Saturday, July 19, 2008

The Spiral Dance by Starhawk

This book is a classic of paganism and the Goddess movement for a reason, and the twentieth-anniversary edition, which is what I have, is an improvement on the original. I can tell because, except for a few minor things that Starhawk herself was extremely uncomfortable with, the text of the book is the same. The changes, made in both the tenth and twentieth anniversary editions, take the form of endnotes. Most of the problems I had with the text on my first reading were soothed by those notes. Basically, the book is a primer on the form of Feri witchcraft that Starhawk followed/follows. It includes chapters on the God and Goddess, Sabbats, spells, and initiation, among other things. While I do not follow Feri myself, I did agree with many of the beliefs in this book, and found a few that had never occurred to me but that I would like to incorporate into my own faith.

There were a number of things in the book that I did not agree with, of course. I think the biggest one is Starhawk's constant assertions that witchcraft is a religion. I do not have that view at all. I see witchcraft as a craft, separate from religion. True, the majority of its practitioners are pagan, but one need not be pagan to be a witch, just as one need not be a witch to be pagan. It was also a little disappointing to find that the book mainly focuses on coven work; I'd love to have a coven, but because I don't follow any path that's established outside myself, that's not likely to happen anytime soon.

I would also like to address the concerns mentioned in other reviews I have read. I have seen many complaints that Starhawk's witchcraft is not Wicca. This is a problem with the reviewers, not the book--she never claims that it is! I have also seen that ubiquitous complaint about anything relating to Goddess worship--that it focuses on women and the Goddess to the exclusion of men and the God. At times this can be a legitimate problem, but it is not so with The Spiral Dance. I may be somewhat biased as a Goddess worshiper myself, but Starhawk gives equal time to the Goddess and the God. If she focuses on women, it is because there are more women than men involved in feminism and the Goddess movement. She never denigrates men or masculinity. She does focus a big strongly on the heterosexual paradigm and on gender essentialism, but these are corrected in the notes.

The third complaint I wish to refute concerns history. I saw at least two reviews on Amazon that complained in their titles of the poor history in The Spiral Dance. Firstly, I do not feel that this is a legitimate complaint to focus on. There is only one chapter that includes history, and it is hardly the main thrust of the book. Secondly, this book was written when both Starhawk and the Goddess movement were quite young. She used the resources available to her. In the endnotes, she readily points out that it is not fully historically accurate, but that it still makes a good myth.

To sum up: The Spiral Dance is a good book, well worth reading, especially for Goddess worshipers. Don't be put off by the skeptics--but make sure to read the twentieth anniversary edition, or even wait a year or two, and if we're lucky there will be a thirtieth!

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