Home > Io Diogenes!, Military, paganism, Spirituality > Pagans and the ‘Warrior Path’

Pagans and the ‘Warrior Path’

I’m beginning to wonder if there is really no way for me to discuss this without coming off as sounding extremely biased and opinionated. But either way, this is something that has been building in my craw for awhile. You must forgive that this is going to be a touch disjointed, and rambling. You have been warned.

I notice many Pagans talk a big game about things like ‘honor’, ‘duty’ and the ‘warrior path’. But that’s all I seem to notice, a lot of the time (but not ALL the time and I’ll get to that in a moment). A whole lot of talk, and very little action. You see, it’s so easy to sit in front of a computer, in relative comfort and safety, and speak these things, when you don’t have to worry too much about having to back them up. People within the (various different sectors of) the Pagan “community”(ies) are very eager to point the finger at so-called “sheeple” within the perceived evil machine of monotheism, and yet they themselves are so easily led by flowery platitudes, emotional pleas, hive mindsets, cults of personality (especially if you write a book–newsflash folks–any idiot can write a book these days), and talks of things such as ‘honor’, ‘duty’ and the ‘warrior path’. Here are, if I may, a few thoughts for you to consider:

–The ‘warrior path’ isn’t about owning a sword (most swords which modern Pagans own are, nine times out of ten, display pieces and would serve as bludgeoning weapons at best) and swinging it around prettily. It isn’t about owning a gun, either (and if you do own a gun, you should have the proper licenses, training, psychological and physical conditioning to operate and keep one properly). It isn’t about going to train at your martial arts dojo and getting kicked around by your sensei–if you think that’s the warrior path, you still have never tasted it (but trust me, I know–during Krav Maga practice I was screamed at, punched, kicked and urged on until I almost vomited and passed out. It is brutal, but not the same thing.). What IS the warrior path? Volunteer for the USO. Sign up for organizations like Soldier’s Angels. You’ll see. Those of us who have parents in the military know. I can’t tell you how many times I watched my father fly away on that C130, and had to (attempt to) mentally prepare myself for the horrible possibility that he may come home in a fucking box. And no, you don’t have to be in the military or be a veteran to walk the warrior’s path. You don’t even have to be in the Coast Guard, or police or fire (or related service duties). There are others who experience that path on the liminal spheres of society (which may actually be unacceptable to many people, including a lot of other pagans). But, to those of you who glorify the “warrior’s path” while sitting safely at the soft glow of your computers–I ask why. I myself have never gone to war, but I’ve experienced having to fight, having to defend myself. Having been frequently stoned, beaten and hazed when I was younger, I had no choice. And it’s a terrifying sensation. It stays with you forever. There is a price you pay for that sort of thing. There always is.

–When it comes to “honor” and “duty” that shit tends to walk hand-in-hand. I have no damn right to speak of either of those. I am a very frail, very flawed, very misguided human being very frequently. I can only say that I have had the honor and privilege to serve and assist those who have themselves served with great duty and honor. One of them was a Heathen, Odin’s man and devotee of Freyja. He was the first soldier I worked with through SA (who arbitrarily assigns you your soldier, by the by). He had served several tours of duty, both in Iraq and Afghanistan. I cannot say much more about him without violating a code of privacy, but he has seen many things. He leaves his beloved family behind each time to do what he feels is right, despite how much he may disagree with others. I have saved every letter he’s written me during his tour of duty. We lost contact after he came back home to his family. Most people don’t realize this, but a warrior’s battle doesn’t end after the tour of duty does. It never does. Even still, I’ve saved all his letters. Whenever I want a reminder of what “honor” and “duty” is, I pull out his letters, saved on my Patron’s altar, and I read them. Or, perhaps most importantly, I go to my father, an OEF (Afghanistan) veteran twice over. Even since childhood, he was integral in my lessons of what it is to have integrity, the wellspring of things that honor and duty feed from. These himself he learned from his father, a WWII veteran of the Pacific arena. My Grandfather on my mother’s side is a WWII veteran of the European arena. I have many great teachers in this area, though I myself am horribly incomplete just the same. I cannot begin to reach their level or understand what they have been through. I can only hope to grow to be a solid man with good integrity.

