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Book Review

The Spiral Dance A rebirth of the Ancient Religion
Of The Goddess 10th Anniversary Edition
by Starhawk
                - Review by Jessie (Evergreen 1st degree student)

The Spiral Dance is the first book written by Starhawk. She is a well-known and respected International spokesperson for neopaganism, feminist concerns, and social activism. In the mid-seventies, she was one of the original signers of the Covenant of the Goddess (COG) and it was under COG that she co-founded The Reclaiming Collective and formed the Compost Coven. Over the last 40 years she has contributed greatly to the pagan community by teaching classes in witchcraft, founding and being a teacher of reclaiming, she is the author or co-author of 10 books, has taught week-long witch camps, worked in the Covenant of the Goddess church, is a peace activist, feminist, theorist of paganism, has taught ritual making and is a major voice in the feminist spirituality movement. One thing I found interesting while researching Starhawk is that she teaches permaculture to at-risk youth in public housing in San Fransisco. I think it is a great thing teaching kids, who would probably never have the opportunity to see or learn these things, about the earth and growing your own food. The one thing I do have an issue with is her charging money for teaching and even charging money to attend her rituals. As a Wiccan, we should share freely our knowledge with others as our payment is in the time and effort we put into gaining that knowledge. As for rituals, I do not believe we should pay a Priest/Priestess to join them in celebrating the Gods and Goddesses, this should be done freely out of a want to join together. Even with the couple of things I do not agree with it is not difficult to agree that Starhawk has done so much for the Pagan, specifically Wiccan, community. She not only teaches and passes down her knowledge of spirituality, magic, activism, and permaculture, she also lives what she preaches. She has organized or participated in many peaceful protests, lives part-time in a solar-powered cabin, and also a townhouse collective with 6 other house mates. Even if you don't agree with all of her opinions or viewpoints it is easy to respect them coming from someone who is so committed to them.

This is a book I had heard a lot of people talk about and knew it was a good starting point book with a base of information on Wicca and witchcraft. I did not have any opinion about this book or any expectation of what I would take from it before I began reading it. I enjoyed the mixture of information, opinion, exercises, and written rituals that almost all of the chapters included. Having participated in rituals for Evergreen, I could easily picture these rituals and understand why and how they would work. These rituals are similar in a lot of ways to Evergreen’s style and very different in some ways.
The wand being placed in the South was the first difference I noticed and is one thing I will never feel comfortable with, as, in Evergreen, I feel it can only belong in the East as a representation of Air and the Athame in the South being forged by fire. One thing I was familiar with from a recent Evergreen ritual, even though it is not a common Evergreen practice, was the cutting of the Elemental Pentagrams. I do like this in circle casting even though it is something that takes quite a bit of practicing. Its almost a comforting or inclusive feeling reading a book by someone who came before the Evergreen Tradition, knowing that so many witches still today look back to this book for ritual ideas. To know that even if you were not born into a family tradition of witches who pass things down from one generation to the next, that on a bigger scale, we are all one big family that will pass down thoughts and traditions from those who came before us.

Circle casting was done very differently in Starhawk’s coven then anything we do in Evergreen. I do like the idea of calling, cleansing, and purifying each of the quarters individually but it also seems like a very time-consuming way of casting a circle. I don't agree with the part of casting where the coven members return to a circle and “pass” a kiss around the circle. I feel like this is something each individual would have to be very comfortable with for it to be appropriate. With any type of group where members could be added, I think this is a dangerous practice as it could create problems if new members are not comfortable with it. Regardless of how we cast a circle the purpose is the same, to create an energy boundary and to signify the beginning of a ritual.

There are examples of many good rituals in this book to use as starting points to build on or take pieces to add to your own rituals.The ritual in the book that I was most intrigued by was the Initiation Ritual. This ritual and Starhawk’s thoughts about initiation really opened my eyes to what initiation truly is about. Its not just a test and a ritual to become a priestess/priest. It is a transformation of ourselves. The death of our old self and birth of our new self as a Strong Wiccan that we
are not ready for until we are ready to confront and accept all aspects of ourselves. I now also have a better understanding of why meditation is such a big part of our practice and why it is so important. I always thought it was mostly just a grounding or relaxing technique but now understand that it is how we center ourselves and learn how to tap into our own energies and how to control those energies. Meditation is not a practice that comes easily to me so I found the visualization exercises in chapter three very helpful. Being able to have easy visual meditations to practice has helped me to focus clearly in other meditations. The “Tree of life” meditation is a great and easy way to practice feeling the energy in your body, flowing down and out your limbs and back up from the earth. I have been practicing the visualization exercises and find it a good way to center myself and focus.

