Starhawk: The Pagan Pat Robertson

Earlier this month, I mentioned my disdain for pagan activist Starhawk. But I did not appreciate just how nutty she is until my wife directed me to Starhawk’s A Pagan Response to Katrina.

The article is bizarre through-and-through, but the highlight is the Pat Robertson moment,

The forms and names we put on Goddesses, Gods, and Powers help translate those forces into terms our human minds can grasp. And so the Yoruba based traditions that originate in West Africa have given the name ‘Oya’ to the whirlwind, the hurricane, to those great powers of sudden change and destruction. Santeria, candomble, lucumi, voudoun, all include Oya in some form as a major orisha, a Great Power. Offerings are made to her, ceremonies done in her behalf, priestesses dance themselves into trance possession so that she can communicate with directly with the human community.

No city in the U.S. has more practitioners of these traditions than New Orleans. On the night the hurricane was due to hit, I made a ritual with a small group of friends to support the spiritual efforts that I knew were being made by priestesses of Oya all over the country. We were in Crawford, Texas, at Camp Casey, where Gold Star mother Cindy Sheehan, whose son was killed in Itaq, camped near Bush’s ranch to confront Bush with the painful reality of the deaths his policies have caused. Many of the supporters there were from New Orleans, worried about their homes, their friends and families. The overall culture of the camp was very Christian—we found no natural opening for public Pagan ritual, although a number of people did indicate to me quietly that they were ‘one of us.’ But our little group gathered by the roadside, cast a circle, chanted and prayed.

We prayed, speaking personally in the way humans do: “ Please, Mama, we know what a mess we’ve made, but if there is any way to mitigate the death and the destruction, to lessen it slightly, please do.” That same night Christians were praying and Orisha priestesses were ‘working’ Oya, and the hurricane did shift its course, slightly, and lessened its force, down to a Category Four.

And New Orleans survived. Not without loss, and death, but without the massive flooding and destruction that was feared. We all breathed a sigh of relief.

Robertson, of course, infamously claimed that through prayer he prevented Hurricane Gloria from striking Florida in 1985. In contrast, Starhawk’s accomplishments seem a bit underwhelming.

In both cases, however, it is interesting how indifferent both Robertson and Starhawk were to other people’s suffering during their purported spiritual efforts. After all, Hurricane Gloria went on to wreak havoc on the East coast, while Katrina avoided a direct hit on New Orleans but devastated other parts of Louisiana and Mississippi (Starhawk doesn’t mention the devastation in Mississippi, where hundreds of people were killed by Katrina, even once in her essay). Presumably Mississippians should have employed more voodoo adherents the next time a hurricane comes to town.

As I have said before, what fascinates me about new religious movements is how frequently they are simply that old time religion with a slightly different veneer on it. Although she imagines herself a leftist and a pagan, Starhawk’s views are surprisingly right wing fundamentalist.

Aside from the miracle of altering a storm’s course and strength, she’s got creationist nonsense,

Our human intelligence, our particular, sharp-pointed ability to analyze, think, draw conclusions and act, our esthetic/emotional capacity to thrill at a beautiful sunset, our deep bonds with those we love and our empathy and compassion for others, are all aspects of the Goddess Herself. Indeed, she evolved us complicated, contradictory big-brained creatures precisely to experience some of those aspects. Or to put it simply, she gave us brains and she expects us to use them.

She’s got apocalyptical prophecies inspired by man’s wickedness,

A few weeks ago, when we were preparing for the Free Activist Witch Camp that Reclaiming, our network of Witches, offered in Southern Oregon, I asked, “Is there any way to avert massive death and destruction.” The answer I got was an unequivocal ‘no’.

“The process has gone too far,” was the answer. The image that came to me was river rafting and shooting the rapids.. There was a point where we as a species could have chosen a different river, or a different boat, or a different channel. But now we’re in the chute. We can’t turn back. We can’t stop.

Not to mention people’s contemptuousness of her particular deity,

The Goddess does not punish us, but she also doesn’t shield us from the logical consequences of our actions. Katrina’s destructive power was a consequence of a human course that is contemptuous of nature. A Native American proverb says, “If we don’t change our direction, we’re going to wind up where we’re headed.” Katrina shows us a glimpse of that awful destination.

