Raising the Power of the People: Protest as Magickal Ritual

“When I marched in Selma, my feet were praying.”

– Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel

Standing in a circle, we start to chant. Full-throated, rhythmic, and loud, we invoke the honored dead and name our intent. As our bodies move, I feel the energy rise and flow. Hundreds of people are here, focusing all our wills on a single point, sensing the nature of the physical space change around us and hearing an egregore form itself out of us. We process through downtown and find the laws of the ordinary world negated, transcended, pushed aside by our raised fists and the beat of our legs as we shout, “Whose Lives Matter? Black Lives Matter!” Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, the hundreds of other Black women and men and nonbinary people that the police have murdered this year – we know the dead are with us, demanding justice. We know that white supremacy will fall because it will be made to fall; we will see this working through.

 


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A well-known magickal hand gesture

Mass protest is magick. That’s literal. It’s not just the accouterments of ritual – although, of course, chanting and processing and invoking the dead often feature prominently. When hundreds or thousands of people gather and focus their collective intent to effect a change in the world, that’s magick. And, indeed, anyone who’s been to a truly powerful demonstration can testify that energy gets raised there, and it’s strong. The surrounding space becomes something different. It’s no longer a shopping mall or an intersection, any more than a consecrated altar is just a few knickknacks on a coffee table. It’s where the protest egregore – “The People,” let’s call it – redefines the marketplace or the thoroughfare as the agora or the Nordic Thing, the self-aware Commons, where the powerful become weak and everything becomes possible.

And, indeed, the ordinary rules do collapse. The People can occupy busy intersections, shut down the infrastructure of commerce and government, and block interstate highways. Under normal circumstances, no one could do anything like that, and very few would want to try. We have to raise the egregore and sanctify the urban space first. Protests happen between the worlds as surely as any devotional ritual or coven working.

 


“My initiations and elevations changed my perception of reality, and they eventually brought me closer to the things that matter.”

Jason Mankey

If an initiation’s done right, you come away transformed. The world doesn’t look the same afterwards, and eventually, you start forgetting how you ever could’ve seen things like you used to. Once you receive the Mysteries, you don’t simply lose them again; once you realize how racist-patriarchal-imperial capitalism dictates the social world, you no longer can’t notice it all around you. Sure, that awareness can come through study or conversation or – rarely – individual perception sharp enough to push past the hegemony of the ruling class. In real life, that’s rarely enough. It usually takes initiatory ritual to break through a lifetime of ideological conditioning. Most of us get there through the direct, firsthand experience of the power of the People. March in protests and participate in that egregore, and you won’t be the same. It’s no coincidence that both ritual theory and Marxist philosophy use the language of inducing a shift in consciousness. Once you’ve encountered the Mystery, your old worldview is no longer sufficient. There’s a change in you, and you find the world changed in turn.

Sometimes, Pagans bemoan our relative lack of developed theology. Our self-definitions are less likely to dwell on systematized belief than on experiences 0f ecstasy. By and large, “Paganism” is a heterogeneous mix of initiatory esoteric currents and orthopraxic public polytheisms. What links us is partly just a shared subculture, but also a broadly held sense that religion needs to be rooted in relationship and practice, rather than textual authority or assent to particular articles of faith. Pagan theology certainly exists (and, considering how young our traditions are, it’s probably better developed than the odds would have suggested). However, it mainly tends to explicate ritual practice and ecstatic subjectivity. Our exegesis isn’t of holy books or infallible prophets’ words; rather, we create theory to account for what we do.

Of course, revolutionary political theory does the same thing with regard to the practice of participatory social change. This website, in large part, involves individuals who find themselves in both streams, identifying and expanding the points of resonance between them. Most of us here have gone through the initiation of protest. We’ve helped raise the egregore of the People, and that necessarily informs our worldviews. We can (and do) theorize at great length about those experiences – but, at the same time, reading isn’t enough. No one should confuse a Book of Shadows with a practical tool like an athame; no one should confuse political theory with practical tools like the People’s Mic, the banner, and the megaphone.

You can encounter it yourself. Don’t take this on faith. Confirm it. Go protest. Raise power. Evoke the People. Shift your consciousness. Transform the world.

 


IMAG0432

Sophia Burns

Sophia Burns is a communist and polytheist in the Pacific Northwest. They’re a writer and editor for The North Star and an officer in RATPAC and the Communist Labor Party.

Sophia Burns is one of the authors appearing in A Beautiful Resistance: The Fire is Here.

