The Way Of The Violent Stars

“The only way for humanity to make itself immune to violence is to allow the creation of a vast authoritarian system that protects individuals from personal violence through the endless impersonal violence of the state.”

This essay, by Ramon Elani, originally appeared in Black Seed 5, along with an essay by Rhyd Wildermuth. Black Seed 5 can be ordered at this link.


“I hate the word peace, as I hate hell.” ~William Shakespeare

“I shall try to make plain the bloodiness of killing. Too often this has been slurred over by those who defend hawks. Flesheating man is in no way superior. It is so easy to love the dead. The word ‘predator’ is baggy with misuse. All birds eat living flesh at some time in their lives. Consider the cold-eyed thrush, that springy carnivore of lawns, worm stabber, basher to death of snails. We should not sentimentalise his song, and forget the killing that sustains it.” ~J.A. Baker

As green anarchists and anarcho-primitivists, we have utterly idealized indigenous or so-called primitive people. In doing so we have failed to understand precisely the reason we should follow their path. Most discourse around primitive life is drawn from western anthropology, though from the conclusions most anarcho-primitivists and green anarchists have drawn, it is clear that very few of them have actually bothered to read the texts they are referring to. Even given the Eurocentric bias of most anthropologists, those texts paint a much richer, more complex, and more conflicted view of primitive life than one finds in the vast majority of anti-civilization writing and discussion.

The most egregious assumption is that primitive life is supposed to be happy and easy. This is, of course, drawn from notions of primitive abundance and leisure. The fact, however, that individuals in primitive communities only worked for a very small amount of time per day does not mean that there were not other difficulties and hardships to be faced. Anarcho-primitivist and green anarchist writers suggest that modern humanity’s neurosis and pathology is entirely a product of the alienating forces of techno-industrial society. Indigenous communities now and in the past had their own ways of understanding and addressing anxiety, depression, and loneliness. Of course, it is likely that they experienced these conditions differently than we do or to a lesser degree but clearly they still exist regardless. To avoid essentializing primitive or indigenous lifeways, we must understand that they experienced as broad a range of emotional states as we do.

In other words, the old assessment that ancient hunter gatherers were happier than we are is irrelevant and likely untrue. It is important here to acknowledge the distinction between the terms anarcho-primitivism and green anarchy. While green anarchy presents a wide range of conceptual apparatus for confronting techno-industrial society, Anarcho-primitivism dogmatically insists on a prescriptive vision of non-civilized life. For anarcho-primitivists, the only communities that count are ones in which no power structures or symbolic culture exist at all. In this vision, since there is no oppression of any kind or rupture with the non-human world, there are no social or existential problems. It is, of course, unlikely that such a community has ever existed.

Primitive life certainly involved hardship and suffering. Contrary to much received wisdom, violence was universal among primitive communities and remains so in those that persist to this day. Primitive life was also not a leftist utopia of perfect egalitarianism. Of course, the fact that pain, suffering, trauma, and tragedy was always present does not mean that joy, happiness, and pleasure were not also always present. Perhaps it is so, as I believe, that the very presence of ubiquitous violence and struggle intensified the feelings of happiness, contentment, and satisfaction that ancient people experienced. But in the end, this is neither here nor there. The point is that primitive life is superior to our own because its impact on the biosphere was minimal and people lived in close contact with the non-human world; that is the only reason and that is sufficient.

People who do not know what it means to fight cannot understand violence. They fear it because they have never experienced it. Aside from posturing and play acting, most anarchists and activists have never experienced violence. This is not to say, of course, that many of them have not been brutalized by the police, etc. Fighting with an enemy is not the same thing as being ruthlessly beaten by an anonymous employee whom you cannot strike back against, or harassing racists and idiots in the streets.

The violence of the mob, of the masses, is a different beast entirely. It is more akin to being crushed by a blind stampede of herd animals than anything else. Traditional people understood the need for ritual combat, for battle enacted under the strictest and most sacred terms: tt make a square within staves of hazel, to tie your strap to a spear plunged into the dirt.

