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The Byrne Report

Political Magic


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WHILE CLOSET WITCHES abound in the North Bay, the Western world's most visible practitioner of paganism makes her home amongst us. Starhawk has sold hundreds of thousands of books about making magic, witchcraft, sex and politics. She and her coven, the Reclaiming community, regularly hold public rituals to celebrate seasonal cycles, fertility, feminism and the Goddess.

The dark-eyed witch farms sustainably in rural Sonoma County where she offers her Earth Activist Trainings. The trainings are about permaculture: the art of connecting agriculture to political activism, and of working consciously to heal an earth wounded by capitalist patriarchy and mechanistic war. And since matter and spirit are identical in the Starhawkian universe, the simple acts of eating, breathing, shitting and procreating become profoundly intentional and consequential.

I had a cup of tea with the famous witch recently in her garden. She told me about some real magic happening in a field near George W. Bush's estate in Crawford, Texas, from which she had returned scant hours before.

"Thousands of people with relatives or friends killed or wounded in Iraq were at Camp Casey [named for the late soldier-son of antiwar organizer Cindy Sheehan]. It was a different collection of people from the usual suspects you see at political demonstrations. They were people who generally join the military because they believe in defending the ideas of freedom and democracy that we are taught in school. Now they see George Bush as perverting those ideals."

Starhawk went to Crawford to listen and learn.

"The protesters are mostly white and working-class. They are disillusioned with the Republican and Democratic political parties. They perceive Bush as a liar, as a violator of democracy.

"There was a deeply Christian atmosphere. A lot of prayer, a concerted effort to take back religious symbols from the religious right. There were signs like 'Who would Jesus bomb?'

"There was no overt room for pagan stuff, although a trickle of pagans came up to me quietly. There are, actually, a lot of pagans in the military, even a Wiccan chaplain at a base in Texas."

Starhawk, by the way, is not your Harry Potter–type witch. She defines magic as "the art of changing consciousness at will." Real witches strive to positively change the real world realistically. A witch does not cast a spell for the sun to rise at sunset, for example. Pagans desire to experience the Goddess as the material connectedness of all things. And that Goddess is not fashioned in the human image; she is not a deity, per se; she does not historically emerge from the bowels of class society, as do the Christian and Islamic and Buddhist icons.

Gaia is simply the fabric of the universe--as relevant to string theory as to deep ecology. What Starhawk calls Goddess, atheists such as Jean Paul Sartre call Being. And it is futile to deny the existence of Being.

The Camp Casey protest--led by aggrieved relatives of slain invaders--has clearly pricked Bush's standing with his political base.

Starhawk observes, "The consciousness of people whose natural bent is to support the president and the military and the status quo is shifting. If America ever rises up, Camp Casey is what it will look like--not an anarchist street party."

She sighs. "The life force leaves room for mistakes, imbalance, randomness. It is not all preplanned to work out for the greater good."

The Camp Casey movement, however, is run by authoritarians. Protesters who do not stay "on message" are kicked out. Noting that Sheehan is working with a public relations firm hired by MoveOn.org, Starhawk says that the message "Bush meet with Cindy" is ruthlessly enforced. For instance, a woman with an antifascist group was wearing a T-shirt with a slash through a circled swastika. When she declined to remove the logo, organizers asked Texas police to arrest her. They obliged.

Camp Casey defies stereotyping. "It was surreal," Starhawk says. "Here you had these military guys with the haircut, the military body language. And when a woman organizer spoke about the camp's achievements, the men cheered, 'That's what happens when women lead!'"

American Indian Movement leader Russell Means spoke about the positivity of matriarchal rule, she says, using the phrase "unbalanced patriarchy" to describe the Bush administration. "I thought, 'What planet am I on?'"

As Camp Casey dissolves, its inhabitants meander variously toward Washington, D.C., gathering forces along the way to stage a demonstration on Sept. 24. Strategic planning for the campaign is not done by consensus or majority vote or elected representatives. Sheehan and her advisers issue orders.

"These people are comfortable with authority from above," Starhawk comments. "And they seem to believe that the war will end once they confront Bush at the White House.

"That would be great, but I am not so sure it will be that easy."

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From the September 14-20, 2005 issue of the North Bay Bohemian.

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