Lavender, Avatar, Palestine, Nukes & Other Ramblings

Neta Golan, one of the founders of the International Solidarity Movement, which supports nonviolent resistance in Palestine, is a dear friend whom I no longer get to see, since the Israeli government has barred me from entry.  Fortunately, technology is not constrained by borders, and a few nights ago, while I’m noodling around Facebook I notice that she’s online.  Instantly, we’re chatting and then Skyping.

“What do we talk about first,” Neta asks.  “Gaza?  The movement?  You?  Me?”

I want to tell her about the idyllic last few days I spent up at the ranch in the Cazadero hills.  The sun has come out after the rains, at least for a brief moment.  The hydro is running happily.  The sky is marbled with clouds, with rays of sunlight peeking through and illuminating golden meadows on the hills far away.

And I’ve been planting lavender.  Over a hundred starts of Provence and Super—varieties that are especially high in oil.  Last summer, my neighbor Angie and I distilled some hydrosol from our Spanish lavender, which self-seeds here and grows in abundance.  Eventually, we hope to make essential oils.

There are few things more pleasant to plant than lavender.  The day was perfect—cool and moist, and your hands smell so good afterwards.  Lavender is not a needy plant—it likes dry and rocky soils just fine, needs minimal water.  Deer don’t graze it.  The only plant tougher out here is rosemary, which I have hedges of—big, upright Tuscan rosemary with its deep blue flowers just now beginning to bloom, sprawling prostrate rosemary with its paler blooms.  Most of them I started from cuttings that I took from Jim and Dave years ago, and now they are huge, fragrant bushes, topping the berms on my swales and spreading exuberantly.

Meanwhile, back in Gaza, the Israeli blockade has now stopped fuel from coming in to keep their power plants running, and one of the two has shut down.  Electricity has been cut to about half the population, and since cooking and heating gas is also in short supply, along with food, people are hungry, cold, and in the dark.  Yeah—Gaza is cold in the winter, damp and chill and most people live in concrete-block tenements that suck heat from your bones.

The problem with being a conscious person in this world of huge inequities is that you can never quite shut Gaza, or Haiti, or Darfur out of your awareness.  They cast a shadow over the brightest day.  How do I let myself truly experience the joy of planting lavender on my own land when I know how many homes have been bulldozed, how many lands destroyed?

And yet if I don’t let myself have these moments of joy, I’ll go mad.  I’ll become an obsessed, insufferable burned-out person, utterly ineffective in the struggle.  Well, I suppose there are those who would say I’m already obsessed and insufferable—but at least I’m not burned out!

We start to talk about strategies.  The nonviolent resistance in the West Bank is strong and alive—but how do we make it more visible to the rest of the world?

In Bil’in, where villagers and supporters mount a weekly demonstration against the wall, the protestors have decided to dress up as the Na’vi—the blue people from the movie Avatar.  You can see a video of the protest, and the barrage of tear gas that the Israeli soldiers fire back at the villagers, at: (the original link has now been removed)

I’m amazed at the resilience and creativity of the protesters.  After five years of continuous protests against the wall, the villagers of Bil’in, Nil’in and all the sister villages of the West Bank would certainly have reason to give up in despair.  But they remain both steadfast and imaginative.  This is a quality I’ve noticed among activists everywhere:  no matter how grim the situation, as long as there is something you can do, you stay optimistic and cheerful, at least sometimes.

And after five years, Bil’in has something to celebrate:  the Israeli military is finally moving the wall, which confiscated sixty per cent of the villages farmland.  Ordered years ago to move the route of the wall by the Israeli courts, the government has been slow in complying.  But at last the village will get back thirty per cent of its land.  In Palestine, that’s a victory.

James Cameron doesn’t know it, but he and I have a relationship.  Back when his last blockbuster movie, The Titanic, came out, I was in Israel (this was before I became an activist for Palestinian justice, so I could still go there) and I dragged a couple of reluctant friends out to see it with me.  I wanted to see it on the big screen, and I was afraid it would be gone by the time I got back home from a long trip.  It colored the visit for me.  I was doing workshops on the Goddess and earth based spirituality, and I began to feel like one of those musicians on the deck, fiddling away while the lifeboats are lowered and the ship sinks.  When the trip was done, I said, “I can’t do this any more.  If I come back, I need to face the real issues going on here.  I need to see what’s happening in Palestine.”  And I didn’t return until I came back in 2002 to work with the International Solidarity Movement—and that’s another story.