 

 

Editorial: Murder in My Name

Eight years ago, I heard what sounded like a car backfiring. About a minute later, there was a knock on my door. I was half-asleep, got out of bed without throwing on anything but boxers and ran downstairs to see who was there.  As I turned the door knob, I heard his voice:

“Help me! Fuck, please help me.

A man stood before me,  holding his stomach in pain.  I was a bit slow, had just woken up, was maybe a little drunk, and anyway, I’d never seen so much blood. It was gushing from him, pouring through his hands, staining his shirt and jeans.  His fingers were slick with it, there was some on his face, his white athletic shoes were splotched crimson.

“Fuck, man–hold on” I said.  “I’ll call 911.”

“No” he shouted, really insistent, suddenly terrified.  “They’ll send the cops.  You gotta help me.”

I’ve no medical training. There’s realistically nothing I can do for someone who’s been shot.  I told him all that, shouting a bit in panic.  He was gonna die without medical attention, but would rather risk death than confront the police.  What the fuck could I do?

I told him I’d be right back, that I was going to call the medics. I didn’t have a cell phone, so I had to run upstairs to make the call.  When I returned downstairs, he was gone.

I didn’t hear sirens for another half-hour.

When the police finally arrived, they came without paramedics.  I’d told the dispatcher it was a medical emergency, but they’d sent police instead, officers who seemed much less interested in helping the victim than they were trying to find out more about him. When I told them he’d left, they shrugged, asked me a few more questions, and then bid me goodnight.

I  didn’t hear the sirens of an ambulance for another half-hour after that. A full hour had passed between the moment I’d called and the moment paramedics arrived to help him.

I learned the next morning that the man had died in some bushes less than a block away from my house.

Calling the “Authorities”

For months and years later, I couldn’t get the situation out of my head. A Black man came to the door of a white anarchist punk, bleeding from a gunshot wound, and all the anarchist knew to do was to call a phone number. Even though I knew the police didn’t care about people like him, I passed his life into their hands, to Authority. What else could I have done?

You might also find yourself wondering a few things about this situation.  Some of those things may embarrass or frustrate you.  It’s okay–I went through all those questions too.  Questions like: was the man a killer? Had he done something so awful that it was better to die alone than face justice? What could anyone possibly have done for him? And why not call emergency services–that’s what they’re there for, right?

Those questions, those arguments, are all ways we try to find our way back to the reality we know, rather than the reality we’ve just confronted. They’re like our defense mechanism, keeping our mind from shattering when we confront something awful.  The closer we get to an awful truth, the more our mind tries to protect us, even to the point of suggesting that a dead Black man maybe deserved to die for his stupidity, or really should have just ‘manned-up’ and faced whatever impending justice he was due.

For me, past all those questions and arguments and defenses was a terrible truth that I didn’t want to see.  Despite being an anarchist since I was 19, despite having witnessed really awful things being done to people by police, and despite intellectually knowing that the institution of policing is inherently corrupt, it wasn’t until I faced my own helplessness when confronting a dying human and my automatic reaction–calling the police for help–that I understood how much of our lives we’ve ceded to the police, the State, and Authority.

Now, when an unarmed Black person, adult or child, is killed by police, I am no longer surprised or shocked.  Sad, of course, and angry, but to act surprised or appalled would be completely dishonest.  Besides, I’ve almost never witnessed police doing something helpful.

I’ve seen ’em do a lot of awful things, though:

  • I’ve watched friends beaten severely by police in protests.
  • A lover and I watched a teenage girl in fairy wings get punched and knocked to the ground by a police officer during an anti-war protest.
  • I saw a bi-racial friend of mine, the most harmless stoner you’ve ever met,  forced to the pavement by 8 officers with guns pointed to his head.
  • During that same incident, I watched my companion get his phone smashed, his head bashed into a wall, and called ‘fucking faggot’ by other officers for trying to film the incident (wrong suspect, it turned out…).

    johnwilliams021711
    Mural of John T. Williams
  • A former client of mine, a deaf native wood-carver named John T. Williams was shot 5 times (four in the back) just outside the shelter where he lived.
  • I’ve seen transfolk and dragqueens get the shit kicked out of them by angry cops while marching down the street in an ‘unpermitted’ queer march during Gay Pride (to the approval of the mostly white gay male business owners nearby).
  • I helped defend a queer socialist group from angry harassing protests whom the police actively favored, watching the cops repeatedly threaten us while giving extra allowance to right-wingers driving repurposed military vehicles on the sidewalk.
  • And I’ve had my own head pounded repeatedly into the hood of a cop car during an arrest because my lover kicked over an A-board sign advertising expensive condos (they didn’t charge me, just roughed me up damn well).

