The Goddess Blesses All Forms of Love <3

Beltane Approaches

May Eve, the holiday that celebrates the burgeoning fertility of spring! In ancient times, it was the joyful festival that reveled in wild sensuality. The Maypole, that upthrusting rod, was crowned with a ring of flowers that slid down as the ribbons twined in the dance.

But how do we celebrate sexuality and fertility in a time when everything is so much more complex? 

Heterosexual baby-making is no longer the only standard for what sex should be, thankfully! Today we want to honor gay sex and give thanks for the progress we have made in legalizing gay marriage. We’re loosening the constrictions of gender, pushing its boundaries and expanding its definitions and possibilities. We honor sexuality in its multiplicity of varieties that give pleasure and connection, not just physical fertility.

And we also know that sexuality can be a place of pain and wounding in a world where it is often the arena of abuse and harassment.  

How Do We Celebrate Beltane in the Era of #MeToo?

I suggest we broaden our definition of love. 

Long ago I wrote a children’s story for Beltane, “The Goddess Blesses All Forms of Love.”  It’s in the book Circle Round: Raising Children in Goddess Tradition that I co-wrote with Anne Hill and Diane Baker. 

The story speaks of many kinds of love—not just gay or straight, but the love of friends, the love of parents for their children, the love of friends, the love you might feel for a faithful dog or a beautiful garden, or even for a really good meal. Or for cooking a really good meal and sharing it with friends, or for growing the vegetables, or for feeding the hungry. In the story, each ribbon of the Maypole represents a different color, a different flavor of love.

Even full-on sexual passion comes in many flavors—and not just vanilla or kinky. There’s rip-our-clothes-off-because-we-can’t-wait-another-minute love and there’s languorous-Sunday-morning-in-bed-with-the-New-York-Times love. There’s licking-mangos-in-Tahiti-on-the-beach love and who’s-going-to-pick-the-kids-up-from-Soccer-practice love. 

A New Paradigm of Loving

We live in a culture that obsessively objectifies sex, but doesn’t truly value sensuality, pleasure, the body and the web of life that supports our fleshly existence. We are still immersed in a deep paradigm that locates value somewhere outside the physical world. Where once that meant God and a heaven that superceded the importance of this life, now more and more it means the abstraction of profits on a balance sheet that override the sacredness of earth, water, and life.

So expanding our definition of love can be a radical act. When we love something or someone, we want to cherish and protect them. We don’t stand by to see them desecrated or destroyed. This can be applied to our loved ones, our friends, our pets and to the Earth herself. 

Circle Round to Envision an Expanded Ideal of Love

On Monday, April 30th, I will be facilitating an online Beltane ritual and you are all invited. We will be casting, together, a big love spell. It’s not the “Bring Princ/ess Charming into my life” kind of spell—although it could work for that, but instead it is a spell to expand the boundaries of our vision of love, to honor those things we cherish, and to commit ourselves to work for them, fight for them and care for them.

Meditations on Love

In preparation for Beltane, regardless of whether you will be joining the online ritual or participating in your own solitary celebration, I encourage you to join me in a practice I have taken up lately: select one kind of love to meditate on each day. 

Today I’m going to think about my love for the earth. 

Yesterday I focused on the deep healing abilities of my body. 

Tomorrow—maybe my love of a good story.

I look forward to joining you in circle to cast this Beltane love spell together! All the details and registration are HERE

 

Ten Plagues

For the Israeli snipers, who, behind concrete barricades, shot into an unarmed Palestinian demonstration in Gaza, killing fifteen people and wounding nearly a thousand on the eve of Pesach.

It is said that the God of the enslaved Hebrews visited ten plagues upon their Egyptian overlords in order to compel Pharaoh to set the Hebrews free. At the Seder each year, we spill a drop of wine from our cup as we list each plague, to diminish our joy, for even the suffering of the enemy diminishes us.