In the meantime, I figured something like this needed to be said. I’m not much a fan of baah’ing with the emotionally overenthused masses when it comes to such things. I think so many neopagans and related are very sheltered, or deliberately shelter themselves from the realities going on around them, which is why things like this is something they feel can easily be put on like some kind of roleplaying device. The same can be said for the role of “shaman”, another hotbutton issue, and one I’ll likely be addressing at a later time.

Thankfully though, not all of modern Paganism has my cynicism jacked up. I have had the privilege of seeing a great amount of awesomeness in the area of spiritwork, community service, and activism come out of some really awesome polytheists. Rather than go on another long-winded rant, I hope to showcase them here individually as I get this blog kicking and rolling again.

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  1. May 22, 2011 at 2:29 pm

    I completely agree with you. Lots of people talk a good game from the safety of their desks and never get out in the world and live their words. I’d like to think that one of these days they’re either going to have to put up or shut up.

  2. Jalkr
    May 22, 2011 at 2:41 pm

    I agree with everything you’ve said here. It’s far too easy for people to be ‘armchair warriors’ these days, along with every other fallacy that can be contrived via the Internet.

    My own male parent disappeared when I was just 15, taking off forever from his destitute family (the last of many abandonments over the years). He was a vet of the Korean War. Military service fucked him up for good, and fucked the rest of us all for bonus rounds. His obituary makes no mention of his violence, cruelty, erratic and abusive behavior. http://www.legacy.com/obituaries/citizen/obituary.aspx?n=gardner-r-benson&pid=150596231

    I know I have a warrior spirit, though I have no gun, no enlistment experience, no martial arts experience, don’t bill myself as any stripe of warrior, I had to have, to survive what went on in that house when my male parent was around.

  3. Soli
    May 22, 2011 at 4:34 pm

    I know we’ve already spoken of this very briefly, and I am glad you said it once again.

    At my first or second Pantheacon, I went to a panel with Thorn Coyle about the Warrior Pentacle she’s developed. I don’t think I have the notes anymore, but I can tell you the five points: Commitment, Honor, Truth, Strength and Compassion. You’ve spoken to all of those in this one post. The warrior path is a tough one on which to tread, and even those who do will sometimes falter in their steps. It happens. It’s called being alive. The real test is if you can come back to it (compassion!) after that misstep.

  4. Wolfy
    May 22, 2011 at 4:44 pm

    There are certainly some good points in there. I’m not sure exactly how much I agree with though. I tick a few of those boxes myself. I own a sword because I like swords, and as a Heathen it is a symbol of the home. I studied the martial arts because it was a good healthy activity when I was younger. I’ve even been known to rant about the ‘unthinking masses’ on occasion. I’m no warrior, but honour is something I consider central to my set of principles – although I prefer to use the term virtue rather than honour. To me that means trying to do a bit of good in the world wherever I can, being as honost as I can, sticking to my commitments, always being there for those I care about, and if it came to it, I would die for those I love.

    I think the term ‘warrior spirit’ is an invitation for narrow thinking. ‘virtuous soul’ would be far too presumotuous. All I can say for sure is ‘I try’.

    I think the biggest problem with modern Paganism is probably ‘niche thinking’. Because of the times we live in, and the information we have access to, there is no way we can achieve the ancestral mindset. What we are actually doing (sometimes without realising it) is picking and choosing what suits us from the myriad of cultural information from all over the world that is available to us thanks to the curltural and technological advances of our time. Basically we are fored to look at the bigger picture whether we like it or not, and the only way to advance spiritually is to keep that in mind and move forward, not back. It doesnt mean we can’t tailor our practices to suit ourselves and use the names such as shamanism etc. when appropriate – just that we shouldnt ge too anal about it.

