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This article is from the San Francisco Examiner ( cached copy). I'm posting it here because I'm having a hard time finding it in the archives of the SFE, and I thought it vitally important to keep. The author's name is Dan Evans, and this appeared (online) in the San Francisco Examiner on April 19, 2002. I did not write it, I have no claims to authorship, and I do not have permission of the publisher (I hope this is okay, but I can remove it immediately upon request). Note the question about 1/3 of the way down: "What's the difference between a witch and a pagan?" Her answer is one of the many reasons that I consider Starhawk to be a fundamentally bad leader in the Pagan community. (Special thanks to Witchvox for finding and posting this article.)

Earth's spirit moves pagan

By: Dan Evans

Publication date: 04/19/2002

Starhawk, arguably the best-known pagan in California, has been writing about witches and wiccan practices since the 1970s. She defines paganism as worship of the earth, a stance that melds quite nicely with her political and environmental activism.

Dan Evans: How do you define paganism?

Starhawk: I define paganism as earth-based spirituality. It comes from the same Latin root as countryside, and its adherents were the country people that kept their beliefs after Christianity. They believed the sacred is in the earth, in birth, in growth, in death and in regeneration.

Q: So paganism is a European tradition?

A: There are earth-based spiritualities on every continent, but when people talk about paganism, they generally mean people who have their roots in Europe and the Middle East.

Q: How do you see your own spirituality?

A: I'm not sure what you mean. Do you mean how do I practice it?

Q: Yes. How do you practice it?

A: I have a daily spiritual practice of just being in nature, even if it means on front steps, to observe what's going on. There are also rituals within our community, celebrating the seasons and the milestones in peoples' lives. The third way I practice my spirituality is through service to the community, trying to make the world a more compassionate and liberated place. For me, that's a very spiritual act.

Q: Has the number of people involved in paganism increased?

A: There's been a steady growth in the last 20 years, but it has grown a lot in the last few years.

Q: Why?

A: Honestly, I believe it's because of the Internet. It allows people to find each other safely. Right now, on an intuitive level, people see a threat to the Earth and her life, and that is a way to deepen that connection.

Q: What do you mean by "finding each other safely?" Are pagans and witches persecuted?

A: There's been a lot of misunderstanding of what paganism means. A lot identify themselves as witches, and people don't understand what that means. There is a prejudice as well. Some people think that if you believe the Earth is sacred, you're worshiping the devil.

But that's changed a lot over the years. In San Francisco, and in the Bay Area as well, our reputation for tolerance is well deserved. People in smaller towns are often very nervous about being out of the broom closet.

Q: What's the difference between a witch and a pagan?

A: The term witch is more specific. It's like saying Christian as opposed to Baptist. A witch is someone that specifically worships the goddess: birth, growth, death and rebirth. Witches are the ones that don't just show up on Halloween and May Day , but take some leadership in the community.

Q: Kinda like Christmas and Easter Christians?

A: Yeah.

Q: Where does wicca fit into all of this?

A: Some people prefer the term wicca, but it really means the same as witch. Wicca is just a more archaic form of the word. Also, some people are more comfortable with wicca because it doesn't set off the same alarm bells as witch.

Q: You grew up in the Jewish tradition, right?

A: Yes.

Q: How did you get involved with paganism?

A: I began when I was a teenager. My own deepest experiences happened in nature. Also, at that time, in the early 1960s, there weren't any roles of responsibility or authority in Judaism for women. Now there is, but that was before. I was looking for something other than a male image of God and I found the goddess.

Q: What is the goddess?

A: In a sense, it is a way of saying the Earth we live on is a living being. It has a consciousness and it communicates with us.

Q: What do you think about Judaism now?

A: I feel very much a part of it because of my ethnicity and cultural background. Had things gone otherwise, or had I had been born in a slightly different time, I would have ended up as rabbi instead of witch. Once I began hanging out with people whose idea of a sacred ritual is jumping naked into the ocean, it's hard to get back into the synagogue.

Q: Does having a Jewish background and being a witch cause any internal conflict?

A: From the pagan point of view there is no conflict. And being a Jew is just what you are.

Q: Your most famous work is "Spiral Dance." Explain what is it, how it came about and how it affected you? Did it make you famous?

A: It was my first book, published in 1979. It didn't give me much fame at the time, but it has grown. The spiral dance is a traditional dance. You spiral in, and spiral out as a symbol of birth and rebirth. We do it to raise energy and power and to celebrate the cycle of the seasons.

Q: What is magic, and how what kind of role does it play in paganism?

A: Magic is the art of changing consciousness at will.

Q: Explain.

A: In a sense, magic is an ancient form of psychology. There are various forms of awareness and perception, and magic is consciously choosing which form of awareness you want to be in.

Q: Could you give me an example?

A: A simple example would be if you were in a tense situation. You don't want to panic, but it's not easy. So you ground yourself. You learn to breathe, to make a connection with the Earth that can allow you to stay present and aware, and stay in a state where you can make a choice.

Q: That's magic?

A: That's magic.

Q: It's not all spells?

A: There are spells, but that's stronger. You're loosing the forces in the universe that can bring you want you want and what you need.

Q: From what I understand, I have a friend who's a wicca, you want to be careful and only send out good thoughts. Why is that?

A: It's sorta like karma, amplified. What you put out, you get back, three times over.

Q: Why?

A: In order to awaken those energies, you have to feel them yourself, and identify with them strongly. If you are invoking energies of healing and love, you tend to focus that on yourself. If you focus on hate and revenge, you tend to attract that.

Q: What's the connection between sex and paganism?

A: Pagans believe that sexuality is sacred, and not something that needs to be strictly controlled. It is one of the most beautiful ways we connect with the goddess.

Q: What is the reclaiming tradition?

A: Reclaiming is a network of people who believe in an Earth-based activism. For us, the Earth is sacred, and everyone is interconnected. Water has been a particular concern for us politically, and the Cochabamba struggle is something we've been involved with a lot recently.

Q: That's about Betchel in Bolivia?

A: Yes.

Q: What is Betchel doing?

A: The main focus of its business is taking utility services, privatizing them, and running them on a profit basis. There's nothing inherently wrong with that, but water is a life need, not something we can really do without. When you make it a profit-making venture, as Betchel has, it has consequences for the poor.

Bolivia privatized the water at the direction of the International Monetary Fund, which demands that sort of thing as a condition of loans. When they came to Cochabama, prices for water immediately doubled, to the point where people couldn't afford it. So they rebelled, blocking streets in Cochabama for almost two weeks. Betchel moved out.

Q: So the battle was won?

A: Yes. But Betchel is now suing the country of Bolivia for $25 million. Oscar Romero, one of the leaders in Bolivia, is going to be in San Francisco to accept the Goldman environmental award. We're supporting him, and urging Betchel to drop its suit against this very poor country. It's not the way the people of San Francisco want a company headquartered in our city to act. 

E-mail Dan Evans at

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