But as the echoes of bullets ring in Gaza, as mothers, sisters, friends and children weep, as the martyr posters are pasted on the walls, let us consider the plagues that colonizers visit upon ourselves. Perhaps it is insensitive to even to consider this, as the blood of the colonized pools in the streets. But until we recognize the damage, we can never heal from it, never stop inflicting it and enacting it on others.

  1. Dehumanization

We cannot see the colonized as fully human, for to do so would be to admit that we continually violate our own standards for decent human behavior, that we have become thieves and murderers.

  1. Arrogance

Convinced of our superiority, our worthiness and entitlement, we are not bound by any consideration for others or rules of common human decency.

  1. Separation

We cannot be in relationship with those whose full humanity we cannot admit, and so we miss out on connections with complex, rich, creative and amazing human beings, who might have been our friends.

  1. Fetishing of our victimhood

We are, and always have been, and always will be, the ultimate and only victims. And so we desecrate the legacy of those who truly were victims and weaponize their real suffering.

  1. Self-justification

We have a million reasons why every blow and bullet and restriction is completely justified, why we had to do it, how they made us do it, why we had no choice. And so we voluntarily abandon our own agency.

  1. Group-think

We reinforce one another’s justifications, draw a tight circle around our own and convince one another of our righteousness. And so we lose the ability to see clearly beyond the bounds of our tight circle, and respond to the wider world around us.

  1. Paranoia

Having made the colonized into monsters in our imagination, we become fearful, seeing dangers and enemies everywhere. We become convinced that ‘they hate us’ because deep in our secret hearts, we know we have behaved hatefully.

  1. Cruelty

We cannot empathize with our victims, cannot let ourselves imagine what they must be feeling, and so we become ever more unfeeling and cruel. Cruelty seeps like a caustic acid into every aspect of our lives, eating away compassion, eroding every institution of care, until we become the monsters we fear.

  1. Lies

Lying to ourselves, to one another and the world, we lose our ability to tell truth from falsehood.

  1. Injustice

When we accept injustice, we perpetrate it, and trap ourselves and everyone around us in an unjust world.

This is what empire requires of us, how it warps us under its heavy boot, stomping out our compassion and all that is good in us. It is not the provenance of any one people, it is what we all become when we choose to hold the whip, to commandeer the lands and bodies of another, for it is what the job demands.

Here is my prayer, on this Passover night when we celebrate liberation—that we can liberate ourselves, can put down the lash and sniper’s rifle and the sneer, taste the bitter herb of remorse, let salt tears cleanse our palate and begin our long  journey to the Promised Land, which despite what the texts tell us can never truly be taken by conquest, but must be shared.

Let us not just spill the wine, but commit to drinking the anti-venom, to seeing the full humanity, the beautiful diversity, the challenging complexity of those we have oppressed. Then will our arrogance become humility, our separation become connection, as we free ourselves from our own victimhood, free the energies we have devoted to self-justification and endless reinforcement of our self-righteousness, and truly pursue righteousness. Our inflated fears will fall away, our cruelty turn to compassion, and truth and justice, pillars of smoke and fire, will become our guides.

When truth is acknowledged and justice done, then can the land fulfill its promise, and flow no longer with blood but with the milk of healing and the honey of peace.

 

Can Social Permaculture Change the World?

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”
-Margaret Mead

 

Small Groups Can Indeed Change the World—

—but to do so, they must work together effectively and nourish their relationships. Sadly, there’s a pattern that repeats again and again: a group of people come together excited to do work to change the world or create something that inspires them all. In the beginning, all goes well…

…then conflicts arise.

Sometimes deep divisions and power struggles erupt. Other times, people just quietly fade away. A brilliant idea, an exciting project, a community in which people have invested emotionally and financially withers and dies.

For decades, I’ve worked in small groups, from permaculture guilds to activist organizations to group houses, and experienced plenty of conflicts and breakdowns, as well as wonderful moments of joyful collaboration. I know the negative patterns can be changed. 

