The average writing day for pagan author Starhawk seems apt for someone whose spirituality is embedded in the magical qualities of nature. The 64-year-old wakes up in her northern California home and goes outside to sit and meditate. When she's ready, she settles down to write at a spot out in the woods, listening to the sounds of nature as she lets the words flow freely onto the page.
Starhawk, who cofounded the Reclaiming tradition of modern paganism in 1980, has been writing for the pagan community since she published her first book, The Spiral Dance, in 1979. The modern pagan community is comprised of people who identify as witches, pagans, neopagans and more. With The Spiral Dance, Starhawk became a leading voice in the neopagan movement, which is marked by the burgeoning of earth-based, goddess spirituality in the 20th century.
The writer now has a new book, a follow up to her 1994 epic The Fifth Sacred Thing, coming out March 1.
The book, City of Refuge, is set in a utopian and pagan-influenced San Francisco in the year 2048 just after a devastating war with the totalitarian South. As the city struggles to regain stability, it quickly becomes apparent that its troubles are far from over.
It took nearly twenty years for Starhawk to revisit the story of The Fifth Sacred Thing, though she's written many pagan-themed nonfiction books in the interim. She started writing City of Refuge in early 2012, inspired in part by her involvement with Occupy Oakland.
To her, a novel begins with a question, she told The Huffington Post. The question she had at the time, given the context of the Occupy movement, was, "How do we create a new world when people are so deeply damaged by the old?"
The novel is full of themes influenced by Starhawk's earth-based spirituality that begin to explore what that "new world" might look like -- from the city's marked reverence for nature to the characters' ability to gather information from crystals much like people today wield their smartphones.
“There’s a proverb that says, ‘If we don’t change our direction we’re going to wind up where we’re headed.’ The world we’re headed to is clear: rising seas, ecological collapse, social collapse. We see it happening all around,” Starhawk said.
Just like the characters in the book, Starhawk suggested that we might find inspiration to confront this dire reality by nurturing a "spiritual connection to nature."
“Let nature in, let nature be your teacher,” she said.
What the utopian North has that the South lacks in the novel are things that might seem simple at first glance: gardens that grow real food, effective natural healing techniques, and respect for the earth that translates into respect for every other person and living thing. These elements make the North and its inhabitants resilient and equipped to envision a healthy future for the generations to come.
It's essential, Starhawk said, "for all of us to look ahead and ask, 'What kind of world do we want to leave? What's the personal contribution we came into the world to make?'"
There's much healing to be done, both in the novel and in the real world, before that vision can come to fruition. As her initial question acknowledged, the "new world" only begins when people are able to heal from the damage caused by the old.
"It isn’t always a smooth road; I don’t think healing ever is,” Starhawk said.
But the book offers some hope that perhaps even a cynic might find comforting.
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