are in the midst of a huge, attempted cultural shift in the way we view sex and gender. I was born in 1951. My mother used to tell a story about me, that when I was about two years old, barely able to talk, she was picking up my father’s clothes from the bedroom floor and grumbling about his messiness. I responded: “My fadder is not a mudder. You’re supposed to pick up his clothes.”

That’s how deep gender conditioning goes. At two, I not only had internalized the roles, I’d taken on the job of being a mini-enforcer. And my mother—herself a proto-feminist who chafed against the restrictions of her expected role—nonetheless told this story with great pride.

Shifting culture on this profound level is not easy, or quick, or painless.  It takes immense perseverance, many wild experiments, great audacity and courage, and many mistakes.  So it might make sense for us to practice a few of those values long assigned to women—like caring and compassion, for a start—and call a truce in the sex and gender wars so that we can support one another in the diversity of tools we choose with which to dismantle patriarchy.

How do we do that?  These are my suggestions…

Acknowledge Trauma and Stop the Violence

At the root of much of the pain and outrage is trauma—the constant assaults, low-level and intense, inflicted by a system that enforces narrow gender roles in order to maintain the power of a few men over women, gender-diverse folks and most other men.  So we might do well to stop for a moment, take a deep breath, and remember that the reason we are screaming so loudly at one another is that we are in pain.

When we’re wounded, we lash out. We fight hard to protect ourselves, and every fight can feel like a fight to the death. We often lash out at those nearest to us—not necessarily at those who are actually inflicting the injuries.

So a movement for gender justice must be a movement that acknowledges trauma and seeks and offers means of healing. The personal is political—and healing our own wounds and offering support and care for one another are political acts.

But being traumatized is not an excuse for inflicting trauma on others.  If we are going to make an alliance in the gender wars, we need to stop traumatizing one another. One thing I hear from all sides is “I don’t feel safe.”  We’re not safe—in a world of patriarchy and its condoned violence—and we definitely should not amplify that violence against one another.  That means:

1. No Physical Violence

It shouldn’t have to be said, but it does. Physically attacking people, no matter how strongly you disagree with them, is not okay.

2. End the Verbal Violence and Name-Calling

It’s time to put away the “I punch TERF” signs, the imagery of violence against women even when couched as ‘performance art’ as in the recent exhibit shown at the SF Library. We need trans folks and their allies to speak out against such things, just as we need to retire the ‘men in skirts’ meme and the imagery that dehumanizes trans folks. 

TERF—trans-excluding radical feminist—might have started as a descriptive term but it has become something else altogether. As for calling people ‘nazis’—hey, there are real, bona fide, Aryan-loving Nazis out there, despite how 1930’s that might seem—so let’s reserve that word for them!  Terms that dehumanize people encourage and justify violence against women and all gender-nonconforming folks, and reinforce patriarchy.

3. Don’t reinforce rape culture by using or condoning the use of rape imagery.

Just don’t.

Practice Non-Binary Thinking

Binary thinking is not just about gender. Whenever we fall into the trap of either-or thinking, ‘my way or the highway’, ‘zero tolerance’, ‘with us or against us’ we reinforce a binary view of the world in which people are either good or evil and those traits are seen as fixed and unchangeable. As Audre Lorde said, “The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.” Binary, authoritarian thinking cannot dismantle binary sex-roles or binary, authoritarian structures of power. 

We need a different world-view, one that sees the world as a web of relationships, and sees people as complex, nuanced, imperfect but capable of growth and change.

Accept That People Make Mistakes  

A movement of perfect people would be a very small movement, indeed!  To make deep, overarching changes in culture and power structures we need a broad movement, one made up of imperfect people, as we all are.  We need to find ways to welcome people in, to grow and learn and change together.

Hold Each Other Accountable for What We Do and Say

Don’t label people as something they ‘are’. If you say, “Mabel is a TERF” it implies that “TERF” is a fixed, unchangeable identity, like being a Martian. It obscures the actual views that Mabel might hold, or the acts she might have committed, and actually makes them more difficult to name and challenge. If Mabel holds trans-exclusionary views, or supports oppressive policies, be specific in naming what they are and how they could be changed.

Welcome Conflict, and Learn to Do it Well

Conflict arises whenever people come together and care about something, because we have differing ideas, values, needs and priorities. In the binary, authoritarian world-view, conflict is easily framed as good vs. evil. We have no choice but to fight to defend the good, and eject the evil! 

