What is a Warrior?


First, I want to acknowledge the fact that Aspis of Ares has made it an entire year (actually as of August) and I want to thank you all very much for the support and encouragement. Hopefully, I can continue to produce quality material that pleases both Ares and you, the readers. I’ve done my best to avoid overly salting each post with my own personal approach and politics while keeping things simple yet spicy enough to sate the voracious intellectual appetites of the recon and pagan communities. That being said, I’ve avoided this topic for as long as I’ve had this blog because it causes more awful controversy and nastiness in the community than seems appropriate. However, I realize I cannot shrink away from this any longer.

What is a warrior?

There is a lot of discussion and debate as to the meaning of this word, especially in pagan circles. Some take a literalist approach, using the dictionary definition of “warrior”. Others take a more psychological or “spiritual”  approach, and refer to the struggling warrior archetype of Jungian interpretation. Let’s explore the spectrum now, and I’ll add my understanding of how Ares plays in with those notions and we’ll see if we can find some sort of suitable definition from which we can work from.

Let’s start with the literal definition, here taken from Wikepedia:

warrior is a person skilled in combat or warfare, especially within the context of a tribal or clan-based society that recognizes a separate warrior class.

Okay, let’s pick out the key pieces of information. Most basically, a warrior is a person skilled in warfare or combat. That’s pretty simple, yes? That’s pretty basic, and the article clarifies this with the context of a “tribal or clan-based society” with a separate “warrior class”. Tribal and clan-based society is easy enough to define, but for our purposes as devotees of Ares, it doesn’t really work. Greece, as far as we can gather from the evidence, largely moved on from tribal structures by the time the cults became more established, for lack of a better term.

The second qualifier, a warrior class, is a little more tricky to define in the context of ancient Greek society. On the pan-Hellenic scale, there was no warrior class, just as there was not priestly class. However, certain localities held their warriors in higher esteem than the common man,  most notably Sparta, but also Thrake and the deme of Acharnai in Athens (home of the cult of Ares and Athena Areia). These regions were well-known for producing exceptionally strong and dedicated hoplites, and of course the adjective Spartan has entered the common vernacular to describe anything exceedingly challenging or doggedly simple (almost a contradiction, but that’s English…).

So now, at the base level, we have a certain class of people who are skilled in combat. This is a very straight-forward definition, and one that harmonizes well with the etymology of Ares’ name, whose root is “are”, ‘to harm’. Warriors are a group or class of people whose profession/place in life is to harm other people or things.

***

On to the second, more psychological definition of a warrior. This may describe any “… person who shows or has shown great vigor, courage, or aggressiveness, as in politics or athletics.” In the macro-level sense of the word, a warrior is one who struggles. This is a broad definition that can be applied to a vast array of people, such as the aforementioned politicians or athletes, as well as lawyers (who fight legal “battles”), people who overcome personal struggles (weight, emotional issues, handicaps, etc.), or even one who works against things such as abstract or non-violent as weeds in the lawn. This definition is classless (equal) and broad. Everyone struggles against something.

In addition, the second definition almost always suggests some sort of abstract code to be used. Lawyers and politicians are (supposed) to closely follow both the written law and unwritten laws of social mores. Athletes are held by society to perform under their own power and skill and avoid performance enhancers. Individuals are (hopefully) expected to at least do as they say they will, be it in a diet or actively trying to better their situation without resorting to shortcuts (i.e. cheating). While the literal violent warriors of the previous definition often do have codes of conduct, they are not expressly required to have one.

***

These two definitions can come into conflict, and often do in the pagan community. On one side, a small but growing group of pagan military veterans, who embody the first definition,  are coming forward to claim our “tribe’s” status as warriors. However, this can clash with people who use the second definition and  give that status to anyone who struggles. Some folks feel it is inappropriate to give a title to someone who, by one definition, have not earned it by going to war (which is the root word of warrior, obviously). Others may contend that the literal definition is too narrow and excludes people who struggle, especially those who struggle on behalf of others.

Personally, I am in the first camp, that of the literalists. To me, it would be giving out an unearned status to call anyone a warrior who has not at least formally trained for its profession. A status is exactly what we are talking about. One can embody many of the traits one needs to attain a status, but that doesn’t mean the status applies.  People should not feel bad about not being able to enter into one status or another. I can never earn the status of being  a mom. I cannot, and an American citizen, earn the title of Knight. Statuses have to have some exclusivity to maintain value. Not all women can be moms, and that’s what makes being a mom special. Not everyone can be a manager.

Does this mean that one cannot harmonize the two definitions, that they are mutually exclusive? No. Do you have to accept my reasoning on the matter? No. It is also unlikely we can speculate on the nature of Ares’ or any of the other gods’ thoughts. Hopefully though, there is enough information here to start a serious discussion of the merits of both definitions and how we can better apply them to the members of our communities. And, as always, Hail Ares!

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21 comments on “What is a Warrior?

