When the Gods Call for Violence
As America reels from the shooting in Dallas revolutionaries and liberals from coast to coast are rallying to shouts of a return to “peaceful” means of protest. College campuses and cafes are home to conversations being had everywhere, shaking heads and patronizing tones reaffirming change must indeed come but “never like this.”
Perhaps it’s something quintessential to the American character, a longing for total destruction voiced in private yet hidden like BDSM toys around polite company. Everyone wants everything to change yet is unwilling to pay the cost. “After all” they claim, “we have many examples of successful peaceful revolutions.”
But do we really? And even if we did is such a tactic viable in every case?
Let’s take a trip off the coast for a moment. Ahead of us is a luscious island, and as we get closer we some across a thriving port city. Ships can be seen rolling into the harbor loaded with goods for trade and sale. Soon the sweat covered workers will unload the heavy cargo and help it along it’s way to the various stores and small businesses that would sell them. Each shopkeeper of course looked forward to delivery day, a time when they could see the tangible effects of smart planning and good business sense. Smiles and laughter would abound as each tick in profit would either be wisely invested or pleasurably spent, a tropical life of carefree joy ensured by the steady and safe movement of capital’s inclinations. It is the picturesque Western dream of success.
For a third of the population anyway.
Elsewhere, amongst the hills and farmland of the country side, far from the more sensitive eyes of the petit bourgeoisie, 452,000 slaves live under brutal domination. Freedom and joy are far off thoughts here, a ghostly echo from towns most will never live to see. Tongues and eyes can be cut out for insubordination, whips cruelly wielded to maintain efficiency and a quick pace of labor. The slavemasters know even the smallest rebellion cannot be afforded: 60% of all the world’s coffee and 40% of all the worlds sugar exported to Europe comes from this one island. Even the smallest spasm could send the markets into panic and hurt what
the slaves the Planters had built.
The day is August 14th, 1791. The island is what we now call Haiti. By the time the sun rises again on this Caribbean jewel so crucial to proto-capitalism the gods themselves will have spoken to the people; they will utter not words of peace and reconciliation but ones of bloodshed, battle and war.
Perhaps it’s easy to expect some form of rebellion with the aid of history. Haiti was an unstable, stratified society, shaky even on the best of days and only held together by ignorance and extreme violence. Still, Haiti had been home to no less then two other rebellions in 50 years, both brutally put down. The conversations involving tactics were similar to the ones we hear now: such things as “violence” had been tried and clearly failed. Who in their right mind could believe illiterate slaves would be able to defeat one of the most powerful armies of Europe in it’s most profitable colony? If the freed folks could only change their attitude/dress/language/culture/identity everything would be alright. This idea is still trotted out before the dispossessed, though now they call it “changing the system from the inside.”
It was escapist thinking then and is so now. Many free slaves simply adopted the mannerisms and customs of the whites they wished to emulate, going so far as to own slaves themselves. One unsuccessful rebellion, led by Jean-Baptist Chavannes, was made solely of free blacks seeking enlightenment-style rights for themselves–though not their enslaved brethren, whom they agreed merely existed as property.
We are told time and time again that power will be easy to topple if we just become that which we desire to achieve, as if the CIA and it’s secret wars would simply vanish into thin air if enough people listened to NPR. The problem isn’t systemic or even structural, oh no. It’s our attitudes that are holding us down. This ideology is itself a child of the status quo held mostly by middle or upper class white women, the same people who will remark “how well spoken” people of color are and that cops would treat them better if they “didn’t act like thugs.” As Chloe King notes this thinking is patently ridiculous and privileged:
“It is hard to ‘think positive’ when treated so negatively based on the colour of skin and/or sexuality, when facing hate crimes, targeted violence, and when there are so many structural hurdles put in your way to success and triumph. Radical self-love gurus do not tend to promote or even really engage in discussions on privilege or the disadvantages people are born into; that shit would undermine the cause of ‘changing yourself, not the system.’…
“Changing your attitude is not going to change or help to dismantle structural injustice and a failed and unsustainable economic model which serves only the elite rich of this world, and exploits the rest of us, particularly the working class and those living in poverty. As far as I am concerned positive thinking will fucking ruin your life.
