I had to work my way slowly through Starhawk’s The Earth Path: Grounding Your Spirit in the Rhythms of Nature; I find myself wishing this had been one of the first books assigned. Her description of finding a mostly-natural place for daily meditations is inspiring, especially the parts about using all one’s senses to drink in the area surrounding me. I speculate that this is what the professor was talking about in her original syllabus for the “Ecofeminism” class I’m now taking as independent study. If my speculation is correct, I’m a bit disappointed in myself — it did not immediately occur to me to do as Starhawk suggested: to perceive my spot precisely as it is, through all my senses.
For example, I know it is finally fall now [this paragraph was originally written in early November] when I go outside to my little nature spot. In the late afternoon or the early morning, I can hear the Canada geese honking companionably to each other as they fly low overhead to or from the town’s nearby water retention pools. Their big, heavy bodies — so graceful in the water — seem strangely swift and oddly incongruous in the air, and they flap almost as madly on ascent as the rare, silent ducks. I do not see them often, due to the thick little trees around my yard and street, which block them from my sight. Despite that, I deeply appreciate the trees, since currently they are either a rich dark green, or utterly gorgeous with their flame red and golden leaves. Closer to the ground, the air has a damp scent-feel against my skin when I’m near the toad abode. It’s a curiously pleasant, cool and dark sensation. In the evenings I can sometimes smell-taste the warm smoky scent of burning wood that lets me know the neighbors have lit their fireplace. Usually the air is a chill ruffle of sensation along my skin on those nights — a pleasant reminder of the warmth which awaits me inside.
I’ve found a second reason for wishing I’d known to read this book earlier in the semester: the spiritual exercises. I’ve not had a strong or deep introduction to the actual practice of earth-based spirituality, as opposed to reading intensively about it. I’d like to both learn it and habituate myself to its ritual performance.
Starhawk’s book had a great number of these suggested rituals, both scattered appropriately throughout the book as well as all neatly listed in their own table of contents, and for a surprisingly wide and flexible variety of needs. I very much enjoyed reading about these rituals, as well as scanning off a few of the book’s pages so I could try some of the exercises later. About the only downside I found to them was the almost spidery-thin, sans serif font used to offset them from the regular text — my vision is not of the best, and so that made them somewhat difficult for me to read.
Past that, however, I was impressed both by how non-dogmatically the exercises were presented — I’ve certainly received my fair share of the usual hierarchical demands for monotheistic, follow-the-leader creeds — as well as by the beautiful assurance that the land itself will show what rituals it needs. This really touched me, since as a child I remember finding real peace and a sense of belonging only while out horseback riding in nature — never in any of the often-beautiful churches and cathedrals I visited. Consequently I find I’m really looking forward to experimenting with the dynamic and flexible nature of Goddess/Nature ritual practice, once the crush of end-of-semester is over and I have a moment to breath freely again.
The book itself is written in an almost lyrical, roaming sort of storytelling. It can travel quite naturally — almost organically — through the chapter, ranging from Starhawk’s discussion of a ritual performed with friends to how language frames, defines, and restricts cultural beliefs to an explanation and exploration of how effective cultural change must come from the edges of society. More than once I found myself startled to reach the end of a chapter, as it jarred me amusedly out of the literary conceit that I was just sitting with Starhawk and listening to her spin a series of tales for her fascinated audience.
Equally easy to follow are the thematically linked chapters. Starhawk begins with chapters that explaining the importance of observation, listening, and reflection *first in understanding the land — and how truly elegant land management is effectively invisible (10). Though her stated purpose is for her readers to learn to listen to the earth, I was impressed (and amused) to note her examples subtly sneak in the validity of doing so within human society as well. For example, I have long believed her beautiful assertions that the (re)marriage of science and spirituality (not organized religion) will create a better world — one “re-enchanted, full of wonder and magic” (11, 186). I also find myself in strong empathy with her belief that properly ecofeminist living is a creative joy — because life itself is by its very nature creative, transforming, and cooperative (36, 48-49).
Weaving the leitmotif throughout several chapters, Starhawk presents language as the cultural tool it is. Her personal examples demonstrate how its poor use can limit and constrain, while deliberate and thoughtful manipulation of language can open up the mind and cause potentialities to blossom. She clarifies this with a lovely example of questions to ask oneself when facing a decision or turning point; I particularly liked her careful, deliberate inclusion of concern for “the poorest and least advantaged among us” (72) on both a natural and a human scale. Perhaps most personally moving, I was delighted (and encouraged) to see the questions: “Does this reflect and further our deepest values? Will it feed our spirit?” (72). I believe it has been far too long since considerations such as these are included in our “bottom line” statements; no surprise, considering such statements are not written in such inclusive language. Time to change.
After this extended (and fascinating) overview, within the following chapters Starhawk explores Nature Herself. Just as she does and explains in earlier chapters, Starhawk begins with a “high” view, demonstrating the energetic patterns which permeate healthy Nature — and ourselves — in such beautifully constant, balanced, and cyclical fluidity. She then narrows down her focus for a review of the elemental forces of air, fire, water, and earth, and the eternal circle/cycle of life-death-rebirth. Despite already being aware of these forces, I found myself captivated by Starhawk’s lyrical writing. I love the way she demonstrated how the energetic flows of these forces balance and mingle throughout our world; not just within untouched Nature, but also within our own bodies and psyches — and thus also (by natural extension) within our social constructions.
Reading about healthy and unhealthy (or interrupted) energy flows led quite naturally to the last chapter: healing the Earth. This, I confess, was my favorite chapter — specifically for the inspiring and often moving stories Starhawk gave us. I’ve read about permaculture, but several of the community oriented stories illustrated some truly beautiful ideas which I’m (somewhat shyly and nervously) considering trying to model as well.
In conclusion, Starhawk’s words ring true to me: if we want to see change in our damaged cities and communities we’re going to have to create it ourselves, where we live on the fringes of standardized society. Perhaps most importantly, I believe she’s right in saying we can indeed create magic — but this isn’t a case of combatively confronting what we don’t like. Instead, if we wish to shift the energy flow to where we need it… we must first know what we want (223). I intend to try to complete this cycle: I want to take the time to listen and learn from nature and community, to hear their valid needs — and then, through my research and dissertation and writing, I want to create a new energy flow which will bring about beneficial change.