  1. Kullervo says:

    I am also passionately in the first camp. I have no problem with the second camp being thought of metaphorically as warriors. But “literally” trumps “metaphorically.” Every time. I think any time someone struggles, they can look to Ares for inspiration, but literal warriors are especially his.

    What is particularly troubling to me is the not insignificant numebr of modern pagans who would like to not only say that metaphorical warriors are on equal status with literal warriors, but that literal warriors (and they’ll say “soldiers” and make more out of the difference than anybody who has ever actually been a warrior or a soldier would ever make) are not really warriors. Preferential status for metaphorical warriors.

    For what it’s worth, that’s bullshit, and it shows how out of touch with dirty, bloody reality so many of us in prosperous modern cultures really have become.

    I have also long said (and been almost universally reviled for saying) that every able pagan should at least be a military reservist (or National Guardsman, or whatever you local jurisdiction’s equivalent is). Your pagan ancestors all were.

    • Monte Plaisance says:

      Much agreed with you on the this. I believe that our Western Society, has lost its sense of proper orientation – both mentally and spiritually. A warrior is a fighter and while that can be a spiritual battle, it is not exclusively that. In our tradition, all male members of our group MUST take Pankration training to learn the value of actual physical fighting. It builds strength, courage, and character. It also teaches humility and control of the passions.

  2. [...] Over at Aspis of Ares, Pete Helms tackles some of this stuff unsurprisingly well) Share [...]

  3. ladyimbrium says:

    Question for both Pete and Kullervo- where do you think pagan police officers fall? Other emergency responders i.e. EMTs and firefighters? To my way of thinking they are part of the rapid-response, high-energy, high-emotion, life-and-death system that keeps the larger society safe and could conceivably claim the word. This of course is my own opinion. Even though I’m not a recon I have enormous respect for the work that you have put into this and other projects and I’d like to hear what you have to say on the subject.

    • pthelms says:

      That’s a very fair question. The idea of police seems easy enough to answer; soldiers often served as police while in-garrison. Plato called such soldiers “agents of Ares”, and the Areistai, defenders of the acropolis in Ephesos, are named after Ares. The idea of paramedics and and firefighters as warriors is problematic from the historic perspective,

      EMTs would essentially just be a local doctor, and while doctors see violence, they are (supposed) to be bound by oath to do no violence. Firefighters also encounter deadly situations, but again, they don’t do violence, unless you count chopping down a wall.

      As limited as it sounds, war is the root of warrior, and violence is the essence of war. However, Ares would certainly be, in my mind, a divine patron to firefighters and EMTs, not as a warrior god, but as a god of masculinity and nurturing protectiveness.

      • ladyimbrium says:

        That makes sense. I’ve noticed a great number of similarities among my friends and coworkers- some of whom have seen combat overseas, some have seen only the violence on our own streets- as far as skills, talents and personality. Not all identify as warriors though some do. They all identify as people who walk that line between order and chaos to keep people safe.

        That does raise an additional question, one which may require its own post. I and many of my coworkers (both as an SPO and an EMT) are female. We all feel at the very least some deep seated respect for this god of manliness. So I think the question may become, who are the modern-day Amazons?

  4. Kullervo says:

    What about football players? Boxers? Mixed martial artists?

  5. soliwo says:

    The inclusion of firefighters and EMT’s is justifiable if you would use another definition, namely those who place themselves’ in harm’s way/ or work in violent conditions in order to protect. I am not sure if this makes them warriors, but for me they fall in the same category as warriors because of this similarity.

    • Kullervo says:

      But that’s not a common or historical definition of “warrior.” You are correct that it is a broad category that includes warriors, but Ares is not the god of a broad category that includes, inter alia, warriors. He is a god of warriors.

      • soliwo says:

        Yes, you are right of course. I think what I meant to say is that often , when people claim the term warriors without conforming to the narrow definition, they actually mean heroism and not warrior-ship. Yet of course not all warriors are heroes, and in my opinion not all soldiers are warriors.

        And yes, Ares is a god of warriors. But that doesn’t include only soldiers. And neither is he a god only of warriors. He is also a god of fathers and revenge-takers, neither of which are necessarily warriors. So I do not think it is very strange to suggest Ares can be a patron of certain professions that include violence (typical of Ares) and the seeking of danger.

        I am thinking aloud here. I am by no means sure of what I am thinking. But you helped me a great deal to formulate it.

        By the way, Drew Jacob recently wrote a piece about why heroism should be defined in a more narrow way as well (in contrast to adventure). And I agreed. So I am not really opposed to a narrow definition of warriorship, I just do not want to narrow down Ares.

