Packing for Civil Unrest

OAKLAND, CA - DECEMBER 13: Protesters congregate at the Alameda County Court House during a 'Millions March' demonstration protesting the killing of unarmed black men by police on December 13, 2014 in Oakland, California. The march was one of many held nationwide. (Photo by Elijah Nouvelage/Getty Images)

OAKLAND, CA – DECEMBER 13: Protesters congregate at the Alameda County Court House during a ‘Millions March’ demonstration protesting the killing of unarmed black men by police on December 13, 2014 in Oakland, California. The march was one of many held nationwide. (Photo by Elijah Nouvelage/Getty Images)

Humans are social creatures.  Personal connection with our community is important for our mental health and social development.  One of the most harmful aspects of our modern consumer culture is the trend towards selfishness  and isolation from ones neighbors.  This disconnection from our local communities and it’s replacement by impersonal electronic social networks creates a world of misunderstanding and insular and isolated social groups. This is not a healthy way for social primates like us to live.  There are a myriad of ways in with one can reconnect with and serve their communities.  One of the ways that I have been called to help has been to attend demonstrations and protests to support the local social justice movement by providing medical aid to the demonstrators.  This is obviously not the only way to help your community, but one method in a variety of methods and just one of the many causes that need to be supported in order to create a healthy and safe world. While it is true that the amount of work that we must do as a society in order to create a better world is seemingly endless, just the act of becoming involved has wide-ranging benefits to your community and you personally. With that in mind I would like to encourage you all to become involved with your community in whatever way you are able to.

To that end I would like to share a few blog posts over the next few months about ways of serving and assisting your local communities.  This first one with be a break down of the equipment that I take out into the street with me.  The photo below is my present street medic kit that I take out into the demonstrations.  It has been evolving as I’ve been getting more time on the ground.  The first night I went out the kit was bare bones and pretty incomplete but it’s been growing and filling out over time.  .Each piece of equipment has a bit of a story that goes along with it.  As I was packing it the other night I realized that some of them needed to be told.

A basic street medic kit

A basic street medic kit

The jacket on the left is one of the newest pieces of protective equipment that I’ve added to the kit.  We decided it was necessary for a few different reasons.  The most obvious reason for the jacket is for warmth and visibility.  Demonstrations and actions can happen at any given time, day or night, and medical assistance might be needed at any time, and the bright and clearly marked jackets along with our medical bags and marked red cross armbands makes it easy for someone who needs aid to find us.  Generally speaking though, the worst brutality and violence from the police comes at night.  This is when there aren’t as many eyes on police actions and not as many people on the street to witness or get caught in the crossfire.  The jackets not only make it clear to demonstrators where we are, but it also is very visible to the police.  Much of our job as street medics is to put ourselves in the line of fire in order to aid people who have already been injured by the police.  I am hopeful that being marked as a medic and as clergy will make it clear to the law enforcement officers that we are not a threat to them and we are there to assist with public safety.  Maybe this will prevent them from targeting us as we do our jobs or maybe not, I have seen and heard mixed reports on that.  I look at it this way, either it will prevent them from taking a shot at us, or there will be hopefully be video footage of them shooting a clearly marked member of the clergy.

The gas mask is a new piece of equipment as well, a gift from a friend and ally.  It’s use is self-evident.  Tear gas, although prohibited by various international agreements, is commonly used by law enforcement on US citizens.  I honestly never thought that I would feel the need to own a gas mask marked with a red cross and clergy, but here we are.  Before I had the gas mask I used a pair of ski goggles and carried a zip lock bag with bandanas that had been soaked in a 50/50 solution of vinegar and water.  I still carry those on me in order to give out to people when they need them.  The most important reason to have at least some sort of defense against tear gas and pepper spray is that if you are going to be able to be effective in an environment where tear gas is deployed, you often need to get to injured people who are in the middle of it.

The next thing in the picture is my helmet.  This one is a ski helmet, light weight and able to take at least one good shot from a rubber bullet or tear gas canister.    Some of the worst injuries that you are going to deal with are a the result of a head shot or neck shot with a “non lethal” projectile or tear gas canister, or getting struck in the head with a baton., so it’s essential that you don’t end up on the receiving end of one of these injuries while you are tending another.  This is why it is crucially important that you wear some sort of helmet if you are heading into a zone where projectiles are being fired or the police line is aggressively assaulting the demonstrators.  Protecting your head can be the difference between coming home bruised and spending the night in the ER.

