Thursday, January 3, 2008

What is a Neopagan Warrior?

When Gerald Gardner (dear old Uncle Gerry) lit the “fire in the mind” of the first generation of Neopagans, he was hoping that the English people (and if we are honest this was his intended audience, not the rest of the world, that was just a nice bonus) every man and woman who joined, would became his or her own priest and priestess. He saw a deficiency in letting some dry old theologian preach at the masses and tell them how to think. It certainly seems to have lit a fire in the mind of a lot of people. However I doubt very much he would recognize much of what he started in today’s Neopagans.

Mr. Gardener was a white, conservative, middle class, British male. Most of his coven members (and those who followed) were similarly conservative, middle class, Brits, as a whole they were very well educated, and not pacifists. After all they had just survived the Second World War. But as Neopaganism spread, the demographic changed. Gardnerian Witchcraft (those who spawned from Gardner’s first Covens) had to compete with imitators, and schisms, Druidry crawled out from stone circles and poor history to begin to show an interest in reconstructing what actually went on (with in reason) with the various Celtic Tribes, Asatruar begun to feel it was safe to be openly Germanic and Heathen (they prefer this to pagan) and not be labeled a national Socialist. But over all, those who follow the leafy path have become very liberal.

Liberalism is a great thing, it allows for rapid growth, and a positive environment for the exchange of ideas. The Goddess movement became very prominent, and with them the Pacifists. No longer were Neopagans a bunch of middle-aged men and women in robes (or nothing at all) following a formula. Now they were the Hippies, young academics, and so much more.

However in this environment there was an aspect of our ancestors that was ignored (or dismissed) and a portion of our community that was marginalized: The warrior archetype! When the Warrior was acknowledged, it was often the “way of the peaceful (read pacifist) warrior”. But we had pagan Soldiers, Police, and martial artists, what about them?

Some time near the end of the 20th century, Neopagans allowed that the idea that perhaps the Warrior was important, to flourish again. Soldiers who were Neopagans began to get support from their community, Police did not have to worry that every member was seeing them as a sell out, and martial artists did not have to pretend it was purely an art form they practiced, but rather it had applications in the defense of the self and others. It was a start.

Defining the Warrior.

As we grew up we all had an idea of what a warrior was. Through stories, books, and other forms of media, I think all of us had an image. Be it a Knight on a horse, to a Samurai standing on the battlefield, or a soldier fighting the “foe”. We all I think compartmentalized the image. For many of us we really respected it, even yearned to be one, perhaps as we grew older, it no longer had the draw, or perhaps that draw was stronger? But lets take a moment and think: What is a warrior?

If you rely solely on a dictionary a warrior is “One who is engaged in or experienced in battle.” That seems a little too generic and bland though. What about a Knights honor? Or a Samurai’s adherence to the code of Bushido, stories of valor from our Grandfathers perhaps, might even our sports heroes to be warriors? So lets toss that dictionary away (or prop a table up on it) and go for the soul of the matter.

If you look at various cultures over time, a warrior fulfilled an important role in society.

Samurai were leaders and the glue that held Feudal Japanese culture together. Admittedly that culture was a harsh one, and one we’d not like to live in today, that was however their function. Knights were variously holy crusaders, servants of a monarch, and eventually fraternal orders (e.g. the Knights of Malta) or members of the peerage (the title conveyed by the modern British public honors system includes several “Knights”, this is often mirrored through out the British Commonwealth, a great example (is Sir Edmund Hillary, the first man to climb Mount Everest, and comeback down alive, along with his friend Tenzing Norgay).

Both the Knights and the Samurai had honor codes, but also other non-martial skills to learn, roles to play. Today our soldiers may or may not be warriors, but we have the Police, and Fire service, who most would agree certainly fill the role. When I was growing up the Police officer was some one you could (no SHOULD) trust.

The Indo-European (IE) peoples lived in a caste-based system. Three major castes existed, Producers (farmers, crafters, i.e. the common people), Intellectuals (priests, judges, bards, etc) and the Warriors (the Nobles). Members of the Warrior caste did have certain perks (like being able to carry weapons, and “ruling”) but they also had huge responsibilities. The safety and well being of the lands the people inhabited, making sure every one was well fed and safe. There are may legends of the land itself falling ill, either because an unjust ruler (like Bres) or when the King was himself ill (like Arthur during the grail Quest). There seems to be a mystical link to the well being of a land (the people!) and the Warriors. Similarly the warriors in these various IE cultures generally had a code of ethics they had to follow (in Celtic and Germanic/Scandinavian cultures the idea of an honor price was held, that is the more important a person was, the more expensive for them to break the law it became, for they had to pay the honor place based on their position and reputation within the community).