Among the ancient people of Scandinavia the power of the state was weak and in the absence of a police or military to enforce the law, individuals resorted to ritual combat to resolve conflicts without disrupting the community as a whole. This practice, known as holmgang, involved the voluntary participation of both combatants and stipulated that the source of the conflict must end with the conclusion of the duel. In other words, the rules of holmgang were designed to ensure that other family members did not get caught up in the feud. Moreover, holmgang did not require one of the two combatants to die. In many cases the drawing of first blood was considered sufficient to determine a victor. Unsurprisingly, the practice of holmgang was outlawed in the early 11th century as Christian law stamped out pagan ways of life and hegemonic power grew in the region.

Even in such classic works of anthropology as Stanley Diamond’s In Search of the Primitive, we find a picture of traditional life that fully embraces violence. Diamond writes, “the point is that the wars and rituals of primitive society (and the former usually had the style of the latter), are quantitatively and qualitatively distinct from the mechanized wars of civilization.” This is to say, the type of violence, the experience of the violence, makes an enormous difference. As critics of civilization and techno-industrial society we have inadequately accounted for this. Violence and war are not to be feared or condemned. It is the nature of the violence that must be interrogated and reconsidered.

The custom of counting coup, practiced by the tribes of the American Plains, is an important historical example to cite here. To count coup means to demonstrate one’s bravery and courage by achieving a number of increasingly difficult feats on the battlefield. As George Bird Grinnell observed among the Cheyenne and Crow, “the bravest act that could be performed was to count coup on—to touch or strike—a living unhurt man and to leave him alive.” Joe Medicine Crow, the last war chief of the Crow Nation, achieved this feat a number of times as a soldier during World War II. Among his many achievements include disarming and fighting an enemy officer in hand-to-hand combat, as well as stealing 50 horses from a German battalion and riding off while singing Crow war songs. According to his obituary, Medicine Crow felt war to be “the finest sport in the world.”

As ancient people understood well through their war cults and warrior societies, there is tremendous wisdom and meaning to be gained through violence. In the first case you learn that pain is just another sensation in the body, it does not need to be feared. In the second case, to stand proudly against another, an equal, is to test yourself in a way that we have little ability to replicate. It is a form of physical relationship with another that is unique. You learn that you are strong, that you are skilled. You also learn that there is strength in the other. That sometimes your strength and your skill are insufficient and you strive to make yourself stronger. You learn about the world, about the nature of life, grounded in the body. Modern humanity is utterly separated from this. To return to Diamond: “war is a kind of play. No matter what the occasion for hostility, it is particularized, personalized, ritualized. Conversely, civilization represses hostility in the particular, fails to use or structure it, even denies it.”

The violence that we experience, as modern, civilized humans, that we perceive around us in countless ways, brings nothing but trauma. It is utterly, radically distinct from the violence of the primitive societies. It is depersonalized, sterile, and more destructive on a previously unimaginable scale of magnitude. In techno-industrial society we experience the violence of the police, the violence of men against women, the desperate random violence of humans driven to madness and hopelessness, violence against minorities, violence against the poor, and most importantly, no matter where we are, all around us, every single hour of every day we experience unspeakable degrees of violence against the earth.

Moreover, the soldier is not the warrior. The warrior longs for meaning, for connection with the cosmos and himself. The soldier is an automated, anonymous employee. It searches for nothing. It kills because it has been programmed to kill. It has no joy, no sorrow, no thought of what it does. When such emotions do occur they are shoved deep into hidden places in the soul and when they break out they cause insanity and horror. The violence of the soldier is the violence of the machine. It is a bloodless kind of violence, a violence that erodes the soul, no matter what it does to the body. Those pitiful beings that serve as the instruments of the brutality of the machine understand nothing, they are numb and insensate. They are appendages of the thing that annihilates. They have never felt the challenge of facing a foe who is trained and prepared for them, to be joined in valor. They execute. They bomb. They murder. Existentially, they count for nothing. Their lives are nothing.