‘Just think positive’ is a precursor to ‘it gets better,’ and the hard reality is it is only going to get much, much worse for our most vulnerable.”
It’s a line of demarcation seen in the spirit world as well: the mystic approach to spirituality seeks to become a vessel for the Divinity, sacrificing individual will for the “bigger picture”; the sorcerer however forces their will onto the world around them, becoming a co-creator rather than a mere observer.
Judging by the events that followed it was certainly a meeting of sorcerers at the Petwo service deep within Bois Caiman on the night of August 14th.
Bois Caiman, literally “Alligator Woods,” was the site of a secret Vodoun ceremony held by slaves from neighboring plantations. Risking life and limb to practice their faith and seek communion with their gods talk began to drift to the situations that made such a meeting so dangerous. The weather was terrible, clouds and rain raging above, yet the slaves were undeterred. Anger began to rise as each person gave air to a list of grievances, rage and hatred pouring out from lips like molten lava. All agreed something had to be done. Suddenly Ogoun seized the priestess known as Dutty Boukman. In a flash of steel she slit the throat of a nearby black pig offered as sacrifice to Ezili Dantor, the Mother of Haiti, steaming blood mixing with rain from the heavens. Dutty Boukman collected the dripping blood from the creatures still pouring throat and bade the assembled drink it as she/Ogoun let loose a mighty prayer:
“Good Lord who hath made the sun that shines upon us, that riseth from the sea, who maketh the storm to roar; and governeth the thunders, The Lord is hidden in the heavens, and there He watcheth over us. The Lord seeth what the blancs have done. Their god commandeth crimes, ours giveth blessings upon us. The Good Lord hath ordained vengeance. He will give strength to our arms and courage to our hearts. He shall sustain us. Cast down the image of the god of the blancs, because he maketh the tears to flow from our eyes. Hearken unto Liberty that speaketh now in all your hearts.”
Harsh words and with no space for wriggle room, one few would dare to utter at a modern pagan gathering no matter how political. Amidst the thunder the gods hand selected the leaders of the revolution they called for: Boukman, Jean-Francois, Biassou, and Jeannot. One can imagine the tension, the anxiety of those selected. August averages 91 degrees in Haiti, the hottest month of the year. It’s enough to kill missionaries and tourists alike looking for a tour of the “third world.” Here, in perhaps the most uncomfortable time possible, the assembled were called with a raging fire and the body heat of so many nearby to join in a revolution thought unimaginable by their countrymen. Comfort and safety were out of the question. The emotional and physiological strain must have felt like being thrown in a furnace. Amidst the crashing of the heavens and the songs of their people the Loa had tapped them for the most terrible of duties.
We can only imagine what was it like to stare into the otherwordly eyes of Dutty Boukman, drenched in sweat and near passing out, being asked to risk the lives of themselves and their entire families on the words of a mambo. These men may have never killed before, never even been trained as soldiers, let alone led an army. Could they find the strength to answer the call?
Could you hold your nerve? Could you ruthlessly fight a war the gods had proclaimed just?
The time of heroics such as those called for by the gods at Bois Caimanin seems to have passed. In it’s place a pantheon of “revolutionaries” who achieved victory without bloodshed is worshipped by political circles all across the country. The average American has been so indoctrinated by this cult they can barely imagine lifting a finger against the government, let alone partaking in such a ritual as led by Dutty Boukman. Thor himself could throw Mjolnir at a local police station and even the most tribal of Heathens would be loathe to follow suit. This faith in the supremacy of non-violence, like most religious opinions, is founded not so much in fact or experience but in regurgitated platitudes.
In “Is Nonviolent Revolution a Possibility,” Justin King helps dispel the spooks that haunt the heads of the multitude. For instance the myth that State is largely nonviolent itself, save for a few “bad apples”:
“Even in the land of the free, people are deterred from jaywalking by the barrel of a gun. If a citizen jaywalks, they are issued a ticket, if the ticket is not paid, a warrant is issued for their arrest, if the citizen does not turn themselves in, the police are dispatched, if the citizen does not comply with police orders, violence is initiated by law enforcement. Every domino that falls in any chain of interaction with a government regulatory body brings the citizen one step closer to violence being used against them.
