I recently read Strong Toward the Powerful: A Warrior Path for Radical Pagans because Lucius wrote a series of articles pointing out the logical flaws of the article. The article itself was published on the website Gods & Radicals (G&R). This organization is an anti-capitalist organization. To some degree, I can understand that, as there are a lot of people who blame the system of capitalism in the United States for the problems of the world as a whole.
However, blaming capitalism for the problems that exist throughout this country and the rest of the world is faulty logic because it is not a single system that is responsible for the global issues at hand. Having that conversation, however, would take weeks (if not months) because of how complex the issues are, and I’m not here to discuss politics. I’m here to discuss the topic that Thompson brought up in his article, “Strong Toward the Powerful: A Warrior Path for Radical Pagans.”
What I plan to discuss is what it means to be a warrior, as Thompson has fallen far, far short of the mark of what defines actual warrior mentality. While Lucius discussed the political and legal ramifications of Thompson’s goals, I’m going to instead focus on Thompson’s misunderstanding of warrior ethics.
“Our myths and legends tell fascinating though often tragic stories of great warrior heroes. Many pagans find these stories inspiring, and some look for ways to recreate a ‘pagan warrior path’ in the modern world.
Some pagans treat the concept of the warrior entirely as an archetype, and use phrases such as ‘peaceful warrior.’ Others reject this as inauthentic, and insist that no one can claim the name of warrior without being ‘initiated’ through violent conflict.
Both perspectives treat the word ‘warrior’ as something special, a myth to live up to, a status to earn.”
I will give Thompson credit here – there are a lot of people (not just pagans) who find the stories of great warrior heroes inspiring and attempt to walk that type of path in their own lives. The concept of a “peaceful warrior” most likely originated with Gandhi, who believed that violence was the direct result of moral degeneration. He believed that a person needed to acquire certain moral values – such as forgiveness, compassion, mercy, self-discipline, and honesty – on order to avoid conflict altogether.
However, in order to be a “peaceful warrior,” a warrior mentality is still required. The mentality of a warrior is determined by the ethical code – the moral values – that are instilled within that person. A warrior path is a moral path, and it is seen as special only by those who do not understand the nobility inherent in adhering to a moral pathway.
“Anti-capitalist pagans are committed to seeking radical change. Many of us are also uncomfortable with the whole concept of the warrior, associating it with violent masculinity. Unfortunately, some pagans do make a simplistic connection between the ‘warrior archetype’ and the ‘sacred masculine,’ ignoring the reality that these are two separate concepts.”
Okay, wait. What? I do have to comment on a bit of the politics in this post. Does Thompson not understand what radicalism means? In a political sense, for those who are unaware, being a radical literally means adhering to political principles that focus on changing fundamental political structures through the means of revolution. Why would a radical be uncomfortable with the concept of a warrior? Why would a radical be uncomfortable with the concept of violence? The contradiction inherent in that is rather astonishing.
The reason the ‘warrior archetype’ and the ‘sacred masculine’ are often associated is because there are more male warriors than females. I don’t view “social justice warriors” or “radical feminists” as warriors at all, mostly because those groups do not follow a code of conduct that anyone with a warrior mindset would see as rational. Instead, they promote political agendas and twist their conduct to suit their agendas. On top of that, they twist their words to suck people into their agendas to grow their groups and sow the seeds of hatred. Radicalism is a disease, and I refuse to condone the spread of such infectious hatred.
“In the most down-to-earth terms, a warrior is a person who fights in a war. To define what a warrior is, we have to define what a war is. The Oxford English Dictionary gives a number of different definitions, of which the first naturally refers to armed conflict in the literal sense.
Two of the other definitions are more relevant to our current situation: ‘A sustained effort to deal with or end a particular unpleasant or undesirable situation or condition’ and ‘a state of competition, conflict, or hostility between different people or groups.’
Most anti-capitalist pagans would probably see themselves as being in a state of conflict with the capitalist system, and would see themselves as being part of a sustained effort to put an end to it. Therefore, our struggle against capitalism can be seen as a war in the broad sense, although we are not engaged in armed struggle and many of us would reject the idea of armed struggle for moral reasons.”
