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:
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!