So it’s simple to see that in the past a warrior has been seen as more than a trained killer. What about today, in our Neopagan community? What role can or should we play as warriors?

Well one very well know Neopagan author (Starhawk) who is also a pacifist and an activist has this to say:

"Earth is the element of nurturing, grounding, of the practicalities that assure our sustenance. Dragons keep the group grounded, in touch with the practical, the realistic. Dragons also live on the boundaries of the wild, guarding hordes of treasure with their claws and fiery breath. The Dragon in the group guards its resources and its boundaries and articulates its limitations. ...

Dragons establish boundaries that give the group a sense of safety, and limits that keep the group's service sustainable. They may be perceived as throwing a wet blanket on the fires of fresh enthusiasm, but they may win great appreciate from those in the group who are feeling overwhelmed and can't buck the driving force of the Crows and Graces."(Truth or Dare, Starhawk, p. 281-82)

This is put another way by the Reclaiming Witchcraft movement (a mystical tradition based around Starhawk’s teachings):

"Dragons" guard the perimeters of circles in public outdoor spaces such as beaches so that participants can work undistracted by curious passersby; they do not directly participate in the work of a ritual because they are providing a buffer between the public and the inner circle. In this role, Dragons are similar to what are called in other traditions the Summoner or the Man in Black.”

This is one very common role that people take on in ritual, and it has spread beyond the Reclaiming Witchcraft Tradition.

During public ritual, Neopagans have quickly realized that they are opening themselves up to public scrutiny, and that will not always be positive or friendly. There have been incidences of evangelical Christian groups “invading” public rituals and Festivals, to proselytize. Understandably the Neopagans involved are unappreciative of this, and often have wondered how to handle this.

The ADF Warriors Guild states their mission as follow:

”The Warriors Guild of A.D.F. is dedicated to serving the A.D.F. community with members who are trained in spiritual, mental and physical defense, designing & performing liturgy for Warrior spirituality, and emergency response. All this is done through study of warrior magic, history, strategy, and physical training.”

Another group is The Royal Order of the Knights of Herne, and they state:

“The Royal Order of the Knights of Herne is a fraternal spirituality and service group for men of Earth-centered faiths, organized along the lines of ancient orders of chivalry such as the Knights Templar. Though primarily dedicated to the exploration of men's spirituality through Pagan, Heathen, and other types of earth-centered rituals, we also have a strong commitment of service to the community.”

Another role the warriors groups that are around have taken is one of organization for these rituals and festivals. Often there is a shortage of people willing to actually pitch in and help, setup, run, and clean up events. The warriors often are these people, generally in good physical shape, and generally service oriented.

So beyond ritual/festival security (or whatever candy coating you want to give it) and organization, what else makes the warrior?

Well personally I break this down into Three sets of three areas to focus upon.

Physical, mental, and spiritual.

Service, Integrity, and Balance.


Personal, community, and global.

Physical: This is self explanatory. Physicality is one of the trade marks of the Warrior, action, and results are part of this. But it is also about understanding the physical nature of yourself and others, how the body works and responds. Nutrition, first aid, and even appearance all are part of the Physical world of the warrior.

Mental: Mentality. This encompasses learning, strategy, Psychology. Knowing how things happened in the past, and not making the same mistakes, understanding your mind, and a little of others.

Spirit: Spirituality, it is hard to be a Neopagan with out this aspect, indeed I would say impossible! So for a warrior spirituality is what guides us. The idea of ethics, morals, virtues, and perhaps even the example of our deities and heroes. A warrior worships in their own way, it can simple or elaborate, but they feel it!

Service: A warrior should only function within the community if they are asked to do so. To assume you are wanted there is either an issue with an overblown ego, or not being in touch with the community. To force a service on a community will only ensure they are resistant to what you have to offer.

Integrity: Integrity is acting according to ones conscience. We as adults (generally) intrinsically know right or wrong action, assuming we are functioning human beings. A warrior needs to have Integrity, as a community will not trust someone who has been shown to be untrustworthy. This will include ideas such as courage, honor, loyalty, etc, but may in general be called integrity.

Balance: Balance is trying to ensure that actions you take are just, that things you do are not extreme. Balance means not neglecting an aspect of yourself ie building muscles over cultivating a mind, or understanding your soul. An unbalanced warrior is a danger to themselves as well as their community.

Personal: By personal I mean focusing on yourself, you do this first before trying to help others. It’s the first rule of getting the job done. Make sure you have the skills (physical), understand your mind (mental), are solid in your faith (spiritual) because if you are not focusing on one of them, or worse ignoring it, you will not be balanced!

