Sunday, September 18, 2005

Starhawk is our Jesse Jackson

I don't mean that as a compliment. Jackson has used up his credibility from his earlier civil-rights work by parachuting himself into whatever crisis or disaster comes along, trying to grab some television time for his own agenda.

Now Pagan activist-writer Starhawk is up to the same game (again) with her own response to Hurricane Katrina. Short version: It's President Bush's fault, and Mississippians deserved to die because they do not worship Oya.

And a day later, the levees failed, and the floods came. They failed not from an Act of Goddess, but from a lack of resources. The Bush Administration had systematically cut funding for flood control and for repairing and increasing the strength of the levees. The money went to Iraq.

And Clinton and Bush Senior and so on back to FDR, I am sure. Not to mention that money spent in Louisiana has sometimes been spend in odd ways, ways that benefitted local politicians perhaps more than anyone.

You can see that her real agenda is Bush-bashing, because she brings in Cindy Sheehan, who is totally irrelevant here unless you want to go after Bush. (And let me add by way of disclaimer that as a lifelong Democrat I did not vote for either Bush, father or son.)

What about the Mississippians? Starhawk writes that certain "progressive" 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."

That's right, it shifted its course onto Pass Christian, Bay St. Louis, and such places, which evidently were more deserving. They are Mississippians, so they must be bigots, right? Not colorful Voodooists as in New Orleans.

Now, weeks later, New Orleans remains under martial law.

That statement is simply false and shows ignorance of what "martial law" is and how it is declared. If the city were truly under martial law, Mayor Nagin would be gagged on the sidelines, not issuing proclamations about who could move back in.

What we learn from Starhawk's rant is that we Pagans do not believe in a punishing Father God, but we do believe in a Mother Goddess who punishes those who voted for George Bush.

Finally, Starhawk is one of those who worships at the shrine of "diversity," but the Pagan movement in fact is much more politically and culturally diverse than she is. Perhaps some day she will acknowledge that fact. Do not regard her views as representative of contemporary Paganism as a whole.

UPDATE: Cindy Sheehan is now calling for Pres. Bush to remove the troops from "occupied New Orleans." Contrary to what one earlier commenter suggested, I do not see Starhawk's mention of her as merely coincidental.



Anonymous Herb Mitchell said...

Thank you!

8:59 PM  
Blogger Inanna said...

In the academic biz, we would call your reading uncharitable, yes? Starhawk obviously doesn't "grab some television time." She posted the piece to her own website, and it's been picked up around the web. She says up front that she doesn't speak for all Pagans. She comes down hard on the Bush administration, yes, for their failures in the wake of the hurricane; that isn't the same as saying that it's all Bush's fault. Clinton strengthened FEMA; Bush weakened it. She doesn't say that those who worship Oya deserved to be spared and others deserved to die; I don't think that implication could be read into what she says. No where does she mention "progressive" Christians, although you put that word in quotation marks as if you're quoting her. She mentions Cindy Sheehan because (a) she was in Crawford with Sheehan when the hurricane happened and (b) like a lot of people on the left, Starhawk draws connections between deplorable policy in Iraq and deplorable post-Katrina response. Profound criticisms of the administration can't be trivialized as "Bush-bashing."

I take your point about her misuse of 'martial law'? But whence your vitriol, really? Your reading of Starhawk does you no credit.

10:27 PM  
Blogger Chas S. Clifton said...


Bush may have weakened FEMA, but FEMA has nothing to do with hydraulic engineering--levees and so on. Plans that were on the books to improve them predated his administration.

What I am saying is that she is adding Katrina to the list of events and places--World Trade Organization meetings, the Israel-Palestine conflict, etc.--in which she has used her Pagan credentials in partisan ways.


7:40 AM  
Blogger Chas S. Clifton said...

I should add that I put "progressive" in quotes because it is a meaningless term, even more so than liberal and conservative. When someone like Starhawk uses it, it means "people who think like I do." Evidently those Christians who wanted to divert Katrina from New Orleans into Mississippi (rather than their brethren who wanted to punish the godless sodomites of N.O.) were "progressive."

