My New Book: The Empowerment Manual!

My new book, The Empowerment Manual: A Guide for Collaborative Groups is out in the bookstores now, as well as online, and I’m very excited to be able to share it with you all!  Click on the link above to get a peek inside and to download the free supplementary chapter: The Five-Fold Path of Productive Meetings. I’m off on a whirlwind tour, doing workshops and trainings on the book and support for various Occupy movements–see the whole schedule here.

When I began writing The Empowerment Manual: A Guide for Collaborative Groups, I wanted to offer some of the benefit of my experience, including my many mistakes, to groups who were organizing without a top-down, hierarchical structure.  I’ve been living and working in such groups for more than forty years, and I felt like the many dreadful meetings I’ve endured, the in-fights and the painful conflicts, as well as the glorious moments of collective creativity and spiritual ecstasy, should all count for something.  I saw so many groups struggling with the same issues, whether they were spiritual circles, working groups, communities struggling to organize or activists planning a protest.  And I had a few insights that I felt might be helpful.

I didn’t know that half the world would decide, right when the book is coming out, to go sit in the public square and organize leaderless Occupations governed by consensus-based General Assemblies.  The Occupy movement springs from many of the same sources that inspired the book—the horizontally organized global justice movement of the last decades and its antecedents, the anti-nuclear and anti-intervention movements of the ‘seventies and ‘eighties.  But now more people than ever before are suddenly immersed in the joys and challenges of organizing non-hierarchically.

Groups without formal hierarchy are potentially empowering on a mass scale. Unfortunately, we come into them from a lifetime of exposure to hierarchy, with its patterns internalized.  We have few models and fewer guidebooks to help us learn how to do it a different way.  There are thousands of books on how to be a manager or a CEO of a corporation, virtually none about how to walk the delicate line of stepping up to a leadership role in a leaderless group.

Collaborative groups are a different species from hierarchical groups, and understanding those differences can help us make them work more effectively.  As kids, when we get in a fight Mom or Dad can step in and say, “You two, break it up!”  In a top-down group, the boss or leader steps in for Dad.  But when we remove that authority, there’s no one to say, “Okay, time out.  Now apologize to each other, kiss and make up.”  Conflicts can be harder to resolve, unless we realize that the group itself must find clear agreements on how to handle conflict and how to support one another in directly and creatively solving our disputes.

Communication is more complex in a collaborative group.  In a hierarchy, there’s a chain of command.  You know whom to report to, and who reports to you.  But in a collective, ten of us might make a decision—forgetting that member number eleven is home sick with stomach flu.  Maybe we also forget to inform Number Eleven of our decision—and then forget that we’ve forgotten.  Number Eleven discovers we’ve set a key policy without her, and feels hurt and slighted.  It’s clear to her that we’ve deliberately left her out of the loop, as we always do!  Painful meetings and hours of mediation could all be avoided if we’d simply thought to ask, at the end of our meeting, “Who else needs to be informed of this and who is going to tell them?”

The Occupy movement faces some of the greatest challenges I’ve ever encountered around group dynamics and group process—it’s so huge,grew up so fast and so spontaneously and found itself smack in the middle of some of society’s worst unsolved problems.  Former student body presidents are encamped in the midst of raving drunks, trying to come to consensus in large groups.  It’s fascinating, often exasperating, and that’s why I’m spending as much time as I can offering trainings.

I also offer the book as a resource.  I recommend it because it contains insights and a framework that can help groups function, whether they are unwieldy Occupations or tight circles of friends engaged in a project.  I know this because it has helped me—although presumably I already knew what’s in it.  But reading, researching and pulling the lessons together into a coherent form has helped me become a better group member and a more effective mediator.

If you’re working in any sort of collaborative group, you’ll find valuable insights in The Empowerment Manual. I say this not just to get you to buy the book—although of course I want you to buy it, that will help a very wonderful small, political publisher stay in business and will buy me some time to write a sequel to The Fifth Sacred Thing, my next project.  But far more than that, I’m hoping you’ll read the book, work with it, use it, improve on it, and find your own groups working more effectively, and our common work to build a better world will thrive.

“To choose a positive future, we need the imagination, the commitment and passion that can never be commanded but can only be unleashed in groups of equals. Those groups need to work and function well. That’s why I’ve written this book.”

The book is out in bookstores now, and available online through my website, New Society, and of course, on Amazon and elsewhere.  Check out the New Society blog about it here.

