“Who is the Goddess, Who is the Goddess?  We are!”

We sing these words each year at the big Spiral Dance ritual put on by Reclaiming, the spiritual network of teachers and ritual-makers I work with.


Venus of Willendorg

In The Fifth Sacred Thing, the Goddess is a character, much as Aywah is in Avatar.  Although the story includes many different religious traditions the three main characters, Maya, Bird and Madrone are Pagans who honor nature as sacred and worship the Goddess, the immanent life force embodied in the cycles of birth, growth, death and regeneration.

I’ve been learning, teaching and writing about the Goddess for many decades now.  In my first book, The Spiral Dance, published more than thirty years ago, I wrote:

“Once again, in today’s world, we recognize the Goddess—ancient and primeval; the first of deities; patroness of the Stone Age hunt and of the first sowers of seeds; under whose guidance the herds were tamed, the healing herbs first discovered; in whose image the first works of art were created; for whom the standing stones were raise; who was the inspiration of song and poetry.  She is the bridge, on which we can cross the chasms within ourselves, which were created by our social conditioning, and reconnect with out lost potentials.  She is the ship, on which we sail the waters of the Deep Self, exploring the uncharted seas within.  She is the door, through which we pass into the future…”


Sumerian Inanna

Growing up in the ‘50s and ‘60s, I had no concept of a female image of the divine.  I was raised Jewish, and God was supposedly beyond gender, yet always referred to as ‘he’.  At that time, women were not allowed to be rabbis or cantors, and there were few if any women ministers or religious leaders of any kind.   As a young feminist looking for alternatives to patriarchal religion, I began to read about the ancient Goddesses of Europe and the Middle East, who predate Christianity, Islam and Judaism.  I met Witches—people who claimed to follow an indigenous, nature-based European religion that had survived centuries of persecution in hiding.  The stories appealed to my sense of romance and I found the image of a Goddess tremendously empowering.  The Goddess allowed me to view my own body, my curves and breasts, my sexuality and sensuality, my intellect and ability to lead others all as aspects of the divine.

I found a community of others—women and men both—so inspired, and we learned to celebrate and create rituals, and to practice the discipline of magic, defined by occultist Dion Fortune as “the art of changing consciousness at will.”  I wrote books about the Goddess and our practices.  In the late ‘80s, I met director Donna Read and consulted on three films she made for the National Film Board of Canada:  Goddess Remembered, Burning Times and Full Circle.  Later we formed our own company and produced Signs Out of Time: The Life of Archaeologist Marija Gimbutas.  Gimbutas did some of the primary research on the ancient Goddesses of Old Europe.

The Goddess is generally seen with three aspects corresponding to the phases of the moon:  Maiden, Mother and Crone.  The Maiden, the New Moon, is wild, free—the huntress running with her dogs through the forest, the power of new beginnings.  The Mother, the Full Moon, represents both sexuality and nurturing, the power of fulfillment.  But the primary Goddess in The Fifth Sacred Thing is the Crone, who represents old age and death.  Death, however, is not a final ending but a transformation.



“The Crone, the Reaper, is not an easy Goddess to love.  She’s not the nurturing Mother.  She’s not the Maiden, light and free, not pretty, not shiny like the full or crescent moon.  She is the Dark Moon, what you don’t see coming at you, what you don’t get away with, the wind that whips the spark across the fire line.  Chance, you could say, or what’s scarier still: the intersection of chance with choices and actions made before.  The brush that is tinder dry from decades of drought; the warming of the earth’s climate that sends the storms away north, the hole in the ozone layer.  Not punishment, not even justice, but consequence.”

The Dark Goddess, to me, seemed appropriate for the sense of underlying loss and grief in the book—the loss of so much of what we have now, the terrible choices and sacrifices some of the characters are called to make.

Because I felt committed to a multicultural vision of the future, and my characters were African-American and Latino as well as European in heritage, I also drew parallels with some of the Goddess figures from those cultures.  One of my dear friends, Luisah Teish, is a Lucumi priestess, trained in the African diaspora traditions that derive from the West African pantheons of the Yoruba people of Nigeria.  Yemaya is the Yoruba orisha of the ocean, nurturing, embracing, sensual, maternal, sometimes peaceful, sometimes stormy.