If we identify the conditions that allow groups to thrive and flourish, we can consciously design them into our group structures. We can commit to learning and practicing better communication skills and using conflict resolution tools. We can seed our groups in healthy soil, and create movements that are truly inclusive and welcoming to all of us, in the full complexity of who we are. And when we do, all of our important work becomes more effective.

What is Social Permaculture?

“Social Permaculture” is a term that has become more prevalent in the permaculture world to describe all the aspects of people-care and group dynamics that go beyond the garden and the food forest. 

But perhaps I should take a step back and say that “permaculture” is a global movement based on an approach to ecological design with an ethical framework, that takes nature as our model. By understanding the principles of how nature works, we can create systems—whether for food growing, shelter, or social projects—that meet our human needs while regenerating the environment around us. 

Permaculture began with an approach to agriculture that draws on much indigenous wisdom and traditional practices, but puts them together with systems theory and agro-ecology. However, as it has expanded into a worldwide movement of practitioners and teachers, it has grown to encompass the idea of permanent culture.

Culture is inherently social—it encompasses all the ways we connect, communicate, co-create, and clash.  The dominant culture is toxic in so many ways, from underlying structures of oppression such as patriarchy and white supremacy, to its focus on competition and individualism over community. 

But can we actually apply principles of design to changing these structures, both in the social landscape and in the ways we have internalized them? Do the patterns and principles we find in nature have guidance for us in creating social change and building new institutions? 

Social Permaculture as a Solution

These are the questions that social permaculture asks, and to address them we draw from many fields, from psychology to sociology to theories of group dynamics and organizational structure. A social permaculture course might range from exploring how we connect across the barriers of diversity and historical oppression, to how we resolve conflicts in groups, to how we can structure organizations to encourage creativity and collaboration. It is useful for anyone who works in groups: permaculture guilds, activist groups, spiritual groups, co-housing communities, community organizers, friendship groups, even personal relationships.

Our social permaculture courses are interactive, focused on learning skills and tools and practicing them.  We use exercises, games, and projects to bring out patterns of communication, and provide support for self-reflection. We address the larger cultural patterns of racism, sexism, heterosexism, ableism, class divisions and more, in a spirit that asks us to redesign patterns of relationships so that we can connect, share, and celebrate more deeply. 

And we ground our work in a deep, spiritual connection to nature and one another.

Of all the work and teaching I do, social permaculture is perhaps the most vital, because it offers tools to make all of our work more successful and joyful. In these times of chaos and crisis, we need effective groups that can make change. And we need places of support and nurturance that can feed us as we work for a world of justice and resilience.

If this sounds like the kind of solution you’ve been seeking, join Pandora Thomas and I at our Group Leadership and Empowerment Social Permaculture Intensive: April 9-13th in Northern California. 

Becoming An Apprentice to Our Sacred Earth

Ritual is a Basic Human Response to a World of Uncertainty and Intensity 

When we do a ritual around something, it’s a way of saying ‘this is really important’. It’s a process that helps us integrate deep emotional experiences, such as loss. If someone dies, we feel a need to mark their passage, to share grief and comfort with others who have known them. 

I started the Sacred Earth Apprenticeship program, together with Demetra Markis, out of a realization that more and more people were feeling a call to do ritual and bring ceremony into their lives, without necessarily having a religious or ancestral tradition that it was linked to.

 

Building outdoor altars and making new friends at the 2017 Sacred Earth Apprenticeship

 

Ritual also helps us integrate changes in our own lives, such as the passage from childhood into puberty, and to share the deep, transformative joy when good fortune comes into our lives. It reminds us to be grateful, to give back something, if only appreciation. Small, daily rituals, such as blessing our food before we eat, integrate gratitude into our lives so it becomes a habitual state.

