Warriors and Their Weapons

Warriors and Their Weapons

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An argument for continuing to permit to carry weapons at festivals.

Wellspring and at Muin Mound Madness, a member of ADF and of the Warriors Guild carried a sheathed spear around with him. At both festivals, there were individuals who felt justified in criticizing him for doing so. At Wellspring, someone was indignant at the fact that he would carry a weapon when there were children attending the festival. At Muin Mound Madness, someone criticized him for carrying a tool of war in a spiritual setting with no obvious purpose for doing so. The first individual raised the topic on the ADF e-mail lists, where it has created much controversy since. It is my purpose here to present the issue to the greater membership of ADF, and to argue for the position that the organization should not adopt a policy against the carrying of sheathed weapons at festivals. For the purpose of this article, "weapon" will refer only to those weapons which do not have an obvious utilitarian purpose. No one is proposing that knives and staves be regulated. The weapons at issue are those with blades or points. While there are those who question the legitimacy of weapons in any ADF contests, they appear to be a very small minority. The debate, instead, concerns under what circumstances weapons should be allowed. Most have agreed that warriors should be allowed a space in which to practice. The most controversial topic is whether the privilege of the warrior to carry a sheathed weapon should be restricted.

There have been five arguments presented thus far for a policy to limit the carrying of sheathed weapons to going to or from practice or a ritual where the person is allowed to bring his weapon. The first argument is that sheathed weapons are inherently unsafe, and especially dangerous to have in the presence of children. But what is so dangerous about a sheathed weapon? I have not verified the claim made by one person in the discussion, but have no reason to disbelieve, that in the SCA they have had large events with many people carrying weapons for over fifteen years, without a single incident. They train their members from the first day in the safe handling of weaponry and protocols. The perfect record, given the number of people and the length of time involved, would seem to indicate that sheathed weapons are not inherently unsafe, so long as sensible roles are in place and enforced.

As for children, the argument is that, they could get into the weapons and hurt themselves. But how would a child get into a weapon being carried by a responsible adult? Further, there are plenty of dangerous things that a child could get into at a camping event, like knives or other sharp tools, fire, tent stakes, hammers, thorns, insects, etc. But we do not have policies to ban these things, or to prohibit children from going barefoot. Since sheathed weapons carried on the warrior's person represent a far smaller danger to the child than these other common camping hazards, why should they be singled out for proscription?

Finally, although the warrior is responsible for the safe handling of his or her weapon, the parent is responsible for his or her child. If the parent is worried about the child's "getting into things," then perhaps the parent ought to be watching the child more carefully, or not bringing him or her to a camping event in the first place.

The second argument is that visible weaponry gives us a bad image-that if a roving reporter came and took pictures, we could receive bad national publicity. But this seems rather far-fetched. Once again, if the SCA can hold huge events with lots of people carrying around weaponry, and yet do not receive bad publicity, why should this be a likelihood at a small festival with a few people toting around spears or swords? Further, if the reporter is looking to feed the fears of society, he is more likely to focus on the fact that we are worshipping ancient gods, or have members whose sexuality the general populace finds threatening, than on the fact that there are a few archaic weapons floating around. Is possible bad publicity something on which we should be basing our policies?

The third argument is that weapons are a tool of war, and that killing has no place in ADF, and seeing the tools of killing should not be forced upon people who just want: to attend a religious festival. My response is that ADF is not a pacifistic religion. Our very concept of the Druid as a magical religious functionary of any of the Indo-European societies is based on Dumezil's work showing that Indo-European societies had a social structure of three functions. The warriors, as Dumezil's second function, were basic to the very structure of society. Their function was to keep the dangerous outdwellers at bay, and in order to do that, they had to deal with death and killing.

The response given for this argument is that although we draw our inspiration from the ancients, that does not mean that everything the ancients did is meaningful for us. We do not want our warriors defending our community against outdwellers, since we do not perceive any external threat. And I agree that the lesson to be learned from the ancients has nothing to do with creating an armed guard against possible intruders. But death and killing are part of our reality. Living in the modem world does not make conflict, death or killing obsolete. By looking at how the ancients understood these issues we can find the hero's journey for ourselves.

As for the argument that killing has no place in our religion. I think it is safe to say that ritualized literal killing of humans does not have any place in ADF. Ethical1y, however, I don't think our religion has a problem with someone killing in self-defense. We have no belief that we should be pawns of fate. The emphasis on self-responsibility would suggest that we have an obligation to defend ourselves in case of attack, If someone is skilled enough to do so without harming his attacker, that's great. If it is a choice between his life or mine, I would argue that ADF religion would support my decision to take his, assuming I could. Further, until we declare ourselves vegetarian as an organization, we implicitly accept the killing of animals in a context other than self. defense.

Metaphorically, killing definitely has a place within ADF. Killing is about putting one's own needs before those of another, either in the context of making a decision that an animal's life should be ended so that you may eat or have his skin, or in the context of defending against harm. Recognizing the role of killing may help us to take on the responsibility of being prepared w defend ourselves in case we should be attacked. Drawing and defending boundaries that hurt others' feelings in order to protect oneself emotionally is a metaphorical killing. To knowingly decide to cut off support to someone because you need to use your resources on your own needs is a metaphorical killing. One can kill a friendship, a relationship, a marriage, a business partnership an organization, etc. I don't think we have any belief in eternal relationships- what is united by the gods shall not be parted by man. So long as our ethics accept endings as well as beginnings, we accept the metaphor of killing.