I live in the Latino neighborhood of San Francisco, and I have visited Mexico many times and love the art, the culture and the mythology.  My partner and I spent our honeymoon in Tikal, and he became enamored of Mayan mythology and is writing a book about sacred ballgames and the Popol Vuh.  Every November 2, on Dia de los Muertos, Day of the Dead, I am honored to walk in the procession through the Mission District with poet Francisco Alarcon and help him honor the four directions.  So I also wove in some of the Aztec and Toltec Goddesses, particularly Coatlicue, “Serpent skirt”, Mother Earth who gives life but also devours life.  There’s a powerful statue of her in the archaeological museum in Mexico City, with two heads of serpents facing each other to create her face.  She powerfully symbolizes the intertwining of life, death and regeneration.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coatlicue


Learning More About the Goddess:

This week the documentary I made with Donna Read is streaming live at Alive Mind and Spirit.  You can join their website and watch it here:


They also distribute the three documentaries Donna and I made for the National Film Board of Canada:  Goddess Remembered, Burning Times and Full Circle.

You can find my books at:



Reclaiming, which is the Wiccan spiritual tradition and network I cofounded, has communities in many places around the U.S., Canada, Europe, Australia and the world.


Reclaiming groups offer public rituals, classes, gatherings, and intensives.  The latter can be found at:


Merlin Stone wrote When God Was A Woman back in the mid-70’s and introduced many of us to the concept of the Goddess.  Now, Z Budapest, longtime teacher and priestess and her consort Bobbie Grennier are making a tribute to Merlin Stone’s memory.  They’ve interviewed me and many others, and their work is an important in preserving our herstory. Their Kickstarter page is:


And finally, on YouTube you can watch two short films I made of our big Spiral Dance ritual that takes place each year just before Halloween:




I’m so looking forward to seeing the rituals that we’ll create for The Fifth Sacred Thing movie!  How exciting it will be to bring them to life!

6 Responses to Who is the Goddess in The Fifth Sacred Thing?

  1. Thank you for making The Fifth Sacred Thing Into a Movie. I read it many years ago and loved it.

  2. “The Fifth Sacred Thing” is a heart and mind opening book. I love that there will be a film of it and generally how our scattered creations are coming together on the internet and in so many ways to build the next world that will be so much better than this one. When in Tikal I sat on the Temple Uno throne and meditated/visioned all of this. (the global Rainbow Gathering of 12-12 will be somewhere in the Yucatan…perhaps near Palenque…keep in touch with the PeaceFleet of ocean going travelers who will keep you updated. Google JanetBratter for music, writing, photos, videos, etc…(especially if you are connected to recording/distribution/booking/management and/or publishing)

  3. Ann C. says:

    I love the spiral dance videos! I have always been able to view them without logging into YouTube. I’m surprised that the first video now requires viewers to confirm that they’re over 18. Does anyone know why this is happening now?

    • Starhawk says:

      I think someone complained that the Crone has bare breasts for about 15 seconds, and I (Starhawk) haven’t had time to re-edit a version without bare breasts, plus I really like that the Crone is barebreasted! I think Crone’s should have bare breasts–go Crones! It’s highly annoying, i agree!

  4. Morningdove says:

    In following this film project, you’ve reference the movie Avatar several times. I’m wondering if you have written or blogged about the movie elsewhere? I would love to hear your thoughts on the movie, and even compare and contrast it to the book, TFST. I find myself watching AVATAR and thinking about how the ideas of noncooperation could have created a less violent outcome and is low tech violence (arrows and knives) “more ok” than guns and bombs? What if we could rewrite that movie, what would it look like?

    • Starhawk says:

      Hi Morningdove, I did indeed write something about Avatar–I believe this is the link: http://starhawksblog.org/?p=332
      but if it doesn’t work look back through the archives on my blog, http://starhawksblog.org/ for February 23, 2010. I do think there are a lot of similarities in theme between Avatar and The Fifth Sacred Thing–in fact, we occasionally pitch our movie as “Avatar on earth”. They both ask the question: “How can a peaceful culture resist violence?” But I would say that Avatar’s core story is Jake’s transformation, from amoral disengagement to passionate commitment. Cameron has said the movie is about waking up. Often in movies passionate commitment is symbolized by violence–the willingness to join the fight. Think Casablanca! In TFST, the core question has another nuance–how does a peaceful society resist violence without becoming what it’s fighting against. Bird starts out as someone who has paid a terrible price for his passionate commitment. He and Jake are both wounded heroes. I don’t think TFST, either book or movie, gives a simple answer to that question–at least I hope it won’t, but rather will honestly grapple with it. Can we resist violence in some other way? Is there a power stronger than the gun and the bomb, and how to we gain that power, and what does it cost? I think that tension is what gives the book its power–and hopefully also the movie.
      How would you rewrite Avatar? Blssings, Starhawk

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