Some of us come from religious or spiritual traditions where rituals are handed down for generations. But ritual is also something that we can create to meet our emotional and spiritual needs of this time. In the Reclaiming tradition of earth-based spirituality, in which I work, ritual is seen as an opportunity for creativity. It is participatory, active, multi-voiced, and often ecstatic.

Rituals as an Art Form

Ritual, like its cousins theater and story-telling, involves art: skillful and reflective creativity. Ritual involves the arts—singing, chanting, dancing, language and imagery, and the wonderful thing about ritual is that you don’t need fantastic talent at any of them to create moving and powerful rituals. But you do need an understanding of how energy flows, how to orchestrate, and how to move people emotionally.

When I and other young feminists back in the ‘70s began searching for forms of spirituality that could help empower us and undermine patriarchy, we didn’t have a lot of models. We had our own religious traditions—which often came with a lot of patriarchal baggage. We had the example of indigenous cultures, but for most of us they were not our ancestral traditions and adopting them raised issues of cultural appropriation.

We had our own instincts and training in related fields, from the arts to psychology. And we had trial and error, feedback, and reflection. Often we’d create a ritual one day and critique it afterwards. We still do!

Weaving Together the Sacred and the Practical

Over the decades, we learned some things. For me, the Sacred Earth Apprenticeship is a chance to share those learnings, to weave the skills of ritual-creation together with some of the practical healing skills of herbalism and my dear friend Demetra Markis’ knowledge of Traditional Chinese Medicine, and ground it with actual work with plants and the earth. 

Harvesting Rosemary at the 2017 Sacred Earth Apprenticeship

 

For those who are beginning a journey into a lifetime of spiritual creativity, it’s a great start. For those who have been on the path for a long time, it’s a chance to deepen, to play, and to replenish the well of inspiration.

Storytelling as a Ritual Tool

Folk tales, fairy tales and ballads can be doorways into the mysteries, and often preserve ancient knowledge and teachings encoded in forms that kept them safe from church censorship. Entering deeply into a story is one way to find those hidden truths. 

In this year’s apprenticeship, we’ll be working with the story of Tam Lin, a tale of Faery, and exploring the realms of the Borderlands between the worlds. What is the land behind the land—and what does it mean for us in a time when this land, this earth, is so threatened? Can we find sources of inspiration and regeneration that can help us heal ourselves, our communities and our earth? 

The apprenticeship begins with a five-day intensive, followed by six months of online mentorship and monthly assignments to deepen skills. Afterwards, you will have an opportunity to join us for part 2 in the fall: Tam Lin—Deepening the Magic, which will  be an advanced intensive in magic and herbalism.

If you feel called to deepen your understanding of ritual, of healing, of the art of ritual creation and the mysteries, I hope you’ll join us for this magical journey. 

Building a Welcoming Movement

The Movement We Need

It’s been a year since Trump has been in office, and we have survived–barely–a year of environmental disasters, horrific judicial appointments, Nazis marching in the streets, a rapacious tax bill and lies, lies and lies. Yet that year has also seen some victories: the thousands who turned up at airports to block Trump’s travel ban, the giant marches starting with the Women’s March after his inauguration, the #metoo movement breaking the silence around sexual harassment and assault, and electoral victories in Alabama. 

We can build on those victories in the year to come. But we have a long way to go—and to succeed in mobilizing the backlash to the backlash and turning it into a forelash, we need a strong movement that can bring about deep, systemic change. That movement must be strategic, long-term, and above all, welcoming, to build the broad and diverse coalitions that can bring about real change. 

Only a massive, broad movement can succeed.

That movement exists in incipient form, like a great whale swimming just below the waves that surfaces now and again to blow. But we—and by ‘we’ I mean committed social justice activists of all races, genders, and backgrounds—can do a much better job of expanding it and activating its power.

