Thoughts on the Warrior’s Path

"Iron Warrior" by Pascal

A few days ago, I asked several groups on Facebook and Tumblr what they thought of when thinking of “Warrior’s Path.” I got a lot of responses, which I wasn’t expecting! I thought I was out-of-the-know for not having a definite idea of what a “Warrior’s Path” looked like, but it seems that the confusion is rather because so many people have so many different opinions coming from a variety of reasonings.

I figured that, having asked for all these opinions, I should weigh in myself finally. Though I don’t have one universal opinion. Instead, I see it as being relative.

There seems to be a few schools of thoughts when dealing with the phrase “Warrior’s Path.” First is the narrow scope that this can only include people who are soldiers or police officers, putting their life in danger for the government. Second is the view that this phrase is applied to anyone who puts themselves in harm’s way to help others–be it in a warzone, courtroom, activist work, etc. Finally the third view is that this applies to anyone fighting any sort of fight, the former groupings plus fighting internal diseases, illnesses, and oppression–like a person fighting against depression, or fighting against stigma.

This is where I start to interpret “Warrior’s Path” as being relative. With so many perspectives, there’s no way that when someone mentions “warrior’s path” that everyone is going to agree. Which is irritating in that I like consistency, but much like how the word “druid” has escaped its confines of strict historical definitions–so too has the word “warrior.”

And like the word “druid”, I think who recognizes a person as a “warrior” will differ. Just like how I have separated in my head the neodruid organizations of today as not being historically “druids”, I think people will have to separate “neowarriors” of today as not being “warriors” in the historical sense. And part of this is because both these words are turned into archetypes that appear in D&D games; and another part is answering the question, “How would this group be recognized in today’s society?”

But to the crux of why I’m writing this. My version of the Warrior’s Path is this: someone who intentionally engages in protecting and defending as chosen by their community. Breaking that definition down, it requires someone to intentionally engage. I see the Warrior’s Path as a choice, not a situation one is forced into doing. It requires protecting and defending, not just sensely seeking out conflict or knee-jerk reactions to violence. Lastly, it involves their community choosing these people as warriors. I think that doing this path without a community’s consent means that the person is more a vigilante. (Sorry Batman, you’re not Gotham’s warrior! Jim Gordon is, though.)

I think a lot of other ways of interpreting what people wrote as being a Warrior’s Path is more akin to just the label “fighter”, as in someone who fights. I consider myself a fighter when dealing with my health problems, for instance, because I am literally fighting against an illness and doctors and stigma and so forth. But my fight against my illness isn’t serving the community.

I also think a lot of ways of interpreting what people wrote can be explained by a healer’s path. Someone helping me on an individual basis is what a healer would do. And I too would be a healer if I worked towards healing myself by meditation, self-improvement, etc. A healer can help a community as a whole, for sure, but the majority of what healers do is on an individual basis.

When someone on my interpretation of a Warrior’s Path defends the community, it should affect the whole community. I think about activists who aren’t advocating for a person, but for the whole community of people.

Now here’s the kicker: I can’t think of anyone who really suits my definition of being on a Warrior’s Path. The main reason is that I don’t think it makes sense to give someone a title they didn’t agree to. Part of my definition is that choice to engage, and therefore it makes little sense to call someone something they don’t agree to.

And to most people outside the polytheist communities, the word “warrior” doesn’t invoke anything described by anyone I’ve read. I asked my fiance to make sure this assumption was at least someone on part, and he gave me the definition of someone who was a mercenary and nothing else (think Solid Snake.) And that job isn’t really about protecting community.

Well, what does that leave me? Well, I started this inquiry wondering if a certain goddess wanted me for a Warrior’s Path. After half-a-dozen divination pulls, I found that I was mistaken and she doesn’t want me to change myself for a “Warrior’s Path” — whatever that means to anyone. So I’m basically talking about a phrase that doesn’t relate to me. Which probably makes everything I had to say here mean very little.

At the end of the day, I think I am resigned to realizing this phrase means different things, to different groups, to different people. And depending on the context, no one can be wrong. I mean, at the literal root of the word “warrior” means “waging war” and everyone I’ve talked to — save for my fiance — disagrees with that etymology meaning. Which means the phrase is solely being defined by its context.

Hm. What about you? What do you think of when you hear “Warrior’s Path”?

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12 thoughts on “Thoughts on the Warrior’s Path

  1. Pingback: Vocational Paths: Warrior | The Lefthander's Path

  2. I am surprised to not see any mention of this in a Gaelic Polytheist context. As Caelesti notes,that can alter the concept. Usually, I’m the one who is talking about how the physical aspects can’t be forgotten, so it’s a bit odd to be the one going “but, but….warrior *path* also includes a religious/spiritual aspect” and Gaelic and other Indo-European cultures are noted to have youthful (mostly) warrior cultists, such as the Fíanna of Ireland.