Community: Given we have talked of service, who exactly are we going to serve. Only you (and that community) can decide this. It could be a Coven, or Grove (or insert an appropriate name for a small group) or as large as your nation (and then you should be in the military if you already are not), and anything in-between. Once you decide upon your community, you should then approach them as a whole and offer your services, they may rebuff you, or test you, or accept you with out question, it is just important to decide who that community is, and remember that that is the limit to your influence. For the warrior the community is central to existence. Sure some of you might be thinking of stories of Ronin out of Japanese folk law, but to be honest, they are simply no more than stories.

Global: Don’t look just at yourself and your chosen community, look at the world as a whole, look for paterns and trends, always be scanning. You will see problems earlier, you may be able to make alliances faster etc.

Ok so what types of Neopagan warrior are there out there?

The Activist: They fight for an ideal. Often they will not themselves act violently but they are willing to place themselves in the way of violence and conflict. They may or may not see themselves as warriors, and will probably not recognize many of the other aspects of a warrior as valid.

The Martial Artist: They study the forms and applications of violence, but perhaps never ever place it into action.

The Peaceful warrior: These warriors, will not use physical violence under any circumstance, but will stand in the way of danger, will try to resolve conflict through words, and example. They are every bit as much a warrior as the others, they just act in a different manner. They will often not agree with any application of force.

The Professional: A soldier, Police Officer, Fire service member and even Emergency Response personal. Their job IS the job of the warrior. While being in one of these jobs is not a guarantee of following the warrior’s path, many of them still do. Usually they see those who play at being a warrior as a menace and bad for their image.

The non-professional: I probably fall into this category. I train hard, study hard, and try to practice, however my job is not to be a warrior, my passion is. I try to serve my community in the role. Those on this path have “day jobs” but when needed step up. I am not talking about a “pagan militia movement here” as that would be scary (to me at least), rather perhaps like a Guardian Angles movement that is only active during large public affairs. This group however has to be self-regulated to avoid becoming a menace (like a militia or vigilante movement), they require strong leadership, and vetting of members to avoid this.

The Mradu: In several forms of the Vampiric subculture, there is a caste system that includes the Mradu, or warrior caste. I separate them here as they are in a much more structured environment than your average Neopagan.

Beyond the types of warrior there are also organizations that specialize in the path, they can be local, national, and in one case international!

The ADF Warriors Guild: Formed in the late 1990’s, this group like the rest of the ADF emphasizes serious study and testing over every thing else. To progress in the guilds three circle structure, you will be tested (written and physical) on skill. You agree to follow the syllabus, and code of ethics (along with bylaws, and pay yearly dues (not much)).

Craobh Ruadh: This is a small group of “druidic” warriors who are made up EXCLUSIVELY of current and former US military, Intelligence, and Federal law enforcement personnel.

Mradu caste of the House of Dreaming (and others): I’ve mentioned them as a type of warrior, but in reality they are also part of an organized group.

The Military Pagan Network ( the name is self-explanatory. However it is one of the groups dedicated to supporting Neopagans in the military.

The Officers of Avalon: Is a group for serving members of the US military, law enforcement, firefighting and emergency medical personnel and their families. It provides support and resources for these fine individuals, that till recently the Neopagan community and government did not deem important.

The Royal Order of the Knights of Herne: based almost solely in North Carolina, this group of individuals encompasses every aspect of what I am writing about. They while regional are open to any Neopagan.

The Warrior Wolves: A Texas based group of Neopagan Bikers who identify with the wolf totem. It is exclusive and membership is by invitation only!

Who might we have to deal with as warriors?

Fellow pagans: This can range from a simple of pointing out the way to the facilities at an event; to actually removing a drunken idiot from an area they can cause mayhem. It is also our job to make sure people follow the law, or at least know it. This last part is contentious in the extreme. There are a lot of “you are not the police” and “fascist bully boys” thrown about, it causes flame wars on lists, and schisms in community. The fact however remains Neopagans whether they like it or not are part of the greater community, and do not get to choose what laws they follow and which they ignore.

The General Public: Curious onlookers, even more curious missionaries, and the odd malicious fool. We have to politely but firmly handle all of these. During ritual as Dragons we stop anyone crashing a ritual, as well as making sure those inside ritual have manners. In the USA Pagans have to realize there is the guarantee of free speech and freedom to practice religion that allows them to be pagans, at the same time, Evangelical Christians are similarly free to proselytize at you.

Police/Fire Service/Emergency response personnel: It is probably the warrior who will get to deal with them first. During ritual, we are often on the outside, and alert, at festivals we are often serving as organization. Whatever the reason, we need to politely help these people do their job, and reduce friction between the community and them.



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