Some of my older books have also become newly relevant with the rise of the Occupy movement, especially for anyone interested in its antecedents.  In particular, Dreaming the Dark: Magic, Sex and Politics and Truth or Dare: Encounters with Power, Authority and Mystery look at the internal wounds we carry from millennia of war, hierarchy and patriarchy, and reflect some of the horizontal organizing in the antinuclear and anti-itntervention movements of the ‘seventies and ‘eighties.  Webs of Power: Notes from the Global Uprising tracks the global justice movement from the Seattle blockade of the WTO in 1999 through September 11, and contains nuanced discussions of nonviolence, diversity, and spirit.  Find them all under Writing/Activism above.

I doubt I’ll have time to blog in the next few weeks, but I’m sure I’ll have lots to ponder from my travels.  Hope to see some of you on the road!

9 comments to My New Book: The Empowerment Manual!

  • What a lovely piece of news! <3 All of Your previous political books are in my top 10 favorite books and Dreaming the Dark I keep with me at all times.

  • Will it be available for Kindle?

  • Ingrid Singing Grass Cottenden

    Winter Solstice Ritual in Unity with Starhawk and Reclaiming LA
    December 17th 2011, Halifax, Nova Scotia
    HPs: Stacey and Ingrid Singing Grass

    (The room will be mostly dark. We’ll ring a bell 3 times to signal it’s time for everyone to enter. As they file in, they will be smudged with sage and blessed with a sprinkle of water from a spruce bough. They will be asked to form a circle.)

    “Welcome. In 5 days will be the winter solstice, the longest night of the year. Now darkness triumphs; and yet, gives way and changes into light. The breath of nature is suspended: all waits while within the Cauldron, the Dark King is transformed into the Infant Light. We watch for the coming of dawn, when the Great Mother again gives birth to the Divine Child Sun, who is bringer of hope and the promise of summer. This is the stillness behind motion, when time itself stops; the center is also the circumference of all. We are awake in the night. We turn the Wheel to bring the light. We call the sun from the womb of night. Blessed Be!” (from

    “Starhawk is one of the most respected voices in modern earth-based spirituality. She is also well-known as a global justice activist and organizer, whose work and writings have inspired many to action. She is the author or coauthor of twelve books, including The Spiral Dance: A Rebirth of the Ancient Religion of the Great Goddess, long considered the essential text for the Neo-Pagan movement.” (from

    “Today (December 17th), from 4-6 pm PST, Starhawk and Reclaiming LA are leading a Winter Solstice ritual and spiral dance in Los Angeles, California. Here is an excerpt from her online schedule for today:”

    “From Cairo to Wall Street, all over the world people are coming together to create change, organizing without top-down leadership or hierarchies. In thousands of groups everywhere, people work together to create everything from community gardens to media to new ways of living. Such circles can be enormously creative and empowering, but they can also be cumbersome and frustrating. Yet when they work well, they liberate our imagination and change the world”

    “Please sit or stand or lie down as is comfortable and join us in a meditation guided by Starhawk from ‘The Way to the Well.’” (We’ll play the first section of the tape—about 10 minutes—to journey within. As Starhawk asks us to face each direction, Stacy and I will light the candles—the Yule log will be lit as the center. We’ll stop the tape when she says “join us on this journey” after the second chant and after the inner power word part. Our drummer starts to drum.)

    “Keeping your sense of inner power and peace, bring your awareness back to your body. Breathe deep. Breathe in peace and breathe out tension. Begin to move your hands and feet. If you are sitting or lying down, begin to rise. Open your eyes slowly. See the light and feel warmth within and without. Reach out your hands and take the hands of those next to you. We will now join with our brothers and sisters in a spiral dance, sharing Starhawk’s intent: ‘We’ll raise and focus group energy to celebrate our connectedness and nurture resilient communities that can be joyful and effective agents of change.’” (HPs lead Spiral Dance to “We are a Circle Within a Circle.” At end of dance we will return to circle and join together in harmonious OM and ground quietly for a moment.)

    (HPs return to center and pour Lemon Saffron Drink (nonalcoholic), holding up and saying) ”May you never thirst” (to each other, wiping goblet brim with cloth, then giving goblet to one in circle) “Please take a drink and pass this to your neighbour saying ‘May you never thirst.’” (HPs offer golden sleigh filled with candy canes to each other saying:) “May you never hunger.” (HP gives sleigh to one in circle) “Please take a candy cane and pass this to your neighbour saying ‘May you never hunger.’”

