To be a Pagan in these times, to hold a deep spiritual connection with the earth in an era when every life-support system on the planet is under assault, is to face enormous loss every day. Forty percent of the arctic ice has already melted, yet the world's nations have failed to implement even the modest goals of the Kyoto global warming treaty, in large part because the Clinton administration undermined the agreement. Seventy percent of the ocean's oxygen-making plankton are gone. In pursuit of more oil with which to overheat the planet, we are destroying the few traditional cultures and unspoiled habitats left.

This past month has marked an especially bitter loss: an ancient redwood tree called Luna. A year ago, we celebrated an agreement that saved Luna, the ancient redwood in which Julia Butterfly spent two years, from being logged. But over Thanksgiving, a spiteful and hateful person took a chainsaw and girdled her in such a way that it is doubtful if she can survive the winter's storms.

I can't respond to these events with perfect love and equanimity. I have to work my way back through volcanic rage, torrents of hexing and cursing, and the overwhelming urge to go out and smash something or someone.

This year, I'm ready for the Winter Solstice! I need the cleansing and turning that mark this time of year.

But I also know that I can't stay in a perpetual state of rage without burning out. I know that hatred and resentment are not good for me, or for the work I do to heal and protect the planet. As a Witch, it is my responsibility to choose my soul state. Magic and ritual give me some of the tools I need to help me transmute rage, grief, and despair into creativity and hope.

That's why this year, I'm ready for the Winter Solstice! I need the cleansing and turning that mark this time of year.

Starhawk is the author of numerous books, including "The Spiral Dance." She works with Reclaiming, an organization offering training in the goddess tradition. Visit her website.

Winter Solstice is our great celebration of rebirth. It marks the longest night and shortest day of the year, but also the moment when the wheel of time turns, when days begin to lengthen again and the sun grows stronger. For Pagans, the solstice brings the birth of the magical child who represents the emergence of hope and new possibilities.

The solstice is a time for letting go and releasing in preparation for the regeneration to come. Our solstice ritual begins with a process of cleansing. In San Francisco, Reclaiming (the network of witches with which I work) meets on the beach just before sunset on the eve of the solstice. We cast a circle, light a fire, and at sunset most of us strip off our clothes and plunge into the ocean.

Last year, I was able to release the residue of five days in jail after the World Trade Organization protests in Seattle. This year, I come to the beach on fire with a deep sense that now is the last crack in time when we still have a chance to intervene in the processes of ecological destruction. The image that keeps coming to me is of the Titanic heading for the iceberg but still with a bit of room to maneuver. My friend Donald, however, recommends the image of compost, which is also a kind of fire. May the ignorance and greed that fuel destruction become compost. May the hatred that wounded Luna decay. Decay feeds fertility. If we can compost our anger, maybe the needed changes can come gradually and organically, not as a collision but as a transformation.

In the ocean, the shock of the cold burns my skin like fire. Standing naked under the open sky, with the waves flowing around my feet, I can give myself over to the raw power of the elements, and remember what I'm fighting for. I can open up some empty space within, a sort of dark, inner womb that I can cherish throughout the vigil of the longest night, in the hopes that it will birth new possibilities that I can't see.

After the plunge, we dance around the fire, warm up, raise power for the long night's vigil. Afterward, we go back in small groups to our homes to symbolically accompany the Goddess through her night of labor as she prepares to give birth to the sun child. All night long at my house, we flow between ritual, trance, munching on snacks, telling stories to the children, drumming, and singing. We bake bread and take turns kneading in our hopes and dreams for the new year.

In the morning, we trek up to one of San Francisco's many hills to watch the sun rise over the bay. We sing the sun up, share the bread we've baked, and then I go home and sleep for the rest of the shortest day.

This solstice, besides our own cleansing and renewal, Reclaiming is weaving a spell for the renewal of the earth and of indigenous peoples everywhere. We are inspired to do so by the U'Wa people of Columbia, who have been resisting oil drilling on their traditional lands by Occidental Petroleum. The U'Wa believe that oil is the blood of the Mother, that their sacred task is to be in communication with the spirit heart of the earth, and that if the oil is taken we will all die. Occidental began drilling in November, protected by the Columbian army.

The U'Wa are only one of many groups threatened by economic forces that benefit others at their expense. Even here in San Francisco, speculation has caused waves of evictions of the poor, of arts groups and nonprofit organizations. This solstice, we are asking Pagans and all people of faith to join us in both political and spiritual support for all indigenous peoples struggling to protect their traditional lands and preserve their cultures, and for all people struggling against displacement, from the urban and rural poor to those threatened by development, land speculation, road- and dam-building projects, oil drilling, environmental threats, and global warming.