So long as the warrior-function, and all it entails about protecting boundaries, dealing with conflict, accepting death, taking responsibility for causing harm to that which threatens the boundaries we protect, is a basic element of our spirituality, the claim that killing has no place in ADF is unjustified. We would be doing ourselves a grave disservice by not embracing the lessons to be learned from the warrior path, and it would be a violation of the very concept of the organization, committed to drawing its inspiration from the ancients.

The mythology about the gods and the heroes is full of conflict. Combat is part of our cosmology. The cosmic order was partly established through combat. The social order is partly maintained through combat. Not everyone in the social order is willing to play by the roles, and of course, there are those outside the social order, Warriors stand between the city walls and the outdwellers. They need their weapons to fulfill their function of keeping the dangerous forces at bay. Thus weapons, as the symbol of the warrior, and the tool of death, have a vital place in our religion. Though there are those who may not wish to be reminded of this, they are not justified in the belief that killing is not part of ADF religion, and do not have the right to demand of those who wish to carry weapons that they not do so, simply because they do not want to see them.

The fourth argument, following on the third, is that even if weapons have a legitimate role in the religion, the warriors should be considerate of those who do not want to deal with them, those who do not wish to have the lesson of death and killing thrust into their field of vision. To this I have proposed that "safe space," where no weapons are allowed, be set up for those who wish to camp without having to dea1 with weapons. Further, I have suggested that there be specific areas set up, not immediately next to the weapons-free space, where warriors can practice with their weapons. This way someone who does not wish to deal with weapons has the option of not doing so. But consideration goes two ways. If those who wish not to see weapons would like the consideration of the warrior who would 1ike to carry the weapon, then they need to be considerate of the warrior's needs as well.

The fifth argument is that if the community has concerns about the warrior's carrying weapons, and the warrior has no obvious reason for doing so, then the warrior has no inalienable right to carry a weapon, and it should be restricted. The idea is that because weapons are perceived as a threat, it is up to the warrior to prove the necessity of carrying a weapon before he has the right to do so. While I certainly agree that the warrior does not have an inalienable right to carry a weapon, why should the onus be on him to prove the necessity of carrying the weapon, when no one has been able to show that his doing so causes any actual harm? The pagan community in general accepts the precept that if an action does not cause any harm, there is no reason why some. one should not be allowed to do it Simply making people nervous is not causing harm. More is needed to prove that the carrying of weapons represents a. real threat.

Even if we give consideration to those who dislike weaponry merely because it makes them nervous, we still need to weigh their concerns against the needs of the warriors who wish to carry their weapons. To do this, we need to discuss the several purposes working with weapons serve for the warrior. While I recognize that the legitimacy of working with weapons is not at issue, in order to explicate their overall significance to the warrior, I'd like to start there. Most obvious working with weapons helps hone the warrior's skill at using the weapon. Physical dexterity is one of the virtues most basic to the warrior. Another of the virtues of the warrior is discipline. Practicing and competing with a weapon requires more concentration, hence more discipline, than practicing and competing without one.

Third, the ability of the warrior to defend himself is augmented by knowing how to use a weapon. Fourth, use of tools from the past links us with the past. Properly learning how to handle a weapon links the warrior with the heroes whose craft he honors. It is an offering the warrior can make.

Fifth, weapons can be used to act out combat, through competition and through dance. These are valuable spiritual exercises. They allow the warrior to get a. taste of the "glory of battle" without fax11l consequences. The warrior can't get much of a sense of the glory of battle the further the competition is away from battle-like conditions. To be dealing with something that can inflict harm is much more serious than to deal with styro-foam toys.

The relationship of the warrior to his weapon is very personal, as we see in historical accounts and mythology. The ancients played games with weapons, they practiced with weapons, they danced with weapons, they took care of their weapons, they passed on their weapons to their children as great treasures, or were buried with their weapons, and they fought with their weapons. Their weapons were an integral part of who they were. The weapon completes the warrior. It gives him his characteristic tool with which he can do what he has prepared to do. His weapon is part of his identity. What would Herakles be without his club?

In addition to practicing with his weapon, the warrior benefits from carrying it with him, attuning himself to it and attuning it to him. The weapon is to the warrior almost a living entity with a soul of its own. Its character is partially defined by the material of which it is made and by its form. These determine what kinds of tasks the weapon can do well and the physics of how it will behave. Its character is partly defined by the history of the kind of weapon it is. The noble tradition of a Samurai sword will be pan of a Samurai sword, even if it is newly created. Finally, its character is defined by its individual history. If it has a particularly bloody history, for example, it may have a "bloodthirsty" quality to it.

By spending as much time as possible with a weapon, the warrior can get to know it. If the weapon is meant to be part of his identity, he will feel it. If not, he knows to put it aside, or pass it on to another. The time he spends handling it allows him to attune the weapon to him, so it will perform optimally. It also allows him to know what not to do with the weapon.

Simply carrying the weapon. thus, has a value for the warrior. In addition, although he may not be practicing, he may choose to do a kinetic meditation. He may alter his consciousness to a state of heightened awareness, anticipating possible danger. It is part of the role of the warrior to accept responsibility for death. His weapon serves as a constant reminder of this responsibility and of the seriousness of his role, during his meditation.

In conclusion, one of the nice aspects of going to a festival is that one can wear the clothing of one's choice, one can spend one's time outside, doing activities one can't normally do in one's mundane existence. It is a retreat where one can express oneself in a way one can't normally, and can engage in activities one can't normally. It is precisely because this is one of the only contexts in which one can walk around carrying a spear that the right is so precious. This right should not he taken away when the only weight on the other side of the scale is that seeing weaponry makes some people nervous.