7:52 AM  
Anonymous rhondda said...

It does seem to be a trend now to conflate one's beliefs with politics. I like Starhawk, but there always was a "but" and you hit it on the head. There seems to be an ideology here and it is hers.

3:05 PM  
Blogger Lisa said...

Starhawk's always been pretty upfront about her politics and religious beliefs kind of being one in the same, no? I kind of like like her for it. My religion shapes my politics, but it also shapes my diet and spending habits too, (I'm vegan and try to support small local business and buy organic, etc.)

8:30 PM  
Anonymous rhondda said...

Lisa, you are right. Starhawk has been upfront about her politics and religion- So has Jesse Jackson and so has the religious right. The message I get from all of them is this. If you identify with pagan, christianity, whatever, then your politics should be like this - insert talking points. Then we can play follow the leader. While I have learned alot from her books, it does not follow that I should then have to accept her politics as mine also.

10:13 AM  
Blogger branruadh said...

Inanna, she most certainly does attempt to speak for all pagans. It's overridden by her first sentence. I am a pagan, but not a nature worshipper. Therefore, she does not speak for me while claiming to know how I worship. It's akin to Bush's use of "mistakes were made." Her claim there is no central authority is cover language.

And "pagan religions are not punishment systems"? Has she paid any attention to Indo-European scholarship? The Greek myths are riddled with stories of gods kicking the butts of people who overstepped their boundaries. Irish lore is similarly full of what happens when you break a promise or abuse a privilege. And once you look outside of Europe, you see more of the same. Judaism did not invent the concept of divine retribution. They probably inherited it from the polytheistic system they had before the rabbis consolidated power in Jerusalem.

Even her capitalization of paganism is a clue she thinks it's all one religion. It isn't, and I'll refuse to bow to that as long as possible.

No, Starhawk deserved what Chas said.

2:07 PM  
Blogger Brian said...

First, she's not your Jesse Jackson, she's your Pat Robertson. Starhawk is the only person I know nutty enough to join Robertson in implying that her prayers affected a hurricane (at least the Christian nutcase managed to keep the hurricane from actually hitting Florida -- downgrading from category 5 to 4 through chanting is a bit less impressive).

Second, for someone who styles herself an leftist, its interesting how conservative her views range,

"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."

This is the sort of view I'd expect from a far right winger opposed to, say, stem cell research.

Just look at her views. Creationism? Check -- "she evolved us complicated, contradictory big-brained creatures precisely to experience some of those aspects." This is, plain and simple, creationism and every bit as nutty as the Christian-inspired version.

Inevitable Apocalypse? Check -- "I asked, “Is there any way to avert massive death and destruction.” The answer I got was an unequivocal ‘no’."

Second, this makes no sense:

"And a day later, the levees failed, and the floods came. They failed not from an Act of Goddess, but from a lack of resources."

The fricking Goddess has been cursing humans for millenia with hurricanes. Levees have been created to prevent the damage from this goddess of destruction. We wouldn't have to build levees if you could just have a word with your Goddess and have her cut this crap out (oh, and we could also do without all that malaria and AIDS).

Third, I am not a pagan (my wife is, however), but I thought Starhawk's recent essay about how pagans do not recognize the concept or existence of evil in the world was much more pernicious and bizarre (and there she was clearly writing as if she spoke for all pagans).

5:56 PM  
Anonymous Andrea said...

I have to agree that this seems a pretty serious misreading of Starhawk's essay. The central point of it from my reading was that Bush's policies, in Iraq and elsewhere, are causing the deaths of American citizens for no purpose. That American citizens (primarily poor/working class and minorities) are dying in Iraq in the army for a war with no conceivable point or conclusion; and that at the same time, American citizens (primarily poor/working class and African-American) died in New Orleans well above what would have happened if his government had done its job.