But our intra-movement conflicts are rarely between completely good and completely evil people or positions—they are more often differences of opinion, of interpretation, of priorities, or needs.  If we engage in respectful dialogue, if we argue passionately for our perspective without dehumanizing our opponents, we actually strengthen our own arguments.  And we model the freedom and openness that a libratory movement must stand for.

Let’s Focus Less on Language and More on Rights  

Language is important, but in progressive movements today it has become almost a fetish—as if by getting the language just right and policing one another to use the proper terms, we could force change to happen. New terms and new linguistic formulations can broaden our minds and give us new ways of thinking—but they can also become markers of who is in the know and who is out. 

The jargon can become a substitute for thinking and mask the lack of true understanding—especially when it comes from academia and cannot be intuitively understood unless someone explains it. There are times when it is extremely useful to talk about ‘cisgendered women’ or ‘female-bodied persons’, but if we are looking to build a broad movement for major social change, there are times we need to just talk about women, and use the language that is commonly understood. 

We can differ on just how we define all of these terms and still stand in solidarity to defend one another’s basic human rights.

From Safety to Solidarity

We can shift from a framework of safety to one of solidarity. Of course we all want to be safe—and especially so if we carry a history of hurt and trauma. We should make sure our movement spaces are free from physical and verbal violence. 

But if we define ‘safety’ as meaning ‘no one will espouse views that might upset someone else’ we actually create unsafety by fostering an atmosphere of mutual policing and thought control. I would love to be able to assure my trans friends or friends of color that no one will inadvertently say something insensitive or use the wrong gender pronoun or commit some subtle microagression in any space for which I’m responsible. But there is no way I can truthfully give that assurance, no way to prevent people from making mistakes. And when I attempt to do so, I actually create the unsafety of silencing that is especially traumatizing to those who have suffered from the censorship of the larger culture.

What I can offer is solidarity. I can say “I will stand with you in this space or any other and defend your rights and your humanity, and ask others to do so.”

Practice Restorative Justice

We need a framework of education, dialogue and restorative justice. Restorative justice moves us out of the frame of revenge and punishment, and instead sees wrongdoing as tearing a rip in the fabric of community. Restorative justice aims to repair that fabric and find a path back into community for the person who has done the harm. 

Offenders can be reintegrated when they take responsibility for their actions, and make amends. No one is discarded. Everyone—even a serious offender—is seen as capable of change.

Institute Fair Evaluation Processes for Accusations

Banning, shunning and de-platforming should not be the go-to solution for resolving conflict or dealing with differences. They are forms of violence. Too often I’ve seen someone shut out of a conference or denied a speaking opportunity because of allegations made on the internet or accusations that some group will not feel ‘safe’ if this person speaks. But an atmosphere of silencing reinforces the trauma suffered by every survivor of sexual abuse, of assault, harassment, of the homophobia and transphobia that have silenced so many for so long. Conferences and institutions need to have fair, transparent and accountable processes for evaluating accusations.

Space to Meet Our Own Needs  

Needs may sometimes seem to conflict, but they do not have to negate one another. Trans women need to feel seen, validated and included. Women-born women, in a political moment when legal abortion is threatened and misogyny is still rampant, need information about their own bodily workings and health. 

We may need some of the tools we developed in the second wave of the feminist movement, from self-health sessions learning to use a speculum to menstrual extraction. In a world that objectifies, sexualizes and ultimately hates the female body, we need to learn to honor and celebrate it. 

Meeting those needs should not be seen as negating transwomen’s identity, but as opening space to honor and value all bodies and challenge the overarching structures of patriarchy that oppress us all.

Build a Broad, Welcoming, Body-Positive, Life-Affirming Movement

Misogyny is like the toxic air we experienced in the Bay Area as fires raged through California—permeating everything, not always detectable but always injurious. While it is specifically the hatred and objectification of the female sex, gender and body it also ultimately denigrates all bodies of any gender. 

It’s part of the frame that separates spirit from nature, and assigns goodness and value to all that is high, light, white, male (but not too fleshily male) and disembodied, while devaluing all that is connected to earth, body, flesh, dark, female, and embodied in the natural world. That overarching frame underlies sexism, racism, homophobia, transphobia and more, as well as our complicity in the destruction of nature’s life-support systems.

To counter it we need a movement that embraces the body—in all its forms, that values bodily pleasure, that celebrates life, health, nature and connection and that understands that human beings exist in a web of complex, dynamic relationships, not a set of fixed categories. 

