Shanti Sena - Peace Scenes

Shanti Sena means "Peace Scenes". Over the years, this has also been interpreted as "Peace Centers". The idea is that once must help focus an individual or a group of individuals that has collected around an incident towards a peaceful resolution. There is no truly organized group called Shanti-Sena that responds to all incidents. We are all Shanti-Sena. There are individuals with a lot of experience at peacefully helping resolve the more difficult problem, but anyone truly can and should respond to a call of "Shanti-Sena".

At some point after the Peace Scenes idea was firmly entrenched at Gatherings, it was discovered that the words Shanti-Sena (which were literally made up cause they sounded good) also had deeper meanings, hipstorically. Shanti Sena is also a Sanskrit word that means "Peace Doers". (sometimes the word Sena is incorrectly translated as "army") It was originally created by Ghandi in 1922 during the Indian Independence movement.

The idea is that anyone can call out "Shanti-Sena" at a Rainbow Gathering and people should come to help. This can be anything from a medical emergency, or a more serious criminal type of activity. (like theft, rape, assault) While many incidents can be handled by anyone willing to help, like looking for a lost child, some problems require more experienced help.

Over the many years the Rainbow Family has been gathering, several techniques have developed that work reasonably well within a consensus based tribal culture. As we have no leaders, and aren't even truly a definable group at all, and all security related incidents must be handled by the whomever is available, and this has lead to some interesting techniques. At a Rainbow Gathering, Shanti-Sena are considered to be more mediators and focalizers, than anything else.

Incidents are called "movies" in Rainbow Slang after Ken Kesey's Magic Bus trip and the Merry Prankster's view that all life was a movie. In many ways it's appropriate terminology, as many times when involved in a Shanti Sena incident, you feel like you're in a bad movie and you have no control over the script. Reality can be stranger than fiction sometimes...

Problem people are often called "wingnuts", because they have a screw loose... For a little more info, see the Shanti Sena in the Mini Manual. Following is my attempt to record the techniques as I see them. Further info or comments are always welcome.

As a note, I do not represent Shanti Sena, these next sections are my own interpretations of how things work. My perceptions could be inaccurate, so please only use these words as a guide, not a rule book. I talk about some scary, and pretty real things here not because they happen often, but because other non-organized tribal groups can benefit by what we have learned about dealing with these things.

As a note, the Rainbow Gathering is not a perfect utopia. Any event like ours that is open to all, is bound to have people show up who are more inclined to pray on people, than pray for world peace... This unfortunately includes the occasional rapist, child molester, thief, or deranged. Considering a gathering is the size of a small city (typically 15-20,000 people), the actual amount of incidents are very small, usually only once every few years. But they do happen, and it is good to deal with these things in a Rainbow way.

Personally, if we truly think we can build a sustainable alternate lifestyle, this includes how we handle the problems of reality. I've learned that we can handle our problems of the very real sort, in a loving, peaceful way, that respects everyone's rights. When this process works, it is amazing. I've learned more about people sitting in Shanti-Sena councils, than I ever did studying group dynamics in college. Sometimes these movies are pretty intense, and you really question who you are in the world. During an stressful time like this, it is easy to get impatient, jump to conclusions, and not let the process work itself out.

Anyone can respond to a call for Shanti-Sena, so if you find yourself involved in a movie, or a spectator to one, remember that not all self-proclaimed Shanti-Sena may be as in-tune with the proper way to handle things as you are. Also, just cause the person who responds to your call for help is carrying a hand held radio, this does not mean they are in charge, are more experienced than you are, or an expert on whatever. Common sense, patience, and love goes a long way in any scary security related movie. If you find the Shanti-Sena that have responded to your calls for help are not behaving in ways you are comfortable with (like wanting to tape people to a tree, that's uncool). then you should speak up, and be Shanti-Sena yourself. All are truly Shanti-Sena, and anyone with a calm, and respectful mind can be effective at focalizing people (and the occasional not so centered Shanti-Sena) through a movie in the proper way.