  5. May 22, 2011 at 5:21 pm

    I definitely agree with you that “warrior” gets overused and underused at the same time in paganism. Just for further discussion, what would you recommend for someone who isn’t cut out for the military, whether physically or ideologically, who wanted to be more true to the warrior path>?

    (Also looking forward to the “shaman” edition of this rant!)

  6. mythicanine
    May 22, 2011 at 5:34 pm

    Lupa :

    I definitely agree with you that “warrior” gets overused and underused at the same time in paganism. Just for further discussion, what would you recommend for someone who isn’t cut out for the military, whether physically or ideologically, who wanted to be more true to the warrior path>?

    (Also looking forward to the “shaman” edition of this rant!)

    I’m approving all comments as quickly as I can, though I’m currently multitasking like mad and can’t address them all directly (though thank you all for your comments, both critical as well as in assent), this is a good question so I’m going to divert my attention for a moment and focus here in answering it.

    I am one of those people–in that I am not cut out for the military. What I would suggest to those in similar shoes is to do like I did: volunteer. Listen to a vet. Hear their stories, and take them to heart. It also kind of wakes you up, makes you rethink a lot of things. I went through a phase where I thought I was the big fucking man, and I got that knocked (in some cases literally) out of me real quick. That and like others have said, you can still carry some of that in you, either through profound personal trauma where you are forced to cultivate it in you due to personal surroundings, or through sincere discipline and other such measures.

    In the end, I’m no expert on such things. I’m just fortunate to have been able to help and learn from those who have served and sacrificed. Even that doesn’t make me an expert–just someone who’s in the process of a lot of learning.

    I hope this answered your question effectively, and oh yes–I’m locking and loading my gun for the “shaman” edition, believe me!

  7. May 22, 2011 at 5:42 pm

    *nods* Since a large proportion of the homeless population is composed of veterans, I think working with that demographic could also be a huge support. The way in which this country and its government has left veterans–especially non-officer veterans–out in the cold despite physical and psychological damage from combat is just horrible. Good points.

  8. mythicanine
    May 22, 2011 at 5:49 pm

    Lupa :

    *nods* Since a large proportion of the homeless population is composed of veterans, I think working with that demographic could also be a huge support. The way in which this country and its government has left veterans–especially non-officer veterans–out in the cold despite physical and psychological damage from combat is just horrible. Good points.

    (I’m still unsure if I’m entirely replying to posts correctly!)

    Exactly. When I say “volunteering with veterans and the deployed” there are many different ways you can do it, from letters and care packages to hospitals to homeless shelters. I’ve seen them on the side of the road–one encounter with one (which I had helped to get food, I felt unsure about giving him money for fear of a possible addiction he might have) left me in tears, and I rarely ever cry.

    SA has special “Vet Packs”, backpacks especially designed to give to homeless veterans. It has mainly necessities, toiletries and a change of clothes or other such things. If you know someone through your work let me know, and I can raise money to get one made and have sent to you to give to him or her. Just let me know.

  9. May 22, 2011 at 5:50 pm

    Right now, the population I’m working with seems to be pretty devoid of veterans; they’ve generally been women who got into their addictions early enough that by the time they would have been old enough to enlist, they were already hooked. But I’ll keep that in mind!

  10. Rhun Hesson
    May 22, 2011 at 6:03 pm

    Wolfy :
    I think the term ‘warrior spirit’ is an invitation for narrow thinking. ‘virtuous soul’ would be far too presumotuous. All I can say for sure is ‘I try’.

    I think “strong and virtuous soul” is what’s meant by a lot of the talk I hear about “the warrior path” and it really bothers me. Not the same.

    As for a more general reply: Yes, thank you!

    I /am/ okay with the House Kheperu/Kherete Warrior caste, who are (in my own words) protectors of the ritual space and those in it, but saying one is a warrior because one fights injustice or the like is spreading it far too thin for me.