It was not surprising to me that the book, and Starhawk herself, are very Goddess orientated but there is also an extreme focus on the balance of female and male energies in everything. It was easy for me to relate to these ideas as I too believe that you can not have one without the other. I enjoyed Starhawk’s thoughts and perspectives on these ideas and how it pertains to her life as a witch. How the Goddess does not exclude the male,  she contains him and that the “all” as an energy field is polarized by male and female forces, the same force flowing in opposite but not opposed directions.  The female is the life-giving force and the male is the death force, each dependant on the other.

In my life and my practice as a witch, I find it easy to connect with the God but more difficult to connect with the Goddess, or my feminine energies. Reading this book gave me a new perspective of the goddess and female energies. I have always thought of the goddess and female energies as the weaker, emotional “girly” figure. Even the strongest goddess would still be weaker, even if only slightly, then the God she stands beside. In one statement, Starhawk made me see the Goddess for how strong and powerful she truly is! “The symbolism of the Goddess is not a parallel structure to the symbolism of God the father. The Goddess does not rule the world; She is the world.” No matter which God stands beside The Goddess, she is the life bringer and he is as dependant on her life force as she is on his death force.

I liked the history in the first chapter which gives enough detail of where witchcraft started without going so in depth that you get lost. From its beginning s in hunting tribes with hunters who were gifted with being able to “call” herds, to the groundwork for a reign of terror against witches being laid in 1484 with the publishing of “The hammer of the witches” by Malleus Maleficarium. It was then that The Craft went underground and
became a secret religion. Because of this parts of the tradition were lost or forgotten but somehow the seed was passed on and survives to this day.

Chapter 2 is about the world view of Witchcraft and goes deeper into what its really about and how it affects us on a personal level. Throughout this book, I really enjoyed Starhawk’s perspective and what she feels these things mean for her. It gave me a new way of looking at how and why I/we do and feel the things that we do. Magic is really about “the art of changing consciousness at will.’ Witchcraft teaches us to connect with
our subconscious (younger self), our conscious self (or talking self), and the divine within (deep self). It is a source of union and communication with the deities in awe and wonder of the natural beauty of the world. “Creation did not happen at a fixed point in time, it goes on eternally.” The God and Goddess polarities create the cycle that change the seasons and move the stars. Their energy is in everything in the natural world including us all.
The next Chapter on Covens helped to better my understanding of the importance of “In perfect love and perfect trust.” A coven is more important than the sum of its parts but each persons' presence or absence affects the whole. In a strong coven, all members feel close to each other and the goal is to teach each witch to be a leader. This strength grows slowly and is felt in quality not quantity and the power comes from within never from a place of having power over another. Training varies widely from one coven to the next
but the purpose is always the same, to open up the “starlight consciousness” and connect with the divine within. Having a great deal of trust in your coven members is essential in creating a place for these things to happen. Vulnerability can never be forced on anyone and a certain amount of time will have to be spent on resolving interpersonal conflicts, sometimes these can even be resolved with magic.

I think I took the least amount personally from Chapter 4 on Creating sacred space. Being taught in Evergreen for a while now I have learned the Evergreen way of circle casting and we have experienced other methods as well. Knowing that there is no absolute “right” way to cast a circle I did not find it strange or off-putting to read Starhawks' version. There are many differences compared to how we cast circle, especially the cleansing and charging of each quarter separately and the invoking pentagrams. Whichever way it is that you cast a circle the purpose is the same, it is more for keeping energy in then it is about keeping negative energy out. In ritual every movement has meaning and the significance of circle casting is the formal beginning of the ritual. I did take a lot from the exercises in this chapter. I especially liked the Saltwater purification, protective circle, and permanent protective circle exercises and will incorporate these in my own practices.

I think the most important thing to know about Wicca and Witchcraft is that it's not about believing in Gods/Goddesses or praying to them to do things for us. It is about connecting with the deities, finding them within ourselves and everything in nature, and giving thanks to them. Chapters 5 and 6 about the Goddess and God could not be a better explanation of this in my opinion. The Goddess is never singular, everywhere she appears she embodies both polarities of life and death. She never demands sacrifice and loves unconditionally. To invoke her is to awaken the goddess within ourselves. The God does not fit into the usual “macho” stereotypes of the male. He is the power of feeling, untamed sexuality, the dying god whose death is always in service to the life force. In most witch traditions he is seen as the other half to the goddess and the balancing polarity in nature. I agree that witchcraft is not a belief system but a wonder and joy at the world around us. Our offerings are given freely and never from a feeling of obligation or sacrifice.