I could go on about all the harassment of homeless people I’ve witnessed, the violence against my social work clients, the batons and bikes used as bludgeons during peaceful protests–all shit I’ve seen in person.  As far as my almost 39 years of life have shown me, unprovoked brutality is what police do. 

Police, The State, and Capitalism

We call the police “the Authorities for a reason.  They function as part of the State, by which I also mean ‘government.’  In fact, the police are the human instruments of most State policies, though they are not the only ones.  Police enforce laws that the State has made, enact violence (arrest in the most pleasant situations, beatings and death in others), and otherwise provide a physical manifestation of the State in our everyday lives.

Pyramid-of-Capitalist-SystemOn the surface, police are supposed to protect life and property from thieves and murderers, providing for a sort of ‘general welfare.’ Stopping people who speed on roads (or drive drunk) protects pedestrians and other drivers; breaking up fights or riots protects uninvolved bystanders and nearby businesses.

But in my own experience, the Police don’t exist to protect me.  Supposedly, I ‘benefit’ by their existence–they ‘keep me safe’ from murderers and thieves and drunk drivers, though this is an indirect benefit.  Neither they nor I could point to a specific moment where someone who might want to kill me was prevented from doing so because the police exist.

In fact, like ‘terrorism,’ the idea that the police protect me from horrible people hell-bent on murdering me is a fantasy; I’m a rather nice guy and don’t go around doing things to make others want me dead.  Also, I don’t own much–anyone who’d try to rob me at gunpoint or break into my home would be sorely disappointed. In fact, I’d feel so sorry for their wasted effort I’d likely offer them a cup of tea.

Others, of course, have a lot more to lose, and that’s where we start to understand who the police actually exist to protect. While I never have any more than $500 to my name, and nothing I own could be resold for more than $20 (no smartphone, a dying laptop, no automobile), there are plenty of people who have a lot more than that. If you’re poor and want to go the ‘criminal’ route of getting a little less poor, it makes more sense to steal from a business or someone who actually has money to take.  They’re the sorts who need to be protected, because they actually have something someone else would want.

Police exist to protect wealth and those who have it.

The police don’t regularly go around bashing the heads of middle-class housewives in the suburbs against walls, nor do they regularly shoot their husbands or children because they were acting ‘suspicious.’ Why?  It’s certainly not because they’re better people than anyone else.

Part of this is that such people tend to be white. But this isn’t the only factor–I’m also white, as were many of the people I’ve witnessed being brutalized by police. While there’s no doubt that the police in the United States are soaked in racism, the primary reason they don’t do these awful things to middle-class and upper-class white people is because the police exist to protect the orderly functioning of Capitalism.  White people are wealthier than people of color because Capitalism is inherently racist (as Malcolm X said, “You can’t have Capitalism without Racism”), but racism is not the only reason Black people and indigenous people and immigrants are slaughtered in the US.

Most crimes, particularly after the birth of Capitalism, are so-called ‘property crimes,’ [see Foucault’s Discipline & Punish] because most laws after the birth of Capitalism were made to create, sustain, and protect the new social order capitalists required in order to become wealthy.   And the modern police were created in order to enforce those laws.  Other policing institutions, such as the FBI, were created in response to the government’s need to investigate and subvert radical miners strikes and anarchists in the early 1900’s, [and we’re still on their shit-list…for community gardens] and later turned the bulk of their efforts against Communists–that is, groups who threatened the Capitalist order.

If you have not personally witnessed violence at the hands of the police, it’s probably because you resemble (or are) the class of people the police are supposed to protect–usually white, never poor, never homeless, and never anti-capitalist.  Most of all, you at least ‘appear’ to be no threat to the functioning of Capital or the State.

‘The Will of the People”

Police are not the only group of people charged with wielding the power of the State to ensure its proper functioning.  The Military also exists for precisely this same purpose, except it performs these functions in foreign lands, amongst people outside the reach of State police.

Police exist to enforce the laws of a State–in a Democracy, supposedly the ‘will of the people.’ The Military likewise exists to manifest the ‘will of the people,’ except upon foreign people. Certainly, they’re also supposed to also ‘protect’ the people in the State, just like police are charged to protect law-abiding citizens.

