Witches with Weapons:
The Case for Firearms in Pagan Spirituality
by Wintersong Tashlin and Galina Krasskova
Guns and Pagans. The two words just don’t seem to go very well together. One just doesn’t expect to hear of the local Wiccan priestess and her Remington rifle or the friendly New Age guy and his 9mm. Coming of age as they did in the 1960s, American Wicca, Goddess spirituality, and the many varieties of Neo-Paganism influenced by their development often advocate principles of non-violence that seem to exclude weapons-craft, particularly gun-craft. For many in our communities, the idea of incorporating weapons into one’s spiritual practice is anathema. Some grudgingly permit an athame, or even a sword (especially in ceremonial magic), but the aesthetic and esoteric line is usually drawn there. But a growing number of Pagans are coming to integrate the active use of firearms into their spiritual practice. For some, learning to use a modern weapon is a means of connecting to and honoring their ancestors while for others, it is a commonsense skill in an uncertain and often violent world — one in which Pagans remain a religious minority. Whether you love them or hate them, firearms are a significant part of the world in which we live, and feelings run hot on their significance for Pagan living.
A Tool for Survival. Weapons played a pivotal role in the lives of our ancestors. As Pagan and writer “Daven” points out:
How can you live a religion that honors the Earth, the Old Ways, and not hunt? Hunting was how the food landed on the table, how wild animals were driven off when they came into the village, and how the men occupied themselves. Our ancestors saw absolutely nothing wrong with killing deer/elk/pigs to eat, and they did it with spears and bows. Now we have guns, and shooting an animal for meat is just as allowable to the Gods as going out to the market and buying it. Just remember conservation and honoring the animal you killed and there’s nothing wrong with it.
Wyld Delirium comments:
What is it about guns that makes everyone so nervous? Pagans work with a bevy of personal weapon iconography — swords, knives, bows and arrows, etc. — so it makes me wonder if [the feelings against guns] aren’t a sign of neophobia (fear of things that are new); it seems like weapons are only acceptable if they’re out of date…
Pagan Ravan notes:
The gods gave us brains and hands with which to invent tools to help us survive. We tamed fire, made spears, plows, axes, swords, knives, wagons, armor, cars, cotton gins and guns. We use these tools to hunt, farm, transport and survive. Why should we declare that one tool is “bad,” to be denied?
Throughout history, minorities of all sorts have been disarmed throughout [the world] in order to control, subjugate, or even kill them. As a religious minority, the right to own the tools to defend ourselves becomes even more important, even sacred. The handgun of today is the bow, the sword and the battleaxe of our ancestors.
Guns in Our Spiritual Practice. Weapons work is an integral part of our regular spiritual practice! In fact, what we (and many martial artists) call the “way of the ”has come to define how we approach our Gods.
For the two of us, weapons work is as important a part of our spirituality as prayer, ritual, or devotion. Honoring Warrior Goddesses and Gods and consciously striving to better ourselves as warriors is an ongoing devotional practice. This process has entailed acquiring an intimate awareness of weapons and weapons-craft, an awareness which has taught us discipline, focus, and respect — both for ourselves as tools of the Gods we love and serve, and for those we interact with in a sacred context.
I always had an interest in modern weapons but hadn’t pursued it until I broke my neck. My desire to become proficient at this new craft intensified several years ago when my family was the victim of a hate crime involving a gun. While none of us were injured, it was only because the perpetrator decided he didn’t want to go to jail for murder. Realizing how defenseless we were culminated in my commitment to learning how to safely carry and use a gun.
Though I’d self-identified as a warrior as a child and studied several martial arts, I had the typical martial artist’s prejudice against guns. It wasn’t until Winter took me shooting and taught me how to use his Glock 9mm that I fell in love with the shooting arts. Having a severe back injury, I now find that shooting practice enables me to continue on the warrior’s path even though I can no longer train in a dojo.
(Please note: we are going to put aside the question of Pagan pacifism and address only arguments specific to gun use; we grant that if your spirituality requires you to forego violence in every form and to never take life, you will find Pagan weapons-work to be an oxymoron. We would respectfully suggest that such a stance is closer to Jainism than traditional Paganism, but that’s a debate for a different article.)