Avatar has been criticized both by the right and the left—the right don’t like its anti-corporate politics and the left find it a too-simplistic story about white guilt.

While white guilt is certainly a step beyond white callousness and greed, it still keeps the focus, the locus of Self, on the white character, while the indigenous folks remain the Other.

The fact that you can make that criticism of Avatar is a kind of back-handed tribute to how vividly Cameron created his imaginary indigenous culture.  And yeah, the white guy—albeit a disabled, wounded hero white guy—does end up riding the biggest bird in the sky and leading the charge—although in the end, it’s the blue-skinned woman who kills the enemy and saves the day.   But I think Avatar is a good thing.  Not just because it’s one of the most powerful, beautiful, evocations of the Goddess ever shown on the silver screen, but, like, politically a Good Thing.  Here’s why:

Fast forward a week or so (oh how hard it is to keep up with this blog!)  I’m sitting in an old church school in Chimayo, New Mexico, at a training/planning session for a group called Think Outside the Bomb,, a youth-based, antinuclear network of amazingly smart young people who are planning an encampment and action at Los Alamos, where Obama is supporting the construction of a new plutonium pit and a major expansion of nuclear research capabilities.  We listen to Gilbert Sanchez, former governor of the Tewa tribe and director of the Tribal Environmental Watch Alliance describe how the bomb tests at Los Alamos have contaminated the sacred sites of his people.

Kathy Sanchez, head of Tewa Women United, gives a presentation on working cross-culturally.  As she describes the cancers, the poisoned wells, the levels of historical trauma her people carry, suddenly she turns and smiles.

“Have you seen Avatar?” she says.

George Lakoff, in his book The Political Mind, makes the case that metaphors create actual neural links in our minds, and those links frame the way we see events.  We build a Los Alamos, bomb Hiroshima, contaminate groundwater with tritium, bulldoze a Palestinian neighborhood because we’ve framed reality in such a way that we think we’re doing something necessary and good.  We literally don’t have the links to grasp the level of damage and unspeakable pain.

What makes those links?  Sensory images, joined to strong emotion.  Every Witch knows that’s how we cast a spell.  Every activist knows that’s one reason why we create a dramatic crisis of action to shine a spotlight on a wrong.  “A week ago, no one knew what the WTO was,” Tom Hayden said in the midst of the blockade in Seattle in 1999 that shut the meeting down.  “Now, they still don’t know what it is, but they know it means tear gas.”

A movie can do that, too.  Movies, it is said, are collective dreams.

“The first thing people usually ask me,” Gilbert says to us, “is ‘Why don’t you just move?’”

I don’t think people who’ve seen Avatar will be quite so quick to ask that question.  Avatar is a kind of remedial white mind repair, making the necessary links—home, tree, connection, mother, ancestors, souls, color, beauty, soaring flight—poised against the bulldozers, the hard-edged military man/machine, the gray, dead destruction.  Which side are you on?

Can a movie change the world?  Those of us who make movies, or art, or write believe that we can—on odd-numbered days.  On even-numbered days we acknowledge that we’re probably delusional.  Sometimes I don’t write, because it’s an activity that seems so self-reflective, self-indulgent, narcissistic.  I can only write from myself, my own dreams.  On those odd days when I do, I write in the simple faith that if I am honest about myself, my own dreams may twine themselves around yours and link us in a truth that goes deeper than skin.

But this post isn’t really about art, or writing, or Avatar. It’s about what Avatar is about: what’s happening not on Pandora but here on earth, every day.  How do we live in a world of such horrific injustice?  What do we do with white guilt, or lavender guilt, or blue/brown/black guilt for that matter, the survivor guilt of merely being alive when so many are dead?

We can say, “I didn’t sign on for this,” and join the struggle for justice.

Avatar promises that when we join that struggle, we become linked to something much greater than ourselves, a web of love and common purpose that can help us withstand hardship and find great courage.

As Abdallah Abu Rahmeh, Palestinian human rights activist jailed for his beliefs by the Israelis, writes from prison:

“It is the support that I receive from my family and friends that helps me go on. I am grateful to the Palestinian leaders who have contacted my family, the diplomats from the European Union and to the Israeli activists who have expressed their support by attending my hearings. The relationship we have built together with the activists has gone beyond the definition of colleague or friend, we are brothers and sisters in this struggle. You are an unrelenting source of inspiration and solidarity. You have stood with us during demonstrations and court hearings, and during our happiest and most painful occasions. Being in prison has shown me how many true friends I have, I am so grateful to all of you.”

