When it rains in Los Angeles, few Angelenos would describe it as the patient hand of some sky goddess, brushing away the thick webs of smog.
Nonetheless, Starhawk, an author and activist, has managed to find a home for her particular blend of eco-pagan activism among the liberal environmentalists and spiritual agnostics in the drought-plagued Southern California city. And on Saturday, when Starhawk hosts an annual workshop and ritual for the winter solstice, she will be continuing a long tradition of environmental activism with a spiritual imperative.
“What do we do,” Starhawk asked in a recent interview with The Huffington Post, “those of us who do believe the earth is sacred, who do believe that we have a responsibility to care for the living systems that sustain us, and who do believe that we have a responsibility to take care of each other?”
Religion is no stranger to the environmental movement. One of the largest and best-known non-governmental environmental organization, Greenpeace, makes no secret of its Quaker roots. Interfaith environmental organizations such as Interfaith Power & Light and GreenFaith have also sprung up in considerable numbers over the years, not to mention the many congregations around the country working to reduce their environmental impact.
Interjecting the concept of "moral cause" into the activist world comes with its own risks. But where science and economics often fail to inspire environmental justice, Starhawk hopes the eco-pagan movement -- with its appeal to human and environmental interconnectedness -- will.
“The role of religion and spirituality [in environmental activism] is to hold up the values that go beyond the value of profit and the value of somebody winning and somebody losing, to say…there are things that are more important than money or gain," Starhawk said. "The value of generosity, the value of putting the good of the community and the good of the whole before your own personal gain -- those are things that every religion at its core has always stood for.”
Starhawk sees the “grave environmental crisis” the world faces today as personal, spiritual and practical, with governments and corporations all too often choosing profit over sustainability. But while some political and religious leaders have only recently recognized the realities of climate change and sustainability, Starhawk has spent the better part of the last forty years advocating for environmental justice. Starhawk established herself as a leader of the little-known but activism-inclined pagan community nearly three decades ago with her neo-pagan tome The Spiral Dance, which inspired a nature-based spiritual revival movement with a goal of positive ecological change known by participants as "Reclaiming."
There are deeper human concerns that arise from the degradation of the earth, Starhawk suggested, “even if climate change weren’t an issue.” Faith-based activism satisfies a “core basic human need,” she said, to feel connected, engaged and useful.
As explained by Laurie Lovekraft, one of the event’s organizers who has been trained as a priestess in the Reclaiming movement, “For many pagans who identify with ‘Earth-Based Spirituality,’ which relates to the earth as a living system, being, or entity ... the next natural step is to take action in support of the Earth.” But, as Laurie points out, the non-dogmatic, non-hierarchical structure of the pagan community makes it difficult to activate.
This is where ritual comes in. Rituals such as the Saturday event -- called “Mother Earth’s Transition Team," and organized with the pagan group "Reclaiming L.A." and women's activist network "Cross Pollinate" -- are integral to bringing an otherwise dispersed pagan community together. As for Starhawk's plans for the new year, she will continue teaching classes and revving up efforts to bring her ecological novel, The Fifth Sacred Thing, to the big screen.
The solstice is the perfect time to chart a course for healing, Starhawk says, whether participants at the Los Angeles ritual are activists, pagans or something else entirely.
“I’m hoping the event will provide people with some inspiration, with a place we can come together as a community, and maybe do some mourning and grieving for what has been lost and some raging, perhaps, about how we feel about it and come out of that with a sense of rejuvenation and renewal," she said. "The solstice is the time when we go into the maximum darkness, but that begins to turn around. The light begins to be born out of that dark.”
For more information about the “Mother Earth’s Transition Team” event, visit the organizers’ Eventbrite page.