Pagan Arguments Against Guns. Now, we’ve both heard lots of arguments against gun use; to be fair, at one time, both of us made some of these arguments ourselves. Now that we are both Pagan gun advocates, we’d like to take this opportunity to
1. Guns are inherently dishonorable. This is an interesting and frequently-voiced complaint against firearms by people in warrior traditions. To us, this begs the question: “What is an honorable weapon?” We would put forth that there is no such thing; that the honor lies in the person using the weapon, not in the weapon itself. The honor (or lack thereof) comes from within. Oregon author and Pagan, Lupa touches on this when she writes on gun use and hunting:
While I’ve never been hunting, and I’ve only shot guns a few times at a range, I can appreciate the advances in technology when responsibly handled… If the animal dies a quicker, cleaner death with a rifle, rather than dragging a broken spear or poorly embedded arrow for yards or even miles, that goes further towards showing it honor. Of course, we see a great amount of dishonor by hunters who are out just to get a trophy; however, those who are mindful of hunting rituals meant to placate the spirit of the animals taken should not shun the idea of a weapon that produces a quicker death, with a minimum of stress on the animal immediately preceding that death. The responsibility
Related to the “honor” point is the argument by distance: since the gun-user doesn’t (necessarily) get within hand-to-hand distance of his/her target, so the argument goes, guns aren’t “fair” weapons. If this point is valid, then we Pagans should also forgo the use of bows, crossbows, or even longswords, weapons which are viewed with a certain respect in most Pagan circles.
We live in a culture in which weapons craft is not integral to daily survival. This makes it easy to separate combat styles into “honorable” and “dishonorable.” Our ancestors tolerated no such platitudes: honorable combat was that which achieved the goal of defending and/or strengthening family, clan, and kin. Dishonorable combat was that which benefited only oneself.
Part of the reason behind this idea is inexperience; most folks have gained their primary impression of guns from Hollywood. Those of us who actually shoot can tell you that using a gun is nothing like a Dirty Harry movie. It takes an immense amount of skill to shoot a gun well and accurately; from loading the magazine of a pistol to firing accurately, the entire process takes a level of concentration and skill that is unusual in modern life. Even with regular practice, it takes a tremendous amount of work to become proficient: we’ve both been practicing for years and we are still not as good as we would like to be.
2. Our ancestors didn’t have guns. True. But if they did, they’d have used them. This point is proven by the fact that our ancestors did choose to put down their swords and bows and exchange them for fire-arms when they became available. Our ancestors were, above all else, practical, and were constantly making advances in technology, weapons-craft, art, and science. We owe our high standard of living to our ancestors’ curiosity, intelligence, and pragmatism. Unless one is an utter Luddite and proposes that Pagans should forego all technological advances unavailable to our ancestors, to suggest that swords are superior to guns is absurd.
Elfwreck in California addresses this issue:
I think guns offend some Pagans’ “back-to-nature” notions; it’s hard to imagine yourself a displaced stone-age hunter or wise woman while carrying a pistol. But guns are nearly five-hundred years old, older than the lore in most Books of Shadows. Guns were one of the great equalizers of history: a peasant with a gun could stand up to an armored knight on horseback.
There is a certain romanticism surrounding bladed weapons that is largely absent with guns. But what most people don’t realize is that in the time periods that these (bladed) weapons were actively used, they were not only killing weapons, but were the cutting edge – if you’ll pardon the pun — of weapons technology for their time. While there is a tendency in Pagan circles to place bladed (and bowed) weapons into a hazy, soft-focus category of “Ye Olde Ancestral Goodies,” there is nothing genuinely romantic about any weapon and we are deluding ourselves if we pretend otherwise. People or animals killed by an arrow or a sword or a dagger are just as dead as those killed by a gun. Conscious weapons use requires an acknowledgement that we are responsible enough to take upon ourselves the duty of defending our loved ones, our communities, and ourselves.
3. Guns are too dangerous. Guns are very dangerous. This fact cannot be overstated. For us, this is part of the reason that weapons work (particularly gunwork) is so useful. A gun forces one to be aware of it and its deadly potential at all times; here is a tool that demands brutal, glaring honesty every single second it’s being handled. There is nothing like working with a gun to teach mindfulness. If one is not mindful, one can quickly be dead. A gun is the ultimate embodiment of the concept that sometimes “intent” doesn’t count. There’s no moral or practical relativism here: screw up and someone can — and probably will — die. We find this to be good training mentally, physically, and emotionally for spiritually-disciplined devotion, and an excellent antidote to sloppy new age maxims about “following one’s bliss.”
When you have a gun you must always maintain a high degree of self-honesty. You can’t afford to inflate your idea of your skill or competency with a gun or someone could get seriously hurt. Also, it is harder to impress other people with your skill when your capabilities are clearly reflected in your target. Rather than increasing one’s sense of one’s own self-importance, carrying or using a firearm should be a humbling experience.
