The Fifth Sacred Thing

The Fifth Sacred Thing

by Starhawk


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An epic tale of freedom and slavery, love and war, and the potential futures of humankind tells of a twenty-first century California clan caught between two clashing worlds, one based on tolerance, the other on repression.

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 became 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 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 its full 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.

Praise for The Fifth Sacred Thing

“This is wisdom wrapped in drama.”—Tom Hayden, California state senator

“Starhawk makes the jump to fiction quite smoothly with this memorable first novel.”Locus

“Totally captivating . . . a vision of the paradigm shift that is essential for our very survival as a species on this planet.”—Elinor Gadon, author of The Once and Future Goddess

“This strong debut fits well against feminist futuristic, utopic, and dystopic works by the likes of Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Ursula LeGuin, and Margaret Atwood.”Library Journal

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780553373806
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
Publication date: 06/28/1994
Series: Maya Greenwood Series , #1
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 496
Sales rank: 208,086
Product dimensions: 9.10(w) x 7.92(h) x 1.24(d)

About the Author

Starhawk, author of The Fifth Sacred Thing and Walking to Mercury, lives with her husband, stepchildren, and Goddess-children in San Francisco, where she works with the Reclaiming collective.

Read an Excerpt

In the dry time of year, the dangerous time, the risk time, an old woman climbed a hill. Like most people in the southern part of the city, she called the season El Tiempo de la Segadora, the Time of the Reaper. The hills were dry, the gardens dependent on the dwindling waters of cisterns, the rains still weeks away. A time of ripening, but not yet of harvesting, when nothing was certain.
She climbed the hill as she had once climbed mountains, one step at a time, planting her stick firmly in front of her and letting it bear her weight as she hoisted herself up. She was ninety-eight years old, born at the midpoint of the twentieth century. Two more years, and she would see the midpoint of the twenty-first. In her day she had climbed many things: Sierran peaks, pyramids, chain-link fences, the way back from despair to hope. And this hill, looming up above the southern corner of the city, rising like a pregnant belly above the green patchwork of houses and gardens and paths and the blue waters of San Francisco Bay. By Goddess, she could still make it up this hill!
Maya stopped to catch her breath. Around her was a moving throng of people, dressed in the greens and golds of the season, gossiping happily or chanting solemnly according to temperament. They carried baskets of offerings: bread and fruit and cheese, fresh vegetables from the gardens.
Below stretched a panorama of sculpted hills crowned by toy houses, cradling the aging skyscrapers that rose from the low ground beside the bay. The city was a mosaic of jewel-like colors set in green, veined by streams and dotted with gleaming ponds and pools. Seen from above, blocks of old row houses defined streets that no longer existed. Instead, bicycles and electric carts and the occasional horse moved through a labyrinth of narrow walkways that snaked and twined through the green. Above the rooftops, gondolas like gaily painted buckets swung from cables, skimming from hilltop to hilltop, moving between high towers where windspinners turned. To the northeast, Maya could see a long train moving across the lower deck of the Bay Bridge, bringing early grain to the central market. Beyond, the blades of the wind generators atop the Golden Gate Bridge seemed suspended in midair, their supports invisible under a gray shroud of fog.
