There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under the heavens:
a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,
a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build,
a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance,
a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,
a time to search and a time to give up,
a time to keep and a time to throw away,
a time to tear and a time to mend,
a time to be silent and a time to speak,
a time to love and a time to hate,
a time for war and a time for peace.
~Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 NIV
Today is Veteran’s Day in the United States.* Or rather yesterday was, but today is the federal holiday because Veteran’s Day landed on a Sunday this year. It is a celebration of those soldiers that returned home, just as Memorial Day is a celebration of those who died in combat. The date, November 11, is the anniversary of the armistice going into effect that effectively ended World War I, on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918. It is a holiday celebrating both war and peace, or more accurately, celebrating the warrior once peace was reached.
During war, the role of a warrior is obvious. A war can’t be won if no one fights. Time won the Cold War, not the USA or the USSR, not capitalism, not communism, not democracy, not socialism, not freedom, not dictatorism or fascism. Time won. With no fighting, it was a waiting game of which structure would crumble first, and in reality, both did, just that behind the Iron Curtain was more obvious. But in a war that is truly a war, people fight, people kill, people die. The role of a warrior is obvious: kill or be killed. It’s a time to kill. It’s a time to die. It’s a time for war. It’s a time to mourn. It’s a time to weep.
But when the war is over? When the warriors return? What then? It’s a time to heal. It’s a time to be born. It’s a time for peace. It’s a time to dance. It’s a time to laugh. But what of the warrior? He or she returns, having seen and done things that will haunt them for the rest of their life. Sometime things that could have been avoided, but often things that had to be done. A duty served. They return with memories and nightmares, shock and trauma, and skills that aren’t needed and aren’t wanted in a time of peace. Of course there’s those that continue to serve, a guard in case of attack, peacekeeping forces, and the like. But there are far more warriors needed in war times than peace times and they return to a society that doesn’t need their skills and doesn’t understand their pain.
I recently heard one of T. Thorn Coyle’s Elemental Castings podcasts where they were discussing warrior traditions verses non-violence traditions. I believe it was one of her podcasts of one of the Pagan Hindu panels, but I’m not certain. The discussion was about what we can teach each other, what each person or tradition brings to the table. The discussion of warrior traditions and non-violence traditions was brief but powerful. There was a statement made that non-violence can be approached from a warrior ideal, that it is a way of fighting as much as more aggressive means. The implication is that it’s not the violence and aggression that makes a warrior, but the ideals, the training, the way of looking at the world.
Lately I read The Book of Family Traditions on the Art of War by Yagyu Munenori. The book is one intended to be private, only read within the family, and provided the core framework of the family school of martial arts and the family tradition. It presumes that you will also be receiving oral teaching and martial arts training from the family, not just reading the book. The notible thing about the book is it describes the art of war at three levels, showing it applies the same. The primary focus is on individual combat, but the shows how the same techniques and ideas apply to large scale combat as well, and also that it applies to all areas of life, not just combat. Many of the author’s examples are non-combative, showing how the principle works in other areas of life, then expanding it to single combat warfare, and from there to large scale combat. He makes it clear: martial arts is not something you go learn in your spare time; it’s a lifestyle, and if you aren’t practicing the art of war, the martial art, in all areas of your life, you’re not doing martial arts and have missed the point and are just acting.
The most important item discussed in The Book of Family Traditions on the Art of War was not letting your mind rest anywhere. If you focus on cutting someone with your sword, you’ll miss. If you focus on hitting someone with an arrow, you’ll miss. If you focus on where to put the needle sewing, you’ll have a crooked stitch. If you focus on smoothing specific bumps on a pot, your pot will be uneven. Part of being a warrior is keeping your mind moving, not focusing on only one thing. I saw a demonstration one time of this principle. It was an animation of a red dot with three yellow dots around it and a rotating field of blue crosses behind. If you stare at the red dot, one of the yellow dots will disappear. It’s still there, but you can’t see it if you focus on the red dot too long. (See the animation here: http://www.michaelbach.de/ot/mot_mib/) This is a very real world issue for fighter pilots. If they focus on one enemy plane ahead of them, other planes in formation with it can disappear, which can be a real bad thing in battle. Pilots are taught to keep their eyes moving, not staying on any one point, to prevent this. In a non-combat example, this can also be an issue driving a car if you focus on the car in front of you. You can literally not see something important. This is a warrior principle that applies to all parts of life, don’t keep your mind focused on one thing, or you’ll miss other things. This especially applies in magic and witchcraft, as magic requires holding opposing ideas in your mind at the same time. If you get too caught up in what is, or what appears to be, you can’t see what can be, or what is hidden.