  11. May 22, 2011 at 6:29 pm

    Much to agree with here…

    I do think that there needs to be a further distinction made between warriors and soldiers–not all warriors are soldiers (as you said above), and not all soldiers are warriors…and in fact, based on some of the training given to soldiers and servicemembers today, it’s almost as if the military doesn’t want them to be warriors, properly speaking.

    The whole business of the “spiritual warrior” is problematic at best as well…You either are a warrior or you’re not. Just as there’s no “spiritual scholar,” “spiritual ditch-digger,” and various other things, I don’t think anyone who isn’t an actual warrior should claim to be a spiritual one. Yes, it is possible for not-conventionally-recognized or typical warrior-type people to be warriors, but one can’t just decide one is a “spiritual warrior” or read a few books on it or take a workshop and then call oneself that. Getting up and doing something isn’t what it is to be a warrior; facing fear isn’t what it is to be a warrior; it’s being willing to die for something greater than oneself. If one’s warriorship doesn’t involve the risk of death or serious harm, it’s not really warriorship…

  12. Erynn
    May 22, 2011 at 7:44 pm

    Word, my dear. I know you see an incredible amount doing the volunteer work you do. And I know I’ve seen too damned much doing what I’ve done. I’ll admit I did a bit of a rant about “spiritual warriors” at my Living a CR Path at PantheaCon this February. I dislike people sitting on their asses who have never done a single “warrior”-like thing claiming to know anything at all about being one. Of course, I’m a curmudgeon and have always been one.

  13. Khamaseen
    May 23, 2011 at 9:51 am

    I grew up in an area where the civil war was fought and there are memorials everywhere, so many war stories, and I grew up seeing the guns and the badges and thinking that was what a warrior was, a soldier with a weapon. Then I got older and after 9/11 it was people I knew who were in that position, neighbors and my old school crushes, and they came back completely different people. It took me a long time to understand why. I wanted to understand them so badly but I just couldn’t, and they wouldn’t tell me. So I went around the city and saw the blood stains where they amputated the soldiers limbs, and touched the bullet holes in the bedroom walls, and found out how the river ran red with the blood of soldiers when they stacked the bodies after the battles. I think anyone who wants to call themselves a warrior needs to know about these things.

    Sekhmet is always bringing more warriors into my life, both the living I love who are fighting now and those older souls who will never leave their battleground in this city, so I sympathize with your rant.

    There’s a passage from one of Richard Adams books that I’ve been reminded of, it’s from the perspective of the war horse called Traveller who was in the civil war:
    Their sleepless, bloodshot eyes were turned to me.
    Their flags hung black against the pelting sky.
    Their jests and curses echoed whisperingly,
    As though from long-lost years of sorrow – Why,
    You’re weeping! What, then? What more did you see?
    A gray man on a gray horse rode by.

  14. Elizabeth
    May 23, 2011 at 3:24 pm

    Strong words, clearly and honestly spoken! Your candor and unwillingness to perpetuate bullshit is refreshing at a time when so many people want to be and seem other than what they are.

    Also, while I am not a mighty warrior, I am a mighty worrier 😉

  15. May 23, 2011 at 8:14 pm

    What IS the warrior path? Volunteer for the USO. Sign up for organizations like Soldier’s Angels. You’ll see. Those of us who have parents in the military know. I can’t tell you how many times I watched my father fly away on that C130, and had to (attempt to) mentally prepare myself for the horrible possibility that he may come home in a fucking box. And no, you don’t have to be in the military or be a veteran to walk the warrior’s path. You don’t even have to be in the Coast Guard, or police or fire (or related service duties).

    But why not? Why do we have to hedge this so much every single time we say it? Why do we spend so much time talking about how you don’t absolutely have to be a soldier to be a warrior and almost no time at all about how, you know what, the most clear and obvious way to be a warrior is to actually go to war. Why do we put the exceptions first every single time.

