Saturday, March 26, 2011

A "Warriors path" and not being on one...

Let me begin by saying that I have nothing but respect, even admiration for those who have dedicated themselves to the betterment of self, and the protection of others, through the use of combat and martial means. For those who serve their communities by being the thin line between those communities and those who would seek their ruin, for those who serve their country by traveling to distant lands thousands of miles from home, I salute you with as much gusto as I can muster. I realize these sort of intro's will often transition into a critique or diatribe about some aspect of the police or military, but that isn't where I am going with this.

I am a fighter, I always have been. I know how to fight, how to defend myself and those I care about, and have done my best to help those who can't; but I am not, nor have I ever considered myself, a warrior. I suppose it comes down to how I understand the concept, and my feelings are divided. On the one hand, I understand the historicity of the word, the issue of caste/class and profession and the philosophy behind many different cultural understandings of the term. On the other, from my own religious perspective, there are deities who are overtly associated with war and combat. Further we have (to some greater or lesser degree) a conception of "paths" or perhaps even "modes". The two most common "paths", at least from my own experience in CR, tends towards either the Warrior (laoch/ gaiscíoch) or the Poet (filid). I should mention at this point that another, fairly common "path" is also out there, though with less fanfare or flourish, that of the Homesteader/Hearth focused (baile/ tinteán) which is where I find myself. Of course, many choose not to carve up their practices or delineate so cleanly. However, many will have specific patrons to whom they are pledged or clientele of, and often (but not always) their patronage is predicated upon their profession. It can often be a chicken/egg dilemma when it comes to deciding what came first. Was this particular deity always pulling you towards them, or were you pulled because of some predisposed affinity? I suppose these are the sorts of mysteries we must contend with.

I have mentioned it before, but I have become certain that I have a calling, and that it is inextricably linked with my profession. As such, I have a patron god to whom I am pledged, who I believe has had some influence over my path, as it were. There is some evidence to support the notion that among the "Celts" ones patron deities were, when not household or familial, based upon profession or craft. Most of the Irish texts dealing with the Tuatha de Danann, suggest that most of them were associated with some skill, craft, art or profession; and it seems likely that if they are in some regards reflective of pre-Christian beliefs, the probability of different professions making sacrifices to specific deities is reasonably high. If profession is too specific, perhaps function is a better way of approaching these relationship; especially when one seeks (to some extent) map professions which simply did not exist to deities which may have associations with specific aspects of life.

I've wandered a bit, but it provides some necessary perspective on my part. I have no qualms, or regrets about my chosen career, and frankly I can not remember when I was ever so excited to get out of the classroom and into the workplace. There remains a lingering sense of something, which I am not able to put my finger on. I read the tales, and anyone familiar with them will be aware of how the great majority of the narratives focus on warriors and their deeds, and feel a connection with those individuals and my own aspirations and values. I understand that many of the "Celtic" values which are discussed, have their basis in what was a warrior-elite culture (or tradition of literature), and yet not being a warrior myself, can still see their value and worth as values and virtues to embody. I read fiction, watch films or listen to songs which will stir emotions in me, get my blood up and have me aching for a chance to scrap. This is one of the reasons I consider myself a fighter, as opposed to a warrior. Not that a warrior would have a different visceral response, but that how one responds to something is not (necessarily) what makes one a warrior.

I mentioned profession and its relation to function, and I think that if one calls themselves a warrior, they ought to be involved in some aspect of warring (or at the very least, fulfilling a function in which they employ martial means). The two most obvious being police and military (or inactive/ex members thereof), but there are others; security guards, full time martial artists/instructors, bouncers, etc., are all in some way making a living via their proclivity to function in a martial manner. I will admit that my definition is a bit different than others I have come across, a bit grittier than some of the more romantic ideas. I do balk a little at some of the more modern approaches where someone who practices martial arts in their spare time, and has read the hagakure or Book of Five Rings, considers themselves a warrior. I think one needs be engaged in combat or martial employment to be considered a warrior. As I am not in such a profession, I am not nor do I consider myself a warrior. I have an idea of what I would consider as being a warrior, and thus on a warriors path, but far be it from me to tell someone what they can and can't be. This is simply how I understand it.

I would love some feedback, especially from anyone who considers themselves a warrior or on a warrior path.


Saturday, March 12, 2011

Polytheism and Catastrophe

There is a popular bit of Japanese history, pertaining to the 13th century CE, involving the attempt of the Mongol army to invade the country. On both occasions the fleets were repelled and then subsequently destroyed by Typhoons. The term which was developed for this phenomenon would later be used by the Japanese during the Second World War, Kamikaze (wind of the gods). Ignoring the more recent appropriation of the term, the basis of the concept is essentially that the Kami (in this case, most often identified as Fūjin and Raijin) protected the Japanese islands (and subsequently the Japanese themselves) from invasion; in other words divine intervention. In this particular instance, divine intervention through a type of storm most commonly associated with "natural disasters". I have read, though for the moment have forgotten the source, that this resulted in a resurgence in the (then) waning belief in the tenants of Shinto, few could doubt the existence or influence of the Kami after such an obvious display of their power, and the benefit of cultivating the proper relationship with them.

This got me to thinking, well this and what occurred in Japan this week, about a polytheistic view of natural disasters, and what role (if any) deities play in them. I could go on and on about the sort of Christian triumphalist commentary I have seen regarding this (and past) disasters, and how the disaster correlated with some slight against the god of the Christians, but this has always been one of the issues under the wider scope of theodicy, so I'll leave the monotheists to worry about it. No, my thoughts fall on the relationship between deities who have overt or tacit associations with natural phenomena or features, and so called disasters.

In Irish sources, we can observe some examples, albeit it on a much smaller scale. In one tale, we learn that the arrival of the Tuatha De Dannan caused a three day solar eclipse. In another An Dagda is able to keep the sun in the sky for a full year, making it appear that only a single day has elapsed. During the mustering of the forces of the Tuatha De Dannan, we are told that the Cup Bearers will bring a great thirst upon the host of the Formoii, the Druids will rain down fire, and two "witches" will cause the trees, stones and sods to fight on the side of the TDD. In later tales, we learn that the mortal men of Ireland must cultivate a proper relationship with the gods in order to ensure good crops and herds. In other tales, we see that a weds a tutelary goddess of sovereignty in order to foster plenty in his kingdom, and that want and even famine is a reflection of the state of the king and their fitness to rule. In the mythic, and some historic texts, we see then that there is a strong correlation between the gods and the natural environment. When we get to relationships between humans and deities, that link seems to be even stronger.

So then, what of natural disasters? Do we (as polytheists) simply accept that tectonic and seismic events resulted in a shift, leading to a massive earth quake and subsequent tsunami, or is there more to it? Is this an issue best explored through a combination of scientific knowledge and mythic thinking? Could a natural disaster ever be the result of pissing off a deity? Alternatively, could some environmental event which is beneficial be divine in origin? Is either of these perspectives too literal minded? I have a number of opinions myself, but I am curious what others think. If animistic and polytheistic deities are connected to (or have influence over) natural features and phenomena (which they often do), what role to they play in events which negatively or positively impact on the welfare of human societies?