Calling In, Not Calling Out

The movement at present is often not a welcoming place. Confronting racism, sexism and all the underlying structural oppressions of our system is never easy, and taking a good, hard look at our own privilege is inevitably a painful process. But there’s a harshness in the air now that is more intense than I’ve seen in fifty years of involvement in social justice struggles. 

Well, okay—maybe there were some moments of Maoist crit-self-crit back in the ‘seventies that compare, but there were other places to go. Now social media can spread an attack, or a poisonous atmosphere, around the globe almost instantly. And we can no longer be sure if a blast is genuine or is coming from a paid troll, or even whether that troll is paid by our own government agencies or some foreign power.

As a result, I encounter more and more long-term activists who are stymied with anguish about what to do and how to contribute. And I see new people reluctant to get involved.  When people are afraid to speak freely because they are constantly criticized, they become less bold, less creative, less likely to stay committed over the long haul.

So how do we build a truly welcoming movement, based on ‘calling in’ rather than calling out? 

10 Guiding Principles for Building a Welcoming Movement:

1. Being Part of a Movement Should Feel Good

People have a deep need to belong.  At its best, a movement should be something we want to belong to, and identifying as part of it should feed, nurture, empower, excite, challenge, stimulate and entertain us. 

If activism means a constant state of guilt, anxiety, walking-on-eggshells, and self-flagellation, we’ll lose.  All of that feeds the right-wing. 

We want the woke, at that moment of awakening, to feel a rush of exhilaration, a sense of coming home, of having found our people.  And we need the unwoke, those who have not been activists before, those who may even have been agents of oppression or Trump voters or incapacitated by their own wounds or sunk in addictions, whether to oil, money or opiates, to discover the joy and empowerment that comes with being part of a movement for change, to feel:  “My deepest longing is to be an agent of justice in this world, these are the people who will welcome me to be a part of this grand struggle to transform the world, and who will help me find my role and make my unique contribution.”

2. The Perfect is the Enemy of the Good

Alicia Garza, one of the founders of the Black Lives Matter movement, wrote the following in response to criticism of her decision to join the Women’s March after Trump’s inauguration:

“I decided to challenge myself to be a part of something that isn’t perfect, that doesn’t articulate my values the way that I do and still show up, clear in my commitment, open and vulnerable to people who are new in their activism. I can be critical of white women and, at the same time, seek out and join with women, white and of color, who are awakening to the fact that all lives do not, in fact, matter, without compromising my dignity, my safety and radical politics.”

Let’s admit it: people drawn to activism tend to be—let us say, judgy. That’s why we’re activists—we’ve looked at what’s going on and judged that it sucks.  We have high standards, for ourselves and others. But we need to leave room for nuance, for uncertainty and even for mistakes—especially if we are going to invite in those that have come from different social and political experiences and cultures. 

Garza goes on to ask:

“Can we build a movement of millions with the people who may not grasp our black, queer, feminist, intersectional, anti-capitalist, anti-imperialist ideology but know that we all deserve a better life and who are willing to fight for it and win?”

“Hundreds of thousands of people are trying to figure out what it means to join a movement. If we demonstrate that to be a part of a movement, you must believe that people cannot change, that transformation is not possible, that it’s more important to be right than to be connected and interdependent, we will not win.”

Read the full response by Alicia Garza HERE 

3. A Diverse Movement Finds a Role for Everyone

A movement for justice that succeeds must be a truly diverse movement, composed and predominantly led by those who bear the brunt of oppression. It cannot be a house of privilege, into which we welcome the less-privileged. It must be designed and built and inhabited by all those who are most affected by racism, sexism, homophobia, ageism, ableism, and all forms of discrimination and oppression.  

And yet to succeed, a movement for justice also needs to include those who do hold privilege—as all of us do in some capacity.  If you’re reading this post online, if you can read and speak the English in which it’s written, you have more privilege than millions around the globe. A movement big enough to make the immense transformation we need must include those who may not yet be ‘woke’ to the privilege they carry. We need those who are politically evolved, and those who are naïve, both experienced activists and complete newcomers. 

