Walking to Mercury Interview

Walking to Mercury — fiction by Starhawk. (New York, Bantam, 1997).

A Self-Interview with and by Starhawk April, 1997

Walking to MercuryIn February, my latest book, Walking to Mercury, was published. Mercury is a story about following a vision — and how ambiguous and slippery a vision can be over the course of a lifetime. For those of you who know The Fifth Sacred Thing, Mercury is a prequel — the story of Maya Greenwood’s wild youth in the sixties, her attempts to come to terms with her mother’s death in her late thirties, and her long relationships with Rio and Johanna.

In some ways, it is also a book about the sixties, although it is just as much a novel about relationships, about sex, magic, race, politics, and a philosophical dialogue between Paganism and Buddhism.

I’ve been traveling around a lot doing readings and book signings, and often I get asked certain questions, so I thought I’d interview myself here and answer a few of them:

Q: Is Walking to Mercury autobiographical?

A: It wasn’t, but I fear it has become so. The events of Maya’s life do not correspond to mine — in fact, she often does things I thought about doing, but in my own life, thought better of. However, at this point her life is a lot clearer to me than mine. I remember her experiences and often can’t remember what actually happened to me.

Q: Are you Maya?

A: No, (see above), except in so far as an author must be all the characters in a novel. I am just as much Rio, or Johanna, or Maya’s father.

Q: Why did you turn to writing fiction?

A: Weakness of character. I tried, but couldn’t seem to Just Say No.

Q: What’s the difference between writing nonfiction and fiction?

A: In writing nonfiction, you work very hard marshalling arguments and evidence to persuade people of something they are often reluctant to believe. In writing fiction, no matter how many times you tell people that it is not autobiographical, that the characters are not portraits of other real people, and that you made the whole thing up, they persist in believing that it must be true.

Q: When do you write? Do you have a regular schedule?

A. I don’t have a very regualar life, so I write whenever I can, or whenever I must to meet a deadline — preferably early in the morning, in bed, on a laptop, with a nice cup of tea by my side, or after dark when the world is not quite so distractingly beautiful as it is by daylight.

Q: What are you doing politically these days?

A: In September, I went to the Headwaters forest to demonstrate against the clear-cutting of old growth redwoods. I have been very involved with Reclaiming’s El Salvador Friendship project, and went to El Salvador in January to visit the programs and co-operatives we’ve been supporting. I also just got back from the Nevada Test Site — a case of life imitating art, as that is where Maya ends up in Mercury.

I was honored to lead a ritual there for the Healing Global Wounds action on Easter Sunday, together with Corbin Harney, the Shoshone elder and leader who has been the heart of the movement for many years. Now that we are not actively testing, many people seem to have turned to other concerns, but the issues of the transport and dumping of nuclear wastes, and the appropriation of Shoshone land still remain.

We met international people from Tahiti who told of diseases and death among test site workers there, a woman from the Philippines who had been tortured for her opposition to U.S. bases, and Japanese survivors of the bombing of Hiroshima. Essentially, I realized that nuclear war is not just some future horror we must struggle to prevent, but has already been going on for fifty years, mostly waged against indigenous people around the globe. We need to push strongly for a worldwide abolition of nuclear weapons by the year 2000!

I was also thrilled to lead a ritual at the Temple of Sekhmet, a Goddess temple near the Test Site built by Genevieve Vaughan in fulfillment of a vow she made years ago to build the Goddess a temple if she had a child. It is a beautiful shrine, built of stucco-covered straw bales that look like ancient adobe, with open arches in the four directions. We had a fire circle outside the shrine, and with the comet blazing behind us, I felt like I’d wandered into a place truly between the worlds, outside of time.

Q: What do you do for fun?

A: I’ve developed this gardening obsession. I like to shovel manure, stare at the daffodils, and plant things.

Q: What are you working on now?

A: As far as writing goes, Reclaiming’s anthology on death and dying, edited by M. Macha Nightmare, will be published as The Pagan Book of Living and Dying by HarperSanFrancisco in October. I’ve been co-writing a book on raising children in the Goddess tradition with Anne Hill and Diane Baker. Circle Round will be published by Bantam in the spring or summer of ’98.

As far as other projects, I’ve been working on a documentary film about the life of archaeologist Marija Gimbutas with director Donna Read, who made Goddess Remembered, The Burning Times and Full Circle for the National Film Board of Canada.

I teach many week-long summer intensives (“Witch Camps”) each year with Reclaiming, our collective and the name for the branch of the Goddess tradition I practice. In March, we had the first-ever meeting of teachers and organizers from the U.S., Canada and Europe to share skills and attempt to find some sort of structure for the amoebalike entity we’ve become.

We experimented with a consensus process that included the option of dropping into altered states of consciousness, had the elements represented by holders of masks who sat in trance throughout our meetings, and learned a whole lot which I’m sure will help our community grow in a healthy way. We face the challenges, now, of developing an organization that doesn’t become a bureaucracy, of expanding without becoming a hierarchy, and of shifting our focus from personalities to principles.

I’ll also be co-teaching a Permaculture course in May. I’m excited about that, as I find more and more that where I draw my inspiration from is the real-life earth, the actual air and fire and water and how they interact with life.

Q: What would you say to America’s youth?

A: Find out what is sacred to you — what is most important, what evokes your passion, what you would risk yourself for or take a stand for. Then devote your finest life energies to the service of what is sacred to you. Don’t allow yourself to be intimidated or deflected. Find out what support you need, and ask for it. Remember that no life is clear or simple, and everybody who takes interesting risks will make mistakes. Remember that human beings are resilient. Have fun.

Q: What questions are you asking yourself lately?

A: There are three big questions I’ve been asking, not just of myself, but of others as well. They’ve become, for me, the soil test and reality check on my own spirituality. They are:

How does my spiritual practice and daily life serve the earth?

How does my spiritual practice and daily life affect the poorest third of humanity?

How will my spiritual practice and daily life affect the generations to come in the future?

Copyright © Starhawk 1997, all rights reserved.