A council should always be held to decide on what to do in a situation where some determination of intent or involvement is required. I don't think the word "guilt" really applies. A need to decide guilt seems to led one down a more aggressive path. I see it more as deciding on the intent and the involved parties safety, and then using that to make a fair and balanced consensus on what to do about it. Ideally the group should include a healthy mix of open minded sisters and brothers, and the various witnesses to the movie being discussed. The main idea of the council is to have both the accusers and the accused talk about their version of what happened till a group consensus can be made. It is always worth the hours it takes to gather all the people, because during this time, emotions cool somewhat, and it is easier to remain balanced, and focused on being as fair and as respectful as possible.

Councils follow the basic counciling procedures. For some very emotional or dramatic councils, a moderator is needed to maintain focus. It's important to realize this is not a court room, or a trial. Councils are not the jury. In a sense, they are not even to determine guilt or innocence, but more "what to do". In most cases, as long as the "victim" does not feel like his/her safety is at risk, then there is no reason to hurry.

Shanti-Sena councils are best when they happen during daylight. It is time-consuming to get everyone that should be at the council together, and folks are tired at night, which makes it hard to focus, and can lead to rash decisions. It is always a good idea to wait till morning when possible. A council can take a long time, so bring water and food.

Councils should be conducted in a searching for information manner, and not to accuse someone of a "crime". Too much aggressive and angry energy in the council just puts people on the defensive in a bad way, and doesn't encourage them to be 100% honest. For them to be honest, everyone accused of something must be made to feel like their own safety is not at stake. Threatening to beat somebody up to tell you the truth doesn't work except on TV.

Many times I have seen people in a council like this manage sometimes to be honest about some deep personal problem for the first time in their lives, and the effect is amazing. Many times the accused actually can benefit from our attempts to extract some healing out of this movie.

Lost Children

Searching for lost children is one of the most comment things Shanti-Sena does. In most cases, a concerted effort to search the immediate area of camp is enough. Many times the children are around, but have wandered off to another nearby tent to play when their parents got momentarily distracted. The people that respond to the call for help should quickly get a good description of the child, and other identifying info. They should then figure out who is going to search where, and go and do it. Once a child is found, it is important to make sure the word gets out that the searches can come back. Otherwise they may not know, and continue to search far away for a child that isn't lost. Searching must continue until the parents or primary guardian have confirmed that the child has been found, because there can be wrong identification by others, and it isn't good to stop until it is more than 100% sure a child has been actually found and verified.

We also get the problem of lost parents. This is when somebody has the child, but the parents are nowhere around. Commonly this happens when somebody is babysitting somebody kids, so they can make a supply run to the car, or another kid-free chore. In these cases, the parent(s) is not to be found by late in the day, and people get worried. In these cases, it is good to get the info of where they were going, and other identifying info. If a radio is present, make a call to someone on that vicinity, and hope they can find the parent(s). If there are no radios, then a runner can be sent if need be, and the location is not too far away.

Many times the kind folks babysitting can continue to take care of the additional children, and a later check needs to be made to see if the parent(s) has come back. There are some definitely spacey parents out there, that repeatedly leave their children unannounced at kiddie village. When it becomes obvious that there is a pattern of this, sometimes a parents' council needs to be called to help work with the parent(s) to develop a little better child focus.

Here is a great document by Taree called The Rainbow Path to Child Safety. It's a good guide on keeping your children safe, so nobody has to go looking for them.

Mob Scenes

I've found that during most sudden mob scene at a gathering, being the calm, peace center of the crowd is important. Also, when possible, get the crowd to disperse somewhat, so there is less of a crowd at the focal spot of the movie. A tight crowd really generates extra stress and craziness on any movie.