    Therefore along with fighting and training to fight in various physical ways, you’d have dedication to a War Deity, particular rituals and ecstatic shape-shifting. Irish, and likely other IE, warriors appear from the literature to also often be poets and seers. From a historical perspective,there are those, such as Kim McCone, who believe that they were pagan during their time in the warbands possibly well into Christian era. As I said, these were mostly youth, from the end of apprenticeship until the gained inheritance and could marry, at which time it appears they probably returned to Christianity. Oh, they were mostly male as well, some argue only male in some IE cultures, but Ireland does have a few (very few) women who went outlaw and there are hints of gender fluidity. The lore is mostly around those who never gained full status in society, so it may well be that some never did return either by choice or due to not having an inheritance to gain.

    Given this, the community issue in this context is a bit different than what you note These were “outlaw” in the traditional sense, that is that they were not completely covered under the laws. They had no honor price and were allowed sick maintenance of a bóaire (strong farmer), which was likely lower than their status before and, if they returned, after their time in the warband (and the same as a druid or a satirist). They certainly protected the society, often served the ruler and might even serve as the ruler’s personal guard, but weren’t really part of the community. The idea of the “tribal’ warrior is a bit off. It was more like a “reserve army” where veterans of these warbands would take up arms if need be, but mostly were busy holding their positions in society.

    Oh, and we know that, at least in Christian times, the warriors were not usually well regarded, at least not by many in the church. They were known as “díberga” (brigands) and the earliest writings were often vilification in the saint tales, the Fíanna were pretty cleaned up by the time they were depicted in the tales of Finn in comparison. So, in a way (other than he was wealthy and very propertied as Bruce Wayne) .Batman IS a modern pop culture of a fénnid (member of a Fíana). He defends Gotham but is separate from the community. Gordon would represent a lord who knows how to fight and does, but is part of the community…and, in the current TV series, was rather outlaw in his youth. (Um, so thank you, you may have sparked a future blog post LOL).

    Wow, sorry, got really long winded here. I am rather passionate on the subject having spent quite a few years exploring it (although other things got me off my own work on this for too long, the past 10 years I’ve been more focused again). And I don’t mean this as a “reconsider whether this is the path for you” …I want to be clear on that, as I feel that is totally up to each person. Think o fit more as a “these are some things I think are really cool about this in a Gaelic context.” And I guess my life’s work is to get this out there for people to consider as part of the whole of all the possibilities of paths, whether it’s the one they are drawn to or not.

    • Thank you so much for your context! My hesitation to posting to the Gaelic context is that I don’t know if I would consider the Fíana to be warriors or just…the Fíana? I see it as its own category, separate from the Anglo-Saxon word “warrior.” I’m very open to being wrong about that though, because I think there is something I’m not aware of as to why you and others equate the Fíana to the term warriors?

      Oh dear I meant to mention the spiritual aspect since that is what started me on this inquiry in the first place! What happens when I write at 4am, I guess.

      Also SO glad someone got my Batman analogy and used it for their own explanation.

      • Hmmm… the idea of the Fíanna not being warriors is something I’ve never confronted, so I’m not really sure how to respond. In what way do you differentiate? They are certainly a specific type, one that was apparently common throughout Indo-European cultures (in fact, these youthful warrior cults may be one of the truly pan-IE traditions we know of, although they were expressed in their own way in each, and we don’t exactly have evidence for all….yet now we have possible evidence of it being proto-IE as well thanks to a find of, and speculations about, of a dog and wolf sacrifice) but which are not really familiar to us today. Yet there always remain certain elements. The first, of course, being that they were the fighters in these cultures, the first line of defense out on the edges of society. A society in which nearly everyone might pick up arms if it came to that, but then the men (at least upper class, and in Ireland and the Sauro-Sarmatian cultures, likely some women) would have had training in their youth having been in such war bands in their youth. They also would serve rulers, largely as what we now think of a mercenaries but in a culture where everything was around payment that’s to be expected.

        I’m thinking back to how the word “warrior” is so debated, as you seem to have found in your questioning. It also got me thinking about how we tend to shift from broad definitions to narrow ones and back again and again…. I think we (English speakers in general, not just any particular group) use the term “warrior” so much because it has a very broad definition compared to other words for those who fight. Whether this is true of the original Old French “guerreier” (“one who makes war” coming from “guerre”) is something I can’t say, as I’m a rank amateur at etymology and the French lines are not where I’ve put this interest, however. Yet as “war” can itself be used broadly (“war on drugs” etc.) it certainly has a broad meaning in our culture where other terms for those who fight tend to be narrower or at least leaning towards a narrower definition (a soldier is fairly clearly warrior who is part of an organized army, a champion tends to be seen as a warrior who fights in single combat for a particular person or ideal, as examples).

        But people want to make it narrower, to have THEIR definition to, well, (sorry for the pun) champion or to decide another’s definition means the word is not for them. (note that this has been going on for decades with “pagan,” “witch” and “druid” in our broad community too, again, think it’s a habit people of all communities have) So people have those “I think it has to include (a code of honor/being part of a community/half a dozen other things I thought of when I went to bed but haven’t had enough coffee to remember).” But those specific might be the kind of warrior they want to be or they think are th most noble for warriors to be, but they actually are not part of the definition. A warrior is a fighter, usually part of a greater group but without the formality and absolute we get with “soldier.” And today it may be more broad than ever.

