The Fifth Sacred Thing (excerpt)

TO:  Dialogue Class

I have asked you to read a few pages from the novel, The Fifth Sacred Thing, in order to continue our practice of Insight Dialogue.  The reading is posted here:

Click to access fifthsacredthing.pdf

You do not need to know about the story in order to glean enough thoughts from the excerpt to participate in the dialogue…

… however, if you are curious here is a bit of context (stolen from Wikipedia):


5thsacredthingThe Fifth Sacred Thing is a 1993 post-apocalyptic novel by Starhawk. The title refers to the classical elements of  earth, air, water and fire, 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, reverting to a sustainable economy, using wind power, local agriculture, and the like. 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.”[1] To the south, an overtly-theocratic Christian fundamentalist nation (Los Angeles) 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.

In the utopia described in the novel, the streets have been dug up and are replaced with gardens and fruit trees. Additionally, every house is equipped with a small garden plot. The food is available to everyone and access to food is not limited by money, power, or ownership. Farms where the city’s fruit and vegetables grow are hidden behind the blocks of homes. There is plenty of food and everyone is said to have more than enough to eat. The gardens are lined with streams that run throughout the city. The only remnants of the pavement that once existed are narrow paths meant for walking, cycling, or rollerblading. These paths are accented with colorful stones and mosaics. The city is depicted as a beautiful town where everything is shared yet nothing is lacking.


In this ecotopian City, food – and many other resources – are understood as a commons, rather than a commodity.

When the City is threatened by an army marching from the South, food becomes central to the non-violent philosophy and practice of the inhabitants as they grapple with how to respond to the possibility of violent attack. The inhabitants decide to invite soldiers to leave the army and to join them living in this ecotopian city. They say to the soldiers ‘there is a place set for you at our table, if you will choose to join us’ (p.235).[2] This invitation, and the possibility of never going hungry, is almost incomprehensible to the soldiers who have been stripped of their given names and reduced to numbers, are only given small amounts of poor quality food to survive on and many have never seen running water.

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