If the only power of the state rests in its monopoly on violence, how sensible is it to adopt a strategy that continues to exclusively grant the state this power?”
Or how Ghandi freed India with non-violence:
“Ghandi endorsed the Quit India Movement, but did not lead it. The movement, much like today’s movements, was extremely decentralized and lacked any leadership. Some of the movement’s “nonviolent activities” included bombings and arsons at police stations, courthouses, and post offices. The railways were also sabotaged.
The Indian National Army (INA) conducted a guerilla war against the British for three years from 1942 to 1945. While the operations of the INA were militarily ineffective, they succeeded in cementing popular support and demonstrations in support of the INA often turned into riots.”
Even the state-sponsered and ridiculous myth that the bloodthirsty United States government somehow had a change of heart due to the marches of the Civil Rights Movement is discredited: it wasn’t the beatings that warmed the hearts of the powerful, but the threat of violence that made their blood run cold. Consider the actual words of the Kennedy brothers in declassified tapes:
RFK: “The Negro Reverend Walker…he said that the Negroes, when dark comes tonight, they’re going to start going after the policemen – headhunting – trying to shoot to kill policemen. He says it’s completely out of hand….you could trigger off a good deal of violence around the country now, with Negroes saying they’ve been abused for all these years and they’re going to follow the ideas of the Black Muslims now…If they feel on the other hand that the federal government is their friend, that it’s intervening for them, that it’s going to work for them, then it will head some of that off. I think that’s the strongest argument for doing something…”
JFK: “First we have to have law and order, so the Negro’s not running all over the city… If the [local Birmingham desegregation] agreement blows up, the other remedy we have under that condition is to send legislation [The Civil Rights Act] up to congress this week as our response…As a means of providing relief we have to have legislation.”
Nelson Mandela, a hero to liberals everywhere, refused to renounce violence saying “I was not like them [King and Ghandi]. For them, nonviolence was a principle. For me, it was a tactic. And when the tactic wasn’t working, I reversed it.”
The Saints of historic non-violence reveal themselves to be anything but. Violence, action, combat has yet again proved itself to be a worthwhile and effective endeavor.
In light of all this where exactly does the opnion of American radical lie, on faith or historic fact? Better yet, where does the American pagan?
The pagan community seems at odds with itself, at odds with it’s own gods. What many worship they seem to despise. Servants of Tyr and Arwan scoff at the idea of raising their fists in the name of justice. Goddesses that once inspired fear and were believed to rule entire ages now sit as humble trophies on professionally designed altars. Things are fine for the mostly white, middle-class, bourgeoisie-born who make up a large part of the pagan community, and much like the shopkeepers in Port-Au-Prince they are as far away from the struggles that plague so many.
The religion they practice reflects this.
We are left with warrior gods and goddesses being asked for victory not in the struggle for liberation but in the ranked Call of Duty clan match; we are left with manifestations of Death itself not called down upon those who had defiled her name but against other authors who “offended” the devotee; we are treated to the horrifying image of children taught that Kali isn’t really that bad and that she can be “invoked” to “peacefully bind” those who displease us.
This is not magic. This isn’t even spirituality. This is the weird and sickening collusion of state-sponsored positive thinking and bourgeois middle-class comfort thrown onto a spirit world that defies it.
Sometimes it’s not us that rocks the boat though. Sometimes it’s beings far older and for more vengeful than we can ever imagine. It’s those force that led Ogoun to possess Dutty Boukman, the same forces that made Ezili Dantor weep and give her blessing to one of the most violent revolutions the New World had ever seen. The gods had said if the ones they chose were up to the task the revolution would start in ten days and ultimately be successful.
Could you risk your life on such a guarantee? Sadly modern pagans are far, far below such a task.
But the brave Haitians were not.
Before the hungry fire and the spilled blood of a sacrificial pig all assembled at Bois Caïman swore to fight to the end in accordance with the wishes of the gods. Ten days came and went.
The prediction was right.