And while the police have quite the record of killing unarmed People of Color, their slaughter is nothing compared to that of unarmed People of Color in other lands.  For instance, in the first two years of the invasion and occupation of Iraq, the United States military killed 9,720 civilians, 10% of whom were children. [Source]

You might be tempted to shake your head here and say, “But that’s war, right?” But one could just as easily dismiss the death of Tamir Rice or Michael Brown by saying, “but that’s just policing…”

But we should instead ask ourselves: Is there actually a difference between what the military does to other people and what police do here in our countries?

Can we really excuse the deaths of unarmed people in the Middle East at the hands of U.S. and European soldiers (that is, Capitalist Democracies) but not the deaths of unarmed people at the hands of police?

And is there maybe no real the difference between the Baltimore Uprising and resistance to military invasion elsewhere?

I, for one, see no difference. I’ll not favor the lives of people in other lands less or more than the lives of people here, nor will I ever allow the ‘Authority to claim it murders on my behalf.

Consider: what, precisely, has the U.S. Military done to manifest my ‘will?’  I don’t drive, so all the oil they’ve secured doesn’t do much good for me.  I’m not anti-Muslim or anti-Communist, so none of the wars in the last 38 years personally benefit me.  And I don’t have any wealth to steal.

In fact, everything the State has ordered soldiers to do ‘in my name’ has actually been something I’m utterly appalled by. Overthrowing governments, killing kids, making life miserable for millions–why on earth would I want them to do any of those things?

It’s the same with the police. Pushing homeless people around, killing unarmed Black kids and women and men, beating up protesters and queers–I can’t think of a single instance where I’d ever be okay with that stuff.

But then again, I’m not the sort of person the police or military are out to protect, anyway.  I have no wealth, own very little, and really don’t like Capitalism or Authority. They certainly must know by now I’d never consent to them murdering in my name.

Besides, I know who both groups are really working for: the State, and the Capitalists for whom the State exists.  It’s for them these people are being murdered, them and those who support them.

But not for me….and hopefully not for you, either.


 

Rhyd Wildermuth

10610799_821214641327922_8253401329808426544_n(1)Rhyd often lives in a city by the Salish Sea in occupied Duwamish territory. He’s a bard, theorist, anarchist, and writer, the editor of A Beautiful Resistance–Everything We Already Are, and co-founder and Managing Editor of Gods&Radicals, author of Your Face Is a Forest and A Kindness of Ravens, and is a columnist for The Wild Hunt.He growls when he’s thinking, laughs when he’s happy, cries when he’s sad, and does all those things when he’s in love. He worships Welsh gods, drinks a lot of tea, and dreams of forests, revolution, and men. His words can be found at Paganarch.com and can be supported on Patreon.com/Paganarch

The Circle and the Street

By Johnny Rapture

Photo by George Hodan; Public Domain
Photo by George Hodan; Public Domain

Reflections on marches, May Day, and the possibilities of Pagan theology.

Marching in rain and starlight

As I write, my fingers hesitate. My side aches. My hip aches. The grey matter behind my eyes feels lost in hazy, pain-killer-induced lethargy. And yet… isn’t this melancholia exactly that state prescribed by the sages for the best reflection, prayer, and appraisal of purpose? I can feel my own spine shimmering…

One week ago tonight, things were different. Cold sweat ran down my shoulders as I marched elbow-in-elbow with activists from across Chicago in solidarity with the #BaltimoreUprising. Black, Brown, and white, mostly young and smiling, fatigued by the chill but stepping in time to singing on all sides – we came walking down from Police Headquarters on 35th Street through neighborhoods lit and unlit, poor and well-off. We marched past darkened apartment windows and past buzzing street lights zapping flies. We passed my own apartment. We passed within shouting distance of Obama’s Southside home (but were diverted by police bikes). We came down through the city like flood waters until we stood looking south toward the blinking lights of the University of Chicago. Rain wanted to start falling, but didn’t. Our voices rained down instead in three staccato syllables:

                Come. Out. Side!

                Come. Out. Side!

With each shout we welcomed the people in the brick, three-story buildings all around us to come out and join our marching river.  I could see young people and old people and students and parents and people I knew and people I didn’t know all peeking through their window blinds, some rubbing sleep from their eyes but most just turning away from grey-blue screens for one moment, made curious by the rising tide of us. They peeked and they opened their doors and came out onto their porches and onto the streets and they clapped and cheered and smiled, and so did we. Someone added verses to our syllables:

                Come. Out. Side!