    Why not say “Yeah, if you’re a pagan, you really should enlist in the National Guard or the military reserves. You don’t have to make soldiering your career to stand ready to fight–for the most part your pagan ancestors were not professional soldiers either–that’s what the National Guard and reserves are for. And by enlisting in the National Guard in particular, you stand especially ready to defend and serve your local area, which is particularly appropriate for a pagan.” and then we can qualify it with “Okay, we understand that some people are not able to serve in the military, even in the reserves, for whatever reason–some people do not meet the physical qualifications, some people may break with the pagan past and decide that they have a moral objection to war and must stand for peace, some people may object to a particular conflict or military policy so strongly that they feel like it precludes them from military service at all, some people may have a criminal record that precludes military service–and for those people there are alternative ways to walk the warrior’s path.”

    But why do we talk about the alternative ways first, as if the clear and definitive way to walk the warrior’s path–actually being a warrior–was not even worth serious consideration? The National Guard or the reserves are recruiting and they would love to have you; so why is that not even ever on the table?

    I realize that mine is an unpopular viewpoint, but I think pagans should be soldiers. And I think the average pagan’s reasons to not be a soldier are simply not good enough. If you haven’t seriously considered enlising, you should. You should think long and hard about it, and if you think you have a reason not to enlist, you should think long and hard about that, too. And honestly? You should think about what your pagan ancestors would say, how they would react.

    It’s actually embarassing to me how many pagans aren’t military reservists.

  16. May 23, 2011 at 8:15 pm

    I do think that there needs to be a further distinction made between warriors and soldiers–not all warriors are soldiers (as you said above), and not all soldiers are warriors…and in fact, based on some of the training given to soldiers and servicemembers today, it’s almost as if the military doesn’t want them to be warriors, properly speaking.

    In my experience, people who are quick to draw the distinction between soldiers and warriors have never been either one.

  17. mythicanine
    May 23, 2011 at 11:29 pm

    Kullervo :

    In my experience, people who are quick to draw the distinction between soldiers and warriors have never been either one.

    First off–I want to thank you very much for your own service. My father is an Air Force Guardsman, and OEF veteran twice over. The National Guard doesn’t often get the respect it so very much deserves, as Guardsmen make just the same sacrifices that the full-time military do. My father bears permanent marks of PTSD from his service, and I’d dare anyone to say that his service wasn’t good enough simply because he was in the Guard.

    Secondly–at the very least with regards to myself, you are correct. I am neither a soldier nor a warrior and make absolutely no claims to be one. I think that those who do disrespect people like my father, and those who do serve and have sacrificed.

    Thirdly–I plan on doing a follow-up post, which I hope to address your comments and those of a few others here. I multitask like crazy most times off the computer, and this is really the easiest for me to handle the huge intake of comments like this. However I do appreciate and acknowledge your perspective, and I think those in your position do need to speak out more often on these issues, regardless of how (dis)agreeable they may be (even to myself).

  18. May 24, 2011 at 12:47 am

    Kullervo :

    In my experience, people who are quick to draw the distinction between soldiers and warriors have never been either one.

    I have no problems admitting that I am not a warrior. I grew up in a military family (my mother’s father, my father, and my step-father and his family all having served in the Navy), in a Naval community where nearly everyone I knew had one or both parents in the military. If one wasn’t fit for military service in high school, it was a serious detriment to one’s standing as even being human in that community. And, because I have several lifelong illnesses, I have been unfit for military service since age 5. I work with military personnel in my teaching activities, as 95% of my students (who I instruct on Naval facilities/property) are current or former military, or their families.

    So, though I’ve never been a warrior or a soldier, I am pretty familiar with what constitutes both, and have been reminded over and over again that I don’t happen to be it.

    I’d suggest to you that it’s probably best to withhold your opinions on people’s fitness to comment on certain subjects before you actually know what their situation happens to be.

  19. mythicanine
    May 24, 2011 at 1:20 am

    aediculaantinoi :

    Kullervo :

    I’d suggest to you that it’s probably best to withhold your opinions on people’s fitness to comment on certain subjects before you actually know what their situation happens to be.