She isn't saying that they were PUNISHED because they voted for George Bush. She just said that they DIED because Bush and his administration fucked up. Which seems to me to be a pretty straightforward fact. The fact that funding for the levees was slashed and the money used to finance the war is all over the Internet; she didn't invent it. The fact that decades of destroying coastal wetlands reduced the protection they would have offered to New Orleans and other locations isn't some nutty "the goddess is punishing us" crap; it's just a fact. People cut the wetlands down; they weren't there to absorb the storm; therefore the fallout was worse.

I had been enjoying your blog right up until this entry; but to take her essay, one which was posted on her own website and which should therefore be understood as a private opinion--not some big I Speak for Pagans thing--not published in a book or magazine, or intended for any wide distribution, with a few small quotes taken out of context twisted to fit your own vision of what kind of person she is ....?

9:10 AM  
Blogger Chas S. Clifton said...


I have to question your comment, "posted on her own website and which should therefore be understood as a private opinion--not some big I Speak for Pagans thing--not published in a book or magazine, or intended for any wide distribution."

When you put something on the Web, it is intended for wide distribution. It is indeed published, and people in China could read it, if they wanted to. There is absolutely nothing private about posting something on the Web unless you somehow restrict viewers to a "friends" list, and Starhawk does not do that. Her site is there to promote her books, her workshops, and her views.

Second, she writes, "As Pagans, as worshippers of nature, how do we respond to an event like Hurricane Katrina, one of the most destructive natural disasters in the history of the United States?"

To me, she is indeed claiming that she is speaking for all Pagans. Otherwise, she would say, "How do I as one Pagan out of thousands respond to an event... etc."


12:16 PM  
Blogger Lisa said...

Second, she writes, "As Pagans, as worshippers of nature, how do we respond to an event like Hurricane Katrina, one of the most destructive natural disasters in the history of the United States?"

All I took that to mean was something like, "how can we understand this in a pagan worldview?" not like she's trying to establish a definative answer. Gosh, from back in my days on the AOL pagan message boards consistently until now, unless you preface every sentence with "in my opinion, i think... but i'm not saying all pagans have to think this way," you get labeled a fascist trying to speak for everyone. I think by now it's pretty well established that there is no central pagan authority, and that pretty much anything that anyone says is their own opinion, so can we stop being so darned sensitive about it? I don't like Witch Wars.

Religion was invented for people to mytholigically explain the world around them, and that's what Starhawk's essay was doing, that's all. I know that Wicca and Starhawk's thealogy seems to be more conducive (IN MY OPINION) to the idea that your actions have consequences, the energy you put out there is reciprocated, and this works collectively as well as individually. And I agree with Andrea about the wetlands, it's very simple science.

So, as a Goddess-worshipper who has shaped many Wiccans' thealogies and theologies, her views seem pretty consistent.

10:24 AM  
Anonymous Spicy Cauldron said...

As one who was burned badly by British Reclaiming last year, the details of which I won't go into here, I've become slowly over time more and more aware of some of the fundamental cracks in the walls of Reclaiming practice if not theory. While absolutely, categorically, in no way a fan of either Bush, I think your post is fair and balanced and you make all your points well.

It is interesting, isn't it, to see how some people are such slavish devotees of Starhawk? Whether she denies or acknowledges it, she is to Reclaiming what the Pope is to Roman Catholicism in many ways, and I think any spiritual tradition suffers from over-reliance on figureheads and also opens itself up to the risk of fossilisation and cultish abuse.

You run a great blog, by the way. It is just a shame that there are those who define as witches out there who cannot accept any criticism of their Queen. It is to the detriment of Reclaiming as a whole that one woman, whose anger these days seems to run rampant without any inner safety checks and balances, should attract such blinkered devotion when, as far as I am concerned at least, my devotion is to my gods and to the love of my life, my family and my friends. The gods are good, my family and friends and my lover are good; I cannot give unconditional love to someone on the basis that they write books I identify with in part, or because they pioneered spiritual traditions which, while I am very much aligned to in my heart, have more than one Achilles Heel in their overall philosophies. x

2:01 AM  

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