I’m told that there are online support groups for those who can’t bear the thought that Avatar’s mythical planet Pandora doesn’t exist.  But Pandora is real.  Pandora is here on earth, in Bil’in, in Los Alamos, in a thousand places and struggles.  Link in, and open your eyes.  You’ll see a new world—or better yet, help to make one.

15 comments to Lavender, Avatar, Palestine, Nukes & Other Ramblings

  • […] You’ll see a new world—or better yet, help to make one. SOURCE:  Starhawk’s Blog Dirt Worship Posted by admin, in […]

  • I’m so thrilled to have found your blog–I’ve read most of your books and have loved them for many, many years. Thank you for writing them.

    I felt the same way about Avatar: I see the problems that others see with the movie’s plot and focus, but at the same time, this is what is happening, and if only more of us would join in that struggle it might not be so bleak. I found parts of it difficult to watch, knowing that real people are dying on this earth to feed our insatiable first-world demand for resources.

    It’s a fine line to walk. WAnting to keep the focus where it belongs, on the indigenous populations and their capacity for leadership and the solutions they’re quite capable of providing by themselves, while still wanting to give the message that us privileged westerners still need to get off our butts and do something.

  • WEBmadman

    I appreciate your perspective on this, your points, as usual are well nuanced and personal, but I have another layer of critique with Avatar that I’m curious what your response to would be:

    I have become increasingly suspicious of centralized media presenting messages that I agree with, but then becoming associated with those messages. Taking a good message, wrapping it around a consumer product and thereby undermining (co-opting) the message itself.

    It’s my perspective that localized cultural production is as important as localized food production- sharing is great (networking with the larger world, but from a point of localized autonomy to as great an extent as possible), but dependence (in the dysfunctional co-dependent way we’ve become) is problematic. I feel that the hollywood “star power” creates an unhealthy relationship between the stars and the audience by creating a false intimacy based on commodification rather than genuine emotional exchange- IMO, anyway.

    So, with Avatar, I think the message is generally a good one (white guilt issues not withstanding), but am quite skeptical of the messenger.

  • Star, I was so happy to see this, and not only because I too love Neta and can’t see her – I am thinking a lot these days about the two themes you twine: how to build a movement and the role of popular culture in changing consciousness. I love how you show that even Titanic can play that role, if you’re in the right space. I think if we want to make a change, we are going to have to do it through popular culture such as Avatar. When I saw it, I was kind of disgusted, but I also felt like if people get the anti-corporate, earth-positive, anti-war message, then it doesn’t matter what people like me think. I mean, we’re not really the target audience. The problem seems to be that one, the explicit message is pretty muted and a lot of viewers just pass right over it while being lulled by the visuals, and two – more importantly, it doesn’t challenge the presumption that the empire can only be defeated by clever use of weapons and planes. Some friends were saying the other night that they thought the point was that only someone from the world of the destroyers would know how to defeat them. So that suggests, to paraphrase Audre Lorde, that ONLY the master’s tools can destroy the master’s house. So where does that leave those of us who are trying to carve a new way through the morass?

  • View: Full | Compact
    More thoughts on Avatar…

    Someone to whom I posted the Pope’s response to Avatar said:

    “Some of my pagan/Druid friends objected to ‘Avatar’ because it continued, in their opinion, the white-centrist savior concept. White superman savior leads and saves the naive childlike (infer less intelligent) natives from destruction (they can’t do it on their own).”

    This rather odd and misguided interpretation of the movie seems to be getting quite a bit of circulation lately. Personally, I think it is a subtle right-wing plot to attempt to discredit the message of the movie with liberals and progressives.

    But I think it’s crap. The hero’s race was irrelevant; he could have just as easily been black, Asian, Hispanic, or anything. That wasn’t the point. The point was that he was human, and came out of the very culture that was intent on destroying the natives; but after spending time among them, he switched allegiance. That is only significant if he had started off far removed from them in the first place—which he so clearly did. Thus his education and transformation becomes that of the audience. Which is the whole intent of the movie, according to Cameron.

    I think the reason that so many stories like this involve white men “going native” is simply that they’re in fact representative of the culture of oppression—the implication being that even they might become enlightened if they could only experience first-hand the traditional cultures their own culture so despises. And the actual history of colonialism—especially British—is replete with real examples of this sort of thing. The “savior” is not the white guy, but the indigenous culture he comes to appreciate. And thus, so does the audience.

