Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Honor (quick count the spoons)

For this post I would like to deal with a touchy subject.

Honor.

I am reminded of Samuel Johnson's comment on a certain dinner guest: "The more he spoke of honor, the faster I counted my spoons."

That attitude (the speaking of honor) is what makes this a touchy (contentious even) subject!

You cannot talk about honor and be honorable. Honor is actions, not words.

It’s also very misunderstood (VERY).

The dictionary definition of Honor at it’s most simple is:

Honesty, fairness, or integrity in one's beliefs and actions: a man of honor.

Now as per usual the dictionary does not convey the spirit of the idea. But that will do for a start.

Sadly the concept of honor has become convoluted, misunderstood, and reviled on a lot of levels.

During what some people would call the age of Chivalry, it became codified. This formalization led to a lot of the problems. Rules as opposed to a way of life mean there are loopholes. You could CLAIM to be honorable, while still being a dirty rotten scoundrel (sorry Mr. Martin).

The idea of an honor price also got perverted. Where it was SUPPOSED to be a deterrent for members of society from breaking the rules (the more important you were the more expensive it was) and not disposing of those who did the misdeed (because people are important in these cultures, they each play a role). It became an excuse for the rich and important to not follow the rules.

So over time you can see the word honor probably pissed people off. Add to that Duels and well yeah you get the idea.

So in the Warrior societies of the past what exactly did honor mean.

As you may have gathered I am most experienced with the Indo-European cultures, specifically the “Celtic” ones (and more specifically the Gaelic cultures).
In the Gaelic Culture, the traditional word equated with “honor” is oineach (derived via ainech back to old Irish enech) literally means face, and we can derive the terms “saving face” and “loosing face” from this idea. That study in linguistics was probably very enlightening but not explaining why I’ve used it?

ENECH (as will refer to it now) implied that ones “honor” was something that was derived from how one was seen in the community (the face you show the community).

There was a second term that would also be applicable herem, that is CLĂ™. This term roughly translates to fame or reputation and derives from an Indo-European (IE) root word meaning “to hear.”

To the Warrior caste, the saving of face and having a good reputation was paramount. They would go to great lengths to undo a misdeed, to avenge an insult etc. In many ways “honor” was the check society had on the Warriors. Tales are told of Bards being able to depose a king with a simple satire.

So it can be seen in the pre-Christian (and early Christian) cultures of Eire, honor in a form meant a LOT to the Warrior caste.

Other cultures are replete with similar ideas, from the Samurai of Feudal Japan, to the Cheiftains of Pacific Islands.

How can honor be applied today?

Well while many people will point “sagely” at the Wiccan Rede. That is (a) For wiccans and not all pagans are that (b) a Guideline not a law and (c) Some cleaver souls have managed to amend it such that they can justify being none ‘redy”. The “amended” version that is fairly recent (sometime in the late 1980’s at the earliest) reads “Do as tho wilt, an it harm none. If it cause harm do as you must”. That last part basically says “if you see someone doing harm, act however you need to, to stop it.

This version is often quoted by those involved in witch wars (another post for another day), and those who are justifying their stance. Usually it’s quoted by weak leaders who are unsure of their position, and are thus resort to unethical stances. To me (as an outsider (non Wiccan) it is a cop out!

So back to honor.

The concept can be used as a way for a warrior to hold themselves in check. I define an action as honorable if it is “just”.

I ask myself before I take an action, is it earned? This applies to good as well as bad acts, a person who rewards someone who has not earned it is being just as UN just as someone who punishes an innocent!

If it is just, then you have to meter our the level of action.

Next you must ask is it lawful?

How will it reflect on myself (my enech and clu)

On my community (will what I do cause the media to have a circus over pagans?)

Finally would I proud if my family (or coven or whaever) saw me do this.’

Once you have done this, then you can act.

Of course this is still a contentious subject, because Pagans are one of the most, if not THEM most non conformist religions out there, thus they dislike rules being put down. This is only my thought I wish to share and I am not the honor polic, or the Pagan Police.