Alright, first of all, let’s go back to his definition of warrior. His definition is “a person who fights in a war.” That isn’t even a dictionary definition. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines a warrior as “a person who fights in battles and is known for having courage and skill.” Dictionary.com defines a warrior as “1) a person engaged or experienced in warfare; a soldier; 2) a person who shows or has shown great vigor, courage, or aggressiveness, as in politics or athletics.” The Oxford Dictionary, which Thompson seems to like, defines warrior as “1) A brave or experienced soldier or fighter; 2) Any of a number of standing poses in yoga in which the legs are held apart and the arms are stretched outwards.” Obviously, this second definition is irrelevant to the discussion at hand.
But these are dictionary definitions, and, as such, they don’t really capture the essence of what being a warrior really means.
Thompson mentions the warrior archetype, then fails to expand upon it, assuming that everyone will be intimately familiar with archetypes. The truth is, though, that not everyone is familiar with archetypes just as not everyone is familiar with the different political roads or pagan paths that can be walked. To assume knowledge is to invite misunderstanding.
The warrior archetype is one of the twelve archetypes.
“When everything seems lost the Warrior rides over the hill and saves the day. Tough and courageous, this archetype helps us set and achieve goals, overcome obstacles, and persist in difficult times, although it also tends to see others as enemies and think in either/or terms. The Warrior is relatively simple in their thought patterns, seeking simply to win whatever confronts them, including the dragons that live inside the mind and their underlying fear of weakness. Their challenge is to bring meaning to what they do, perhaps choosing their battles wisely, which they do using courage and the warrior’s discipline.
Shadow Side: The villain, who uses Warrior skills for personal gain without thought of morality, ethics, or the good of the whole group. It is also active in our lives any time we feel compelled to compromise our principles in order to compete, win, or get our own way. It is also seen in a tendency to be continually embattled, so that one perceives virtually everything that happens as a slight, a threat, or a challenge to be confronted.”
Notice that the virtuous side of the warrior specifies courage and discipline, both of which are required in order to adhere to a code of honor. The flip side of the warrior is a person who fights without morals. Notice that Gandhi’s principle teaching comes up here – that the heart of conflict is moral degradation.
Going back to Thompson’s article, he states:
“Warrior codes of honorable behavior are as old as the concept of warriorship itself, but again we should not confuse a means with an end. The end is not to fantasize and obsess about following some ancient honor code. The end is to win, to create a world that works for everyone. A code of behavior is nothing more than a means, a tool to help us achieve that end.
There have been as many different warrior codes as there have been different types of warrior. The Bushido code of the samurai was obviously a different thing from the medieval knight’s code of chivalry, which was a different thing from the code of an ancient Irish Fianna warrior.
Ends define means, so we would have little use for a warrior code based on upholding feudalism. As pagans, most of us would be inclined to look to the pagan past for examples of warrior codes, and such examples do exist. However, a code based on Iron Age pagan society is not going to work for a modern radical without substantial revision. The circumstances are different and the fight is different. The underlying values are not always compatible. Any code a pagan radical could adopt would have to reflect these differences.”
Wait, wait, wait. Hold up. Did he just say that the ends justify the means? Are you fucking kidding me? That’s like saying that the Third Reich was perfectly justified in inhumanely slaughtering millions because doing so allowed them to work towards their end goal. That is absolutely 100% not okay with me. The ends DO NOT JUSTIFY the means! The means justify the end goals. Let’s get that straight right now. If you slaughter an entire civilization to create a new country, that doesn’t make the slaughter justifiable. Massacres are never acceptable. Never. ESPECIALLY not to someone who claims to adhere to a warrior code.
Speaking of codes, let’s take a look at the three he mentioned. I’ve always been particularly fond of the Bushido code of the samurai (minus the ritual suicide, seppuku, portion), so I’ll start there.
In the article, “The Bushido Code: The Eight Virtues of the Samurai,” Brett & Kate McCay summarize the principles put forth in the book, Bushido: The Soul of Japan by Nitobe Inazo.
The principles laid out are: 1) Rectitude or Justice, 2) Courage, 3) Benevolence or Mercy, 4) Politeness, 5) Honesty and Sincerity, 6) Honor, 7) Loyalty, and 8) Character and Self Control.
“Rectitude is one’s power to decide upon a course of conduct in accordance with reason, without wavering; to die when to die is right, to strike when to strike is right.”