A true liberation movement is a messy, murky and ever-changing process. It calls for courage, resilience, and compassion. But it feels good to stand together and support each other—just as it feels good to stand in the heart of the storm as the wild winds blow away the smog, and together breathe free.

Note: While I’m sure this will get posted on Facebook, that’s not a place I find productive in engaging in discussion. I encourage people to post comments to my blog. I do try and monitor comments on my own Facebook page, but I don’t have the capacity or the consistent internet access that would let me do it completely effectively. 
I take responsibility for anything in this post, I am not responsible for what other people say about it.

A Unified Movement for Gender Justice

We Live in Extreme Times

In the recent elections of November 2018,  we have seen more women, LGBTQ folks and people of color elected to positions of power. At the same time, we’ve seen an anti-choice judge confirmed to the Supreme Court who threatens women’s right to choose. The Trump administration is attempting to define transgender folks out of existence and mount an assault on their rights. States pass Draconian restrictions on abortion—and all this and more is just in the last few months!

We need a unified movement for gender justice—a movement that sees itself as one facet of an even broader justice movement that also works for racial justice, immigrant justice, religious freedom, and all forms of human rights and self-determination. 

Too often we have seen the movement for trans and nonbinary rights as separate from the movement for women’s rights that arose from the second wave of feminism. That division only serves to reinforce the structures of authoritarian male rule. Our issues are not separate, and our interests are far more common than they are divided. 

A Unified Movement Can Be Built on a Framework of Human Rights

If we see our interests as united, then we can build a unified movement around our basic human rights.

  • The right to self-determination: the right to define for ourselves who we are and how we present ourselves in the world.

  • The right of bodily sovereignty: our human right to determine what happens to our bodies, to have our boundaries respected and our bodily integrity inviolate, and to make our own choices. This right encompasses the right of a pregnant woman to choose whether or not to bear a child, the right of nonbinary folks to redefine what gender means to them and to choose how they live in the world, the right of those who need it to have access to birth control or hormones or surgery, the right to research that might inform decisions about medical interventions of all sorts and the right to make those decisions for oneself, the right of all genders to be free from rape or harassment, and more. All of these are linked, and we need to stand in solidarity with one another to defend them.

  • The right to be our own moral authority: Politics, media and social media pressure us to stake out clear, simple positions and defend them vehemently. But many decisions are complex. Whether or not to have an abortion, whether or what type of medical intervention to seek—so many of the choices we make around issues of sex, gender, biology and identity are actually very deeply personal and intimate, and don’t always fall into easy sound-bites. We have the basic human right to struggle with that complexity ourselves, to choose our own advisers, define our own guiding principles, and be the arbiters of our own conscience.

A Clear Critique of Patriarchy

An understanding of how patriarchy functions would also be key to a unified movement to counter it. Patriarchy reinforces the rule of a few over many by keeping us divided. It enlists men in its service by offering them entitlement to women’s bodies and the bodies and services of all those of lesser power. 

For male supremacy to rule, gender must be strictly binary and divided—men must be manly men and women womanly to keep us insecure, striving to live up to gender ideals. Women are assigned the realm of nurturing, caring, and feeling—a realm which is devalued. Protection, aggression, assertiveness and violence are assigned to men—and overvalued. The strong are revered and the weak despised.

Male supremacy is the twin of white supremacy—they march together and reinforce each other and we cannot defeat one without also challenging the other, along with their brothers and cousins of all sorts of discrimination and economic oppression. 

The women’s movement that arose in the late ‘Sixties and ‘Seventies did the heavy lift of identifying patriarchy and naming the damage it inflicts. Today, younger activists are often challenging the construct of gender altogether, pushing its edges into new and creative places. Both strategies are important ways of challenging the current structure of power, and they do not need to at odds with each other. Each has their own strengths and limitations, and each might be used more effectively if we can build a unified movement for gender justice.

A Framework of Solidarity and Restorative Justice

A unified movement must be built on a framework of mutual solidarity—that we agree to stand together and support one another around these goals. Solidarity does not mean that we agree on everything, or that we like each other, or that we don’t sometimes have grave differences of opinion on serious issues. It means that we agree to support one another on these basic rights, regardless; that we understand we have vital interests in common and opponents who threaten us all. It also means that we seek ways to engage in meaningful dialogue, constructive critique, and mutual education and relationship-building.

