A Spell for the 4th

Happy Fourth of July—or not so happy. This year again we celebrate the birthday of our nation—a nation that espouses beautiful ideals it has yet to live up to—and this year truth, justice, freedom and basic common human decency seem to be slipping away from our grasp.

So—time for magic! In June, I suggested an ongoing spell to begin on Solstice and culminate tonight on the Fourth of July!  A spell to break through the false miasma of illusions, to call us back to caring and connection and courage—a spell that acknowledges our imperfections, as the Liberty Bell itself is cracked, yet calls us to the belief that we can nonetheless become agents of greater justice and healing in this world.

A Spell for Justice Part 2

You can do this spell any way you want—if my suggestions don’t work for you, create your own!  But here’s how I see it working…we use the power in all those patriotic songs, in those firework displays. 

✔ Set up an altar with the Statue of Liberty or the sigil or any image that works for you. 

✔ Sing any song you like—but sing it as a spell, as an affirmation of what can be. 

✔ Believe that we can be, commit yourself to make sure we become Sweet Land of Liberty, O beautiful for spacious skies, a place where freedom can ring! 

✔ Visualize the flame of justice coming out of Liberty’s torch like a laser beam, piercing through the veil of lies and fake news and confusion, bursting the bonds of the psychic Teflon that protects the powerful from the consequences of their callousness, touching hearts and awakening us all to courage and compassion. Imagine each firework, as it bursts in the sky, spreading the magic. 

✔ Recite the charm below:

By the crack in the Liberty Bell,

False attractions now repel!

As fireworks burst to stars so bright,

All are drawn to truth’s great light.

Care for the earth, for every child,

Protect the water, love the wild.

And from the mountains to the sea,

Raise the torch of Liberty,

Ring the bells and heed the call,

Justice, justice now for all!

✔ Then ground the spell by taking some real action in the world to bring about greater justice. You know all the things you can do—do them, and challenge yourself to be a little braver, a little more committed, a little more determined than you might have been otherwise.

If you need more instruction, here’s the original video:

These are hard times—but oh, how good it will feel, does feel, as we turn the tide and join together to create that world of liberty and justice for all!

A Spell for Justice

What is Magic, and When is Political Magic Called For? 

I’ve always liked Dion Fortune’s definition of magic as “the art of changing consciousness at will.”  The ‘art’ part of that is using sensory imagery and symbols that evoke emotion.  The ‘will’ is directed energy and intention. Together they shift consciousness—and while that may be purely internal and psychological, those of us who practice magic believe that that shift can also mobilize greater spiritual forces around us. We swim in an ocean of swirling emotion-thought-energies, and our focused intention can and will shift the tides.

When that ocean is full of toxic currents, when we feel forces moving that go beyond reason, when a poisonous tide of callousness and hate seems to be seeping into every area of life, when we constantly find ourselves asking “how did we get into this weird reality?” That’s the moment to mobilize spiritual forces to cleanse and counter the nastiness.

Magic works best when it is grounded with real, practical actions in the world. So this spell is not meant to substitute for all of those other things we need to do—from contacting our representatives to showing up for demonstrations to organizing campaigns and taking actions. It’s meant to strengthen and reinforce them—and to strengthen and hearten all of us who care for justice.

Working Magic for Justice

Here in brief are the elements of the spell I suggest. We can begin on the Summer Solstice, and let it culminate on the Fourth of July.

1. Create Sacred Space

Do this however works for you, in whatever spiritual or religious tradition you identify with.  For me, it would mean honoring the original peoples of the land I stand on, and asking permission to do this magic, then grounding, casting a circle, and calling in the four sacred elements, plus the fifth, spirit. 

But it could be saying a prayer, or setting up an altar, or, if you are a flagrant atheist who doesn’t believe in any of this (but nonetheless wants to do some magic) you could take a  moment and read an inspirational poem or play a piece of music.

2.  Call In Your Spiritual Allies

Who inspires you?  Whose qualities, experience, energies do you want for this work? Call in your ancestors—of birth or, if you are adopted, you also have a line into your adoptive family’s heritage. Call in those ancestors who were immigrants and refugees, and those who were indigenous to a place and welcomed others.  Are there Goddesses, Gods, orishas, angels, djinn, faeries, other spirits who might be helpful? 

I’m feeling a call to work with the Erinyes, the Furies—ancient Goddesses that predate the Greeks but survived in their pantheon as guardians of justice, punishers of oathbreakers, moral crimes and murderers.  But work with whomever or whatever calls to you.  Or simply with evoking personal qualities—courage, determination, compassion?  Ask for help and guidance.

