Arguably, no one has done more to define the shape of Neo-Paganism than Starhawk and Margot Adler. Starhawk is an eco-feminist, activist, Neo-Pagan Witch, and author. Her book, The Spiral Dance: A Rebirth of the Ancient Religion of the Great Goddess (1979), has probably introduced more people to Neo-Paganism than any other book, with the possible exception of Margot Adler’s Drawing Down the Moon (1979), which was published on the same day. In The Spiral Dance, Starhawk describes a variant of Victor Anderson’s Faerie tradition, bringing together Neo-Pagan Witchcraft with Robert Graves’ mythology, eco-feminism, and Jungian psychology. Neo-Paganism had been around for a decade before The Spiral Dance was published, but the book brought together disparate themes and defined the course of Neo-Paganism for the next two decades. Ronald Hutton describes Starhawk’s influence thusly:
“Starhawk is a writer of remarkable talent; it is difficult to take notes from her books without copying entire sentences, so perfectly are her thoughts expressed and so marked is her genius for aphorism. A clear and melodious prose is enhanced by an underlying passion of feeling, so that her sentences seem to heave with emotion. The second tremendous virtue of the book was that it reworked the whole image of witchcraft to give it new significance, and respectability, to a modern liberal reader. … The tendency of The Spiral Dance was not to explain or to instruct so much as to intoxicate; that doubtless explains much of its tremendous popularity.”
Borrowing from her teacher, Victor Anderson, Starhawk taught that human beings have three levels of consciousness, which she calls the conscious “Talking Self,” the atavistic “Younger Self,” and the divine “Deep Self.” The Younger Self corresponds to Jung’s Unconscious and the Deep Self corresponds to Jung’s transcendent “Self.” In The Spiral Dance, Starhawk explains that the purpose of Neo-Pagan Witchcraft is to get these “selves” communicating. This is accomplished through ritual. According to Starhawk, the only way to reach the Deep Self is through the Younger Self:
“It is not the conscious mind, with its abstract concepts, that ever actually communicates with the Divine; it is the unconscious mind, the Younger Self, that responds only to images, pictures, sensations, tangibles. To communicate with the Deep Self, the Goddess/God Within, we resort to symbols, to art, poetry, music, myth, and the actions of ritual that translate abstract concepts into the language of the unconscious.”
Starhawk describes divinatory practices as a kind of “spiritual and psychological counseling” and magic primarily in terms of its psychological effects. Inverting the way the relationship is typically described, she summarizes: “Psychology is simply a branch of magic.”
“Spells are extremely sophisticated psychological tools that have subtle but important effects on a person’s inner growth. … Practical results may be far less important than psychological insights that arise during magical working. … Spells go one step further than most forms of psychotherapy. They allow us not only to listen to and interpret the unconscious but also to speak to it, in the language it understands. Symbols, images, and objects used in spells communicate directly with the Younger Self, who is the seat of our emotions and who is barely touched by the intellect. We often understand our feelings and behavior, but find ourselves unable to change them. Through spells, we can attain the most important power—the power to change ourselves.”
The same year Starhawk published The Spiral Dance, she and Diane Baker founded the Reclaiming tradition of Witchcraft in San Francisco. Reclaiming became one of the most influential traditions within Neo-Paganism. Starhawk’s name is synonymous with action. She has consistently advanced a vision of religion as practical and of spirituality as political. She has led protests seeking peace and justice for the environment and for women, and sees these as an expression of her spirituality. In addition to The Spiral Dance, Starhawk is the author of Dreaming the Dark (1982) and Truth or Dare (1988), both of which bridge Neo-Paganism and political action. Her activist spirit and poetic style earns her the place as one of the “mothers” of Neo-Paganism.