What do we do, then, when one of our allies does something we truly find hurtful or offensive? Most often in our movements our immediate response is to demand they be cast out, ejected from community, or silenced. The intention is protective, to make our communities safe, especially for those who have been targets of oppression.  But often the impact is very different—for those responses create a frame of transgression and punishment which is itself authoritarian and binary and often shatters community.

Instead of creating safety, radical spaces come to feel less and less safe when anyone can be cast out. Moreover, history shows us that liberatory movements that take the route of purification and purges become repressive when they gain power, but more often, self-destruct along the way.

Instead, we can adopt a framework of restorative justice, which has been proposed and used successfully as a counter to the deeply unfair and damaging criminal justice system. Restorative justice has the aim of supporting the community as a whole. When someone does harm, they tear the fabric of community. 

Justice aims to mend that rip, not to cast out the offender but to stop the harm, assure accountability, and as far as possible, heal the wounds. Offenders who take responsibility for their actions and make amends are offered a path back into community. 

Trauma and Healing

Speaking out about these issues feels risky.  The level of pain, outrage and sheer vehemence that erupts on social media when these subjects are broached can be hurtful and intimidating.  The intensity is often rooted in the legacy of trauma and pain we carry from living under a supremacist system that condones assault and violation.  Yet when we respond out of unhealed trauma, we may inadvertently cause further pain.  We may lash out at our allies, or attempt to protect ourselves or others by adopting a framework of condemnation, silencing, banishment and punishment that comes from the very system we are fighting. 

A unified movement for gender justice must include awareness of the affects of trauma and offer tools for healing. We need ways to grieve our losses together and support one another’s resilience and strength. For if we allow unhealed pain to drive us apart, we will be less effective in countering the system that generates the trauma. 

In an era of the rise of right-wing neo-fascism and increased assault on all or our communities, we need both the insights that arose from second-wave feminism and the gender challenges and creativity of the third wave. Our movement will be far stronger if we seek for ways to complement and support each other and work together. Our lives and our future are at stake.

Gifts for the Earth

The Earth, She Is Changing…

Just a few weeks ago, Northern California was covered with what felt like the smokes of Mordor. The most destructive fire in California’s history—still not fully contained—continues to burn in the north—and for the second autumn in a row we have endured over a week of smoke and bad air so dangerous that schools were closed and outdoor events cancelled. 

Climate change is already causing devastation and costing lives, and the latest predictions grow increasingly dire.

Don’t Despair, Take Action

It’s easy to feel hopelessness and despair, but there is so much that we can do! 

The non-profit that I co-founded, Earth Activist Training, teaches the skills and insights of resilience that we need to heal our world. We combine the ecological design ethics and principles of permaculture with a grounding in spirit and a focus on organizing and activism. Throughout our courses, we also weave social permaculture—tools for designing and sustaining beneficial human relations.

A Focus on Diversity

One key ecological principle is that diversity brings resilience: in nature, a more diverse ecosystem can better weather a storm or an attack of pests, and bounce back after a disturbance. Earth Activist Training offers Diversity Scholarships for people of color working on environmental and social justice.  In human systems, a diversity of backgrounds and perspectives enriches everybody’s understandings and experience.  Training a diverse student body helps diversify the larger movement, and provide leaders in communities most impacted by environmental and social injustice.

Our students are doing inspiring work—from organizing a permaculture course and garden at Standing Rock, to originating programs to empower young women in Oakland’s inner city.  They’re working with energy-saving programs and planting model gardens in upstate New York, and helping to mitigate the damage of the fires in Northern California. They are doing the work that is our best, long-term hope for redressing climate change and creating a healthier, more just world.

This spring we’ll be launching a longer-term training program in Regenerative Land Management.  It aims to provide the training and experience that will prepare a student to take over managing a piece of land—rural or urban—in ways that regenerate surrounding ecosystems, produce food, assure a livelihood and sequester carbon.  If climate change represents massive, global ecosystem meltdown, the counter is heal landscapes and build thriving communities—and we will train the people who can do it.

We Need Your Help!

Every donation to Earth Activist Training helps us carry on our vital work and launch our exciting new program. If you can make a donation monthly—even a small one—it goes even further by helping us plan and set our long-term priorities.  Every dollar is a long-term investment in the future, helping us train those who can forestall the worst damage and regenerate the land.

Donate HERE 

You can also donate by check to our fiscal sponsor:

Alliance of Community Trainers
1405 Hillmont
Austin Texas 78704 USA
earmark it: EAT Scholarship Fund

3 Ways to Support Earth Activist Training

  1. Make a one-time donation – or make it monthly, annually or quarterly!  
  2. Pass this appeal on to your friends and social networks.
  3. Come take one of our courses!  We have upcoming permaculture design courses and courses in Social Permaculture.

