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  • Writer's pictureAnnelisa MacBean

The Fifth Sacred Thing

The Fifth Sacred Thing is a 1993 post-apocalyptic novel by Starhawk. The title refers to the elements of fire, earth, air, and water, plus the fifth element, spirit, accessible when one has balanced the other four.

The novel describes a world set in the year 2048 after a catastrophe which has fractured the United States into several nations. The protagonists live in San Francisco and have evolved in the direction of Ecotopia, maintaining a sustainable economy, using wind power, local agriculture, etc. San Francisco is presented as 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".

The novel describes "a utopia where women are leading societies but are doing so with the consent of men." To the south, an overtly-theocratic fundamentalist nation has evolved and plans to overtake the northern territories by waging 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 granddaughter Madrone, and her grandson Bird.

This is not a stellar piece of literature; It's a bit long, and the messaging is heavy-handed. It's also somewhat cliche. Nevertheless, Starhawk has created memorable characters—a young midwife, a broken musician, an old Witch-Woman—and she conveys their experiences and emotions in compelling, sometimes harrowing scenes that are set against vivid backdrops.

Starhawk envisioned over 30 years ago the the unfolding of a future that we appear to be living into, in many ways, right now. She has captured the challenges of the present day, for sure. But more importantly she has conceptualized the birth of a new humanity . . . and, however clumsy, her writing is modeling for us a path toward a society in which forgiveness, inclusion, compassion and acceptance can be guiding principles.

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