“Courage is worthy of being counted among virtues only if it is exercised in the cause of righteousness and rectitude…. In short, ‘Courage is doing what is right.’”
“Love, magnanimity, affection for others, sympathy and pity, are traits of Benevolence, the highest attribute of the human soul. Both Confucius and Mencius often said the highest requirement of men is Benevolence.”
“Politeness should be the expression of a benevolent regard for the feelings of others; it’s a poor virtue if it’s motivated only by a fear of offending good taste. In its highest form Politeness approaches love.”
“Bushido encourage thrift, not for economical reasons so much as for the exercise of abstinence. Luxury was thought the greatest menace to manhood, and severe simplicity was required of the warrior class…the counting machine and abacus were absent.”
“The sense of Honor, a vivid consciousness of personal dignity and worth, characterized the samurai. He was born and bred to value the duties and privileges of his profession. Fear of disgrace hung like the sword over the head of every samurai…To take offense at slight provocation was ridiculed as ‘short-tempered.’ As the popular adage put it: ‘True patience means bearing the unbearable.’”
“Loyalty to a superior was the most distinctive virtue of the feudal era. Personal fidelity exists among all sorts of men: a gang of pickpockets swears allegiance to its leader. But only in the code of chivalrous Honor does Loyalty assume paramount importance.”
“Bushido teaches that men should behave according to an absolute moral standard, one that transcends logic. What’s right is right, and what’s wrong is wrong. The difference between good and bad and between right and wrong are givens, not arguments subject to discussion or justification, and a man should know the difference…. The first objective of samurai education was to build up Character. The subtler faculties of prudence, intelligence, and dialectics were less important. Intellectual superiority was esteemed, but a samurai was essentially a man of action.”
Contrary to Thompson’s comment about ancient codes of honor being irrelevant today, the principles of the bushido code of the samurai seem pretty relevant to me. He also claimed that the codes were different.
Here are the Knights Codes of Chivalry:
- To fear God and maintain His Church
- To serve the liege lord in valour and faith
- To protect the weak and defenceless
- To give succour to widows and orphans
- To refrain from the wanton giving of offence
- To live by honour and for glory
- To despise pecuniary reward
- To fight for the welfare of all
- To obey those placed in authority
- To guard the honour of fellow knights
- To eschew unfairness, meanness and deceit
- To keep faith
- At all times to speak the truth
- To persevere to the end in any enterprise begun
- To respect the honour of women
- Never to refuse a challenge from an equal
- Never to turn the back upon a foe
And these were the virtues that needed to be exhibited by the Codes of Chivarly:
The only irrelevant codes are the ones that deal with the Christian Church, since pagans typically don’t honor that God and therefore wouldn’t be working towards enforcing the edicts of the Church. Of course, the code that states that those in authority should be obeyed can be restated as “To obey those placed in authority unless those in authority violate the welfare of the whole.”
Yeah, those two codes look pretty damn alike to me, but maybe I’m just seeing things.
And the last one mentioned, the Maxims of the Fianna, are thus:
- If armed service be thy design, in a great man’s household be quiet, be surly in the narrow pass.
- Without a fault of his beat not thy hound; until thou hast ascertain her guilt, bring not a charge against thy wife.
- In battle meddle not with a buffon, for he is but a fool.
- Censure not any if he be of grave repute; stand not up to take part in a brawl; have naught to do with a madman or a wicked one.
- Two-thirds of thy gentleness be shown to women and to those who creep on the floor (little children) and to poets, and be not violent to the common people.
- Utter not swaggering speech, nor say thou wilt not yield that which is right; it is a shameful thing to speak too stiffly unless that it be feasible to carry out thy words.
- So long as though shalt live, thy lord forsake not; neither for gold nor reward in the world abandon one whom thou art pledged to protect.
- To a chief do not abuse his people, for that is no work for a man of gentle blood.
- Be no tale-bearer, nor utterer of falsehoods; be not talkative nor rashly censorious. Stir not up strife against thee, however good a man thou be.
- Be no frequenter of the drinking-house, nor given to carping at the old; meddle not with a man of mean estate.
- Dispense thy meat freely; have no niggard for thy familiar.
- Force not thyself upon a chief, nor give him cause to speak ill of thee.
