30 in 30: Day 02 (in which I’m actually pretty serious about The Fifth Sacred Thing)

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Day 02 – A book or series you wish more people were reading and talking about

I’ve been putting off writing this post, because I was playing World of Warcraft. (You thought I was going to say something thoughtful or poignant, didn’t you? Silly. You should know by now.)

Truth is, there are a lot of books that I wish more people were reading and talking about — they range from actual literature to my own to feminist theory. The one I settled on is a piece of fiction.

A piece of fiction can change the world more deeply than a hundred pieces of nonfiction can. Not that there’s anything wrong with nonfiction; it’s just that people are more open to receiving important messages when they read fiction. Reading nonfiction puts our hackles and shields up.

The book is The Fifth Sacred Thing by Starhawk. Rather than try and explain it myself, I’m going to quote the Wikipedia summary because it does a much better job, and I’d like to get on with my actual blog post.

…a world set in the year 2048 after a catastrophe which has fractured the United States into several nations. The protagonists live inSan Francisco and have evolved in the direction of Ecotopia, reverting to a sustainable economy, using wind power, local agriculture, and the like. To the south, though, an overtly-theocratic Christian fundamentalist nation has evolved and plans to wage war against the San Franciscans. The novel explores the events before and during the ensuing struggle between the two nations, pitting utopia and dystopia against each other.

The story is primarily told from the points of view of 98-year-old Maya, her nominal granddaughter Madrone, and her grandson Bird. Through these and other characters, the story explores many elements from ecofeminism and ecotopian fiction.

The title is derived from the four elements of fireearthair, and water, plus an additional element revealed as the plot unfolds.

In the novel, San Francisco is a mostly pagan city where the streets have been torn up for gardens and streams, no one starves or is homeless, and the city’s defense council consists primarily of nine elderly women who “listen and dream”.

While the plot, characters, and setting are all well-done and reason enough to read the book, they are not the reasons I have for wanting people to read it.

There are ideas in this book. Powerful ideas. The Ecotopia Starhawk presents may not be a perfect one, but there is the idea that things don’t have to be the way they are. That they can be totally different.

Just being able to look at the book and see a different world presented is, to me, a very good thing. Sometimes the fact of existence — that our world sucks and it’s going to take a lot of work to change it and my gods maybe we can’t even change it maybe this is how things really are — weighs a little too heavy. It’s nice to look at something, even if it is fictional, and think “We could be more like that.”

This is why the myth of the “Great Universal Matriarchy” is so pervasive, even though it’s been debunked in academic circles for decades. I think it would be great if people stopped taking it as truth and started taking it as a myth — something to give hope, but a story. I can look at that myth and say “The world doesn’t have to be ultimately geared against people of my gender — or rather, people who aren’t cisgendered male — it could be different.”

That is what The Fifth Sacred Thing gave me. A look at a world where wealth was viewed completely differently, where children were cherished, where water and food were free, where people took care of each other and the four sacred things — earth, air, fire, water. The fifth being love.

The book ultimately changed me. I want more people to read it because then, they might be changed too.

Or not. But at least they’d be thinking about those ideas. Thinking about things is half the journey.

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