I discovered something similar in my T’ai Chi Chuang class this last summer. The lessons would make no sense without the martial aspect (though many who take the classes for exercise don’t want to think about the martial aspect), but if they don’t touch all aspects of your life, you missed the lesson.
“Where your mind goes the chi follows.” This is very real and marital in T’ai Chi. There’s a saying that without chi, you’re just doing martial arts. Moving chi is very central to T’ai Chi. Much of the practice of forms is for the purpose of feeling your body and how the chi moves through it, and learning to direct the chi to work with you. When your fist connects, you want the chi to flow with it, increasing the force behind that fist. Same for your foot in a kick. When you block, you want the chi to form a shield, helping with the block. In the beginning posture, Wuji, “without ridgepole”, your chi is formless, pooled in your lower dan tien. When you prepare for t’ai chi, taiji, “great ridgepole”, your chi takes form. You open the Life Gate, pulling your chi out of the dan tien into your lower back, and through your spine to all parts of your body. Each move from there until completion moves the chi as you move your body. But it’s not the move, it’s your mind’s focus on the move. “Where your mind goes the chi follows.” This applies to all areas of life. Where we focus, our chi, our power and energy, our life force, our virtue (Te), is focused. Looking back to the lesson from The Book of Family Traditions on the Art of War, if we keep focused one place, our chi pools there and is of no use elsewhere. A warrior is aware of where their mind is, and disciplines it to go where they need it, not meandering, not becoming static. A warrior must be dynamic and moving at all times. T’ai Chi Chuan is movement, the interaction of Yin and Yang in an eternal dance. In, out, left, right, forward, back. There is no stopping, no holding, no waiting. To stop is to return to wuji, to remove the ridgepole form the tent and let it settle with no form.
Germanic society, including Anglo-Saxon, Danish, Swedish, Icelandic, and Norse among others, was very much a warrior society. This was not limited to just those who were warriors by profession. While Odin was a god of war for the warriors, Thor was a god of war for farmers and other laborers, because just because you didn’t fight for a living didn’t mean you didn’t defend your family, your home, your kith and kin, your community. Everyone who could fight fought when the fight came to you. The difference was that those who were warriors by trade went out, went to the fight. Very much Yin and Yang. Those who fought when the fight came to them could be seen as Yin warriors. Those who took the fight to others could be seen as Yang warriors. But, as always, Yin and Yang are the same thing. Warrior principles touched every aspect of Germanic culture and society.
Asatru, a Norse reconstructionist tradition, often uses what they call the Nine Noble Virtues, a list of values distilled from reading the lore, Eddas, and sagas, to define the ethics of individuals and communities. Some within Asatru reject these, some treat them as guides, while others are very dogmatic about them, but they are worth looking at in this context, as they are often seen as a warrior ethic. The Nine Noble Virtues are Courage, Truth, Honour, Fidelity, Discipline, Hospitality, Industriousness, Self Reliance, and Perseverance. How these are interpreted varies as much as how much they are stuck to, but a few are very obviously warrior-based.
Courage is doing what is right or needs to be done even when the consequences may go bad for us. In battle, of course, this is standing the line or making the charge, or holding ground even when fear says to run. In normal life, it might be taking a stand at work when something illegal is being done, even if you might lose your job for it. It might be running in front of a car to save a child in the road. This, along with Honour and Fidelity, mirrors Cochrane’s “Do not do what you desire – do what is necessary” in his witch ‘Law’.
Honour is the reputation you leave in the world, basically, what people remember of you, what change you create in the world. Following honour, living an honourable life, is avoiding doing things you’ll regret. In battle, this would mean doing what needs to be done without causing unnecessary pain and suffering. Killing with as few blows as possible instead of leaving people to suffer. Not taking pleasure in the pain they suffer, knowing it could have been you dying. Not killing the innocent and those that can’t defend themselves. In hunting, it would be killing the animal with one shot when possible. In business, it means keeping your word in deals made. At work, it means doing what you were hired for, not abusing the trust given you. Cochrane’s witch ‘Law’ states this concept as, “When all else is lost, and not until then, prepare to die with dignity.”
