Starhawk’s The Spiral Dance is a classic (and highly controversial) neopagan read.
Nearly half a century later, Moody Moons’ contributing writer, Bunny Orion, revisits this highly influential book.
Please note: The opinions expressed below are based on the author’s personal experience, knowledge, and interpretation of the subject matter and are not necessarily representative of Moody Moons, Inc.
Moody Moons welcomes a wide range of viewpoints. (Yes, we mean it. From liberal to conservative and everything in between).
Readers are encouraged to form their own opinions and make independent judgments based on a diverse range of sources.
The Spiral Dance: A Rebirth of the Ancient Religion of the Great Goddess by Starhawk is a cornerstone book in the world of modern witchcraft that speaks from the crossroads of neopaganism, feminist theory, and activism.
Originally published in 1979, this book was often one of the first picked up by spiritual hopefuls.
Building upon themes of earth-based worship and the integration of magic as a force for societal change, Starhawk guides the reader through the history of witchcraft, individual pillars of Goddess worship, grimoire pages and recountings from her own coven, and practical examples of exercises and rituals that can be used and changed to accommodate the reader’s own journey.
Since its original publication, Stawhawk has released two revised editions on its 10th and 20th anniversaries. For this review, I read the (affiliate link —->) 20th anniversary edition.
Full Title: The Spiral Dance: a Rebirth of the Ancient Religion of the Great Goddess
Release Date: September 22, 1999 (20th anniversary edition)
What makes this book interesting
As Starhawk is a revered figure in the witchcraft community, I knew this book would be filled with invaluable knowledge.
Indeed, I was delighted to read about the Goddess perspective and how it differs from other major religions. It was a beautiful change of pace to hear Starhawk write about the Goddess and our connection with her. She emphasizes how the relationship is not just through our spirit and mind, but also through our body. As she so wisely states in the first chapter of the book, “ in Witchcraft, flesh and spirit are one.”
Additionally, Starhawk dedicates much of her writing to informing the reader on how witchcraft can and should be used as a catalyst for social good. Since so much of her activism at the time revolved around feminism and ecological justice, she filled the chapters of this book with lived examples of how she used Goddess worship to aid in her actions to advocate for a safer, more equitable world.
Finally, Starhawk leans heavily on an element of ritual that is not often prioritized: fun. She writes openly and honestly about the need to have fun. She emphasizes how making mistakes and learning over time is to be encouraged, not suppressed. And most importantly, she admits that we are all always in a state of learning, even the wisest of witches.
Critiques and considerations:
From the start, I kept one idea firmly planted in the back of my mind: this book was written in the 70s. It was not going to accurately reflect the world of contemporary witchcraft or the political climate of our current lives. I was therefore not surprised when I raised my eyebrows at a few points throughout this book.
Right at the beginning, I was disheartened by the rather Eurocentric history section and the seemingly uninformed discussions of other religions from a non-practitioner.
I also was turned off by the general binary, heteronormative nature of the content being discussed. As a young queer woman, this interpretation of our world just doesn’t align with my own personal beliefs.
Finally, given that so much of this book focuses on the inherent connection between magic and activism, I found the discussions of feminism and eco-justice superficial.
As a modern reader, it clearly lacks the diversity and intersectionality that today’s witchcraft activism should strive to attain.
However, a mass majority of my critiques are actually addressed by Starhawk herself in the anniversary editions of the book. Revisiting her writing after a number of years, she reflects on how her beliefs have changed, what she still finds relevant in the books, and what she would rewrite. I think this record of her changing opinion is of the utmost importance. It shows how one individual’s opinions change over the years, but it also embodies the ever-evolving nature of the craft. This book, therefore, becomes a member of the spiral dance: growing and dying and rebirthing itself into new forms, ideas, and practices.
Despite its age, this book is still surprisingly apt for the modern witchcraft practitioner. Starhawk inspires readers to embrace witchcraft as both a personal transformative experience and a catalyst for positive societal change. Her writing has proven to be an unfaltering resource on modern witchcraft and its evolution over the years. The Spiral Dance’s enduring relevance lies in its ability to seamlessly weave together early traditions with contemporary wisdom, offering a roadmap for personal and collective evolution. If Starhawk releases a 50th-anniversary edition of this book, you will definitely find me on the pre-order list!