                                (We love you!)

                Come. Out. Side!

                                (We need you!)

And we did. We loved each other, and we needed each other.

We loved each other because there, in the clammy night, we clung to each other’s body heat while we clutched our purpose close to heart. What was remarkable – what I remember most vividly— were the smiles like starshine that lit our way, smiling down on us from covered porches and wooden fire-escapes. Constellations of smiling faces blinked on and off, twinkling while the people sang. My spine shimmered in that glow.

Dissonance

It wasn’t quite May 1st, but the crocuses were peeking out at us like those onlookers through their blinds and it felt like Chicago’s wet and clammy springtime was upon us. Still, this march – one of the largest and most vocal in the city since the height of #BlackLivesMatter activity over winter – was my May Day.

I’ve been a Neopagan for over a decade – more or less, off and on. There are statues on an altar in my apartment (Aphrodite could surely hear our step-stomping on the sidewalks nearby), but to be honest they are bare instead of heaped with regular offerings – I never stand before the table and light the incense and clap my hands. Not anymore. Why?

In a Beltain article, Crystal Blanton touched on something that resonated powerfully with me. She writes:

I still believe that life has purpose and I still celebrate the cycles of the wheel as it transitions every 45 days, but my spiritual core has shifted. I am no longer content with the story as I use to be, the world around me doesn’t match the simplicity of the theology.

Listen, I am not saying that this theology is inaccurate. I am just saying it is no longer enough for me, it does not serve me in the same way that it use to because I am walking through the trauma of the society that I breathe with.

While my altars gather dust, my shoes grow soggy with sweat and coated in grime off the street. Instead of lighting candles I am stenciling signs. The hymns go unsung but my throat is hoarse and dry.

If I can speak a little more about Mx. Blanton’s article, I would like to point out something else; to do so I’ll need to mention James Lindenschmidt’s article, also published on May 1st, which I found both hyperbolic (“untold thousands”) and  anachronistic (“Pagan ethos”). In these two pieces I find two different perspectives on the relationship between contemporary Pagan thought and the fight for justice. Equating contemporary Pagan practices with the thought and practice of generalized ancient cultures, Lindenschmidt asserts that Pagans (and he goes out of his way to include the whole spectrum of people who might today identify with that label, and more) do now and have always had theological perspectives that are anti-capitalist, anti-corporate, anti-nationstate, etc.

On the other hand, Blanton suggests (according to my reading) that this is not the case. Instead, she describes a detachment, or dissonance, between – to put it one way – the circle and the streets. Instead of relying on generalizations about “Pagan values” from the past (as I think Lindenschmidt does, to his argument’s detriment), Blanton takes the opportunity of her own dissonance and her dissatisfaction with the lack of robust justice theology in contemporary Paganism and furrows new theological fields. Taking up her contemporary understanding and tools, she creates:

Today justice became the seed within the Goddess’s belly.

New Theology

This Beltaine, and for many days before, I have felt the dissonance Blanton describes, or something like it – not only because of the state of American life but also because of that aching hip I mentioned, and for the debt collectors calling, and for other reasons, too. I don’t approach my altars because, though beautiful, they seem hollow and wanting. I ask myself: Athena, where were you the night Rekia Boyd was shot? Hestia, where is your sanctuary when it comes to Black folk? Asklepios, what new ailment is this?

But I think today of the songs we sing in circle and I think of the songs we sing in the street, and I think of fields we could furrow and of what a new Paganism – not an anachronism – could look like, watered both by offerings of milk and water and by hymns chanted in staccato syllables.

Come. Out. Side!

(In the East we call to Justice, golden-haired and weary!)

(And the people looked out!)

Come. Out. Side!

(In the South we call to Love, rosy-cheeked!)

(And the people smiled, teeth like stars!)

Come. Out. Side!

(In the West we call to Compassion, whose face is wet with tears!)

(And they sang together a flood of healing and of power!)

Come. Out. Side!

(And in the North we call to Mother Earth, bedrock beneath our feet!)

(And their feet, though sore, marched on.)

And I wonder if my hip will still hurt or if my brain will think with clarity, and I look to the smiling stars and hope to feel the sweat-sweet-rain-love on my shoulders and to link elbow-to-elbow with comrades in struggle and in circle.

This melancholy (melanc-holy) doesn’t lead me to answers like bezels of wisdom under the paving stones… but I am at uneasy rest, mind a-flutter.