Chapter 7 is Magical Symbols which at first I thought was going to be about actual symbols in witchcraft. What I took from reading this chapter is that the magical symbols are how we manifest magic in our minds. This does include props such as candles, the wand, the athame, the chalice etc, but these are mostly just material things to help us focus energy. Magic comes from the mind and the person holding these instruments, not the things themselves. Often times the most powerful spells come about from materials that were handy at the time and “felt” right. I agree very much with this, you don't need to have the “best” or most expensive tools to practice witchcraft. None of those fancy tools will help you if you haven't learned how to use the energy and power inside of you. Like Starhawk says in this chapter, “To work magic, I need a basic belief in my ability to do things and cause things to happen.” One thing that was said to me along time ago that has always stuck with me was that as witches our words are powerful, so to watch what you say or “wish” for. In my life on a regular basis, I know this to be true and have manifested things with my words and will many times, on purpose and sometimes not on purpose. One thing I have a little bit of a problem with, in this chapter, is her statement that “those who practice magic must be scrupulously honest in their personal lives.” I don't believe anyone is 100% honest 100% of the time. I think for me I believe more that you must try to always be honest 100% of the time and never do things with bad intentions.

The Cone of Power discussed in Chapter 8 is a concept I have heard spoken of in Evergreen but have not been taught or experienced myself. This is very much about building, raising, and controlling energy into a “cone” and usually sending this energy somewhere specific. I can see why this topic was included in the book as witchcraft, magic, and everything that goes with it has everything to do with energy. Learning to use, control, and ground your energy first is the most important and then how to add your energy to a circle and use or process other peoples energy that they add. In time when my path brings me to learning The Cone of Power, this chapters information will probably be more relate-able for me.

Trance is something that I have very little knowledge about and I thought this chapter in the book about it was a good starting place of information. Trance states are states of non-ordinary consciousness where we are more suggestible and psychic abilities increase. Suggestion alone would never make us do things we wouldn't normally do but it stimulates our imagination and opens new sources of creativity. Trance opens the gate to our own unconscious mind and for this reason, it can be as dangerous as it can be valuable. There is nothing we fear more than our own “shadow selves” or the dark parts of ourselves we don't like to admit exist. The danger comes from the destructive power of the defense mechanisms we use to avoid that confrontation. Magic can help us to dissolve these defenses, confront our shadow selves and win, that is the value and importance it has in our lives. We learn to change our consciousness in learning to trance and in doing so learn control of it.

I was very intrigued by the Initiation ritual and all of Starhawk’s thoughts on this subject in chapter 10. As I stated earlier, this chapter gave me a far more meaningful understanding of what initiation really is and what I want it to be for me. I did not take initiation lightly before reading this book but thought of it as “part” of my path, I now see it as far more than that. It is more of a beginning and a symbolic death of the “old” me. I knew that initiation rituals were secret so I was a little surprised to see one in this book but as Starhawk states, I know this is just the framework of it, regardless it took a tiny bit of the “fear of the unknown” away. I now have a better understanding of the traditional “year and a day” training and that it is up to a witch to discover for her or himself that they are ready for initiation and ask for it. That by taking our initiation we are not saying we are fearless or have faced our shadow self yet but that we are committed to doing so. There are many parts to an initiation from the test, meditations, leading a ritual, and the parts that I do not know as a student that I look forward to finding out for myself.

The next 2 chapters in the book are on Moon Rituals and The Wheel of the Year. As
Wiccans the Sabbats are when we celebrate and give our thanks to the God and Goddess, The moon cycles are the Esbats, when witchcraft is practiced or witches do “magic” or spells. In different phases of the moon, it is better to work magic for different purposes. In chapter 11 starhawk includes a few different rituals for different phases of the moon. In chapter 12 it lists the Sabbats (Pagan Holidays) and a ritual with each. The Sabbats follow the seasons and are “the eight points at which we connect the inner and the outer cycles.” We celebrate change, growth, birth, and death. The final chapter in the book is about creating religion toward the future. Starhawk is right in a lot of her thoughts in this chapter. The world can change if we work towards changing it. If we all take a more active roll in preserving the Earth Goddess it can happen. The goddess religion and magic must not be seen as superstition or idiocy. We need to use our “expanded consciousness” to deepen our bonds with people and with life or it is just useless and self-destructive. We all must take more responsibility for ourselves and our lives to create any kind of change.
Overall there wasn't a lot Starhawk discussed in this book that I disagreed with even the differences in ritual practice. Many of her thoughts and feelings are the same as mine and what she expressed in this book just solidified my own beliefs. I definitely see why this is such a staple in so many witches library, it too will be in mine now. I, like other witches before me, will look back to this book and Starhawk for her wisdom in creating rituals and her thoughts and ideas.


“Starhawk” Encyclopedia of Occultism and Para psychology. 16 Nov 2018 2009

Luke Mastin

We Are Sacred As The Earth: An Interview With Earth Activist Starhawk

Quotes from The Spiral Dance A Rebirth of the Ancient Religion of the
Goddess 10th Anniversary Edition By Starhawk


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