inside the medic bag

inside the medic bag

The items inside my medical bag are pretty standard with a couple of items specific to working demonstrations.  The basic supplies are; various sized gauze pads and rolls of gauze, medical tape, pain reliever, band aids, alcohol wipes, neosporin ointment,  non latex gloves, tweezers, scissors, flashlight and fresh water.  The non standard supplies are Yunnan Baiyao capsules (a Chinese herbal powder that stops bleeding), the previously mentioned vinegar and water-soaked bandanas (for tear gas), a small spray bottle filled with a 50/50 mix of Maloxx and water (for neutralizing the effects of both tear gas and pepper spray), and ear plugs (to negate the effects of LRAD’s (long-range acoustic devices, basically weaponized sound)).  This is all held in a WW2 era Belgian paratroopers medic bag which I got at an army surplus store.  In truth my medical bag is a little small for what I’m using it for and I received a much newer and larger bag when I received the donation of the gas mask, but I find my little bag charming and comfortable so I am setting up the new bag with supplies and keeping it on hand for others that inevitably end up going out in the streets with us.

photo 3

The final piece of equipment that I bring along with me is in some ways the most important one.  This is the stuffed fox that my youngest daughter made for me about 3 years ago.  During the time since it was made and given to me, the fox has had a prominent place on my ancestors altar in my home.   I say it’s one of most important things that I carry on me for a couple of reasons.  First of all, it’s a piece of magic and love made by my daughter, so not only does it have her love and energy imbued into it, but it serves as a reminder of why I am out there, to create a better world for our descendants.   Also, it is a component of my ancestor’s altar, and there is great value in keeping close the connection between our ancestors, those that paved the path we walk upon today with their blood and our descendents, whom we spend our lives and blood to create a safe and viable path ahead for.  These struggles for freedom from oppression, social and environmental justice and a better world for everyone did not start with us and will not end with us.  Those that came before us fought these same battles and those that follow us will fight them too.  There is no finish line here and it is our obligation to continue holding back the tide of authoritarianism and injustice lest we allow it to drown us all.

I would like to end this with one more thought that I feel is crucial for activist pagans like myself to keep in mind.  Some of the main advantages that we have as pagans is the use of magic and our connections to the gods.  We need to not be afraid to use these tools to our advantage.  I will not go out into a dangerous environment without making offerings to my gods, ancestors and spirit allies and when I do head out there, I am using every protective magic I have available to me.  Our spiritual allies want to aid us, they are as invested in us and the world we are creating as we are.  Acknowledging this fact, asking for aid, and thanking them when we receive it is part of the relationship between worlds that we are part of.  We are witches, druids, priests and spirit workers.  We have a host of allies and methods of subtly shifting the world around us, we must take advantage of this and use it to make ourselves more effective and keep us safe in our battles.  The actions that we take right now matter, let’s make them count for something and join our communities in the struggle that surrounds us all.

[ Author’s Note:  Presently, my fox remains unnamed.  I just spoke to my daughter about naming it and she suggested asking you, my readers, to come up with suggestions for his (or her) name.  So, please let me know if you have a name that you think would be fitting.  Thanks 🙂 ]

The Benefits of Regular Beatings: Combative Arts and Devotional Practice

shield

When I was a child, I was quiet and shy.  I was one of those kids that didn’t like getting into fights and could have done without getting dirty.  Don’t get me wrong, I would roughhouse and play outside, but real aggression and real anger was something that I tried to avoid.  There were a combination of reasons for this, I was raised by kind and loving women, I was lanky and a bit of a geek and my body was growing so rapidly that I was awkward, always trying to adjust to my new height or length of my arms.  When I finished elementary school and went to junior high, I got in a couple of fights and was punished for them by being sent to an all boys boarding school for kids from broken homes.  My new school was one that had an long established tradition of hazing younger students.  I found myself in a world where I was fighting and taking beatings regularly and these beatings were completely ignored by the administration and teachers of the school.  So I learned to fight, poorly at first, but I soon got a little more comfortable with the pain and adrenaline that accompanies it.  I started playing hockey at that point in my life and soon the hazing and beatings tapered off.  Not only was I getting older and no longer one of the young students, but it seems that people are less likely to pick a fight with you after you have hit them with a hockey stick.

I first heard of the Society for Creative Anachronism during a period of my life when I was hitchhiking around the country and volunteering and doing direct actions with a variety of environmental organizations.  At that point in my life my relationship with fighting had completely shifted.  I was seeking out conflict, putting myself at risk for causes that I believed in. When I heard of the SCA it was described as “there are these people who get together and camp, put on armor and beat the shit out of each other with sticks and then all hang out and drink homebrew”.    I was immediately interested although it took another 4 years to be in a place in my life where I was settled and could be a part of it, but I did find a local Barony and started gathering armor and learning to fight.  That was about twenty years ago.

