Not everyone is a warrior, and it’s okay. That statement alone is sufficient to drive people into fury in many circles, where faux-warrior culture has bonded with the ideas of “true masculinity”. But it’s the truth. Not everyone is a warrior, not everyone can be a warrior, and not everyone should be a warrior either. It’s not healthy. It’s not realistic. And it makes people do some weird things when left to their own devices. So where does this come from, what does it mean, and how do we address masculinity in modern Heathenry in a positive and productive way?
So where is this coming from? Well, in the Heathen world, over the last decade or so, there’s been a mounting obsession with masculinity, manhood, and warrior status. Part of this has been fuelled, particularly here in North America, by a lack of historical context and connection to the greater picture of Norse and Germanic society in the distant past. Instead, we have our popular interpretation of Vikings. An easily identified, hyper-masculine ideal, far removed from its roots. Another aspect is the development of the “sheepdog” and “war fighter” cultures in the US Military (which have in turn bled into other military cultures to greater or lesser degrees), and the pushback by veterans and serving members against what they see as feminized civilians. The final aspect is a legitimate lack of masculinity rites and rituals in modern society, which when combined with shifting cultural roles and positions, stresses people more than most are willing to admit.
The result is the current “warrior” obsession. There were more than warriors in the past though, and being able and ready to defend yourself, kin, and property doesn’t a warrior make. Even most soldiers today aren’t warriors, though few in the combat arms would be willing to admit that. Being a warrior is more than an occupation or skill set. It’s a combination of a number of factors, not the least of which is a dedication to the various aspects of arts of war and the possession of a well developed, nuanced, mindset to use these skills to best effect. Being a warrior doesn’t happen in a vacuum, and doesn’t come without repercussions either. The current obsession with it isn’t a healthy expression either.
So how is this an unhealthy thing? After all, if there’s so much to being a warrior, why don’t we all want to be one? Well, should we all be bakers because we like bread? Should we all be musicians because we like music? No, of course not. There is a time and place for warriors, and always a need to have a few around. But there’s a greater need for skalds, thinkers, farmers, smiths, and carvers. These are the people that need to have warriors around, but who create the things that make it possible to be a warrior, and are the people that a warrior seeks to protect. Warriors exist in symbiosis with the communities and societies that they come from, separated by focus, but still connected in life, spirit, and ethos.
A society can’t be all warriors. It’s unbalanced, and prone to instability. A religion and faith can’t be all warriors either, otherwise it loses perspective and grounding, and becomes out of touch with the world around it. At best it can hope to be some sort of monastic order, but that’s not exactly the community and family orientation that Heathens today or their spiritual ancestors go or went for. It’s okay to not be a warrior. It’s okay to be other things, preferable even in many cases. It’s very easy to talk the talk online, and to run around in the woods like animals or spend the day at the range or local paintball/airsoft field. The latter two can even act as group bonding events, but it’s not the same as being a warrior. But in an age when the recent iterations of masculinity in North America are perceived as failing, what do we do, as “warrior” is a very powerful and seductive status?
We need to do what our ancestors did, and realize that there is more to being a man than the ability to fight, belittle others for their weaknesses, and not show your emotions. Masculinity is a multifaceted, multimodal thing, to which we’ve really only paid attention to a few facets of for some time now. It’s time for us to recognize that intelligence and articulate speech were as treasured, if not more so than, the ability to lay waste in battle. It’s time to be feel the full spectrum of our emotions, and to learn to express them in ways that are ours. It’s time to recognize the farmer, the craftsman, and the skald for what they bring to the community. It’s time to bring back, or create, rites and rituals marking our transitions through life. It’s time to put our play swords down and take up the mantle of maturity as we march forward into a brighter Heathen future. It’s time to realize that we can’t all be warriors, and that it’s okay.