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Dreaming the Dark: magic, sex and politics.
Starhawk.
Beacon Press, Boston.

This is a lovely and fascinating book, full of insights. The main thread of the book is about the metaphors that shape our lives and our politics, and about how politics is fruitless unless it is connected with an awareness of the joys and sorrows of life, a sense of the erotic. Many of our patterns of behaviour are so established that their power is hidden, and it is only by naming them as Starhawk does (“The Good Guys versus the Bad Guys”, “ The Great Man Receives the Truth”, and so on) that we can see them clearly enough to change them — the power of naming is a basic magical principle.

Starhawk writes from her experience of many kinds of groups, magical groups, political groups (especially those involved in non‑violent anti‑nuclear activities), and therapy groups. Her accounts of the processes that take place in groups is very valuable, and is expressed both in symbolic magical terms and in more conventional political terms, each approach illuminating the other. It takes a lot of time to make decisions by consensus rather than by voting and to look at the ways people are inter‑relating. Political groups — and magical ones — often refuse to spend this time, feeling it is irrelevant to their main aims. But if the time is not taken, hidden and unresolved conflicts often make the group function poorly and so ultimately take even more time. Everyone would find Chapters 6 and 7 and Appendix B, which are about group process and structure, very useful  (page 129 contains Starhawk’s Three Laws of Small Groups). If your political friends do not understand the relevance of magic suggest to them that they read these chapters — they may begin to see how an insight into the patterns and symbols of living (and this is the essence of magic) increases our power to act and change — perhaps they will even read the rest of the book with sympathy. (Added 2005 — nowadays Starhawk is primarily a political activist and is using her insights into magic for this purpose (see my review of Webs of Power).

Starhawk has a feminist vision of the future and is aware of the way women are currently oppressed. But she has nothing to say about the problems that arise when women and men work together. Women may be feminist and men sincerely and actively pro‑feminist but the weight of our conditioning is so great that traditional patterns creep in before we realise. It may not yet be possible to work together if we are open enough to feel the pain, but denying the pain is even more destructive (see the classic pamphlet Is it Worthwhile Working in a Mixed Group? by Asphodel Long and Mary Coghill — it is now out of print but Asphodel’s portion is on her Web site). I have been at a meeting where several women had magical feminist experience of the kind Starhawk describes (I do not know what the men’s experiences were), and in which the discussion was entirely carried on by the men. I asked the women why, and was told they were bored with the direction of the talk. I asked why they didn’t attempt to change the direction and they said they didn’t want to be thought of as strident!

The lack of mention of these matters might make readers believe that Starhawk sees no problem here. I don’t believe this is her view, but I find the omission surprising in a book which otherwise sees deeply.

Wood and Water volume 2, number 7, Beltane 1983
© Daniel Cohen

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