One of my permaculture students, a smart and dedicated activist, confessed to me that he often questions whether he as a white male has a role in the movement. But a successful movement is like an ecosystem—it has a niche for everyone. 

There are a thousand things a white, cis-gendered, heterosexual male can do, other than run the show:

  • You can show up as a caring, sensitive, considerate friend, ally and yes, when the situation is right, lover—and thereby help to heal some of the ancestral wounding in the world. 
  • You can intervene when other people of privilege behave in an oblivious, brutish or oppressive manner. 
  • You can educate those others and take some of the burden of doing so off of the historically oppressed. 
  • If you’re good at butch sorts of things—like fixing cars or skinning road kill—you can share those skills with patience and understanding to those of us raised without them. 
  • You can change diapers, cuddle small children and amuse them, nurture plants in the garden and become an excellent cook. 
  • You can offer emotional support to other men. 

There are thousands of roles for you—all of them vital and many of them that only you can do. And it’s our responsibility as a movement to convey this message—that everyone has a contribution to make, and that there is room for thousands of unique and varied gifts and talents.

4. Never Beat a Dog For Coming to You

That’s a principle I learned when training our sheepdog that can serve us here:

No matter how long you’ve been bawling out “Rover, come!” while she chases rabbits, don’t whack her when she finally returns, if you want her to ever come again. 

Instead, praise and reward her. 

When someone makes a first step into activism, no matter how long it took them to get there, we’ve got to actively welcome them, to say “How great that you’ve come to the party!”  Not “You’re late—and take those GMO cornchips out of here!”  Or “It’s a measure of your privilege that you are only now coming around to our way of thinking!” Or “You’ve never heard of ___________?!?”

We don’t know why someone might not have yet been involved in activism.  Maybe they were herding sheep, or raising kids, or taking care of their aging mother, or recovering from childhood trauma, or just never quite met the right people.  Maybe the people they did meet turned them off by being snide or judgmental.  Even if they were running a hedge fund or a chemical plant, we need to celebrate the fact that they’ve finally emerged and come out to the streets. 

Moreover, if part of our task in building a broad-based movement is to reach those who have not yet been reached, concerns and ideas of the newly-reached will be a lot more relevant than the perspectives of the long-committed.  If we listen to newcomers, we may gain insights that will help us mobilize those who do not yet agree with us.

Newcomers see with fresh eyes.  Political movements are always in danger of falling into group-think and group-speak.  Someone coming in from the outside will look at things without our unconscious assumptions and make us see things in a different way. 

5. Create Structures and Rituals of Welcome

The most powerful and effective movements I’ve been part of had structures for orientation and training and ways to teach newcomers about the group culture. In the early ‘80s, I was part of a blockade at the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant in Central California. In the lead-up to the action, everyone who wanted to risk arrest was required to take a two-day nonviolence training. The training not only made us aware of our legal rights and potential consequences of the action, it served as an induction into an organizing culture very different from the dominant society. 

We were formed into small groups to take action together and support one another—affinity groups. Decisions about the action were made in affinity groups by consensus—and we were trained in how to do consensus. The political culture that resulted was so powerful that decades later activists all over California were still forming groups based on its principles, and it influenced everything from the Latin-American intervention opposition to Occupy Wall Street. But Occupy took some of the model and left out some key pieces that made it work—among them, training, boundaries, and entry rituals.

More recently, at Standing Rock new arrivals were asked to go through an orientation designed to make people more aware of how to fit into an indigenous-led movement and how to behave respectfully in a very different culture. Nonviolence trainings were again being offered, as well as many other clear ways that people could make a contribution and get involved in the camp.

If an activist setting is modeling a different culture, people need to learn how to enter in, what the expectations and constraints are. Don’t expect them to already know how to behave, because they don’t. Consider how best to teach them.