Fidelity can be defined as loyalty, fealty, faith. It is your commitment to kith and kin, to government, to the spirits and gods. Ultimately, it is the keeping of oaths, for in the days of troth (the Norse word for this virtue), oaths were sworn to keep this faith and loyalty. Break the oath, you die. This is similar to an oath many witchcraft traditions and lines swear as part of initiation oaths, to stand by their brothers and sisters no matter what, to protect their identities as witches, and similar oaths. In battle, of course, this means you don’t turn coat and fight for the other side, you stand with your kith and kin no matter what. In marriage, this means keeping your wedding vows, not cheating on your spouse, not leaving your spouse, supporting and defending your spouse. At work, this means keeping confidential what needs to be kept confidential, being loyal to your employer as long as they are your employer, and not sharing things that should be shared even after leaving. This also means being loyal to the nation you live in, following its laws unless they violate higher troth, not committing treason, showing respect to those in authority. And more than anything, this means keeping faith with the spirits and gods you work with. They are partners in the work and as much kith and kin as our flesh and blood and fellow workers, maybe more. As Cochrane’s witch ‘Law’ said, “What I have – I hold!”
Discipline is obvious. This starts with ourselves, doing what’s necessary to do what needs to be done. Preparation and training and consistency. In war, this is putting our all into the training needed to be ready for battle, and sticking with what we trained for no matter what, not getting sloppy, not backing down. This applies directly to many areas of life. You can’t excel at your job without discipline. You can’t keep your house clean without discipline. You can’t do the work without discipline. A witch is a warrior, constantly training for battle, constantly honing her skills, increasing his talents. And a teacher must impart the same in their students, both by example and by training. If a student learns all else but no discipline, they will fail, and a teacher wants students who succeed. Discipline is the art of being a disciple. Disciple comes from the Latin discipulus, “pupil, student, follower”, from discere, “to learn”, from the Proto Indo-European *dek-, “to take, accept”. Discipline is taking what is given, as Cochrane’s witch ‘Law’ states, “Take all you are given – give all of yourself.” This is the essence of both the student and the teacher. In Old Norse, we find þegn, thane. This is both the world for follower, for warrior, and for descendant. It is a freeman who has sworn an oath to follow, defend, and fight for a lord, chief, or other head of a clan or community. This is a person disciplined to keep that troth, that oath. This requires the same commitment and training and practice any other type of warrior requires. In return, the chief allowed the thane to live in his house (or on his land), eat at his board, provided all hospitality. Basically, the chief provided completely for the thane, and the thane served the chief. Very similar to a teacher/student relationship when seen as master/apprentice as it is in many trades.
Self Reliance is also obvious. A warrior must depend on themselves, not presume things will be provided. This doesn’t mean not accepting hospitality, just being able to survive without it. In battle, your sword brothers will fight with you, yes, but you can’t presume they will always be there. This requires observation and decisiveness, being able to know when you are on your own, then the abilities and skills needed to survive on your own. This goes back to the above virtues. You need discipline beforehand to be prepared to survive on your own. Survival on your own requires courage and honour, and honour and fidelity must serve as guides in the decisions you make. And of course, this is true in all areas of life, not just on the battlefield. At work, you should make every effort to have the skills and knowledge necessary to do your job even when your team is all out. At home, you need the skills and knowledge necessary to survive if your spouse is unreachable or dead. And self reliance is very important for a witch, as if you can only do the work in a group, you can’t do the work. Self reliance also means personal responsibility. One of the core principles of Grimr, my path, is the truth that each person is responsible for his or her own actions, and only his or her own. Self reliance isn’t just the ability to provide for yourself and do what needs to be done when you have no assistance, it’s taking responsibility for the decisions you make and the actions you take.