Over the last twenty years my relationship with the Morrigan has gone from knowing generally who She is, to formally dedicating myself to Her, to being Her priest, a very public role that I am still a little uncomfortable with.  The closer that I grew to Her the more, my fighting practice, something that I did out of joy initially, became part of my devotional relationship with Her.  I have found that for a goddess that is associated with battle, armored combat becomes more than a hobby or sport, but becomes a meditation and space of communion, and the benefits of martial practice are vast.

closehelm

For Your Health-  The most obvious benefit of having a combative martial practice is for your health.  Fighting encourages good health better than many forms of exercise for a variety of reasons.  In my case of armored combat, the act of spending a day physically exerting yourself with 60 to 80 pounds of metal and leather strapped to you not only builds strength and endurance, it also teaches you the art of energy conservation.  You simply cannot fully exert yourself for long periods of time in those conditions so you quickly learn to conserve energy when you can so that you have it when you need it.  It is an ongoing lesson on conservation of effort, teaching you to make your moves effective and not wasteful.  Fighting also changes your relationship with pain.  This relationship with pain is one of the reasons that I feel that for a martial art to be effective you need to be in a martial art that has regular sparring are part of the practice.  The human body thrives in an environment of conflict and struggle.  Pushing our bodies past our limits is how we improve ourselves and enduring pain and hardship is how we grow stronger physically and mentally.  Most of us spend our lives avoiding pain and therefore fearing it,  but fear of pain will act as an inhibitor on our actions.  One’s first year learning in a combative art is usually spent learning to fight the fear of being hurt more than learning to fight well.  I call it the flinch reflex, that reflex to close your eyes and flinch when a blow is being thrown at you.  The flinch reflex is only cured by being hit, often.  When you get hit often enough, when you go through the cycle of pain and adrenaline enough times, your body changes and instead of acting out of panic and reflex, you start to be able to THINK during times of physical stress.  This ability to be able to remain calm and think when you are in danger can save you and your loved ones lives some day and it starts as a physical change.  It starts with becoming comfortable with the adrenaline and endorphin cycles in our bodies.

For Your Mind- The art of Warriorship is partially the discipline of reconditioning our fight or flight reflex to favor the fight over flight.  Warriorship is an obligation to face danger on behalf of ones community and when that is your role, the flight reflex doesn’t serve you very well.  There are a variety of ways that warrior societies have encouraged this culturally, but just the act of engaging in regular combat is a very effective method of making that shift in yourself.  The only way to train yourself to be calm in the face of danger is to spend time facing danger.  This is the other side of training your body to be comfortable during the adrenaline and endorphin cycles. Just like your body learns to deal with the chemicals and stress, your mind does as well.  Panic and fear get replaced with calm and focus.  Your consciousness becomes a bright flame in the dark and the world of chaos around you seems to move more slowly.  This is the moment of clarity that people who engage in these activities are seeking.  This is the mental space that you start to shift to whenever you are in danger, focused, clear, and present.  This state is an aspect of the Hero’s Light or Bird of Valor, a moment when you step beyond your abilities and become more that your physical limitations and skills.  For me, this is a moment of communion with my goddess.

As Devotion-   This has become the most rewarding aspect of my martial practice.  As a priest dedicated to a goddess that is strongly associated with battle and valor, its only natural that my martial practice would be an important aspect of my devotional commitment to the Morrigan.  This works in a few different ways for me.  The initial aspect of this takes the form of formally devoting my war fighting, tourney fights, practice and training to my goddess.  Before any of these acts, I take a moment to quietly speak to and dedicate my actions to Her.  This act is not only a devotional moment, but it allows me to shift my mind into the predatory and focused state that it needs to be in when entering into a combative space.  As the fighting starts and energy and intensity rises.  I am able to slip into that space between worlds, that place of movement and action, where your thinking rational mind is working faster than your body’s activity.   In this place your mind is able to think a number of actions ahead of yourself, similar to a chess player thinking many moves ahead of his present move.  Here, your training and practice creates a situation where your body doesn’t have to think about the basics, such as blocking and moving, it does these things instinctively, allowing your mind the space to step back from that moment of violence and see the steps to your victory.  It is in these spaces that I feel closest to my goddess. Here is where I feel Her wings around me and here is where I hear Her call, a terrifying scream of glory and joy.  These moments are sustaining and empowering for me, moments of communion with the divine, moments of intimacy with my Queen.   This is one of the cores of my spirituality.