6. Practice Constructive Critique, and Avoid Shaming 

Constructive critique aims to strengthen relationships, not sever them, to improve the work, not shut it down. It is specific, not global, and about specifically what someone has said or done, not who they are or what you imagine their motives might be.  Not “You’re a racist, sexist pig” but “When you told that joke with the accent, I felt uncomfortable. It seemed to me that you were making fun of immigrants.”

Distinguishing between ‘intent’ and ‘impact’ is often useful. When people feel defensive, their response is often to defend their intent. “I was just feeling warm and affectionate when I hugged you.” If we grant their positive intent, we can avoid fruitless arguments about it, and instead focus on the actual impact. “I’m sure that was your intent, but the impact on me, when you grabbed me without asking, was to make me feel disrespected and angry. There’s a history of men’s entitlement to women’s bodies that comes into play, whether we want it to or not. So if you want to hug me again—and I hope you do–just ask first.”  Or, we can ask about intent, and that might trigger some deeper awareness. “What was your intent in telling that joke?”

A criticism delivered publicly always risks shaming and humiliating the person who receives it.  If we really want someone to hear us and to change, critical feedback is best delivered one on one—ideally in person, next best, by telephone or Skype, worst of all, in written form online when we don’t have the opportunity to sense tone and body language—especially when that critique is made public.  There are times when a public critique is appropriate and necessary, when a mistake or an attack needs to be challenged.  But whenever possible, give criticism in private and in person, or at least warn the person privately that you intend a public challenge.

7. Give Praise and Appreciation Publicly

The corollary to constructive critique is public praise and appreciation. Thanking people for their work, appreciating their contributions, offering gratitude for their efforts is one way we can show that we value one another. Expressions of gratitude also create an atmosphere of care and appreciation. We do a lot of unpaid, unsung work in social movements, and receiving appreciation and thanks is sometimes our only reward.

Praise, to be meaningful, is also specific. “You’re a great facilitator” is nice to hear, but “I really learned something from the way you handled that moment when we were deadlocked, and guided us through,” says much more.

8. Use Language That Speaks to Everybody

Language determines how we understand the world, and shifting our language, learning new words and concepts, can broaden and illuminate our understanding.

But language can also be used in another way, to mark out turf, like dogs pissing on lampposts, to say, ‘this is my territory and you are not part of it.’

Too often, words or concepts that start out as liberatory rapidly become more like markers showing who belongs and who doesn’t. Whenever we use words that people aren’t familiar with or can’t intuitively understand, especially in a way which implies that everyone else knows their meaning, there’s a subtext that says, “You are ignorant and not part of the in-group here.” Language that activists adopt from academics is especially prone to function in this way. 

Language rooted in emotion and sensation speaks to us all on a deeper level than terms of pure abstraction. There are some words such as liberation that people are familiar with and understand, that carry an emotional weight. And there are other words, for example, intersectionality, that no one can intuitively understand without an explanation. 

Intersectionality is a crucial concept, the understanding of how race and class and gender and other aspects of our identities intersect and affect us in different ways, and how analysis of one oppression must be informed by awareness of others. Yet no one would intuit that meaning from the word itself.  So when we use it, or words like it, we must be aware that it carries a potential subtext, always, that says “I’m smarter and more in the know than you are.”

I’m not saying that we shouldn’t use such language.  There are important concepts that sound abstract but may open up new worlds of thinking and understanding. I’m saying that when we use those words, we should be conscious that many people will not understand us if we don’t explain them. Not because those people are stupid, or prejudiced, but because if we broaden the movement to include those who are not already activists, they may not have heard them before.

And remember—words are not your jealous lovers. You don’t have to be faithful to a particular term. There is more than one name of God, and more than one way to describe or explain anything. We don’t need a monotheism of terminology. To really understand a concept, generally you must be able to say it in multiple different ways. 