Beautiful, Maya thought. She had adored the city ever since her first glimpse of it in the Summer of Love, more than eighty years before. She had been seventeen then, enchanted by the fog concealing and revealing mysteries like the veils of an exotic dancer, delighted by the crowded streets where people seemed to be perpetually in costume: gypsies, pirates, Indians, sorceresses skipping down the sidewalks to the strains of the Beatles singing “Love, Love, Love.”
You have been my most constant love, she told the city silently. Not monogamous but never unfaithful, sometimes a bit tawdry but never boring. And you haven’t gone and died on me yet, like the others.
“Love is all you need.” The song played in her mind. But the Beatles misled us, she said to the air, thick with the ghosts of her own dead lovers. It wasn’t all we needed. We wanted to love, freely and without barriers. We had to remake the world in order to do it.
Sighing, she continued up the steep incline. The truth is, she admitted, this is a hell of a climb for an old hag like me. I could have spared my strength, let Madrone visit the shrines.
The shrines to the Four Sacred Things encircled the base of the hill at the cardinal directions. Maya had made a laborious circuit. She left seeds of rare herbs at the earth shrine, feathers of seabirds and roosters at the air shrine. At the fire shrine, she gave white sage and black sage and cedar, and at the water shrine, she’d left a jar of rainwater saved from the first storms of the previous autumn.
But Madrone probably wouldn’t have time. I know how it goes, Maya grumbled. She’s probably up to her elbows in blood and vernix, lucky if she can dash up the hill at the last minute. I’m fussy in my old age. An Orthodox Pagan, I like these rituals done right: a leisurely visit to each shrine, a walk up the processional way, time to meditate, contemplate, trance out a bit.…
The path wound its way above the small reservoir dug into the side of the hill. Now she could hear the little stream that tumbled down a sculpted watercourse to feed the gardens along her own street. There were so many more gardens, these days. By necessity, now that the Central Valley farmlands were baked to rock by the heat and the fires.
Look at it! Maya paused again, breathing heavily. The city was a place of riotous flowers and clambering vines and trees, whose boughs were heavy with ripening fruit.
It looks so lush. She took a long, deep breath, then another. You’d think we had plenty of everything, plenty of land, plenty of water. Whereas we’ve simply learned how not to waste, how to use and reuse every drop, how to feed chickens on weeds and ducks on snails and let worms eat the garbage.
We’ve become such artists of unwaste we can almost compensate for the damage. Almost. If we don’t think about the bodies mummifying in mass graves over the East Bay hills. If we ignore the Stewards’ armies that may be gathering, for all we know, just over the border.
Well, we made our choice. She started uphill again. We chose food over weapons, and so here we sit, lovely but as unarmed as the Venus de Milo.
As she neared the crest, the path wound across the west side of the hill. In the distance, she could see Twin Peaks, poking above a patch of fog like two brown breasts sticking out of a milk bath. They reminded her of Johanna.
“You hear that, Johanna? Twin Peaks remind me of your breasts.”
Johanna, dead, did not answer, but thinking of her breasts made Maya think again of Johanna’s granddaughter. Madrone works too hard, Maya thought. All the healers do. But since Sandy’s death, she’s hardly stopped. She’ll be sick herself if she doesn’t get more rest. I wish she’d taken the day off, like she said she would, but then something always comes up.… Goddess, I hope we’re not in for another epidemic! Please, Mama, you wouldn’t do that to us again? We’re on your team, remember? We’re the good guys.
Where was Madrone?

