The Fifth Sacred Thing, by Starhawk. Bantam, New York City, 1993. Hardback and paperback.
"DECLARATION OF THE FOUR SACRED THINGS
"The earth is a living, conscious being. In company with cultures of many different times and places, we name these things as sacred: air, fire, water, and earth.
"Whether we see them as the breath, energy, blood, and body of the Mother, or as the blessed gifts of a Creator, or as symbols of the interconnected systems that sustain life, we know that nothing can live without them.
"To call these things sacred is to say that they have a value beyond their usefulness for human ends, that they themselves become the standards by which our acts, our economics, our laws, and our purposes must be judged. No one has the right to appropriate them or to profit from them at the expense of others. Any government that fails to protect them forfeits its legitimacy.
"All people, all living things, are part of the earth life, and so are sacred. No one of us stands higher or lower than any other. Only justice can assure balance: only ecological balance can sustain freedom. Only in freedom can that fifth sacred thing we call spirit flourish in all its diversity.
"To honor the sacred is to create conditions in which nourishment, sustenance, habitat, knowledge, freedom, and beauty can thrive. To honor the sacred is to make love possible.
"To this we dedicate our curiosity, our will, our courage, our silences, and our voices. To this we dedicate our lives."
Starhawk does indeed dedicate herself to honoring the earth, and the people who live on it. Ive heard of her for several years now as an activist, both in behalf of her local community, where she led a movement to reduce the use of toxins in vineyards, and in behalf of the peoples of the world, where she is fighting against the destructive corporate takeover.
Many of you may know Starhawk from her earlier books, The Spiral Dance, Dreaming the Dark, and Truth or Dare. She honors the Goddess through the practice of Witchcraft, and writes, teaches, and lectures on the rebirth of the Great Goddess. Ecology and politics are two of her focusses, for the fate of the earth, our mother, rests on an understanding of ecology, and empowering ourselves to take right action in the field of politics, where we have the options of being wise stewards of the earth or earths destroyers.
I knew Starhawk through those books. And then one day in 1993 I walked into my local metaphysical bookstore (now long gone, as are all new bookstores in our small town) and a book jumped out at me. It had a radiant picture of sun dawning over green hills, like California in spring. The title, and the author, grabbed my attenion as wellThe Fifth Sacred Thing, by Starhawk.
It was a visionary novel by the wise and articulate Starhawk! (I have since learned that she began writing novels in college.) I took it home, devoured it, and passed it on to friends.
I almost never reread a novel. But the images in Starhawks novel imprinted themselves on me deeply. I thought about it frequently through the years, and about five years ago decided to reread it. The power of the imagery continues, and now again Im rereading The Fifth Sacred Thinga wellworn library copy. Each time I read it, I find it more powerful. Starhawk is indeed an ancient seeress, with many lifetimes of prophecy behind her. And an ancient storyteller as well! She writes a dramatic, engrossing story. I cry often as I read, a test for me of a storys emotional power.
This story is set in the future, around 2048. It takes place in California, and is centered in San Francisco, which has been Starhawks crucible. The Millenialists, an anti-life, anti-earth, anti-human Revivalist religion have taken over the United States. They have heavily contaminated the earth, air, and water, and their major focus is on anyone who opposes them. They are militarists, and use violent and cruel means to enforce their rule. They also promote ignorance. Sounds familiar, doesnt it? In fact, we are much more obviously moving in this direction than we were in 1993.
Communication, transportation, agriculturenothing works well anymore. People are cut off from one another, and survival is difficult.
Flashbacks let the reader know that in San Francisco there was a rebellion. Four old women with "nothing to lose" took pickaxes to shoulders and began to dig up what was then Army Street, and plant seeds they had saved from their own plants. They have lots of help, and the citys greening begins. This became known as the Uprising. By the time of the novel, the green and the water have been released from the earth, the paving has been eliminated, and people live in a green garden. Water is scarce, but they use it carefully and wisely, and have enough. Bay and ocean, however, are way too toxic to fish in or to be in.
San Francisco becomes an oasis of life sustenance. Life is at survival level, but gradually more amenities, and good science, become part of life. Most importantly, there is community. It is an inclusive community, which includes all skin colors and genders without regard to stereotype. The community is democratic and loving. But democracy is a lot of work, boring, time-consuming, and rife with its own conflicts. Starhawk portrays these real problems. Obviously she has lived them. Communal living is a challenge, but for many it beats isolationism or living under a big boss.
Any good storyteller puts the focus on real people, and this is exactly what Starhawk does. She makes her characters come alive, and you live and die with them. And they do die as well as live. There is conflict with the Stewards, the keepers of the repressive rule, and suffering under their cruelty. There is work to make bridges to the Southland (Los Angeles), despite the militarized zones and armed patrols. There is the scientific work to figure out the configuration of continually new viruses, and how to fight them. And there is work to learn decontamination techniques for air and water.
This is a provocative, informative, heart-warming, inspiring, and yes, sacred book. Starhawk gives an example of living with and honoring the five sacred thingsunder fire. Her characters did it. We can do it.