This last quote is the one I find the most bizarre. So people who die in natural disasters are the victims of their own contempt for nature? I’d love to see her explore the theological implications of the North Sea Flood of 1953.

7 thoughts on “Starhawk: The Pagan Pat Robertson”

  1. Thank you for having the courage to speak the truth. Starhawke enraged indigenous elders years ago when she showed up uninvited on a reservation and started doing one of her bizarre rituals. She showed extreme ignorance of indigenous ways and extreme arrogance towards LEGITIMATE spiritual leaders she claimed to admire. She had to be escorted off the reservation and banned from ever coming back. This should give you a clue to her TRUE CHARACTER. Starhawke, like Robertson is all about greed and ego. She’s in this thing for the power, the glory and the cash. The worst thing is that charismatic, greedy Euro-Americans are in the spotlight, twisting and perverting the only truly “pagan” beliefs on this continent – the indigenous beliefs and destroying those beliefs in the process by making them fads for the capitalist beast to consume. Thanks for being the only person I can find online willing to criticize the great plastic guru!

  2. I just sort of stumbled in on this blog. would like to here more of the incifent on the Indian reservation to which Helen alludes. yu can e-mail me at yipslsquirrel (at)

    I have been quite critical of the apparent Starhawk Cult, so to speak, since I first encountered it, inthe early 1980s (I’m guessing 1983) at the ever-embattled American Indian college DQ University in Yolo County, California. at that time, I didn;t find Starhawk all that overtly DISrespectful of the native elders who were present at what was on the verge of becing a government eviction from the DQ property.I did feel she was far more interested in being a “leader,” despite her rhetoric about egalitarianism and “power-within” than in actually participating in the spiritual practices of either the Native Americans or the Japanese Nicheren Buddhists who were resident at DQ U and/or present.

    I;ve ratehr retired telling the story except to close friends, but my discomfort with Starhawk’s approach (and indeed, my discomfort with her self-chosen identity as “Starhawk”) began when she was co-facillitating a meeting for people who were risking possible arrest had the US marshals entered the DQ property to evict the resident native Americans and their supporters. Starhawk asked the assembled group, “how many people here are familiar with the concept of jail solidarity?,” whixh at the time was very much a part of the Abalone Alliance/Livermore Action Group approach to “nonviolent preparation” for possible arrest for civil disobedience.

    that very question from countercultural, white activists whose experience with arrest and detention was basically about spending a few days in a holding tank for a group action at, say, Diablo Canyon or the Livermore Labs was jarring and, I felt, insulting to the Native Americans and other people of color present, many of whom have done serious and dangerous prison and jail time.

    it was fairly entertaining as well as annoying; about two thirds of the people attending the meeting raised their hands to say that they were, indeed, familiar with the concept. it seemed to me that the appropriate response from the session facilitators, including Starhawk,would have been to have a meeting for the minority who did NOT claim a prior knowledge of the jail solidarity concept. but *no-o*, Starhawk proceeded to give the general “we don;t sign bail papers” talk to the entire group, without asking anything about the experiences of those who had been through the process before.

    I;d been living in the foothills for some years then and the neopagan :rejuvenation” of Abalone ALliance and Livermore Action Group was something I;d missed out on, ut my thoughts were something along the lines of :who IS this woman?”

    I;ve told the tale in greater detail elsewhere, ut as it turned out there were no arrests or evictions that were to occur, and the very people who;d sworn that they had a whole three days to be arrested and remain on no citation release jail solidarity with their native sisters and brothers were, for the most part, too busy to stay around when the resident Indians, including then chancellor of the college and well know AIM acticist Dennis Banks, invited us all to stay for a celebration.

    Starhawk wanted to organize worjshiops and such, but she never appreared at the ceremonial grounds where there were sweats opened. I thought that was rather entertaining ()Okay, I have a warped sense of humor) and mentioned something about it to one of the American Indian guys with whim I was waiting out at the sweats. he jsut laughed and said, “fine with me if people like that are running their meetings back there; we;d jsut as soon they weren;t out here at our real church cting like some kind of tourists.”