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The Fifth Sacred Thing 4.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 25 reviews.
revkev313 More than 1 year ago
I read this book many years ago and now here in 2011 it is still with me. I could feel and see parts of myself in almost of the characters, even those in the South. Every time I hear something going on here in the US, I think of this book. Lost my copy but will probably purchase another soon, wish it was in Nook format.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I read this book years ago and loved it. It has stayed with me for years. Highly recommended.
Rhaine More than 1 year ago
First off, I love the basic plot of the book. I presents a very possible reality of our future. Unless we really start paying attention to our environment we could really face a future in which the power of the government is based on the amount of water they control. Everything about this book is just amazing. It mixes just enought fantasy, but not too much to keep it realistic. I would recommend this book to anyone open-minded enough to read it.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book is an inspiring combination of spirituality and adventure. The society created in it encompasses all religions, all cultures and encourages tolerance, love and peace. I guess you'll get what you're supposed to out of it, but it altered my perception of the world and life.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Some of the violence herein may be too much for some people to take. I'd heard the term 'emotional rollercoaster' before, but always felt it was just a cliché. This is the real thing. The highs are very high and the lows are very low. It is an epic in the Hugo tradition-making you affirm life half the time, and curse the world as unfair the rest.
Guest More than 1 year ago
San Francisco is the last bastion of freedom, in Starhawk's novel, while the rest of the country is a 1984-ish nightmare. A touch of adventure, some Wiccan philosophy and magic, and an inspiring vision of the way we could shape our future (or a horrifying one on the other hand) combine to make an excellent read.
BookCore More than 1 year ago
Here we have an example of the best possible future (people working together peacefully for the benefit of all) next to a picture of the worst possible future (all the wrong people end up in charge).
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book was recommended to me by some friends, I had recently read 'Mysts of Avalon' and they both said if I liked that (which I did) I should read this book. I am also very interested in feminism and in alternate lifestyles so this book hit a chord in all those areas. At first it took some time to get really interested in the story (and it's a long book) but once I got a few chapters under my belt I thoroughly enjoyed it -- really identified and cared about the characters. I loved the ideal society portrayed and the way they ended up 'defending' themselves. If you are interested in alternative societies, strong female characters, pagan/wiccan you would find this book very interesting and enjoyable!!!
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is definately not a Wicca 101 book on how to become. It's a very well writen, warning(if you will)on the very real problems all Witches & Pagans are already starting to have, & how much worse it may get. StarHawk is a fantastic writer & I own almost all of her books. I am 22 years into Reclaiming Tradition, Something that wouldn't be without StarHawk & some othef equally talented people.(You all know who you are)
witchyrichy on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A stark portrait of the future where good and evil do battle. The lines between good and evil were a little too clearly drawn for me although the "good" characters are shown at least some soul searching. Meanwhile, the "evil" characters are a bit too flat. Starhawk depicts the consequences of decisions that we are making right now, particularly as it relates to the environment and water rights. I was put off a bit by the violence and even skipped to the last few pages just to make sure that the torture scenes were "worth it." They were...although I skimmed pretty quickly.
Virtual_Jo on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A chilling yet uplifting vision of a future ravaged by war, in which a small group of people build a new kind of utopian community. Violent and shocking in places yet very thought-provoking and well worth a re-read!
kmgallo on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Fun, Easy Read. This book I have read a number of times, if only for the feeling of possibility in a potentially dismal future.
hrissliss on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A semi-sci-fi book written by everyone's (Everyone's?) favorite writer of Wiccan instruction manuals. This book is set in mid 21st century San Francisco. The world has succumbed to global warming, and pollution; holes in the ozone layer make it darn difficult to be white, and polluted grounds and waters make it difficult to be anything. Still, San Francisco has survived -- by being taken over by hippies. These neo-hippies have set up a utopian society wherein everyone does their fair share of work (arts are included in work, btw) and everyone gets what they need to survive. But evil Southern California's leaders want to take over San Francisco. Southern California has been taken over by an extremely authoritarian government, which is engaged in the slave trade and selective breeding of humans for fun and profit (most of their soldiers, for example, were bred in soldier pens). This novel details how the San Franciscans defend themselves without compromising their non-violent ideals/way of life. It's an interesting (and difficult) experiment, which I think Starhawk is mainly successful at. Not completely, of course -- the San Franciscans are sometimes so nicely idealistic they made me want to hit them (which is ironic, yes?) and the other society gets no real description beyond "the Great Evil" -- but it hits the mark most of the time. 496 pgs 7.5/10
paolasp on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Absolutely loved this book. It's brutal and beautiful. It's full of hope and fear. It's steeped in magic and in reality. seriously all analogies aside..this book makes me want to live in an earthship you know those houses that are all eco friendly and get together with my pagan family. I want a big ole pagan poly family like in the book.I heartily recommend this book and am so glad I got it on Bookmooch.
lamericaana on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I've never stopped thinking about the message in this book and I read it ages ago. It will make you stop and reconsider the way you and we all live our lives in modern society.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The characters are memorable. the subtle weaving together of thoughts and deeds is beautiful.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Top five favorite books of all time. This novel takes you on a journey to a not so far off foreseeable future of our government, society, human rights, and faith. This is a great read for anyone who is in tune with today's social issues and tomorrow's outcome.
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BrianGriffith More than 1 year ago
I think this book is maybe the greatest thing Starhawk ever did. It's a monument of imagination, where she fully fleshes out the alternative society of her dreams -- how it will function, think, and feel. She imagines just about the worst disasters we could throw at ourselves, in our present state of mind, and then plausibly shows how the society of witches could emerge from that, as a victory of basic human decency. Of all alternative worlds I've seen in books or screens, I like this one the best. --author of A Galaxy of Immortal Women: The Yin Side of Chinese Civilization
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