Whenever possible, use the language of poetry—language rooted in sensual experiences, that speaks to emotion as well as intellect, that frames issues positively, that carries a rhythm and a beauty. Susan Griffin’s work, which sparked the ecofeminist movement, is one powerful example. 

Subcomandante Marcos of the Zapatistas was a poet:  “One no—many yeses ”. 

The indigenous activists at Standing Rock consciously name themselves ‘water protectors’ and their marching cry is clear, beautiful, and positively framed: 

“Water is sacred. Water is life.”

9. Organizing is Educating, and Educating is Organizing

A welcoming movement must be a movement that educates. It’s a truism in activist circles that women shouldn’t have to educate men about sexism, black people shouldn’t have to educate white people, the indigenous should not have to educate the non-indigenous, and indeed, that’s only fair and right. It’s an exhausting burden to constantly have to teach people about things they should know or have learned for themselves, and it’s unfair for that burden to fall on the backs of the already oppressed.

Yet I think now is a moment when we have a great opportunity to educate people—and if we are planning for a long-term, deep transformation of society and politics, education is crucial. 

So, unfair as it is there are many reasons why we should stop telling people, “It’s not my job to educate you—educate yourself!” 

For one thing, many people don’t know how to educate themselves. They’ve been badly educated to begin with—either because they went to ‘bad’ schools where the focus was all on discipline and not on learning, or because they went to ‘good’ schools where the focus was all on competing and passing tests, not on learning how to learn. 

Secondly, if they go off and educate themselves you know they’ll be googling away on the internet and Goddess only knows what they’ll come up with! If we take up the burden of education, we can determine what we want people to learn and how.  Yes, it’s tiring and exhausting and we shouldn’t have to do it, but it’s also a chance to consciously create a new culture, to share understandings, to tell the truth about our own lives and experiences, to open minds and broaden awareness.

Whenever possible, people who hold privilege can shoulder the burden of educating their fellows—provided they can do it with respect and compassion and not as a means of displaying how I’m the Good White Person or I’m the Sensitive Male and You’re Not. 

We can see actions and mobilizations as learning opportunities, and recognize that the education is one aspect of our victory. Back in the ‘80s, in the antinuclear movement, people came ready for arrest and jail by preparing everything from seminars on nuclear issues to talent show acts. When we were all locked up together for days in big warehouses or holding pens, we used the opportunity to organize and teach. 

In the big mobilizations for the global justice movement in the ’00s, people learned skills in working groups, from cooking for large numbers of people to organizing actions and logistics to street medical trainings. Many of them brought those skills to volunteers in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. We did permaculture trainings and installations and magical activism trainings. The mobilizations had double the benefits—they organized powerful resistance to the global institutions of neoliberalism, and they also trained a generation of activists in skills and tools for building a new world.

10. Be Kind

Not necessarily to the oppressors, but at least to your own supporters, friends, co-conspirators and allies. That doesn’t mean to stifle constructive critique, but don’t turn organizing into an episode of Mean Girls. Support people when they are down. Share burdens. Be there for your comrades in jail, in illness or disease or injury or other troubles. 

Understand that kindness, compassion and caring are the cornerstones of the world we want to create, and they take practice. So begin with one another.

This is a terrifying and challenging time, but it is also a great time of opportunity.  If we commit ourselves to valuing the inherent worth in every human being,, to using inclusive language and to educating everyone, we can build a broad-based, welcoming movement that will be an enormous force for positive change.



If you are interested in learning more about how to implement these techniques into practice, and live in or near the SF Bay Area, join us this weekend for the first ever Activating Cultural Emergence Conference
Bringing together insights from nature connection, wilderness awareness, permaculture, earth-based spirituality and group dynamics, this stellar team of Jon Young, Looby McNamara and myself will lead you on a journey through visioning, design tools, and the practice of core routines that we can use to establish healing dynamics for ourselves, our groups and communities. Info and registration HERE

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.