Preseveration is your ability and determination to keep going even after defeat. It’s the old adage that it doesn’t matter how many times you fall down, just that you get up one more time than you fall. In battle, this is the ability as a leader to come up with a plan and attack again when you are defeated and have retreated. It’s the ability as a warrior to get back up and keep fighting when you’ve been hit. It’s the infamous quote from Galaxy Quest, “Never give up, never surrender”, or James Kurt in Star Trek’s belief that there’s no such thing as the no win scenario. It’s Winston Churchill’s famous quote in World War II, “Never, never, never give up.” It’s Rorschach in the Watchman’s commitment, “No. Not even in the face of Armageddon. Never compromise.” This is another that applies equally to war as it does to the rest of life. A warrior ethic is to never give up in any area of life, in your relationships, in your employment, and definitely in your work. This is the “and not until then” in Cochrane’s “When all else is lost, and not until then, prepare to die with dignity.”
The remaining three, Truth, Hospitality, and Industriousness, do have application both for a warrior, in every day life, and in the work, but are not specifically warrior traits.
In the book Heart of the Initiate (available from Harpy Books at http://www.harpybooks.com/Order/), Victor Anderson in one essay discusses the martial aspect of Feri, sharing a story of how he used witchcraft offensively in face of an attack. Witchcraft and magic are useless if we can’t use them to defend ourselves. He responded to offense with offense, attack with attack, pain with pain. And it was effective. Feri is a warrior tradition, and this is not just a metaphor. It’s not just an ethic based on warrior principles. Sometimes you have to fight for yourself, for kith and kin, for what is yours. “What I have – I hold!” This goes back to the principles I discussed above. Victor describes Feri as Pictish Witchcraft. By this, he means the witchcraft of the small dark people he often talked about, that took Feri out of Africa and spread it around the world. Whether in his descriptions, or in what little we know of the historical Picts on the Isle of Britain, the Picts were a warrior race. It is impossible to separate Pictish Witchcraft from Pictish warfare, in their essence. And hence impossible to separate Feri from the warrior without it no longer being Feri.
When I first read the verse in Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount from the Bible when I was a kid, “Blessed be the peacemakers for they shall inherit the earth”, it resonated with me. I’ve always been a peacemaker, always trying to get both sides to see the others’ view point, always trying to avoid conflict and get along with everyone. And often failing. The verse is of course saying two different things. “Blessed be the peacemakers for they shall inherit the earth” because if everyone pursues war, there will be no earth to inherit. Or, “Blessed be the peacemakers for they shall inherit the earth” because it’s the peacemakers who ultimately rule in a time of peace, not the warriors or warmakers. When peace comes, the warmakers give way to the peacemakers, until the next war.
Being a natural peacemaker, a warrior attitude and warrior practice is hard for me. I am not a veteran of the military and never will be, because I would never make it through Basic Training, and would die on the field if I did because I couldn’t pull the trigger. I’m not a hunter for the same reason. I could never kill the animal. I couldn’t bring myself to. But I eat the meat of hunters, I support the right to hunt, I understand the need both for the survival of the family of the hunter and for the benefit of responsible hunting to the environment. I am against gun control in general, but think it holds a place in some areas and within reason, though I recognize the potential for abuse of those uses. I own several guns, and enjoy shooting them. I know how to handle a gun, and am not afraid to handle it. But I doubt I could defend myself with one, nor with a knife or any other weapon. If you draw a weapon in self defense, you need to be able to and willing to use it, or it is more a threat to you than your attacker. I don’t think I could use it. But I understand and support the ability of people to own guns for self defense, as long as they receive training in it’s use. And I understand the need for the military and the men and women who serve in the armed forces. I have friends who serve. The military and the warrior are important parts of society, but in times of war and times of peace. But in times of peace, and off the battlefield, the warrior is often treated as evil. He is not evil. She isn’t an abomination. They are important to our lives, and they can teach us a lot.
As I said, a warrior attitude and warrior practice is hard for me. But it’s a part of my path, of my stream, of my practice. I work hard to cultivate and come to know the warrior inside me, to grow into that part of me. I had a dream once where I was a warrior goddess in training at a school. I worked to receive a sword in the dream, and to receive arm blades that were wings, to become a Valkyrie and a warrior. That warrior goddess is inside me and is as much a part of me as the peacemaker I’m more comfortable with and familiar with. I work to know her, the Yang aspect of me, to understand her, to integrate her, to be her when I need to be. I work to be a peacemaker in time of war and a warrior in time of peace. And vice versa.
*Entry started Monday, November 12, 2012. Veteran’s Day was November 11.