We are so thankful for your support!  It makes our work possible.


With Gratitude,

Starhawk & The Earth Activist Training team

For the Love of Our Ancestors... VOTE!

It’s Election Day

All the campaigning has been done, the ads and speeches and fundraising—nothing left to do but get out the vote! If you can, today, volunteer to make calls, to help people get to the polls, to encourage everyone to be part of this vitally important election.

I voted early, on Halloween, which seemed magically appropriate somehow. This time of year is when we honor the ancestors and the Beloved Dead, with our beautiful Spiral Dance Ritual last weekend, with nearly a thousand people dancing a spiral, with some private time on Halloween itself to remember a dear friend who died this year, and finally with Dia de los Muertos—the huge procession and festival of altars that takes place each year in San Francisco.

Inspired By The Beloved Dead

For so many years I’ve lost count, I’ve been honored to march in the front of the procession and help to call in the directions at each of the corners. For something like two decades, I supported the poet Francisco Alarcon, and I still feel his presence beside me on that night even though he passed a couple of years ago. 


This year I followed the dansantes from the group Coyalxauahqui, who danced in all the directions with such spirit, grace, and amazing stamina. They had been up all night dancing and holding vigil, and I felt in awe of their commitment and strength.


I find the procession so moving—thousands of people lining the streets, thousands walking together, holding candles, different groups drumming and dancing, an incredible diversity of people from every culture and background, all of us united in remembering our beloved dead. The park is filled with altars that people create for their loved ones, filled with color and candles and crowds dancing to African drums and writing notes to the dead to hang on strings or offering their own prayers and songs.



Ancestors, We Call You

As we enter this election day, as so much hate and violence and cruelty swirls around us, I take inspiration from the Day of the Dead, from the peaceful sharing and honoring of cultures, from the simple humanity of people remembering that love does not end with death. 

May this spirit spread over the land, reminding us that in diversity lies resilience and enrichment and joy. May the cruel and uncaring be struck with the urge to stay home and binge-watch House of Cards, may the cheaters and vote-suppressors be confounded, and may a blue wave energize all those who thirst for justice and who stand with the immigrant, with the refugee, with the children, with women, with the gender diverse, with the homeless, with the earth.

The Synagogue Shooting

On Saturday, as we were busy preparing for our 39th Anniversary Spiral Dance to honor our Beloved Dead and celebrate the Witches’ New Year, I heard the news of the synagogue shooting in Pittsburgh. I felt heartsick. I come from a Jewish family, and with all the Witchy stuff I do I am still very connected to my Jewish roots. The victims in Pittsburgh are so familiar to me—they could be my grandmother, my mother, my father, my aunts, my uncles, myself.

For those of us raised in the immediate post-Holocaust era, this blatant anti-Semitism triggers some of our deepest fears. Yet we can take some cold comfort in knowing that we are not alone as targets of hate. A white gunman shot two black people in a supermarket in Louisville just days ago, when he tried and failed to get into a black church. In 2015, white supremacist Dylann Roof killed nine people at the African Episcopal Methodist Church in Charleston. Mosques have been vandalized and bombed and Muslims are targeted repeatedly in racist attacks. Immigrants of all sorts are at risk. Even children have been gunned down in their schoolrooms.

In an atmosphere where hatred and violence are legitimized, no one is safe. When the President dehumanizes one target group after another, when he lends legitimacy to neo-Nazis and blames victims rather than perpetrators, when Fox News and right-wing media repeat his lies, when politicians whip up fear and hatred to inflame their base and when they blatantly suppress the votes of the historically disempowered, they bear responsibility for the violence that results.

We cannot counter hatred with hate. Instead, we need to build a movement of solidarity, where we unite with all those who have been targeted and resist attempts to divide us. We need to stand together–Jews, Muslims, Christians, people of all religions, people of color, immigrants and refugees, women, LGBT folks, gender-diverse folks, and what I truly believe is still the vast majority of white folks and men who believe in justice and equality. All these identities overlap and intersect in multiple ways—all of them contribute to the richness and diversity of our individual identities and our collective culture.

We need to embrace and celebrate that diversity, and build a movement strong enough to counter the fears and lies. Violence will not daunt us, but instead inspire us to reach out, unite, and invite in all all those who long to be agents of healing and justice for this world.