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27 December 2012 @ 09:10 am
Yaad Work: Book Report 6: Dreaming the dark (Starhawk)  
This is the last book report I wrote as part of my Year and a Day (YaaD) of study with Fieldhaven Coven. Local students are expected to read and report on one book per quarter. I was initially expected to read and report on one book per month; however, this was later bargained down to a total of eight books.




Assignment submitted October 29, 2012. This assignment passed.

Miles – YaaD – Book Report Q3, book 2

Starhawk. Dreaming the dark: Magic, Sex, and Politics. Beacon Press: Boston. 1997.

This book was assigned as the second half of a paired reading. In summary, it’s a book of feminist / NeoPagan political theory, with an emphasis on the immanent Goddess and what it means for people and groups to be aware of and practice immanence. I would recommend Dreaming the Dark to anyone interested in
  • learning about feminist politics,
  • making group work more effective,
  • developing and improvising rituals, or
  • working with personal power.


However, I would recommend it with the notation that, in my opinion, Starhawk blames men as a sex/gender for most of the ills in the world, while paying lip service to the idea that given better role models and cultural pressures, they could be different.

Chapter 1: Power-Over and Power-From-Within seems to boil down to "the world sucks because men took power away from women." Given that women can be just as awful as men, I disagree with her thesis.

Chapter 2: Thought-Forms: Magic as Language describes what Starhawk calls the cultural stories of estrangement, models that separate people from each other, from nature, from Goddess, and from themselves. It also describes using language to carry power, by naming things and by using concrete words and images.

Chapter 3: The Ethics of Magic discusses the difference between justice based on rules imposed on one from without, and justice based on immanent concepts of integrity (behaving in ways consistent with one’s values and accepting the consequences of one’s actions),” acting so as to be proud of oneself, valuing diversity, valuing human needs and emotions, and valuing sexuality.

Chapter 4: Reclaiming Personal Power: Magic as Will is an annotated transcript of a meditation that Starhawk guided another woman through, in which the woman faced her fears of both abandonment and being “absorbed,” faced her shadow self, and found her own power through a vision of the Goddess.

Chapter 5: Goddesses and Gods: The Landscape of Culture seems to be a very Jungian model for how children are taught to be separate from their mothers, how girls are taught to be dependent and boys to exercise power-over. The recommendation for solving the problem is to name the Goddess and look to her for the source of mothering, allowing people actually to see their mothers as separate individuals, unique in themselves, and not just the “ground” upon which “figure” is painted.

Chapter 6: Building Community: Processes for Groups discusses the need for community and suggests several processes and strategies for improving group work.

Chapter 7: Circles and Webs: Group Structures discusses the difference between hierarchical groups (inherently bad, according to Starhawk) and small collective groups, the lifecycles of groups, and how groups can interact with each other as groups (spokes and webs). The chapter lists several “official” roles that people can take within the context of a group, and several roles “unofficial” roles in which people may cast themselves that ultimately detract from the group’s success.

Chapter 8: Sex and Politics argues that everything is erotic, everything is sexual, sexuality is sacred, Lesbian relationships are always egalitarian, Gay male relationships are okay as long as one man isn’t using the other as a substitute for a woman, and mixed-sex relationships are okay but take much more work than same-sex relationships to avoid falling into cultural traps. The chapter also includes exercises for developing one’s internal polarity to create a “companion self,” a “same-sex double,” a love of nature, and a deep connection with a lover.

Chapter 9: Ritual as Bonding: Action as Ritual describes several rituals and discusses using them to raise energy and increase connection, both short and long term, or to strengthen a group action. It also looks at the inverse: treating group actions as rituals and planning them with a beginning, middle, end, and deliberate use of energy.

The Epilogue can be summed up with, “…but yet we have not lost hope.”

Appendix A: The Burning Times: Notes on a Crucial Period in History is a historical overview of the shift from a culture of primarily agrarian / herding / crafting to one of primarily wage-based work for others, and the concomitant shift away from local wise women and men to approved and official professions (such as doctors and priests).

Appendix B: Tools for Groups is just a few pages long, consisting of sample:
  • Procedures for running meetings
  • Procedures for framing rituals
  • Questions about group structure and process
  • Questions for active listening practice


Appendix C: Chants and Songs is just that.
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