3.  Meditate on Justice and Raise Energy

Justice is an abstract concept, so to raise magical energy we need to think about how Justice feels, looks, acts—to personify the qualities.  I suggest using the Statue of Liberty, who was originally supposed to be a black woman slave breaking her chains, and whose name is “Mother of Exiles.”  I think of her as our tutelary American deity, a form of the ancient Celtic Brigid, Goddess of fire and water, smithcraft, poetry and healing. 

Many of my friends and I have worked with her for a long time, envisioning her as holding aloft the light of truth.  And here is the poem inscribed on her base:

The New Colussus
By Emma Lazarus

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
OTHER OF EXILES. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.

“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

Remember, we can’t counter a negative energy with the same quality of energy. Or, to quote Audre Lorde’s more poetic framing, “The master’s tools will never demolish the master’s house.” So make sure to stay out of that self-righteous, zero-tolerance state that infuses Republican rhetoric—but also many times infects the left as well. 

Take a breath and humbly acknowledge that each of us makes mistakes, each of us sometimes fails to live up to our own ideals and values.  Focus on holding some compassion for yourself, and broaden that to include compassion for all who are impacted right now by injustice—for the children, for the immigrant and the refugee, for the earth.  Imagine your heart opening with love and care.  Think about how much you care, how much you want a world of balance and justice, how much you want to be an agent of that transformation.  Feel that burning desire, and let your heart send out a stream of fire.  Imagine all those streams converging on the torch of Liberty, to free that imprisoned lightning to strike down injustice and bring home the consequences of their actions to those who perpetrate it.

If you don’t happen to have an image handy, here’s one created by Deborah Oak:

And this is a sigil—a magically charged image—created by Flame Tiferet, Zay and others:

Pour energy into that image—by breathing, visualizing, making sound, singing.  If you do this in a group, singing can raise great power.  Maybe this dates me, but I’m thinking of that old Pete Seeger Song, “If I Had a Hammer…”  Here’s Pete singing it, and this is Peter, Paul and Mary’s version

Or you might repurpose some of those patriotic songs—like God Bless America, the one Trump couldn’t remember the words of. 

To bless is a powerful magical act—it’s a calling-in of those great forces of compassion, love and creativity, and you can substitute any word you like for ‘God’—Goddess bless, we bless, Earth bless, etc.

4. Ring the Liberty Bell

The Liberty Bell has a crack in it—which always makes me think of the Leonard Cohen song:

Give up your perfect offering,

Ring the bells that still can ring,

There is a crack in everything,

That’s how the light gets in.

Which itself refers back to the Kabbalistic myth of the world’s creation—that the vessels which hold the world cracked from the sheer radiance of the light of creation, and it is our job to repair the world—Tikken Olam.

So—ring a bell to send the energy out and seal the spell.  Keep a bell handy when you listen to the news or check your newsfeed, and ring it whenever you hear a lie.

5.  Ground the Energy

Touch the ground, and consciously let any remaining energy go into the earth.

6.  Thanks and Opening

Say thank you to all the allies you’ve called in, and open your sacred space.

7.  Repeat!

Try to do this ritual as many times as possible between Solstice and the Fourth of July. On the Fourth, imagine every exploding firework carries with it this magical lightning. 

Make it Your Own

If any part of this doesn’t work for you—change it into something that does.  You are your own spiritual authority.  If you have additions, questions, new songs or poems to suggest, post them in the comments section.  I will continue to add to this as I can over the next weeks, and to post some more expanded thoughts on how magic works.

Again, this is no substitute for action. Do the spell, then call your representatives, donate to a cause, go out and march for what you believe in, organize, do the next positive thing that presents itself. And for all that is just in this world, get out and VOTE! 

Together we can mobilize great powers of compassion, justice and healing. And in these challenging times, we must! 

The Children Are Counting On Us!

I am horrified and sickened by the Trump administration’s forcible separation of parents from their children at our borders. There is no legal, moral or strategic justification. 

Today I read that the Pope has condemned these actions—and that speaks well of him. I cannot understand why every priest, minister, preacher, rabbi, imam, rinpoche, and spiritual leader in the land isn’t crying out “Foul!” from every pulpit. While many are, where are the voices of those who are so quick to trumpet ‘family values’?

We Pagans have no Pope, no one who officially speaks for the views of our spiritual community. We are each our own spiritual authority. But as someone who has some influence and a measure of leadership in our community, I will say that these actions are utterly abhorrent and contravene the values that we hold—that every human being is a child of the Goddess, that great forces of compassion and creativity infuse the universe, that each one of us holds the potential and responsibility to be their avatar, and that the bond of love and nurturing between parent and child is sacred.