A good example of this happened to me at the Missouri Gathering in 1996. It was 4am or so, and as I was walking down the trail, somebody started shouting "Shanti-Sena! Shanti-Sena!". I walked up, and there was a obviously very drunk couple struggling, with various people trying to pull them off of each other, creating a larger fight scene. I quickly looked for the 1-2 people that seemed to be at the center of the mob, and suggested everyone step back 10 feet. As soon as the crowd stepped back into the dark, the couple stopped struggling, and the other people let go of them. In a few minutes, they had sat down on the side of the trail, and fallen asleep. In a little bit, one of the crowd came up and nicely put a blanket over them so they'd stay warm, and we all left...

Sometimes a mob is angrier than this. They may have a brother they believe has done something really horrible, like rape or child molestation. They will feel very justified in their anger, and movies like this can bring out the dark side in normally mellow, kind people. The Shanti-Sena response should be to both protect the rights of the accused, and the accusers. This is usually best done by focalizing a Shanti-Sena council. It may be difficult to convince the most hot headed of the mob to scale back their aggression, and have a council. But most people in a crowd will listen to a strong voice for peace and fairness and civil rights, than an aggressive voice for violence.


Native Americans believe that mentally unstable people were connected to the universe in unknowable ways. There are many varieties of wingnuts, from the mostly functional ones, to the very out there ones. Many times the lack of sleep, regular food, too many drugs, and drumming can wear down one's reserves to the point where even normally stable people tweak. In these cases, they are usually OK after a period of rest. Interestingly enough, this is a particular problem of some of a gathering's hardest working folks. The most dedicated Shanti-Sena, kitchen crew, info staff, CALM clan, etc...can all work themselves to the point of no return... Counseling and healing is more appropriate than any other remedy.

Sometime there are people who are a bit borderline, and it takes very little time at a gathering till they slowly degenerate and lose their way in reality. In these cases, they can also usually remain functional once they get on a more careful routine at the gathering, or they leave the site. Often, returning to the outside world at large can restore their sense of balance in life.

Other people sometimes forget to take their medications. Now you and I probably agree that strong medications for mental problems is probably not a good solution. But what I do know is that people that are on strong medication like anti-depressants, shouldn't suddenly stop taking them at a gathering. It is easy to lose track of time, and space out the time for the next dosage. But it doesn't take long before their condition degenerates quickly. In these cases, it is best to find their medication by finding out where they are camped, if possible. Once the take their medication, they are usually OK to leave CALM.

On occasion, you have somebody with no camp, no friends, can't talk intelligibly, behaves oddly, and eventually, CALM has to come down when the gathering is over. In these cases, there isn't much one can do but take them to a local hospital.

In many cases, it is possible to track down the patient's friends and camp. In that case, they can help watch the patient while the medication takes effect, or help restore the patient's sense of reality, in those cases where they aren't normally on any medication. In extreme cases where the patient has tried to repeat-ably harm them-self or others, their friends need to remove the patient from the site to help restore their balance.

A few examples. I was in Alabama in 1993, when suddenly at 4am during a drum jam at Everybody's kitchen, I suddenly had 6 people carrying a squirming body past me. As I got up to follow and see what was going on, I learned he had been running through the camping area, stepping on people, knocking tents over, and causing havoc. He could talk fine, but made no sense at all. Once out of the camp, they set him down, and we encircled the patient with our arms locked so he couldn't run away. He was very fast and hyper alert, and he got away from us several times. We just kept a circle around him, and slowly in the dark over the next hour or two, walked him towards CALM. Once at CALM, he had a great time talking nonsense with one of the clowns there. Other people went to the camp with the original witnesses, and found his tent with his medication. Once he got back on his medication, he was 100% lucid and normally functional.

Another example is a brother in Arizona in 1998 that tried to set himself on fire, after shitting in MorningStar kitchen. Once we got there, we recognized this person as somebody that had spent the last 3 nights at CALM, as two of those nights I had stretched him out unconscious and hypothermic, out of the rain, and into the CALM shelter. He would then sneak out every morning. This day he was trying to build a bonfire, with himself in the middle. We surrounded him before he could hurt himself, and luckily managed to find 2 people that knew him from his home town. With their assistance, we transported him to a local hotel, where they all stayed for a few days till he regained his ability to function.

