The potential and promise of post-patriarchal spirituality is reflected in Starhawk's 20th anniversary edition of her pivotal, bestselling, and now classic 1979 work, The Spiral Dance. Included in this version are the initial book release, the ten year anniversary notes, and an added section for the 20 year anniversary Introduction and notes. Starhawk's original text both reflects and nurtures the growth of the then-young movement called variously Wicca, witchcraft, paganism, or neopaganism. Uniquely for the time, Starhawk exemplifies both the ecofeminist philosophy and practice of her earth-centered pagan beliefs, and she dedicates significant sections of her pragmatically-voiced text to a spellwork manual, as well as to a history of witchcraft. As the years pass and research improves, this history is increasingly recognized as more mythic than factual — or as Starhawk herself puts it: "Witchcraft has always been a religion of poetry, not theology" (32).

Most personally fascinating, however, is tracing Starhawk's spiritual growth and maturation through her later anniversary annotations. Starhawk's examination of how Goddess worship has adapted and developed over the last twenty years offers interesting historical perspective, while her reflections on how her original ideas have been influenced and enhanced by these changes demonstrates a deeply personal guide to the life-affirming nature of Goddess worship in enriching one's subjective empowerment and spiritual self-integration. The most striking change is the author's shift from an ontology of a dualist, gender-based polarity — which could be ideologically critiqued as a re-framing and retrofitting of femaleness onto the hierarchical summit of standard patriarchal dogma — to one of a comprehensive love of Life.

This is an acceptance not simply of sacred sexuality in all its varied forms — perceived now as merely one of many valid exchanges of the energy which is cyclically shared between all entities — but, more importantly, as a recognition of the integral nature of the Divine Feminine: as being both embodied in all Her myriad global expressions, and enshrined as the sacred heart of a new and life-embracing society. To Starhawk this conception of Goddess is visibly conceived more in relationship than in dogmatic belief or ritual. She, the Goddess, is instead an ecofeminist manifestation of a new symbol system wherein our Mother Earth is as deserving of our reverent protection through political activism and structural social change, as She is the wellspring for sacred transformation of Self through a more sophisticated understanding of the relational nature of all life.

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Starhawk, the author of The Earth Path: Grounding Your Spirit in the Rhythms of Nature, reframes permaculture much as Ruether describes — and a little more realistically than Holmgren's be-all, end-all of human energetic and cultural development. Instead she positions it as both a fundamentally practical application of ecofeminism, and one of the requisite steps in living gently and sustainably upon the Earth. In an interesting bit of ideologically parallel evolution, this is the same year in which Ruether writes of integrating ecofeminism into the large world religions — of which feminist Christianity appears to be her personal human cultural epitome — whereas Starhawk positions ecofeminism as the necessary modern basis of both religious and social change. Her writing is excellent, including clear, inviting, and non-dogmatic steps and suggestions for the layperson to apply the concepts of permaculture to their life and personal environment.

To this end, the author speculates on how language frames, defines, and restricts cultural beliefs; includes some of her elementally-oriented rituals for a nature-based spirituality; and as well explains exercises the reader may perform in order to re-establish an observant, interrelated, and empathic connection with the natural world in both urban and country settings. Most powerfully, in these exercises Starhawk encourages the reader to listen to the Earth, as she believes this is the best way to discover geographically and seasonally appropriate rituals for the preservation and maintenance of healthy cyclical energy flow in both the Earth and ourselves; this is in fact the conceptual root of sustainable, nature-interrelated permaculture.

Her lyrical writing wanders from subject to ritual to new subject, spiced with personal anecdotes to gently encourage readers in their own efforts at creating modern magic. Like tales told around the fire, Starhawk's writing is a nonthreatening medium by which to deliver her message: effective cultural change to recognize the delicate interrelatedness of all life on earth must come from the edges of society — which is where she locates the closely linked philosophies of earth-based spirituality and permaculture-enriched ecofeminism.

(read more on The Earth Path)

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