    I’d have to agree with that one as well. I came from a similar background–there was very strong pressure for me to join the military. My father and both grandfathers are veterans, in addition to some uncles and several friends of the family (including one very close one who was, ah, well he did some “interesting” stuff I shouldn’t speak of online technically). I went as far as going to a recruiter. In the end, physical as well as psychological (transgender, and–I am now admitting–also PTSD) reasons have prevented me from ever following through. I do not regret this in the slightest. Leaving aside my current volunteer work, I also am not a mere dullard on these things simply because I myself haven’t served, and am unable to doso.

  20. Erynn
    May 24, 2011 at 4:15 am

    Kullervo — I am a disabled veteran and I’m calling bullshit. Not everyone in every Pagan society was a fighter or a warrior. Not everyone was expected to be. Modern Paganism is not, for the most part, about reproducing ancient societies, and peace activism is an honorable path. I am a member of Veterans for Peace and my general attitude when people ask me if they should join the military is “don’t.” It’s opening themselves up to a very high possibility of being raped by a fellow servicemember, regardless of whether they are male or female.

    There is a difference between someone with an ethic of honor and someone who enters the military because they want to kill other people and get off on it. The military is a festering stinkhole of serial rapists who are never pursued or punished by the command structure, and in today’s military a woman has a higher chance of being raped by a comrade in arms than being injured by the enemy.

    Today’s military has very little resemblance to any older warrior society. We have to acknowledge that and move on to defining how people who are called toward the warrior ideal can manifest that in a modern world. That is why the disclaimers. That is why other paths are also mentioned.

  21. June 3, 2011 at 4:08 pm

    *no

    Erynn :
    Kullervo — I am a disabled veteran and I’m calling bullshit. Not everyone in every Pagan society was a fighter or a warrior. Not everyone was expected to be. Modern Paganism is not, for the most part, about reproducing ancient societies, and peace activism is an honorable path. I am a member of Veterans for Peace and my general attitude when people ask me if they should join the military is “don’t.” It’s opening themselves up to a very high possibility of being raped by a fellow servicemember, regardless of whether they are male or female.
    There is a difference between someone with an ethic of honor and someone who enters the military because they want to kill other people and get off on it. The military is a festering stinkhole of serial rapists who are never pursued or punished by the command structure, and in today’s military a woman has a higher chance of being raped by a comrade in arms than being injured by the enemy.
    Today’s military has very little resemblance to any older warrior society. We have to acknowledge that and move on to defining how people who are called toward the warrior ideal can manifest that in a modern world. That is why the disclaimers. That is why other paths are also mentioned.

    In addition to agreeing to what Erynn has said to the above, I simply was refused military service for health reasons. My question then becomes: If the door to being a soldier has been shut, is the door to Warriorhood also shut for me while I still feel called to it? I think the reason most people don’t dwell on the question of soldiers being Warriors is because it, as I see it and others have explained their feelings to me, is the most obvious way to be one. Swearing to defend the people and principles of your nation while upholding your Code of Honor or, for instance, the Living the Army Values seems, at least to me, to echo the principles of my Ancestors who may have been Warriors. Not everyone lives by their principles and sworn Honor Codes. A good number don’t. That, to me, is what separates a soldier from a Warrior. Not everyone will follow principles or Codes they swore to in the face of contravening orders.

    So I am happy the Pagan community is discussing the term Warrior, but I don’t think it belongs solely to those who volunteer or are drafted for military service. I don’t think it should be some feel-good word either; I want all the words we use to have some good, solid meaning to them, something that gives the means to meaning.

    Perhaps a working definition for Warrior might be “A person who lives by a Code of Honor or set of defined principles who works protect, and/or serve their community(ies).” I’m free with debating it and changing it. It’s just a suggestion, and not meant in any way to slight those who feel otherwise, or for those who feel that Warrior means just those who have served in the military.

  1. May 30, 2011 at 10:53 pm

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