Peace is understood as little as battle. Peace is not synonymous with joy, nor with righteousness, nor with abundance. Peace has only ever been achieved through history’s greatest atrocities. Peace has only ever meant power to the victor and misery and degradation to the vanquished. We, in the heart of technoindustrial society, are experiencing what peace means. A life devoid of joy. A sterile life. A non-life. And worse still, it is a life maintained perpetually by the slaughter of those on the fringes of our world. As the world-machine continues to expand outward, more and more will be pacified and brought within our life of shopping malls, endless highways, obesity, sickness, despair. And peace will reign. Peace, peace, peace.

What do we long for? A life of joy and passion. A life that is alive, throbbing with blood. A world that pulses with vitality. Do we want the icy porcelain bodies of mechanized gods? Or do we want living animal bodies that break and heal and decay and die? The latter is the body that is shaped by violence, by suffering, by hardship. Just as it is shaped by joy, pleasure, and robust health. Ancient people did not live a life without pain. They suffered acutely and they experienced joy acutely. We experience neither truly. What would you choose? Who would not trade this world of atomic bombs, environmental annihilation, and mechanized dehumanization for a world of primal war?

But let us be clear: the world we have is the world that exists. And wishing will not make it otherwise. Moreover, the skill, courage, and strength of the warrior will never defeat the impersonal mechanized destroyer.

In our greatest manifestations and noblest moments, we are beasts. The myth of human exceptionalism has poisoned us to the core. There is nothing wrong with being animals, in fact it is a far greater thing than the fantasies that humans tell themselves about their supposed superiority. Anything good that has come from human action or thought has come from our animals nature. The evil and vileness we do, contrary to received wisdom, comes the part of us that no other animal shares. To understand this means to understand that the world of beasts involves its own kind of brutality. When lions slaughter hyena babies, it is not because they are hungry. We dislike this because of our human moralizing. We easily perceive that “nature, red in tooth and claw” is not the whole story. But it is an inescapable part of the story.

The only way for humanity to make itself immune to violence is to allow the creation of a vast authoritarian system that protects individuals from personal violence through the endless impersonal violence of the state. If you can’t protect yourself, you will rely on someone else to protect you, whether you realize it or not, regardless of the cost. Humanity is capable of radically limiting pain and suffering. We can live longer and longer. We can cure diseases. We can create enlightened societies with relatively low rates of violence. All of these things come at the cost of the earth, the things of the earth, and our connection to the earth.

Posing a vision of humanity without hardship or suffering denies the reality of the wild world and it distracts us from what is truly important: not the avoidance of pain but our unity with the myriad things and spirits of the world. The strength and the future of the human race lies only in its ability to show proper reverence to the gods of the earth.


Ramon Elani

Ramon Elani holds a PhD in literature and philosophy. He is a teacher, a poet, a husband, and a father. Until recently he was a muay thai fighter. He wanders in oak groves. He casts the runes and sings to trolls. He lives among mountains and rivers in Western New England

More of his writing can be found here.


To Order Black Seed 5, go here.

To order Gods&Radicals publications (and now stickers!), follow this link.

Frith, Peace, and Protest

Within my Druidic practice, there are three key properties that sit at its heart. Awen, the force of poetic inspiration, engenders creativity and nourishes charisma. Imbas, or life-force, brings health and prophetic vision. The third principle – Frith – is harmony and liberty. Each of these terms is rooted in a different language from my own ancestry; awen is Welsh, spoken by my mother’s family, imbas is from Irish, once spoken by my father’s family, while frith is from Old English – the language ancestral to that which I speak daily. Although the roots of Druidry in Welsh and Irish culture are well known, the ancient Druids practiced right across the British Isles, and the landscape and culture of England continues to speak to Druidic themes – frith being a part of this ongoing conversation. A conversation, I suggest, that speaks to our present duress.