A sadder story is a brother in Oregon in 1998 that had eaten a local toxic plant, and flipped out. We came across him on the main trail, trying to hack at people with a hatchet. He couldn't even talk intelligibly, had no ID, and we never figured out where he was camped. After 24 hours he hadn't come down, and we hadn't learned anymore about his camp, he was transported to a local hospital, where it turns out they had seen other cases like his in the past. We had another brother that same gathering named Kevin that also ate the same plant, and also was found unable to talk, smashing the windows out of the vehicles on the back supply gate. He also had to be hospitalized.


Legally, it's a thin margin between what you can and can't do to evict problems. For one thing, the person being evicted could press charges against the people that evict him/her for kidnapping. Eviction is a last resort, usually reserved for people that may harm others if they stay. It should not be used for anything but where people feel their physical well being is at stake, and there is a serious potential that they are in danger.

Just putting somebody out of a gathering doesn't mean they'll actually stay gone. To really keep somebody out, requires much effort and focus. That's why it's reserved for the more serious problems.

Because it is very difficult to keep anyone out that is determined to be at the gathering, anyone that has felt threatened in a serious manner needs to be watched for their safety. Turning people over to the police rarely works for more than a few days. On several occasions, I have seen a hat passed for bus fare, and a person driven to a bus station, where they are bought a ticket to home, or where ever. I have also seen the technique used of standing with the person out by Front Gate, until folks come by that can drive somebody far away.

Using The Police

It is also possible to turn people over to the police if somebody is pressing charges. This is not a really effective solution, as most time the problem person gets out on bail in a few days, and then comes right back, only his time they're really mad. This works best for violent crimes like rape or assault where there is little problem determining guilt, and the perpetrator is likely to hurt more people. Still, many times somebody can only be held a few days unless they can't make bail.

The other problem is many police departments won't keep somebody even if there are charges pressed. If the police feel there wasn't a serious crime committed, they'll let people go. Sometimes people are let go because the police don't believe the person pressing charges will stay around after the gathering to follow through. So they have a why bother attitude.

More importantly, I think we should think of better ways of dealing with problems than dumping them on the local police. This is a last resort. Better to try to find an effective alternate way of dealing with a problem, or to try to heal somebody, than to just shove them out into the world at large, where they will cause trouble for other people.

Restraining People

The short explanation on restraining people is, don't do it! When it must be done, be very careful not to hurt the person being restrained. Restraint is occasionally used when dealing with drug overdoses or violent wingnuts. This is a last resort, only to be used when there aren't enough people to restrain somebody for a longer period of time. It should never be used except when it is critically important to their own well being. Contrary to the rumors, Shanti-Sena do not go around taping people to trees. I have almost never seen anyone taped for any reason in a very, very, long time, except in very rare cases.

The best thing to do is to not touch somebody at all, but to surround them in a circle of linked arms 5-10 feet across. If it's necessary to physically hold somebody so they don't get away (like in the case of a drug overdose) then the best thing is to have them sit with hands on their shoulders. In more extreme case, the person should be lying down on their belly, and people can put downward pressure on their arms and legs. This is usually a good time to give them a massage as well, and the act of massage lessens the danger of over-doing the restraint.

If it's necessary to tape somebody to restrain them, never put tape directly on the skin. The simplest way is what we use for dangerous wingnuts is to roll them in a blanket or put them in a sleeping bag, and then tape them in. Don't forget to tape the result to a tree, or they can roll away. Make sure it's not too tight, and somebody should keep a close eye on them anyway. Taping should not be looked at as punishment. The person that needs to be taped should have their health and comfort monitored, so they are as well taken care of as possible. It is usually only necessary when there are not enough people around to help, and as it's not uncommon to be dealing with some Shanti-Sena movies for 10+ hours, it can be hard to stay awake.