Monday, January 7, 2008

A warriors myth

Many ages ago, perhaps only a few short years after the world had been made, a young lad by the name of Setanta set out on a journey. He decided that the farm, where he lived with his mother and his cousins, was too small, and there must be more in the world to see and know. His father, who was always away on travels of his own, belonged to a special group, recruited only from the most skilled and honorable of warriors. Setanta decided it was time to take up his birthright, follow in his father’s footsteps, and join the Boy’s Troop of these Red Branch Knights. For someone walking alone, at that time in the age of the world, roads and spaces between settlements were always wild and dark places. The distance between Dundalk and Emain Macha was long and dangerous. Setanta had to be wary of wild animals, brigands, and the elements. He played with his hurly and lither to occupy his mind during the long days of tedious walking. At night he slept rough, on a bed of leaves and mosses, a stone for a pillow, and his cloak for a blanket. All along the road, the shadow of a crow followed him, far enough away to be unobtrusive, but close enough to be a constant presence. On the third morning, he emerged from his sleeping hole, at the side of the road to find a woman standing over him. She seemed to be taller than any adult he had ever seen before, and darker. But perhaps that was just an effect of the light, for the sun was rising behind her? Her wild red hair and dark green cloak with black feathers seemed to be stirring in a light breeze that he could not feel. A golden Torc the sign of a sovereign, was around her neck. In one hand she carried a bright long spear, with a tip as long as a sword, and in the other a stout wooden shield, with metallic reinforcements designed into intricate knot work. Her face was hard to see, with the sun behind her head, but there was strange warmth glowing from it. She was beautiful, but she had the kind of beauty one finds in thunderstorms, and the wild seas. “Do not be afraid,” she said to him. “I am a great queen of this Island, and I have been watching you for a long time. I am here to tell you your destiny.” She sat down on the ground, closer to the boy’s level and spoke further. “If you want it, you can have a long and happy life, with a good home, a wife and children who shall love you, and when you die, you will be very old, and healthy, well loved and happy” The boy thought about this future prospect, intrigued but also bemused. “BUT there is another life for you,” continued the magical woman “You could become a great hero, and live a life of adventure, passion, and danger. If you choose this life, you will create a great name for yourself, and the poets and storytellers will be telling your tale in this land forever, but you will die very young. The women then stood again, and thrust the rim of her shield into the ground, just within reach of the boys right hand, and then thrust the blunt end of the spear into the ground just to his left. “I offer you this choice today” she said to him “the choice you make shall transform your future irreversibly. Which life do you choose to live?” And with out hesitation Setanta made his choice… This is known as the “Choice of the Morrigan”. Setanta of course is better known as Cu Cuhulain, the greatest warrior in Irish Legend.

I have borrowed this excelent telling of the myth from "Mysteries of Druidry (Paperback) by Brendan Cathbad Myers". I can not recomend his writtings more highly!

Friday, January 4, 2008

Ethics and all that

So I’ve spoken about Honor, now lets talk about ethics (and all that).

I’ve alluded to the fact that I think a lot of Wiccan’s use an amendment to Rede as a back door to being unethical; similarly I’ve suggested I think the modern Pagan community is a little self absorbed and individualistic.

For the warrior acting ethically is unquestionable. For a community to accept you, you have to show you can be trusted to serve. You cannot decide when and where you will behave in the manner that the community wants. Now this behavior includes acting WITHIN the laws of society.

Imagine (if you will) a pagan “warrior” getting caught acting in an unlawful unethical manner. The media would have a field day. We would be branded a dangerous to society (well ok more so than we already are by the religious Reich). The idea of pagan warriors would be warped to an “anti government militia” or worse “terrorists.”

Overreacting am I? Look at how Islam is being branded. Not only are the extremists (rightfully) being labeled as dangerous (any religious extremist is dangerous) but your average Muslim is also being considered suspect.

Now this is very unfair, as the number of dangerous Christian groups out there is on the rise, but it happens.

Thus being ethical is paramount.

Slan

Noinden

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.

And

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 (http://www.milpagan.org/) 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.

Slan

Noinden

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Beginings

Who am I

Hello there I am Noinden Tain. I’m a Neopagan Druid on the red branch of the warrior. Well ok I am a Neopagan Gael-centric spiritualist who focus’s on the warrior caste. That tends to elicit rather glazed expressions, so I stick with Neopagan Druid Warrior;)

What does that mean? Well what it means is I study the ways of my genetic ancestors (the Gaels, ie Scotts and Irish, also the welsh and the Scandinavians) and try to adapt these to a culturally acceptable form for today. This means no head hunting, blood eagles, Wicker men, and only the occasion deposit of hordes in lakes.

As a “warrior” I try to serve as a buffer between conflict and my chosen community. To that end I set up a non-denominational Warriors Lodge (the term for a grouping of Warriors who seek to connect spiritually) about 2 years ago. It currently has between 10 and fifteen members (depending on how many graduate the current intake of learners). We are NOT Jedi , or a pagan militia and we run the whole range of Neopagan and Mesopagan faiths. We are not the pagan police (unless asked to act that way) and are not affiliated with any one group.

I practice Military Unarmed Combat of the Fairbairn-Applegate-Sykes-Todd lineage, this is my “marital art” although it’s not your typical competition art, as we don’t hold competitorns or have fancy belts for achievement (there are three levels of achievement and only two are tested, the third is on going learning). I also am active in the ADF (www.adf.org) and their warrior’s guild (http://www.adfwarriors.org) and have been since mid 1999.

So how am I “qualified” to speak on this topic? How is anyone qualified to speak on any topic? I’ve studied, screwed up, and talked with others. I’ve taught and learned. Read and written. This is MY journey and not the definitive journey of the Warrior. Enjoy. Show respect or be net koped ;)