Druids have a longstanding concern for peace. We have old stories of Druids striding out between opposing armies, helping them to reconcile, and during the Druid Revival in the 17th Century, Iolo Morganwg integrated a strong pacifist streak into druidic teaching. But there are certain problems with the concept of peace – and pacifism – as we understand them today. Pacifism is often used as a justification for inaction, or the condemnation of fellow activists. Although notable pacifists are often extremely qualified in their advocacy of nonviolent resistance, such nuance is all-too-often ignored by those who believe that true pacifism means all violence is always wrong. Often coming from positions of class or racial privilege, such advocates of pacifism ignore the structural nature of violence, and instead use the principle as a stick to beat other activists of whom they disapprove, or as a prop for personal cowardice or self-interest. Making a principled stand not to fight back is one thing; ignoring the nature of the violence to which you are opposed is quite another.

It is helpful here to consider the origins of the word “peace” itself. Descended from the Latin pax, the meanings are what we’d expect – tranquility, reconciliation, silence, and agreement. However, such meanings cannot be disentangled easily from the broader social structure of the Roman Empire, under whose terms pax was sustained. The Pax Romana – the Roman Peace – was created and guaranteed through extreme and often genocidal violence; committed against any who refused to accept the authority of the Roman Senate and, later, its Emperors. Indeed, one can note that as soon as a Pax is invoked as a nation’s gift to the world – such as the Pax Mongolica in the 13th and 14th centuries, the Pax Britannica that held from 1815 until 1914, or the Pax Americana under which we now live – it is more or less guaranteed that the nation concerned has achieved imperial hegemony, backed up with a vast military. “Peace” therefore has a history of concealing a backdrop of institutional violence; silent assent in the face of coercion.

FRITH IS A RADICALLY different sort of concept, because unlike pax, it directs our attention not just to the state of harmony itself, but to the wider sort of relationships that best engender it. Although frith has not survived into modern English as a synonym for harmony, the word does survive in both the words “friend” and “free”. Whereas peace is maintained through treaties, there is a sense with which frith is founded upon kinship – it is the state of harmony that should, ideally, exist between close relatives and friends. It is the active sense of safety that we work towards, ensuring that we are secure in each other’s company. It is only in such a state – wherein we are safe from harm or disturbance, due to our good relations with others – that we can be truly said to be free. It used to be the case that any enclosed sacred space would be termed friþgeard – “frith-guarded”; a place of sanctuary or asylum, where those within were free from attack. In this sense, frith is not just a social, but a sacred property – a blessed state that unites both humans and divine beings. While peace is always enforced with the stamp of a boot, frith can only be managed with friends.

The groundedness of frith in kinship and communal liberty reflects the fact that, in contrast to the Roman Empire, Anglo-Saxon England was a small-scale society; founded upon a clan-structure, and interpersonal relationships. But it would be a mistake to believe, because our society operates at a global scale, that we have nothing to learn from the concept of frith today. Indeed, I would suggest that frith transforms our understanding in two ways – both vital for the present moment.

16266021_10154941397702726_8619162010299285668_n.jpg
Oh. Dear.

1 – Freedom isn’t individual

Liberty is sometimes imagined to be a matter of absolute individual sovereignty. According to this view, each man is an island, and no institution should be created that goes against this fundamental principle. Such a euphoric vision owes much to a certain pioneer spirit; combining a scepticism towards the state with a spirit of resolute self-reliance. Everyone is responsible for their own destiny. Quite often, corporations are oddly exempt from this demand – despite the fact that they can be every bit as corrosive of individual freedoms as an oppressive government.