If you must restrain somebody in a more mobile fashion for a short time, you must also put gauze, socks, tee-shirt around their wrists and ankles and tape over that. Taping anyone directly on the skin is a bad, bad thing, and I only talk about taping here because people need to learn that there are close to zero reasons to ever tape anybody. Ropes don't work as good as tape, and it's too easy to make them slip off, or tie them way too tight.

Medical Evacuations

We usually use blanket stretchers, as they are portable, and easy to make. It's a good idea to have an idea where a stretcher is, as it seems that many evacuations happen in the dark. Sometimes there is one at the CALM tent, but many times it can't be found. Sometimes the injured party can be merely assisted out, rather than carried. Assisting somebody can be done by having them put the arms around one or two other people, and having them support their weight. Most of the time we evac people to CALM, rather than off site. This is because the healers at CALM are very good, and it's faster, and healthier than going to a hospital. Many CALM folks I know are military trained field doctors, professionally trained search and rescue staff, and ER staff.

Most stretcher carries are pretty long, so when collecting stretcher bearers, look for a few extras to act as relief for the other folks. If possible, radio ahead and have a vehicle met you at a supply point or back door into the site. I get about twice as many people as can carry the stretcher, so everyone has a relief. You can also many times get more people as you go up the trail, as some carries I've been involved in were many miles long. Your focus as the instantly self-appointed Shanti-Sena is to not help carry the stretcher, but to help focalize this quickly moving movie. You do this by walking ahead of the stretcher a little bit to politely warn other folks that a stretcher is coming through, to send a runner or use a radio to make sure there will be a vehicle for hospital transport, or to let CALM know you have an emergency coming there way.

I usually tie or duct tape the person being evacuated to the stretcher (with their permission of course) for any evac that needs to carry somebody over *any* sloping or rough terrain. It can be very hard for the person being transported to have to hold onto the stretcher, so being firmly attached makes them more comfortable. If you can't find a stretcher, a wagon or wheel barrow will also work.

To make a blanket stretcher, lay two 8-10 foot logs on the ground about 6-8 inches wider than the person to be carries. Then take a blanket (or tarp or tent fly, etc...) or two, (depending on size) and wrap them around the two poles, making sure they are the correct distance apart. A simple two pole stretcher can be hard to carry though, so many times a cross piece is lashed or taped at a point near the ends to give it rigidity. This can only be done if you have the time to make a more complex structure.

If a person must go to the hospital, somebody should go with them to be a contact at the hospital. This person can assist the person being treated by calling their family or regular doctor, relaying messages back to the site as to the person's condition. (we like to know how they're doing, cause they're our family too). Most of the time, the person can return to the gathering after treatment with some assistance.

Drug Related Problems

A drug overdose can be a scary to the bystanders. Most of the times, you only have to watch people carefully, and eventually they will come down, and be fine. I learned what I know about this subject from the many years I spent on tour with the Grateful Dead, although I see many less problems of this nature at a Rainbow Gathering. Usually when there is an overdose, it's somebodies first gathering, and they don't know that drug use is strongly discouraged at Rainbow Gatherings.

Sometimes people are hard-core psychotic, like the time in Oregon in 1997, where somebody ate a local toxic plant, and tried to whack people with a hatchet. In this case he was kept at calm for a overnight, and when it was obvious he wasn't coming down, he was taken to a hospital, where testing discovered what he had eaten. Sometimes people that are on meds, get off their schedule at a gathering, and go POP! Regardless that I think most meds for mental problems are bogus, and herbs should be used, if somebody is on strong meds, they if they stop taking them, it's bad news, and hard on the folks around them. In these cases it's usually best to locate their tent, and get their meds to them. Many times I have seen people that one moment were running naked through, on, over, and into tents at 3:30a... and an a few hours later with their meds, they're fine, lucid, and apologetic.

