I’m a nice Jewish girl who grew up to be a Witch,” says Starhawk, author of The Spiral Dance and other books. “My father was a Communist who died when I was five, and although my mother’s real religion was psychology, she never lost her Jewish identity and her attachment to Judaism. We lived in Los Angeles, in an apartment upstairs from my Orthodox grandparents. I went to Hebrew High School and narrowly missed becoming a rabbi, but one day I realized that if I were a rabbi, I’d have to go to services all the time, and I always found it boring. The times when I felt that I was in the presence of the sacred has rarely been in the synagogue or studying holy books.”
Starhawk explains, “I felt a lot more freedom in the Goddess tradition to be creative, to be spontaneous, and to create ritual. There’s no reason why you couldn’t have a Jewish ritual that involved dancing naked around the bonfire and plunging into the ocean, but doing that as a Witch seemed natural, and doing that as a Jew seemed strange….I had first met witches when I was at UCLA in 1968, when I did an anthropology project on witchcraft and was fascinated by the idea of the Goddess. It was tremendously empowering to think about divinity in female form and to think about a religion that said sexuality was sacred and nature was sacred. This fit the real experiences I’ve had in life…
“The Goddess religion provides another vision for religions like Judaism and Christianity. It shows that women can be spiritual leaders and religion can be built around female images of beauty. In the pagan world, women rested against rocks and let the sun warm and celebrate their vulvas. We’re the radical edge. Women pushing for more of a role within their religions seem moderate by comparison. I don’t think anyone in the Goddess movement would want to see everyone become a Witch. But I do think that understanding the earth is something sacred, and that the whole web of life is to be cherished, protected, and loved.
“I’m deeply Jewish at my core being, and it affects everything I do. What I took from my Jewish education is the sense of this world being the center of religion. It’s about paying attention to what’s going on around you in this life, not about the afterlife.” This sounds like her current practice. “It’s about the real relationships you have, being active in the world. Justice is core to religious being. For me, that’s translated directly into my approach in Goddess religion. Unfortunately, social consciousness isn’t as universal in Judaism as I once thought it was.”