    Japanese nun Jun-san (Tosghie Yasuda) was the keeper of a small Nicheren Buddhist temple on the grounds then and had a Buddhist sutra ceremony – Starhawk and most of her loyal bay Area folliers weren;t seen there either. and I noticed that Starhawk was too busy being a facillitator to come into the kitchen where we were preparing meals for all who stayed with the potluck and donated food people had brought (there were a few notable exceptions from the LAG crowd who did join me in the kitchen) nor did she help bake cookies for the Buddhist ceremonies.

    I guess I have a hard time with anyone who shows up to be a “chief” without having done the grunt work on some level or another.

    there was another humorous incident along those lines with Starhawk during this event. there is a family of mixed north American and Mexican Indian descent (the mom in this family made the best fresh flour tortillas I’ve ever eaten!) who had been farmworkers for some years, and in one of our evening circles the father in this family led the group in talking about his work in the United Farm WOrklers alongside Cesar Chavez, who was still very much alove at the time, and then he led us in the Spanish-language folksong that became a farmworker anthem, :”De Colores.” a few people joined in on musical instruments, and it was a really lovely, empowering moment even for those who didn;t speak Spanish.

    Starhawk couldn’t let it be there, and she chimed in, “here’s a chant from our Celtic ancestors” and went into one of those repetitious and tuneless ‘I am the water I am the sky” numebrs in English (which “our” Celtic ancestors assuredly didn’t speak, nor do either Starhawk or I actually HAVE Celtic ancestors, as far as I know we are both of mostly Ashkenazic Jewish ancestry.) it was incredibly anti-climactic after Xemo’s lpvely multicultural embracing of the farmworkers, and a bunch of the native people present were snickering audibly. as one of the European-descended people there, I was a bit embarrassed.

    I;ve, as i say, let up some on my public criticisms of Starhawk – I dreamed years ago that she confronted me at a social gathering asking why i was always :talking shit” about her and tat led me to feel I need to focus on people who ARE making important contributions rather than on the foolishness of a few people who have never worked an honest day in their lives and who write what I consider unreadable books (her novels were absurd and her platitudes in her non-fiction too desnse) and make self-righteous speeches everywhere they go while collecting good money for eading “egalitarian” gatherings from many who can ill afford it.

    persobally, I find that magic and political action, rather like religion and politics, are a potentially frightening combination, though i consider Starhawk to be ludicrous most of the time, but not dangerous. (I had similar issues with her erstwhile mentor Z Budapest – casting circles and doing rituals to ask that the Universe “recycle the rapist?” well, better, and less vilient in effect, than lynchng, I suppose.)

    oh, there was also the bok on parenting for pagans that Starhawk co-wrote with two women who are, at least, mothers themselves – Starhawk has never birthed or raised chidlren, unless you count that her husband’s GRANDchidlren sometimes stay with them! she;s never been a schoolteacher or a chldcare worker either…she *was* a practicing MFCC psychotherapist for a little while, which is also a bit scary…I am almsot baffled as to why anyone would find her credible as a source of insight on parenting, or even pnactivism (there were plenty of nonviolent activists with many sorts of spiritual background around, and active, before Starhawk and her neo-Wiccan followers, believe me! read some history or get to know some of the peace and justice elders for background)

    all that being said, I respect the right of those I know (and those I don;t know) to find meaning and strength ina ttending Reclaiming rituals, just as I respect the right of people to worship at traditional churches, Kingdom Halls, and temples where I find the theology spiritually indigestible as well.

    I’m just glad, as Helen is, to find some thoughtful critique of the “Starhawk/Wicca/activist” phenomenon. thanks for this thread and the others on it…

  3. Whether we agree or not isnt important its the right to do things that you need to do. What about the Wiccan story of bringing down the fog to stop England being invaded. I do feel we should allow ancient beliefs to be allowed to change in their own way rather than by outside influence.

  4. well, what *about& this story about the fog to “stop England from being invaded” (are we talking about the Normans, the Vikings, or the Third Reich in the 20th century, or some mythical time in the days of Avalon? this is a very vague reference. the famous “fogs” of England weren’t really anything natural or supernatural; they began on the 18th century with the Industrial Revolution and very a highly toxic form of air pollution from the factories that William Blake rightly saw as “Satanic mills.”

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