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In This Issue

Goddess "" Earth "" Cosmology "" Women's Health "" Reader Contributions "" Book Reviews "" Editor's Desk

Non-Fiction in Review: The Earth Path

The Earth Path, by Starhawk, HarperCollins (2004).

In speaking about this, her tenth book, Starhawk states,

"The book was inspired by the realization that even many people who call themselves Pagan and proclaim nature as sacred are unclear on the processes by which nature actually works. The Earth Path addresses the profound spiritual and conceptual disconnect at the root of our environmental destructiveness, and shows how we can reroot our spirits, our politics, and our day-to-day life in deep relationship with the Earth." (Starhawk's Books: The Earth Path)

In my years of consciously claiming and following Earth-based religion, I am often surprised at the Goddess women who are not particularly inspired by or connected to nature. This topic sparked a lively conversation on the Goddess Scholars elist. Dr. Wendy Griffin, Professor of Women's Studies at California State University, Long Beach, was so intrigued by this conversation that she conducted a survey, the results of which will be published in an upcoming academic book. Whereas I don't dispute that women can connect to Goddess from their living rooms, The Earth Path is for those of us who want to deepen our connection with and practice magic around nature.

The Earth Path is a synthesis of Earth-based spirituality and practical permaculture that Starhawk has been working with in Earth Activist Trainings. This short, simple book includes science that explains natural processes. Starhawk emphasizes that she was uninterested in science until fairly recently, and feels that her newfound scientific knowledge aids her in understanding and working with the Earth.

Like all of Starhawk's nonfiction books, The Earth Path includes a myriad of practical exercises that people can do to get more in touch with their center. One of the main practices Starhawk emphasizes in this book is observation. She accurately states that most of us are so preoccupied when we are in a natural setting that we don't really experience what is around us. The Earth Path provides exercises with which we can become more tuned to our environment.

The book is well organized, going from describing different ways that we view the world to one of the most succinct, clear explanations of Earth-centered values I've read. Here she talks about magic and says that "… magic does work, in the terms of its own world view. Which is to say, once we understand the universe as a dynamic whole — a whole that we, with our human minds, are a part of — we also understand that any change in any aspect of the whole affects the whole. Magic, then, is the art of discerning, choosing, and attuning oneself to those changes. (28)."

Unlike some of the more radical deep ecologists who believe that the ailing Earth might be better off without the scourge of the human race, which has done such damage to the planet, Starhawk stresses that we humans are a part of Earth and must be a part of the solution. I personally find this thinking helpful and hopeful.

After establishing this written foundation in what is sacred, Starhawk launches into the basic scientific story of evolution and the importance of observation and the circle of life — ways in which we can apply those sacred values to our interaction with the Earth and one another in our decision making.

According to Marija Gimbutas, the most ancient Goddess of Europe was beyond all, the Regeneratrix, the one who brings fertility out of decay. We serve her whenever we take responsibility for our wastes, returning them to the cycle of fertility.

The book is then divided into chapters on each of the five elements: Air, Fire, Water, Earth, and The Center: The Sacred Pattern. In these chapters, Starhawk describes the elements both physically and metaphysically, giving information, exercises, and prayers. For instance, the Earth chapter talks much about composting, one of my greatest devotions. She gives exact instructions on how to create compost by several methods, and philosophical reasons why composting is a holy activity: "According to Marija Gimbutas, the most ancient Goddess of Europe was beyond all, the Regeneratrix, the one who brings fertility out of decay. We serve her whenever we take responsibility for our wastes, returning them to the cycle of fertility (166)."

The Center, Starhawk says, "Symbolically . . . is the point where the elements connect and transform, where that ethereal fifth sacred thing we call 'spirit' arises. To understand how the elements of life interact, we need to look not at the isolated elements, but at the patterns around us. Magical consciousness is pattern-thinking, thinking that can comprehend not just separate parts, but wholes in relation to other wholes." Starhawk gives her version of why academia has pointed "such tremendous backlash" at Gimbutas's work. "There are many reasons for the backlash — to assert that women once held power, that war is not inevitable, and that early cultures were based on cooperation, not violence and competition, threatens some of our most basic assumptions about human nature and culture. But part of that backlash also comes because Marija was a pattern-thinker (186)." To me, this is a most provocative analysis of a question that has haunted me for years.

Starhawk weaves in information about her political work against globalization of trade. Although some critics have stated that she preaches too much about such entities as the World Trade Organization and the World Bank, dispensing this information is very much part of Starhawk's mission. The Earth Path is also deeply influenced by her work with permaculture. The Web site Permaculture the Earth states that, "Scientific research has demonstrated that ecological stability is achieved through biological diversity, and no single organism is responsible for that stability. Permaculture research reveals that this stability is achieved only through a complex network of connections... 'functional connections' between elements in the total system. The more functional connections a system has, the more sustainable it becomes."

When I read this, I couldn't help but think about organizations (particularly those within our movement) and how we treat one another. If we applied a permaculture value to our relationships with one another, we would truly value diversity and all the different expressions of humanity, spirituality, and religion. The Earth Path is an excellent introduction and an ongoing lesson to us about this kind of pattern thinking.

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