    • A different definition I would say, for reasons I commented below in my own reply to this lovely post below….because we have gods that are associated with aspects of warfare that are not considered warrior gods..such as Ares’ brother Apollon who is called the Marshaller of the Host, and to whom the Paean was song to inspire fear in their enemies and to protect themselves during battle. So I don’t see it as particularly necessary to include them under the term warrior. It of course doesn’t lessen what they do, but rather that the service they perform is not necessarily that of a warrior :)

  6. Monte Plaisance says:

    As always, a very good article. Also, keep in mind that while the Hellenes did indeed move away from ‘tribal’ society, they still held tight to the ideas of clan or family – and some families were more geared towards the military than others. Just as the Eumolpidae and Kerykes families/clans were the officiators of the Eleusinian mysteries. There is an essay titled “On the Structure of Greek Tribal Society” by Hugh E. Seebohm, which discusses some of these older ‘tribal’ customs which the civilized Hellenes still held to…and in some cases still do. He doesn’t really get into the warrior concept, but it can definitely shed some insight into how the ancients thought about things. Glad to see you are keeping up such good work!

    τύχη σε σας,

    Monte and Gypsy

  7. J_Agathokles says:

    I also agree with a more literal interpretation of the word “warrior”, though part of me also agrees with Soliwo’s suggestion.

  8. Wynn Dark says:

    I can see where people want to put EMT’s and Firefighters into the same category, they Are similar, but they aren’t actually the same. Oh and EMT’s don’t have to swear Any oath to not harm others, considering the highly dangerous situations they get into on a more regular basis than people seem to think, asking them to do that would be foolish at best.

    This one is for Helms, what about those that have tried to become warriors (literal sense) and failed (say didn’t make it through training), how do you think Ares would relate to those people? Glad to see that police are being given some respect in being classified as warriors, it’s a rare thing for the “most hated minority on the planet” as I’ve heard them described before.

    • ladyimbrium says:

      I’ve referred to us as the “twice despised” a few times. Not only do the mobs on the street (mobs in a loose sense meaning only large numbers of people) have a fear-hate reaction, but the folks that pay me hate me too. Being called a necessary evil to your face pretty much sucks. Since I’m also an EMT I can avoid the worst of the mud being slung my way. Not so for most. A lot of the people I work with- even the ones that don’t identify as pagan- view Ares and similar gods as protectors and guides. Whether we’re called warriors or not. Point is, I really appreciate this article and the well thought out opinions in the comments. Giving me a lot to think about and work with here!

  9. [...] pthelms So yesterday I started up that pain-in-the-ass process of defining a contentious word: what is a warrior? In just one day, it has become one of the most popular posts as far as number of comments, so [...]

  10. a warrior goes to war, a hunter/tress hunts…and an artist creates art. To each their own craft and responsibilities. Do I admire hunting and the huntress goddess..yes.. do I hunt…nope (though I have wanted to, the closest I ever got was fishing lol). Now there is metaphorical hunting too, but I would consider such a person who engages it really a hunter. So I agree with you…and I do think that there are other words that can be used aside from warrior that has some similar traits. For example Apollon shares many commonalities with Ares on the battlefront but I have never seen him described as a warrior…because he is not. He can fight, but he is not a warrior. Therefore I see no problem with a literalist standpoint.

  11. [...] by Pete Helm’s post in Aspis of Ares here about what is a warrior? The post was very thoughtful, and many of the comments quite intriguing [...]

  12. Evritos says:

    This is a fascinating piece Pete. In our martial tradition, we use the term BUDO, or way of war, to describe our approach. It translates into something like, war as a lifestyle. Some practitioners, by occupation, are active duty soldiers, law enforcement, emergency personnel, as well as doctors, educators, artists, and actors for example. However, in this tradition, all of those occupations are seen as containing skills that pertain to war in some capacity. For example: soldiers, LEO’s are obvious….but a doctor understands healing wounds as well as causing death via drugs, poisons, etc….an educator is often knowledgeable in the ways of instruction and learning (Spec Ops, particularly force multipliers like Green Berets value this ability in their operators), Artistic skills are often utilized in the development of deception tactics (Intelligence agencies often hire artists to work on various projects intended to deceive the opposition through the creation of fake items and even whole cities as they did in WW2 to deceive Nazi bomber pilots to attack fake targets). Acting skills are utilized heavily by intelligence operatives. In other words, war itself is made up of two elements: the light (open combat) and the dark (deceptive tactics).

    Now, I just talked about the external expression of War, or the literal approach to war, but in BUDO, war extends into the ‘psyche’ as well…there is an esoteric component. So, this means we try to embody the principles of war (Budo) into the way we approach life itself. We understand conflict to be the most fundamental principle in Life, just as Herakleitus posited: “War is the father of all things.” It is also a reflection as well of his basic premise that the stable quality of δική (Justice) comes from the op-positional forces of ἔρις (Strife).

    So, for me, the God of War (Ares) is at the heart of what in my martial tradition is called BUDO. You can say that BUDO is the embodiment of ARES in ourselves.

    Anyway, my two cents. Keep up the great posts.

  13. [...] Helms has some insightful remarks on what makes a warrior: These two definitions can come into conflict, and often do in the pagan community. On one side, a [...]

  14. [...] American can partake in sanctioned violence anymore. Maybe some types of law enforcement as well. This guy (blog link) and I are pretty much on the same page with this. __________________ If you've learned something [...]

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