The warrior self is a physical, mental, emotional and spiritual aspect of our being. They shape what we are capable of in the moments we need to take action. There are many facets to the archetype of the ‘warrior’. Lets look at 3 from the northern tradition – perhaps you recognise them?
The Berserker is the ‘bear-skin’ warrior known for his berserker-rage and going into battle wearing animal skin rather than traditional armour. In fiction some of you may know him from the character Beorn in Lord of the Rings who literally shape-shifts into the form of a bear. The Berserker is fuelled biologically and emotionally. Some believe the Berserker state was induced by drugs and herbs, but it is perhaps more likely that it was a deliberately induced hormone cascade of adrenalin and testosterone.
I was reminded of the Berserker last week in the garden centre with my two small boys! I was paying at the exit after a very successful trip when my 2 year old dashed off back into the maze of aisles behind us. In a few seconds I went from a reasonable, polite adult to someone deploying total strangers to cover exits and help with the search; I was running at a pace I haven’t done in years and shouting in that ‘I’m not cross but you really need to come out now voice’. We had someone guarding the exit but about 5 minutes in we agreed to spread the search into the car park. There was a really busy road beyond and for a moment I fell into that uncontrollable cascade of ‘what ifs?’. Something deep inside wrenched me back with a fierce, unshakeable up-welling of belief that I was GOING to find him. This too is part of the Berserker – a belief in your own invincibility. I was reminded of mothers who find themselves able to lift a car to release a trapped child – your hormones kick in to strengthen your body and your mind. When we found him my little son was also sweating profusely and shrieking with joy to have befuddled all the adults so completely for so long – my own little berserker warrior in the making (appropriate as we call him little bear).
The Berserkers shadow-self is fear. It chases at the heels of his anger and will cripple him if he lets it take hold. Interestingly we use fear to curb him also; my little boy is one of those children who currently feels no fear but he is slowly learning what it means to be lost and why roads are dangerous.
The lessons of the Berserker include how to trust the instinctive self, how to overcome fear and, crucially, developing the skill to mentally, emotionally, physically and spiritually shake off the ‘bear-rage’ when the need is past. The runes Berkano and Thurisaz are particularly important for the Berserker.
Very popular in mythology the Shield-maiden is a female warrior often described as being a virgin and linked closely to the figure of the Valkyrie. Historically she is a more shadowy figure; there are accounts of female warriors and some archaeological evidence of their existence but little understanding of how wide-spread they were or what their lore was. Unlike the Berserker she is bears her protective armour as part of her warrior identity. The ‘virginity’ aspect may mean a free woman or a woman without children but there are suggestions she is also dedicated to the Gods in some way. In this sense her ‘armour’ may include control of emotions and physical desires.
The rune Sowilo, the sun rune, can be both the Shield and to the link between the human heart and the divine. It can be used energetically to form a shield in times when you feel threatened. To me the Shield-Maiden is a connecter. Her shield bears the colours of her people and their allegiances to the Gods. She is a figure around whom people rally, she calls forth the blessing of the Gods and is directed in action by her sense of vision and purpose. She brings hope and the response she evokes is more awe than raw fear. She is a living reminder that to die for your cause was considered the greatest act by the Viking peoples – on the other side of death her counterpart the Valkyrie lifts up the fallen and carries them to the Halls of the Gods.
When my bear-boy was lost my 5 year old was a wonderful shield-bearer. He stood by the tills calling his brother the whole time we was searching the garden centre. He also shouted updates on where people were looking (far more effectively than the staff were) and was the one whose voice rose loudest to tell me his brother had been found.
The shadow-self of the Shield-maiden is uncertainty. There are no perfect choices and very rarely is there a clear right and wrong path. If she wavers at the key moment in battle or is consumed by what-ifs after the event the Shield-maiden loses her edge, her reason and her power.
Like the Berserker the Shield-Maiden must also ‘debrief’ – she must step out of her warrior-self when the battle is done. She teaches us to lay down our arms at the end of each day and, in doing so, how to to lay down the choices we made while in that armour.
The Wounded God
One of the things I find so precious and inspiring about the northern tradition is the vulnerability of the Gods. They are awesome, uplifting, powerful, wise and fallible. There are very few of the Aesir who have not experienced some form of wounding. Often physical, sometimes chosen or self-inflicted, these wounds tell me that the Gods themselves evolve and change. They too are on a path of wisdom-seeking, enlightenment and transformation.
The wounds of the Gods most often come about through sacrifice. Odin has been burned many times without physical harm – but the sacrifice of his eye to the Well of Mimir, and the gash in his side from his own spear Gungnir are self administered and make their mark. On both these occasions Odin is seeking knowledge. We may see more of the sage, wise-man or vitki in this persona but he is still taking action to further his cause. He is still ready to sacrifice a part of himself to gain something he sees as being of greater value. The God Tyr is also of importance here. His choice to sacrifice his sword hand so that the great Fenris wolf might be bound is the act of a true warrior.
The shadow-self of the Wounded God is sorrow. This is not something that can be shaken off. We bear it as a scar which tells us both what we have gained and what we have lost in past battles.
Through the wheel of the year there are times to celebrate, times to remember, times to forgive and times to vision for something new. The Wounded God teaches us that some sacrifices are worth making, some sorrows are worth bearing. If we spend our days avoiding sacrifice and grief we also spend them avoiding life and love.
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