The concept of frith points to the limitations of such a view. Being free is not simply a matter of being on your own; indeed, being abandoned to live on your own wits at the edge of the world is more akin to being an exile or an outlaw – the very opposite of frith. Frith acknowledges that true calm and equanimity emerges not when you are totally on your own, vulnerable to the elements, wild animals, and hostile human beings, but when you are surrounded by those you love and trust, who can guarantee your safety and security in their company. Just as we are determined by our genes, our upbringing, and our experiences – in short, by our relationships with others – so it is through friendly relationships that peace of mind can be guaranteed. Living in a society with frith is king – a state of “freedom” in literal terms – means being able to trust, and be trusted by, all those whom you meet. In a truly free society, we are all one family.

Fr That’s your business, not theirs. Although you might be able to evade the State and other central authorities out there, you are constantly consumed by the struggle to preserve your own life, something that is your responsibility alone. Being an outlaw gives you individual autonomy, but that is not true freedom. This can only exist in the heart of the community.

In recent elections across the Anglophone world, people have voted to “take back control” from distant, sinister central government – be that in Brussels or Capital Hill. Support continues to be thrown behind right-wing parties like the Tories or the Republicans, who promise to cut taxes and restrict the reach of the state. Thinking of freedom more broadly – not simply as an absence of the state, but as freedom from fear, pain, and harm for everyone – demonstrates how hollow such rhetoric is. Though they promise freedom, what they will do is make us all into outlaws.

womensmarchla2017
Eric Garcetti Office, Los Angeles Women’s March January 2017 / Creative Commons

2 – The Importance of Friendship

Frith demonstrates another crucial consideration for the way ahead – the importance of friendship and empathy in sustaining freedom. With all the outrageous perpetrated by the Trump administration on a daily basis, any sense of harmony seems far away – and we have a long way to go to return to such a state. Getting there will be difficult, and will require a great deal of sacrifice and energy, put into building a social movement of many millions of people.  Returning to a spirit of friendship and common cause will be a fundamental part of that movement’s success.

Alicia Garza, special project director for the National Domestic Workers Alliance, explains this principle eloquently. Reflecting upon her own scepticism towards the Women’s March, she points out that the organisers were clearly inspired by the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, yet failed to acknowledge this – wrongly appropriating the work of black people. But despite this, and the many legitimate criticisms she has of white feminism, she participated in the March anyway. Anger has great power that must be acknowledged, Garza argues, but it is insufficient to take power. For that, we need a mass movement: She writes:

This is a moment for all of us to remember who we were when we stepped into the movement — to remember the organizers who were patient with us, who disagreed with us and yet stayed connected, who smiled knowingly when our self-righteousness consumed us…

…We can build a movement in the millions, across difference. We will need to build a movement across divides of class, race, gender, age, documentation, religion and disability. Building a movement requires reaching out beyond the people who agree with you. Simply said, we need each other, and we need leadership and strategy.

The aim shouldn’t be to reject justified anger on moral grounds – the same error that lies at the root of the cod-pacifism I describe above – but a pragmatic acceptance of the need for all of us to demonstrate leadership and solidarity within the movement of which we’re part. As Garza points out, this does not mean letting privileged people off the hook; now is not the time for white, male, or upper-class fragility. If anything, this moment is an invitation to draw even more deeply on our reserves of empathy, and being prepared to shut up, listen, learn, to yield, to put ourselves on the line, and to be held to account. Part of being friends with someone, an alchemical combination of tolerance and honesty – an ability to speak the truth, while knowing that it is safe to do so. Maintaining this kind of friendship is a vital precondition for taking power.


Jonathan Woolley

1b&w copyJonathan is a social anthropologist and human ecologist, based at the University of Cambridge. He is a specialist in the political economy of the British landscape, and in the relationship between spirituality, the environment, and climate change. A member of the Order of Bards, Ovates, and Druids, and an eco-animist, Jonathan maintains a blog about his academic fieldwork called BROAD PATHWAYS.


 You can still purchase our entire digital catalogue for $20 US until 1 June.