Truth or Dare Encounters with Power,
Authority, and Mystery by Starhawk.
(San Francisco, HarperSanFrancisco, 1988).
Chapter 1: Truth or Dare
Because the woman runs screaming into the
gym, because she dives into the center of
our meeting, because we are in jail, because
six guards are after her, because spontaneously
we surround her and protect her, we encounter
mystery. The terrain of the mysteries is
the edge where power encounters power, for
mystery is the arising of powers that are
uncharted and untamed, that will not follow
the logic of naked force, and so act in
unexpected ways. Mystery is surprise.
Six hundred women are crowded into the gym at Camp Parks. All of us have
been arrested for blockading the Livermore Weapons Lab, one of the two
facilities in the United States where nuclear weapons are designed and
developed. We are irritable and uncomfortable. The day is hot; voices
ricochet off the walls and bounce on the wood floor. The scanty food runs
short at every meal. No one has slept well and we have no doors to close
out the crowd, the constant meetings, the decisions to be made; no way to
withdraw or be alone.
We are not complaining. In the fervor of the action, we are willing to face
horrors much worse than the discomfort of this makeshift lockup in an old
World War II Japanese relocation camp. Nevertheless, we feel secure in our
knowledge that we probably won't have to. We expect our courage to be
tested only a little. Although many women, at booking, gave their names as
Karen Silkwood, we are not at risk of being run off the road for our stand.
Although we sing songs about Victor Jara and Hannah Senesh, we are not
facing massacre or torture, nor do we face, as did the Japanese who
preceded us here, long years of custody and loss of our homes, our
businesses, our community. Stories of martyrs inspire us but also make us
feel slightly guilty, for we know that we are not great heras, or saints.
We are a small legion of a more common breed of ordinary, irritable people,
able sometimes to be somewhat brave.
On our second day in custody, we are massed in the center of the floor,
having an endless meeting that has become an extended argument. We are
arguing about solidarity, about militancy, about violence and nonviolence,
about sexuality and spirituality and how polite we should or should not be
to the guards. We have learned from our lawyers that the gym we are held in
has been the site of experiments with radioactive substances for twenty
years. We are arguing about who knew this fact ahead of time and why they
didn't tell us and what we should do about it. Outside is nothing but dust,
smog, and barbed wire. Inside are six hundred women rapidly getting sick of
each other and feeling that the line they have put their bodies on is
getting rather frayed.
And then the woman runs in. She bursts through the open doorway that leads
to the concrete exercise yard outside. Six guards are after her. "Grab her!
Grab her!" they yell. The woman dives into our cluster, and we
instinctively surround her, gripping her arms and legs and shielding her
with our bodies. The guards grab her legs and pull; we resist, holding on.
The guards and the women are shouting and in a moment, I know, the
nightsticks will descend on kidneys and heads, but in that suspended
interval before the violence starts we hold our ground.
And then someone begins to chant.
The chant is wordless, a low hum that swells and grows with open vowels as
if we had become the collective voice of some ancient beast that growls and
sings, the voice of something that knows nothing of guns, walls,
nightsticks, mace, or barbed-wire fencing, yet gives protection, a voice
outside surveillance or calculation but not outside knowledge, a voice that
is recognized by our bodies if not our minds and is known also to the
guards whose human bodies, like ours, have been animal for a million years
before control was invented.
The guards back away.
"Sit down," a woman whispers. We become a tableau, sitting and clasping the
woman as if we are healing her with our voices and our magic. The
confrontation has become a laying on of hands. The guards stand, tall,
isolated pillars. They look bewildered. Something they are unprepared for,
unprepared even to name, has arisen in our moment of common action. They do
not know what to do.
And so, after a moment, they withdraw. The chant dies away. It is over. For
a moment, mystery has bested authority. The moment passes. We take a deep
breath, return to our arguments and irritation. The encounter does not
transform us into saints, or even make us all get along much better. The
implications of the incident are too much for us to take in fully: we wall
it off, returning to our usual games and strategies.
Yet what has taken place is an act that could teach us something deep about
power. In that moment in the Jail, the power of domination and control met
something outside its comprehension, a power rooted in another source. To
know that power, to create the situations that bring it forth, is magic.
MAGIC AND ITS USES
Magic is a word that can be defined in many ways. A saying attributed to
Dion Fortune is: "Magic is the art of changing consciousness at will." I
sometimes call it the art of evoking power-from-within. Today, I will name
it this: the art of liberation, the act that releases the mysteries, that
ruptures the fabric of our beliefs and lets us look into the heart of deep
space where dwell the immeasurable, life-generating powers.
Those powers live in us also, as we live in them. The mysteries are what is
wild in us, what cannot be quantified or contained. But the mysteries are
also what is most common to us all: blood, breath, heartbeat, the sprouting
of seed, the waxing and waning of the moon, the turning of the earth around
the sun, birth, growth, death, and renewal.
To practice magic is to tap that power, to burrow down through the systems
of control like roots that crack concrete to find the living soil below.
We are never apart from the power of the mysteries. Every breath we take
encompasses the circle of birth, death, and rebirth. The forces that push
the blood cells through our veins are the same forces that spun the
universe out of the primal ball of fire. We do not know what those forces
are. We can invoke them, but we cannot control them, nor can we disconnect
from them. They are our life, and when we die, decay, and decompose, we
remain still within their cycle.
The foregoing is excerpted from Truth
or Dare by Starhawk. All rights
reserved. No part of this book may be used
or reproduced without written permission from
HarperCollins Publishers, 10 East 53rd Street,
New York, NY 10022
Imprint: HarperSanFrancisco; ISBN: 0062508164
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