    “Thank you all for sharing your energy in our ritual today. Thank you Goddesses and Gods for your infinite love, grace, wisdom and beauty. Thank you Elementals, Ancestors, and Spirits for your love, guidance, protection and support. As above, so below; as within, so without. This circle is open, yet unbroken. Merry Meet, Merry Part, and Merry Meet Again! Let’s Feast!”

  • Greetings Starhawk
    I just came across a recording I have from 02.02.2002 of a Cone of Power you led in Grand Central Station. Thanks for that. If you’d like a copy send me an e-mail and I can forward it to you.
    I feel honored and blessed to have been there with you.
    Congratulations on the books – I look forward to reading.
    With best wishes and love love love

    Check out when you can. I would love to have you on board when the time comes to lift off this planet in autumn 2012.

  • I have all the books – the new book is a wodnerful addition to my library, and I have been hoping for a sequel to TFST for years!

  • I heard you on NPR today: Great information on nonviolent activism. Please consider listing your website on my Link Directory at: I would like you to please consider writing a blurb for my new book, in pre publication (smashwords-to be listed on Amazon, Apple, Barnes & Noble,etc): America in Decline & The Rise of the New World Order. I have a secion on Globalization Justice: You are invited to contribute! Patrick in Albuquerque

  • Bud Nye


    I have just about finished reading your wonderful book, The Empowerment Manual, and I think it excellent in most ways. I also think that it does have one important weakness. While advocating that people take responsibility, you
    seriously shoot yourself yourself (and others) in the foot by ALSO encouraging
    people to continue believing–as so very popular in our society!–that
    the things that happen and the things that other people say MAKE US FEEL
    AS WE DO.

    On one hand, you do a great job of developing the concept of the
    critical role that the inferences we make and the stories we tell
    ourselves plays in our emotions and behaviors, but then you largely
    negate this with many examples throughout the book of how,
    presumably, others “make” people feel and do things. For example, your
    section on taking responsibility on pages 173 and 174 contains much
    self-contradiction and confusion regarding this. First you emphasize
    that “…each party must take responsibility for their part of the
    conflict”, then you recommend NOT doing this with public apologies to
    the effect of “I’m sorry that I didn’t realize I’d hurt your
    feelings.” Say what? I AM responsible for YOUR feelings? And I should
    apologize to you because of the stories you tell yourself in order for
    you to upset yourself? Ah, no. I don’t have that power unless you
    hand it to me.

    With examples like this you encourage us to do exactly that:
    give everyone around us the power to “make us” feel as we do.
    Meanwhile, the things that happen–what others say, for example–do
    NOT hurt our feelings! (Unless they do something physically violent to
    us.) WE hurt our feelings with OUR thinking and beliefs–the stories
    we tell ourselves–ABOUT the things that happen. WE upset OURSELVES
    with our INTERPRETATIONS OF the things that happen! (My sense is that
    you believe this in a light, intellectual way, but not in deep,
    fully integrated, emotional way.)

    This seems to me a critical weakness in an otherwise wonderful book. In writing all of this, I do realize that in a small percentage of cases in which someone may know, for example, that I have a strong, Classically conditioned
    response–say a phobia of spiders–that they can “make me” feel
    terrified by bringing a spider near me. But this is not the kind of
    situation that people usually refer to when they say things like “You
    made me angry!” or “You hurt my feelings.” or “He made her cry.”

    Bud Nye, R.N., M.S.

    “I offer the reader not a mundane universe in which nothing is sacred because there is no God, nor a split universe in which some things are holy, of God, and others just matter, but rather a universe that is fully sacred, pregnant with meaning, immanent with God, in which order, pattern, and beauty arise spontaneously from the ground up and of which God is an inseparable property, neither imposed from above by a designer nor projected from within by the observer. The marvelous complexity and beauty of nature is not some consolation prize for science’s denial of the sacred, but evidence that the universe is itself sacred.” —Charles Eisenstein, The Ascent of Humanity (2007).

    “The past was a Golden Age, of ignorance, while the present is an Iron Age of willful blindness.” —Jared Diamond, The Third Chimpanzee

    “What we do to nature, we do to ourselves, inescapably.” —Charles Eisenstein, Sacred Economics

    “Growth for the sake of growth is the ideology of a cancer cell.” —Edward Albey

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