        It might, of course, have only referred to those who fought large battles, as the Spanish language developed the term “guerrilla” which is a diminutive of war- “little war” or “a warrior who fights little wars.” Or did they take a broad term, narrow it over time and therefore requiring a qualifier? I have no idea, to tell the truth.

        Okay, so this has been probably totally tangential and possibly not helpful…it’s where it took my brain (during Mercury Retrograde too).

        So, in hopefully giving some answer as to why the Fíanna are seen as warriors, is that they fought wars, sometimes (often perhaps) in a sense more fitting for guerilla than the large battles we tend to think of today, although they were certain part of larger battles. It appears to be a rather late term, and possibly derives from Old Norse “fiandi” for” enemy,” which makes sense as these bands would have been the ones confronting raiders (even if part of their “thing” was raiding other túatha when not fending off raiders themselves, which could also be other Fíanna). Or it may come from the proto-Irish “*wēnā” which may link it to “Féni” which simply “the (Irish) people” or not, ti’s all debated, of course.

        There are a LOT of words for warriors and war bands in Irish (and someday, perhaps a long long time from now as it is not my forte, I may finally finish an article on that…and it will not be definitive, there is just too much for the rank amateur I am) Some of these have particular nuances that make them less satisfactory or are actually too broad. I know many use “laoch” and often do so with the idea that these were “warriors in the tribe” while the Fíanna were “warriors outside the tribe” but I feel this is a false concept, given to us by Marie-Louise Sjoestedt (Celtic Gods and Heroes) and tend to follow what Nerys Patterson (Cattle Lords & Clansmen) seems to indicate that “inside warriors” were really the landed men who previously had been in the war bands who would fight if needed (as probably everyone did, as well as they could, when it came down to it). “Laoch” actually is one of those words where we can see a good bit of mutation through the centuries. Initially it comes from the Latin “laicus” meaning “layman” and entered Irish through the church and did mostly, at first, mean simply “one who had not taken orders in the church.” It also took on more negative connotations of …”pagan” as well as “warrior.” Which brings us to the idea that any man who had not taken up vows to the church were, at least potentially warriors. And suspected to be still pagan, at least by some. Members of outlaw war bands, which appear to have been very much pagan, were also called “láech” so I can’t really follow the idea that it is somehow very opposite of “fénnid” (member of a Fíanna) but rather a broader term which can encompass them. Somewhere along the way the modern “laoch” only means “warrior” and we got a new feminine form based on the Irish manner of “ban-laoch” instead of the Old Irish feminine form of “laíches” which never meant “woman warrior” but instead “laywoman,” “married laywoman” or “warrior’s wife.”

        Again, I got going again…this is a topic I’m extremely passionate about. LOL I’ll try to wrap up here though. ~;)

        I use Fían(na), fénnid(i) and fénnidecht for for the war bands, their members and the path (the pursued and the one I pursue inspired by them) because the tales they were used in make them more familiar than other terms might be and they became considered positive (unlike díberg(a) which is very negative). Yet, I also use “warrior” and “warrior path” in order to have people recognize it to some extent (fénnidecht, after all, is not as recognized as Fíanna). Even if what I am talking about might not be what is at first expected, because it leads to conversation and maybe a broader idea of what warrior path can mean.

  3. I’m so glad my question didn’t come off condescending, because I was curious. And wow, thank you so much for educating me! I mean that. It’s really useful to read what someone who has actually taken on a “Warrior’s Path” weigh in on what it means to them, instead of outsiders speculating (like me.) I totally agree that terminology will always be debated–as is such in the “pagan” communities over the very name of the community!–but I think that just leads to better understandings.

    You gave me a lot of information about your path, and I see why you use “warrior” and “warrior’s path” to describe yours. I don’t have much of a reply, other than your insight is really useful and informative as to how the terminology comes into play. Thank you so much for taking time to comment and share.

    • Well, likewise I’m glad I’m not coming across s condescending, as I’m told I can seem so. Thank YOU for the chance to, well, spew some of this stuff out a bit, as it is my passion and this actually may help get me moving ahead on an article or two that I had fizzled out on. Sometimes writing it out less formally and without stopping to put in footnotes (or notes to put in footnotes so I don’t forget) can get things moving again. (and just in case anyone wants sources, I have a list on my website linked to my name). So, hopefully I can keep moving on that. ~:)

  4. I think about this topic a great deal as you might imagine. Before I craft the responses to this post and some of the responses you inspired I have to ask a question in hopes I misunderstood something I think I read.

    You don’t know anyone walking a warrior’s path?

    In your circle of friends and influences, there isn’t a single pagan soldier, veteran, national guardsman who spent time fighting the recent wars and identifies as a warrior still?

    • I don’t know anyone who is both pagan and someone who spent time fighting in recent wars. At least, I don’t know anyone well enough to know those details! I probably have met people who fit that description, but our relationship never went past an exchange of names for me to know those details of that person’s life. (And likewise, there are probably bloggers and authors I’ve read that are both pagan and spent time in the military, but I’m not actively aware of it.)

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