Reclaiming Quarterly Web Features Back Issues Subscribe Ads/Submissions Site Index Reclaiming Home

Earth People in Calgary

by Starhawk

Here's the image that will remain with me from the Calgary protests against the June '02 G8 meetings in Kananaskis:

Around the plate glass doors and windows of the Shell Oil building in downtown Calgary, 60 mud-covered people are chanting, grunting, writhing and dancing up to the windows where the managers and workers from within the building stand staring, mesmerized, horrified, intrigued. Mud people place mud covered hands on the windows, and from within, a clean pink hand is irresistibly drawn to touch the glass: a prisoner reaching out for contact?

Around the mass of earth people is a crowd of a few hundred, some carrying banners emblazoned with batik trees proclaiming "Resist!" and "Insurrection!," some with wings of liberation, some with drums, and many with cameras and press passes.

A silver-haired, respectable gentleman stands among the crowd, looking slightly dazed. He holds his shirt and tie in his hand, and a small smear of mud graces his cheek. He is staring at the scene at the windows. I approach him.

"Would you like some mud?" I ask.

"Oh, no. I have some." He points to his cheek.

"Are you all right?"

"There's a lot of energy here," he says.

"Yes," I nod.

"I can't leave. I'm supposed to go back to work, but I can't leave."

The Earth People action was called by our Pagan Cluster for the second day of the G8 meetings in Kananaskis, Alberta, Canada. Mud people is something of a San Francisco tradition, begun by artists and dancers associated with Keith Hennessy of Contraband. They would go downtown to the Financial District during lunch hour, strip half naked, mud up and then cavort through the streets, creating powerful and eerie images of the primitive arising in the midst of concrete, plate glass and steel. Beverly Frederick introduced me to Mud People at a Reclaiming Witchcamp, where it has become something of a tradition. The two rules for mud people are that once the mud covers you, you cannot speak or walk normally. While being a wild and outrageous act of public theater, mud people is also a trance-inducing, consciousness-altering ritual that has a deep impact on those who take part. When we proposed the action at the Calgary spokescouncil, someone objected to the term "mud people" because the Aryan nation uses it to refer to people of color. We made a dutiful effort to change the name to Earth People, but we've been calling it "mud people" for years, and we inevitably revert.

Whichever we call it, the ritual began at Olympic Plaza across from City Hall, and under the auspices of a sculpture group in the Famous Five, the five women who in the 1920s brought a court case that established that women are legally "persons." The action was billed as ‘ritual theater' but in reality, we were doing magic, defined as "the art of changing consciousness at will."

We grounded, cast a circle, and set some boundaries for the media who were happily clicking and filming away, explaining that they were welcome (although outside of political settings we rarely allow photographs during ritual) but could not come into the middle of the circle or get in the way of the ritual. We had several buckets full of mud —actually a thin slip made from pottery clay, which we find is easier to work with, lighter to carry, and more hygienic than actual mud. At one point, a street person wandered into the circle, picked up a bucket of mud, and poured it over himself. As he went for another, we gently removed him from the circle, mostly to safeguard our supply. A local member of the cluster took him to a shelter where he could get food and help. We invoked the mud people and about 60 people came forward, dipping hands into the mud and smearing themselves and one another. A few rolled happily on the ground in the spilled mud. While they transformed themselves, we proclaimed the prophecy, which we created to explain the intention behind our ritual:

"When eight kings in a fortress meet Sharing greed and lies, Out of asphalt and concrete Beings of earth arise.

Grunting, dancing through the streets, Ancient powers awake, In everyone they touch or meet, Hidden chains now break.

The kings trade lies and costly gifts, Protected by their walls, But when the ground beneath them shifts, the mighty fortress falls.

Fertile compost out of blight, Living seeds take root, Of beauty, balance and delight, Trees bear living fruit.

No army can hold back a thought, No fence can chain the sea. The earth cannot be sold or bought, All life shall be free.

The prophecy spoke of the primal powers of earth rising up to reclaim what was theirs: land, oil, life. We also had a ‘winged bloc' of protestors wearing cardboard wings, others who had leaflets to hand out, drummers and media spokes. When the moment was right, we headed out from the park into the downtown mall. The police fell back and simply cleared the way for us. We writhed and danced past shoppers, alarming and charming the lunch crowd at sidewalk cafes. In front of the GAP, we stopped, performed our ritual, and proclaimed the prophecy. Then we moved on to take the streets of downtown and process from oil company to oil company. A number of people followed us out of sheer amazement. At each oil company headquarters, we performed a simple dance of gestures: Awakening, rising, pulling out the anchors of their power, marking the buildings with mud, and planting seeds. In permaculture workshops throughout the week leading up to the action, we'd made hundreds of seed balls — native wildflower seeds encased in a small ball of mud, and they were liberally scattered around the downtown area. The earth people rolled on green lawns, grunted at executives, planted seeds in sidewalk cracks. At one point, a couple hundred people were following us through the streets in a spontaneous snake march. Many others took our flyers, talked to our outreach group, and even in conservative Calgary, seemed to respond intuitively to our message. We ended the march at a local covered market. Security guards prevented us from entering, but we danced a spiral dance in the plaza outside, singing:

"We are the rising of the moon, We are the shifting of the ground, We are the seed that takes root, When we bring the fortress down."

Then we ended at steps that led down to a side eddy of the river, where the earth people could wash off their mud in a spontaneous purification. The clouds that had loomed above us all day burst when we uttered the words, "The circle is open." Thunder and lightning crashed, and rain pelted down.

The earth people action focused energy and attention on the oil companies, the economic and power base behind Bush and his junta. It spoke to people on a visceral, rather than an intellectual level, and it succeeded in disrupting the daily business of downtown Calgary in a way that both engaged and confronted people. And it was the most sheer fun I've ever had in an action. It may not replace blockading, tree sits, marches, or other tactics, but given the right weather and the right crowd, I'd certainly do it again.

Visit Starhawk's website,, for more information on activism around globalization and other issues.