By August 21st the slaves controlled a full third of the island. Chaos and death had seized the paradise with no signs of stopping. France, moved by commercial interests, sought to appease the slaves by granting civil and political rights to all free men in the colonies, hoping it would split the revolutionaries. Unlike promises of free tuition in the US the effort failed to quell the rebellion. 6,000 professional soldiers were then sent to crush once and for all the hope of freedom in the Haitian heart. Spain and England soon joined the free-for-all playing both sides and turning the entire island of Hispanola into a 1700’s Syria.
The fighting was brutal and without mercy. Slaveowners were strung up from trees and captured rebels were burned alive. Hand weapons and rifles killed side-by-side as liberty existed no longer as some empty concept but the very right to breathe. The body count was a shocking one: 350,000 Haitians and 50,000 European troops had been slaughtered in the chaos.
It was a time beyond good and evil, of noble virtue and disgusting depravity frolicking side by side. But the Haitians had won and the slaves were freed.
As is common for real life outside theoretical classrooms nothing was that simple. The innocent would indeed suffer; after the revolution terror still reigned. England tried to invade, and even after imperial powers were thrown out black Haitians led several pogroms against the remaining white minorities. 3,000-5,000 people were systematically eradicated. The US, hungry for it’s own colonies, invaded and instituted martial law. Haiti to this day still exists under imperial rule almost exclusively held by the Clinton family.
The comfortable snicker between mail-delivered dinners and mind-body gym memberships: “Was the violence worth it?”
Nobody can claim the Haitian revolution was bloodless, or even perhaps that it was some grand example of revolutionary liberty. Then again, who can? The Civil Rights movement sold out to the Democrats; India and Pakistan, once countrymen, now aim nuclear warheads at one another; the Bolsheviks in the name of the proletariat traded one royal tyranny for a socialist one; South Africa is currently a haven for murder and crime; even Anarchist Spain, who held true to her principles yet killed to defend them, fell to Fascist onslaught.
I am not trying to excuse the absolutely horrible things that have happened when people come to blows, but what I refuse to do is pretend that the world is full of happy comfortable people that just need to be made aware of how badly they’re hurting people to change. Could the Haitian Revolution been fought better? Of course. Could the liberation of it’s people been done peacefully? Doubtful.
I also refuse to respect the opinions of other people who never had to worry about their children not coming home from school or their husband being killed at a traffic stop who see it as their moral duty to scold those who have that “things aren’t that bed yet,” that “other options are available.”
In the end the opinions of the shopkeepers and the continental theorists mattered little in Haiti. If you asked the scarred and beaten who were present during that ceremony in Bois Caiman, human beings whose existence depended on the fickle whims of slavemasters, if a bloodbath of bullets and blades was worth it they’d tell you yes.
They thought enough to kill and die for it.
What’s the moral of this story? Perhaps we should reflect on the idea that similar conditions exist on shores far closer than the Caribbean and, gods or not, people are beginning to agree with their Haitian forebears. Perhaps the petit-bourgeois should take a moment to stop catching virtual Pokemon and look at the thousands in neglected neighborhoods saying enough is enough. Morality and personal opinion are leaves blowing in the wind, usually carried by events rather than shaping them.
In places like Baton Rouge and Falcon Heights the same cries of rage and grief that awakened the gods on that August night so long ago are beginning to be heard again. The people have had enough. The bourgeois mask of non-violence has slipped it’s bonds, revealing the cold certainty of armed combat on our shores and it’s effectiveness.
Polite society was shocked by the events in Dallas, even more so when millions didn’t cry for the cops and lauded Micah Johnson as a hero. Whether you agree or disagree is irrelevant. The chickens are coming home to roost. As tensions increase and the oppressed march against the plantations those who count gods of war and keepers of justice as allies must dwell deeply upon where the gods might call them to act.
The countryside is coming alive. And just as it was at Bois Caiman this is only the beginning.
Dr. Bones is a 9 year practitioner of the Southern occult tradition known as Conjure, Rootwork, and Hoodoo. A skilled card-reader and Spiritworker, Dr. Bones has undertaken all aspects of the work, both benevolent and malefic. Politically he holds the Anarchist line that “Individuality can only flourish where equality of access to the conditions of existence is the social reality. This equality of access is Communism.” He resides in the insane State of Florida with his loving wife, a herd of cats, and a house full of spirits.