Guns as Pagan Tools. Having studied many different systems of meditation and several different martial arts, we can attest that the quality of centered focus and self mastery required in learning to use a gun well is remarkable — and unlike any other art. It is in this way that the act of firing a gun can be transformed into a useful and even pleasant meditative exercise. This may seem counter-intuitive to people who think of guns as loud and messy, or just plain overly violent, but in truth the synergy of breath and body can be as meditative as any martial artist’s kata. It’s minimalistic and utterly precise, a remarkably stark mental discipline equal to any other form of meditation that we’ve ever practiced.
(To be done at a firing range)
Note: guns should always be kept unloaded and/or handled only by people trained in their use and proper safety; always treat
Stand with your gun in your hand and aim down range at your target. Take a single deep breath and hold it while you make sure of your aim. Now, as you pull the trigger and the gun fires, release the breath. Repeat as you fire again. Allow your entire attention to become one with the gun and the target down range, intimately connected to the circle of breathing and firing. Listen (through approved hearing protection) to the reverberation of the sound and allow that sound to draw you deeper and deeper into an altered state of consciousness. (In this way, the act of firing functions very much like the act of beating a drum to govern a journey.)
How long you continue this meditation is up to you, the amount of rounds that your gun holds, and the staying power of the muscles in your hand. When your clip or cylinder is empty, look at your target. Look at the groupings and gauge how effectively you were concentrating. Make the rhythm of firing and then reloading into a deliberate and intentional movement, one that allows you to maintain the meditative state.
On a different level, the act of firing a gun can also represent the synergy of the Four Elements. We’ve noticed that one common issue Pagans often have with guns is that they perceive them as inherently “un-magical.” While we’ve touched upon some of the powerful symbolism inherent in this weapon, we’d also like to provide a metaphysical analysis of how a gun can be used to connect to the Four Elements.
Earth: A gun is a tool of Earth from the physical material of the gun itself. It is also Earth-based due to the interaction of the firing pin (made of metal, taken from the Earth) to create Fire. One may also ascribe to Earth the naturally-derived chemical powder, which burns to propel the round. (It should be noted that the propellant in most modern guns does not “explode” but rather burns very quickly).
Water: This element may be seen in the lubricant, without which the gun could not fire repeatedly. It is also seen in the water vapor that is generated by the burning of the powder and in the oils used to care for and clean the gun. Guns require great care; taking care of one’s tools is a powerfully important meditative act in and of itself.
Air: We can honor air through the gas given off by the swift burning of the powder that propels the bullet out the barrel, the interaction of the bullet moving through the air (at speeds often faster than the speed of sound), and the loud, jarring sound of the
Fire: We find fire present in the spark caused by the compression of the primer and in the fire that ignites inside the shell to propel the round.
As with anything else, there is a great deal of magical symbolism and power in your typical gun. Elfrwreck points out that “guns have a fascinating alchemy to them, blending fire and air into a wand of frightening power.” Being Heathen, Galina occasionally prays to Weyland the Smith, God of smithcraft and ingenuity when shooting, for just this reason: the gun is a perfect example of alchemical processes in action. We look at the gun as a gift, for in handling a gun, there is no room for sentimentality or self-deception. It requires brutal honesty, integrity, mindfulness, and disciplined focus. It is these self-same qualities that enable one to develop a strong, passionate, committed spirituality, as well as skill in the various disciplines of magic. The way of the warrior, particularly in the area of the spiritual, is that of stripping away all self-deception and illusion. It is a way of brutal honesty, most especially with the self. While is it true that this may be taught by other methods, for those who honor Gods and Goddesses traditionally associated with warriorship and warcraft, learning to wield a weapon creates a bond to that Deity like nothing else. Our ancestors brought their everyday tools and weapons into their spiritual practice.
There is no reason, therefore, that a gun — a modern tool and weapon — cannot be utilized effectively in ritual work, magical work and as an extension of one’s spiritual discipline.
— WINTERSONG TASHLIN is a shaman, magician, presenter, and magical crafter; he is a council member of Clan Tashlin, a teaching and magical order built around a systematic approach to natural magic and energy work. He is the past dean of an adult-education program for pagan and magical studies and travels nationally teaching workshops on both spirituality and sexuality. He and his poly family will be featured in upcoming television documentaries in both the U.S. and the U.K. His essays can be found at barkingshaman.blogspot.com
— GALINA KRASSKOVA has been a Heathen and devotee of Woden and Loki for over a decade. She is the author of several books, most notably exploring the Northern Tradition and writes an advanced magical practice column for PanGaia. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
This article first appeared in the magazine newWitch #18
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