invocation

Seeing Past the Fog of War

Fog of War

Today it seems as if we are being very easily led down the path towards war.  Terrible actions by those with extremist philosophies have pushed us further and further down this path of hatred and violence, pushed us to a place where we can’t see what is in front of us and have trouble looking behind us at where we’ve come from.   We stumble forward in this miasma of hatred and intolerance, angry and afraid, looking for a direction to go, a path forward that allows us to live without fear and violence surrounding us.  As we struggle to find our way in this fog, we can see a path ahead of us, a path well-lit by those controlling our media and our governments.  The signposts are garbled on this path we are on, contradictory even.  Some tell us of our “enemies”, extremist Islamic philosophies and radical ideologies, and some tell us of what our weaknesses are that led us to this place, such as a lack of fear of the Christian god’s wrath and an embrace of “degenerate” acts such as liberalism and homosexuality.  No matter how garbled these signs are and how confusing these signposts are, they are leading us to one very obvious place, war, specifically, war against Islam, or if you are in the Islamic world, a war against western culture.

In the past week since the horrific shootings in Paris, I have watched a terrifying dynamic play out within our communities.  I have watched anti Islamic violence and racism sweep across France and I have seen racial and religious intolerance sweep through our communities like the rising water of a tsunami.  I have seen members of my community call out for extreme and unfocused retaliation against the Muslim world, everything from military strikes on Islamic holy sites to a call to “purge the world of Islam”.  First of all, I would like everyone to think very hard about what this type of action would look like.  How does one bomb a holy site or city without becoming the monster that you are hoping to defeat?  and what exactly would “purging’ a religious philosophy shared by over a quarter of the world’s population resemble?  We must be vigilantly wary of those who so easily point us in the direction of an enemy when we are afraid and angry.  We must think beyond our triggers and emotional reactions and act from a place of clarity and morality, not fear.  Because we are in the middle of a war right now.  It’s a war that we have been in for our entire lives and it is so pervasive and all-encompassing that it is barely noticeable to us.  Like proverbial frogs in boiling water, we were born in this war, and as the heat of this war is raised, we sit by idly as the world around us starts to boil.

But the war that we are surrounded by and the war that we are being relentlessly led to are not the same war.  We are conditioned from childhood to look towards the horizon for something to fear.  There is an enemy, our leaders tell us, waiting out there to take away our way of life.  We must all fall in line and obey the authorities or risk the loss of everything we love.  Whether it’s the Russians who are going to destroy us or more recently Islamic terrorists that hate our freedom, the enemy that our governments and media sources point us toward is always a distant other, looming on or coming across our borders.  But we should be cautious when we are given such a simplistic answer to an obviously complex and nuanced issue.  Because the war we are engaged in is not a religious war, although religious ideologies are being used as tools in it.  It is not a war between nations but a war that is going on within most nations.  It is a war being waged over control of wealth and resources, and humanity and all life on earth, has been reduced to just another resource to be controlled.  The reason that our eyes and anger are pointed to this other is because the people perpetuating this narrative are terrified of us recognizing the actually battlefield for what it is.  Their control is completely reliant on the fact that the people that they are controlling do not realize that they are being manipulated.  This is why it is crucial that we open our eyes to the war happening around us and to combat the attitudes and mindsets that keep our communities divided and afraid.

The true enemy to our communities does not hide behind extremist philosophies, they are extremist philosophies and those that hold these hateful attitudes close and live by them. The only people who truly desire a world-wide religious war are a very small number of Muslim and Christian zealots and those that profit off the making of war, and it is vitally important for us to see beyond this media created fog of war and focus our efforts on the difficult task of diffusing this narrative of fear that is being spoon fed to us every day. The battles that must be fought today are battles against extremism, not in support of it, and the way we combat extremism isn’t with more extremism with a different face. Extremism is defeated with tolerance. This does not mean we need to tolerate extremist violence.  Violent crimes need to be taken seriously and those that commit them must be apprehended and face justice, but justice does not include retaliation against others because they share the same religious beliefs as the criminals.

We must be tolerant of those we disagree with and those that are different from us. We must look at the mindsets and belief structures that surround us and fight the cultural conditioning that we have all received. We must confront racism in our communities and in ourselves. We must confront the sexism and misogyny that plagues our society. We must treat the poor with dignity and respect and do everything in our power to make our communities safe and hospitable for everyone. Because these toxic attitudes of intolerance and hatred are the tools that are used to keep our eyes off the real issues in the world and if we let ourselves remain distracted by them, we will be led by our noses down a path of sorrow and horror, a path that leads to a continuous global conflict that only benefits those that profit on warfare.