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The beginning of the Spiral Dance

It Was 20 Years Ago...

An interview with Kevyn Lutton, Starhawk, and Diane Baker
Interview by Georgie Craig
Photos (c)1979 by Kevyn Lutton, from the first Spiral Dance ritual

It was the year when British scientist James Lovelock published "Gaia: A New Look at Life on Earth,'' a book claiming the global ecosystem is a single living, creative system called Gaia.

It was the year when the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant suffered a partial core meltdown, and coincidentally the debut of movie "The China Syndrome,'' about a near-nuclear meltdown at a power plant.

It was 1979, the year of the first Spiral Dance ritual. An event that has become so powerful and magical that by 1998, 1500 people from all over the globe flocked to Fort Mason to take part. Dubbed "a participatory ritual performance in celebration of the true Halloween,'' the Spiral Dance was born at Fort Mason in San Francisco.

"It started as a book party for the publication of the 'Spiral Dance,'" said Starhawk, the book's author.

The Spiral Dance through the years - a chronological chart

But the overarching purpose was to initiate a large public ritual that melded art, music, ritual and politics, and to bring the Craft out of the broom closet. "It was a real attempt to integrate a political vision and a spiritual vision. I always feel that kind of dynamic tension in the ritual," Starhawk said.

Twenty years ago, Starhawk was a member of a small coven named Raving. Kevyn Lutton, one of the original Witches, teachers and ritual makers of Reclaiming, was also part of that coven. Lutton is an artist who designed the macramé costumes worn by the Goddess invokers [see photos, page 31-32] and the beaded headdresses for the elemental dancers. Kevyn remembers the upsurge of creative energy that flowered at this time.

"This poetry started coming out of Starhawk particularly and Lauren Gale (a Raving member). And a musician who was friends to us all though she wasn't part of our coven, Mara June Quicklightning, started composing music and making all these songs. It was magic, it just blossomed. I think Starhawk by nature is a liturgist, so the words and the poetry and the magic started really growing.''

One magical incident that sticks in Kevyn's mind from that time was the strange, but thankfully brief, disappearance of Starhawk's car. "We were driving around in Star's ancient Volvo and we'd go out to practice. We came out to get in her car one day and it was gone. We had to go and fetch it. It was literally in a junkyard and one of these big claw things had to pick it out of the junkyard and set it down. We all jumped in and it started right up.''

Planning an elaborate ritual can be difficult, as many Reclaiming Witches would attest, but the first Spiral Dance was different. "We were such a tiny little group, it was really simple, and it was a very inspiring experience and a lot of fun. It brought us together closer than we had ever been,'' Kevyn said.

She remembers how one part of the ritual moved her. "The intent was to celebrate the true meaning of Halloween. We just wanted to give to the community and do a public healing. And healing for isolation of artists moved me because I was having a really difficult time trying to support myself and be an artist and deal with my own personal traumatic roots.''

Dancing was key to the original Spiral Dance. Medea Maquis created a tree of life with the faces of the Triple Goddess around which the Goddess invokers danced. The actual spiral dance at the first ritual was "very chaotic, more like a tangle dance than a spiral, but it raised a lot of energy,'' Starhawk recalls. "We wanted to lure participants into a false sense of security by offering them a performance and then bring them into the dance.''

Another Raving member, Diane Baker, co-author of "Circle Round," remembers frantically learning the dance steps for the Goddess invocation. "It was wild. The woman who was supposed to dance in the maiden had to work. I was the only one who fit the costume so I had to go on. I was horrified at appearing in public with so little clothes on, but I took comfort in the fact that I had a mask on.''

She also took comfort from a new restaurant that had just opened at Fort Mason. "It was Green's. We'd run over there, throw ourselves into chairs, gobble down hot food and jump up and run back. Now, when I go there, I always remember eating cornbread and vegetarian chili.''

Preparing for the ritual required them to work day and night. "Kevyn designed the costumes. They were so beautiful, but she couldn't finish them in time so all of us sat up till midnight every night macraméing. She taught us how to macramé."

Diane remembers that all the effort, the working like a demon, paid off. "The actual event was electric. It sizzled; it was incredible. We were all so jazzed. Everyone was totally, totally on. It was really electric and exciting and very celebratory.''

No one knew they were creating a ritual that would survive and thrive over the next 20 years. But Diane has some insights as to why it's grown. "It has a spectacular aspect to it, it's a pageant, it's living theater, and I think that evokes something. Part of our nature is to do an annual bash, it's part of our cycle needs.'' Baker also has advice for those who continue to provide public rituals. "Don't get burned out, be nice to each other, have fun, don't get overly ambitious, focus on the creativity and the magic. And to people who say that you should do it differently, invite them to join you and put their work into it also.''

As for Starhawk, part of her couldn't even imagine the ritual getting this far and part of her thought it would get much further. She hoped that in 20 years, "the entire world would be transformed and half of it would be Pagan. Twenty years seems like a longer time when you're 28, than when you're 48. And part of me thought it would just be a miracle if the world hadn't blown itself up in 20 years."

Though later Spiral Dances did not have as much specific political content within the ritual as the first one, Starhawk has been asked to write a new "terrible litany" for this year's ritual. And it is a challenge. "How do I cover all the terrible things of the last century, if not the last millennium, and keep it short?'' she asked. Well, I'm sure we'll find out at this year's ritual.

Georgie Craig is a Reclaiming Witch, writer, teacher of magic, editor and vibrantly alive woman.

Photos (c)1979 by Kevyn Lutton, from the first Spiral Dance ritual.

The Spiral Dance through the years - a chronological chart

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