But surely, whether you are Pagan or Christian or Jewish or Muslim or atheist, if there is one moral value that underlies every basic idea of human decency, it is the protection of children. To punish children for their parents’ decisions, to deliberately inflict trauma and suffering on children for any cause is wrong, wrong, wrong—and to try and justify it by quoting the Bible or invoking laws (that don’t actually exist) is truly sickening hypocrisy.

We need to take action to end this abusive policy. Speak out—and encourage your friends to do so. Contact your representatives, join in the many marches and demonstrations being planned. If you can’t show up to a march, you can donate to one of the wonderful charitable organizations who are aiding immigrants and asylum-seekers. AND: don’t forget to get out and VOTE in November this year- and mobilize your friends and family to do the same! 

Know of any actions being planned?  Post them in the Comments below. 

The children are counting on us!

Why Permaculture?

The Dirt On Our Climate Future

The news cycle is so constant, so outrageous and often so distracting that it’s hard to tear our eyes away from the meltdown of our social and political worlds. But there’s another meltdown going on, one that will affect us and all of the planet for generations to come—the meltdown of the earths climatic system and the massive, global ecological degradation that it represents.

From the literal melting of the arctic ice to the massive floods, intensified hurricanes, droughts, devastating fires, and freaky weather of this past year—everything scientists have predicted about climate change is already coming to pass. Yet we spend very little time thinking, strategizing or organizing around it. Trump’s latest tweet or the newest erupting sex scandal claim far more headline space.

Perhaps we avoid climate change because it feels too big, too remote, too hard to have any impact. Yet there are many things we can do—and not just changing our light bulbs.

Real Solutions

If we think of climate change as representing massive ecosystem degradation, then what we need to do to counter it is massive ecosystem regeneration. And the good news is—we know how to do it!  It’s doable—and it has already been done in many places on large scales. Check out John Liu’s documentary, Green Gold, and see how China revitalized the Loess Plateau, an area the size of Belgium. 

Look at how World Vision has regenerated forests on hundreds of thousand of hectares in the Sahel.    

Or visit online some of the inspiring projects of Aranya Permaculture near Hyderabad, India—providing land, food and empowerment with a special focus on women. 

Or the Chikukwa Project, which has successfully revitalized a whole region in Zimbabwe.

Or some of the great work being done with urban agriculture in Detroit

There are many feel-good stories, but they don’t make me complacent. In fact, I’m even madder because I know that farmers can provide abundance for their families and communities while rebuilding soil and sequestering carbon, that we can reforest the desert edge and turn blighted areas of our cities into gardens, that we can regenerate whole ecosystems on a large scale.

Permaculture: Designing Systems of Regeneration

Knowing about these solutions and doing something about them are different things. That’s why I spend so much of my time teaching permaculture—a powerful, integrated system of ecological design that works with nature to provide for our human needs while healing the environment around us.  For me, it’s the practical complement to the earth-based spirituality I practice that honors the sacredness of nature and straws strength and hope from her beauty and diversity.

If you want to know how to take a piece of damaged ground and restore it to health, whether it’s a clear-cut forest or an abandoned city lot, if you want your work to make a positive difference, if you long to contribute to the healing that the earth so desperately needs, you need the understandings, the skills and tool-box that permaculture can provide.  

Maybe you’re a young person who dreams of growing food in the country, or a teacher who wants your students to learn lessons in the garden. 

Maybe you’re looking for your life’s work, or seeking to change careers in mid-life, or wondering what to do with your retirement? 

Permaculture is not just about gardening or homesteading—it’s about designing systems, which include the social, economic and political systems that determine what happens to our farms and lands.  It’s for entrepreneurs, policy makers, and activist citizens who want to know what policies to advocate.  Really, it’s for everybody—it’s the basic, grounded set of skills we all should have learned in school and mostly didn’t, for designing fulfilling lives that make a contribution to the great challenges of our times.

Get Your Hands Dirty

Earth Activist Training, an organization that I co-founded, offers a variety of courses, from two-week permaculture design certificate courses to intensives in social permaculture and a Sacred Earth Apprenticeship.  You can learn more about them and see all of our upcoming courses HERE. If our courses don’t work for you, there are many, many other opportunities to learn these vital tools.

If you happen to be on the east coast of the U.S., I have an upcoming course at the beautiful Rowe Center in Massachusetts in May-June. We have a special discount available for this course for two or more friends/family who register together- save $250 each! More details and registration HERE

If you’re in Western Europe, I will be co-teaching a Permaculture Certificate Program in Switzerland in July.

Yes, the Situation is Dire…

…and the timing urgent, but this is no moment to despair. We can regenerate our human and natural communities, and you have a unique role to play in making the transformation happen. A flourishing, abundant world of beauty and balance is everybody’s birthright. Together we can bring it into being.

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!