Some overdoses, like from Amanita Muscaria mushrooms, do cause some long-term health effects, but usually one bad trip is not enough to kill anyone, although they may feel like they are. These mushrooms are considered toxic, even by the worse hippy definition of free hallucinogens. The Red capped with white spot mushrooms grow all over the west, and some people have only heard the rumors about detoxicifying the mushrooms by various means. According the experts, (who happens to be a long-time Rainbow), there is no reliable way to detoxicify these mushrooms. Usually at their worst, these can cause delusions and disorientation, vomiting, and the runs.

For LSD, there is no dangerous amount I have ever heard of from all the hard core Merry Pranksters, that will cause immediate health related problems. During somebodies bad trip, you mostly just have to stay calm and make sure the person doesn't hurt themselves, which while unlikely, has happened if they aren't watched. Many time a person who is tripping way too hard is they have a lot of energy. They may try to channel this by rolling on the ground, running around, jumping, moving very quickly, waving their arms, or screaming loudly. This is fine, and they should be let to work off the energy. People on bad trips usually just need somebody to talk to, and they'll feel better after they come down, although the mental side-effects of a bad trip can effect people for a long time.

In the event they are unconscious, and you have no idea what they are on, the best thing to usually do if you think they are in danger, (like on GHB, where causes the heart and breathing to slow to dangerous levels) is to get a person under each arm, and walk them around till they regain consciousness. The walking helps stimulate the body, which helps people regain consciousness, or will help offset the dangers of depressant types of drugs. Even for a serious overdose, most of the time the person can be treated at CALM by being watched, and by using healing herbs. If the person is unconscious, they should never be given anything but water, and this means no herbs as well. Until you can identify what somebody has taken, it is not safe to give them anything that may cause a bad reaction. And many times, people have taken a combination of things, which can interact in a bad way.

One example of this was at the 1996 Missouri Rainbow Gathering, where typically, a local college aged brother came to his first gathering. As he didn't realize that drug use is discouraged, he decided to party it up. First he and his blood brother snorted a bunch of crystal meth, and drank some beers on the drive. Then they got the the gathering, and ingested some mushrooms and LSD. This was their first time using hallucinogens, and they got tired of waiting for the LSD and shrooms to kick in, so they finished the crystal meth, did a few lines of coke, and then the psyhedelics kicked in... We found the one brother literally bouncing around the main meadow at 11pm at night. He was so jazzed up, he was jumping through the boggie pit bonfire, and almost landed in it a few times. We bumped into his freaked out blood brother, and he asked us to help. So we tried to talk him out of jumping through the firepit, and instead, he ran off naked into the dark night... and off we all go... Eventually we managed to corral him to a spot on the meadow where he went back to fire jumping. At this point, his blood brother got really freaked, and gave us "family" permission to restrain his brother. This we did by getting first using a beautiful sister (sorry, I don't want to be a sexist, but in this case, it helped a lot) to get his attention, and talked him into getting a massage from the other 6 of us. :-) After about 8 hours of massage, quiet, polite conversation, and music at his own little private party, he came down. In an informal council with him after he was "back to earth" he was very apologetic, and embarrassed he had been so much excitement.

I once saw somebody have continuing convulsions periodically, with the periods getting closer as the day went on. In his case, he was suffering from poisoning from a bad 10 strip of LSD, and we had to get him to a hospital fast, once he went downhill rapidly. He was suffering from massive kidney and liver failure. This was a tough case, because every time we responded to help him, he refused all help, and we had to leave each time. Finally he was unconscious, and we figured at that point, he needed our help desperately. As is, we got him evac'd to the local hospital within minutes of him dying. Course, we have no idea what else he may have been on.

For another view on Shanti-Sena techniques, here is a piece by Amazing Dave, a long time Shanti-Sena, and good friend of mine.

Shanti-Sena Tales

To me, there is no better way to illustrate what Shanti-Sena is than by telling the stories of movies in the past. Here is a collection of other people's experiences with Shanti-Sena movies. It seems like once a year, folks ask on AGR "what is shanti sena ? ", so I've collected some of the best responses.