- Stick to thy gear; hold fast to thy arms till the stern fight with its weapon-glitter be ended.
- Be more apt to give than to deny, and follow after gentleness.
And here is Thompson’s revised “code,” although I hesitate to call it that:
1- Save your courage for when you need it- don’t boast or bluster.
2- Never accuse anyone of anything without strong reasons.
3- Don’t get caught up in pointless arguments.
4- Don’t associate with anyone destructive or harmful.
5- Never bully.
6- Don’t exaggerate accomplishments or feed your ego through false bravado.
7- Never abandon your cause or your comrades.
8- If you are in a leadership role, do not abuse the trust placed in you.
9- Spread no rumors and start no trouble.
10- Don’t drink too much or abuse other substances that might cloud your judgment.
11- Be more inclined to give than to deny.
12- Don’t force other people to pay attention to you.
13- Never stop fighting until the struggle is over.
14- Always strive to be gentle.
Now, let’s examine his code.
#1. He lumps boasting and blustering in with courage, but courage has little to do with how much you claim you are able to do. Courage is much more complex than that, and it is the foundation on which a warrior’s path rests. Without the ability to face your fears, a warrior’s path is not one that can be walked.
Lucius touched on the problems with #2 in his series. “Strong reasons” is not “evidence.” You can have all the reasons in the world to do something, but if you don’t have proof that the person you are accusing has actually done something, then you are acting wrongly.
#3. This is just common sense.
#4. Uh, hold up. This is a warrior code, right? All warriors have the potential to be destructive or wreak harm. Now, if it said not to associate with those who are willing to engage in destructive practices for their own pursuits rather than the welfare of all, then okay. I can see it. Welfare of all is greater than selfish pursuits.
#5. Again, this is just common sense.
#6. This shouldn’t be part of a code. Instead, it is better suited as a warning. Those who rely on false bravado and grand-standing often find themselves in situations they can’t handle or in humiliating ones.
#7. This comment reeks of fascism. Causes should be abandoned when they become harmful and toxic. Rather, causes that are harmful should never be undertaken in the first place unless the consequences of undertaking those causes are fully understood and accepted. Not abandoning your friends…that’s just common sense.
#8. Again, this is common sense.
#9. Ok, spreading rumors is bad, I agree. Starting no trouble only works if a conflict can be resolved that way. This is a bad thing to insist upon in a warrior’s code. While violence may not be the first resort, it shouldn’t be excluded as a possible way to resolve a conflict either.
#10. Again, this is common sense.
#11. Hmm. Generosity. Fits in with all those “archaic codes.” So much for them not being relevant.
#12. Ok… not really sure where this one came from except as a misunderstanding of the 12th maxim. That maxim means not to force yourself on a leader or to give a leader cause to speak ill of you. In other words, don’t cause unnecessary problems for other leaders. This has nothing to do with attention.
#13. Yeah, this goes back to the archaic codes. Never give up. Never give in. That’s the very core of a warrior’s mentality.
#14. I assume by gentle he means peaceful, and I’m okay with this one. Being a warrior is more about knowing when to fight than always engaging in fights, and choosing your battles wisely.
Now, if we break Thompson’s code down into the ones that aren’t just common sense or completely inane, we are left with only:
1- Save your courage for when you need it- don’t boast or bluster.
13- Never stop fighting until the struggle is over.
14- Always strive to be gentle.
Conversely, we could just turn to the Nine Noble Virtues of Heathenry. Oh, hey, there’s a MODERN Pagan Code of Honor! The nine that are: Courage, Truth, Honor, Fidelity, Discipline, Hospitality, Self-Reliance, Industriousness, and Perseverance.
So tell me, again, why it is we need a new code of honor?
The only good line that came out of Thompson’s article doesn’t even belong to him, but to the ancient Irish Warrior King, Cormac, who said, “I was weak toward the feeble, I was strong toward the powerful.”
Some of you are probably wondering why I have written such a long post about this, and the explanation is simple: All branches of Heathenry – whether you are Aastru, Theodish, an Odinist, or an adherent of the Nothern Tradition (among many others) – are founded on the principles of warriors. The Norse Gods and Goddesses are deities of War, and thus we have an obligation to our Gods to make sure that the warrior ethic is not sullied by those who wish to fight battles by twisting the honor code of warriors to suit their own agendas.