Starhawk’s permaculture principles:
1. Be comfortable with who you are. Okay, I know this alone can take some of us a lifetime, but as a start, learn your history, take pride in it, don’t try to be some other color or culture or class. Let go of the white guilt or the male guilt or the class guilt. You didn’t create those systems of oppression, and while they might offer you certain benefits they also cost you. So just take responsibility for changing them. You, as who you are, have something unique to offer.
2. Be of service. Watch, look and listen—find out what the community’s aims and challenges and struggles are, and look for ways you can be of service. If you have something to offer—make it known, but wait to be invited in. If you’re not invited, you can’t just barge in and start doing stuff, however beneficial it might seem to you. Earth Activist Training can only do the work we’re doing in the Bayview because we were invited and have a partner in the community. If you are invited, show up and keep showing up. Share skills, resources, information and opportunities.
3. Realize that trust must be earned, and that may take time. Sure, it’s painful if people don’t instantly like and trust you because you are so nice and sweet and good, but when people have had a history of being exploited and ripped off by other people who look like you, they may not take to you instantly. Don’t take it personally, it’s not about you. Be comfortable with who you are, be of service and over time you will win that trust. And it will mean a lot more when you do.
4. When you’re in a different culture, norms and values may be different. You might not even realize what your own assumptions are until someone steps all over them. I remember feeling excruciatingly uncomfortable visiting a Sami friend in the north of Norway. I kept trying to make dinner conversation and everything I said dropped into a void of silence. I had just about decided they all hated me, when it occurred to me to ask my friend, “Ellen-Marit, is it like a Sami thing that you don’t talk during meals?” “Why would we talk?” she asked. “We’re eating!” Watch, look and listen. Expect to learn a lot!
5. Commit to the children. Years ago when I was perplexed about issues of cultural appropriation, I went and meditated and asked for guidance from the ancestors. The ancestors said, “We don’t really give a damn who your ancestors were. We care about what you’re doing for the children.” I would define cultural appropriation as “Taking the gifts of the ancestors without a commitment to their descendents.” So—be comfortable with who you are, don’t lay claim to knowledge or spiritual teachings or entitlements you haven’t earned, and then relax, enjoy, and get on with the work that will benefit the generations to come.
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Interview with Starhawk by Willi
(edited from audio)
What is the connection between permaculture and spirituality?
For me, permaculture manifests as a sacred activity from pagan practice. Our spirits are alive and intelligent. So I started to learn and practice permaculture and teaching to others.
What are some of the basic principles that you teach in your permaculture classes?
Permaculture has three basic ethics: care for people, care for the earth and care for the future. This is an earth-based spirituality. We definitely need to limit our consumption of natural resources and reduce our exploitation of the earth’s resources.
How does this sacredness manifest itself in other areas of your life, besides in the garden?
I try to spend time each day in Nature, observing and connecting with the natural world and the Goddess and the sacred.
Did you grow up in a typical Christian environment?
No, I grew up in Jewish faith. My Jewish education, identity and culture are still a large part of who I am today.
How do you express your values about localization through your permaculture projects?
Localization is a key part of my permaculture and earth-based spirituality, making a deep connection to place. We would have a healthier and more sustainable society if we were more deeply rooted in community. It is important to understand the spirit and the needs of the place we are in and take responsibility for its health. In San Francisco, I am working with a neighborhood in Bayview-Hunters Point, the poorest neighborhood in the City, primarily African-American, plagued by gang violence. We are building a large community garden to provide fresh food and vocational training. We are working with at-risk young adults and youth – teaching them organic gardening and new careers.
Is localization a viable foundation for new myths?
That will come in time. For now we need to re-connect the people to the community, soil and food making. This neighborhood has been really disconnected from the Earth in profound ways. I think the mythologies will come from them as they grow and develop. There is a media training component envisioned so they can tell their own create and share their own stories, videos, music: culture!
I think it will become like one, not like a dogma that we all bow down to, but a new set of core values through what is sacred most cherished. Sustainability provides us with a set of foundation principles along with some values from the traditional religions and the Pagan tradition.
Tell us about one of your initiations from your journey and how this could be an example of what I call EcoAlchemy?
That’s a challenge. I have had formal initiations into Wicca and the Craft. I spent time in Palestine work refugee camps as a peaceful resistance worker with tanks shooting at us and being welcomed into houses for meals. I now better understand my early fear of Palestinians. But now it’s gone from fear to welcoming. These visits are a transforming experience and now I do not experience the world in the same way.
Tell us a little more about the emerging myths from permaculture?
The whole Goddess religion is a powerful new myth. A myth about a time that was better than this one in many ways, more egalitarian, more cooperative. We may be able to grow into a future time of renewed harmony with Nature when the Goddess is re-awakened.
Do you think about the day when the oil runs out and the super markets are empty?
It is a mistake to see this occurring on one day. It will take time and will impact the poor who have the least resources. We prepare by understanding what infrastructure and resources we need now and making new systems to maintain our health and communities.
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A Novel by Starhawk The Last Wild Witch, illustrations by Lindy Kehoe
An eco-fable for kids and other free spirits. In the very heart of the last magic forest lived the last wild Witch. This is the story of how the children of the perfect town let a little wildness get inside of them, found their joy and courage, and saved the last wild Witch and the last magic forest from disappearing.
Also available: The Last Wild Witch Teaching and Discussion Guide which can be downloaded here as a pdf.
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Starhwak Bio – Eco-Social Activist and Permaculture Trainer
Starhawk is a veteran of progressive movements, from anti-war to anti-nukes, and is deeply committed to bringing the techniques and creative power of spirituality to political activism. Together with Penny Livingston-Stark and Erik Ohlsen, she co-teaches EAT, Earth Activist Trainings, intensive seminars that combine permaculture design, political organizing, and earth-based spirituality.
Starhawk travels internationally teaching magic, the tools of ritual, and the skills of activism. She lives part-time San Francisco, in a collective house with her partner and friends, and part-time in a little hut in the woods in western Sonoma County, California, where she practices permaculture in her extensive gardens, and writes.
Starhawk was born on June 17, 1951 and holds a B. A. in Fine Arts from UCLA and an M.A. in Psychology from Antioch West University.
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