    As a Pagan, I am always delighted to see such beautiful depictions of the values I hold dear reaching into the hearts and minds of wider audiences. I believe that such stories are our best hope for transforming humanity and saving the world. After all, Pandora is only a fictional world in a movie. But our own Earth is real, and we live here. And the plotline of Avatar is but a thinly-veiled allegory for the history of imperial colonialism and its brutal oppression and exploitation of indigenous peoples—which is all too real. But the movie—like the Pagan renaissance now in progress—also holds out hope for a future resolution and cultural transformation. And this hope is what we’re counting on…

    And incidentally, those traditional peoples who have seen Avatar seem to love it! “Bolivia’s first indigenous president, Evo Morales, has praised ‘Avatar’ for what he calls its message of saving the environment from exploitation.”


  • Lindy

    I want to thank you for the way in which you (both Starhawk and Oberon) described Avatar. I did not think I wanted to see it – thought it was just a geek techno flick. Education and enlightenment does wonders :-D. I am now quite anxious to see it and will order it through Netflix. We live in a very rural area and seldom get to a movie theater. In fact, our ancient big box TV is used only for Netflix since TV signals do not reach out here in the AZ Outback:).

    Lindy in the Sonoran Desert

    • Yeah, when I’m in the country I also don’t get TV–but lately we’ve had high speed internet. But not enough bandwidth to download movies. I’ve appreciated peoples’ thoughtful comments on the film! If you can get to see it in a movie theater, it’s well worth viewing on the big screen.

  • Elizabeth Ross

    Interesting bit about the neural links. I tried to read Lakoff’s book . . . maybe I’ll try again.

  • Thank you for sharing through your writing. I deeply enjoy reading. This line really stood out to me, “And yet if I don’t let myself have these moments of joy, I’ll go mad. I’ll become an obsessed, insufferable burned-out person, utterly ineffective in the struggle.” I feel that as I stand in solidarity with the Palestinians you write about here, who are struggling for justice. I’ve learned a lot about health and about peace of mind in the midst of ugly racism and occupation. I’ve learned most of that from the strong people that I attempt to support.

  • Thank you for stirring minds and stimulating thoughts about the power of movies to change the world. Yes! Yes! Yes! Movies change the world each and every day. They are powerfully influential. They affect our thoughts, attitudes, beliefs and decisions. We might not be consciously aware of it and see them as only entertainment, but the entities that are behind these movies are totally aware of the power they wield. Sadly, most of them use it to keep us small and frightened.

    And then there are films like “Sacred Earth” by Jan Nickman that has viewers writing in with stories of healing after viewing it. I represent the film and am constantly amazed at the affect it has. I also jumped for joy when Avatar came out and cried many times while watching it. I dream of the day when we all consider nature to be sacred. It seems so bizarre to me that we don’t. It gives us life, joy, beauty and truth without hidden agendas, spin, judgement or self-serving dogmas.

    Isn’t it absolutely insane that we would destroy something so incredible? Oh well… We’re all here to experience and learn and it’s going to be so cool when we finally learn (remember) that nature is sacred! And it’s o.k. if we don’t. Nature will teach us that lesson too.

    In the meantime, I believe filmmakers like Nickman and Cameron are changing the world and when we support their work, we too are changing the world. As I like to say, “If you want to see change, change what you see.”

  • There were quite a few interesting articles that came out related to Avatar. A lot of indigenous people are saying, ‘Avatar is real! It’s what multinational are doing to us!’ This is one of the more interesting articles:

  • Hi, I just found your blog via google. Your viewpoint is truly relevant to my life currently, and I’m really happy I discovered your website.


  • Katie

    “The Tairona do not want to be met. But they do want to be listened to.
    And that is not for their sake. It is for ours.” (

    This is a quote from a website I discovered about the Kogi, a people who live on a mountain in the Heart of the World. The strange thing is that these people are right now themselves making a film – a reality Avatar!

    Already there is a documentary with the Kogi communicating their warning to the world made by Alan Ereira 20 or so years ago – but now they want to make their own film to show people what is happening and teach us how we must learn to look after the Earth.

    The quote above makes the whole concept of ‘white guilt’ irrelevant because the Kogi are making this film not to save themselves from us but to save us, the animals, the plants and everything in existence on Earth all together as an interconnected whole. I have the feeling that after thousands of years of close and careful observation, the Kogi will have quite a lot to teach everyone about how neural pathways work!

    Starhawk – your writing is also really heartening to me – even when you write about the terrible injustices that are happening – because personal joy of the lavender planting variety is a great power generator for collaborative transformation!!

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