by Swein Runestaff
There has been much written on warriorship in recent times and i-
nterest in the subject shows no sign of diminishing. As Pagans we must
come to understand our warrior ancestry and, more importantly, adapt
its principles to modern life. If we fail in this task, we face the
prospect of becoming either meek and herded sheep, or branded outlaws,
condemned as were our ancestors, for our heresy.
Although I have read widely on the historical evidence, my own u-
nderstanding comes mainly from my training in a living Norwegian
tradition and in the Rune-Gild. There are many academic theories and
conjectures about the role of the warrior in Pagan society but very
few academics who understand warriorship. We Pagans do not have the
luxury of theorising, no matter how clever those theories may seem. If
they are not of practical benefit to us in daily life, they amount to
nothing more than intellectual wankery.
Paganism is about freedom. Freedom from dogma, freedom from our ne-
gative conditioning, habits, and inhibitions, freedom from our self-
-limiting beliefs. We must not think that we can improve our situation
if we break the bonds of the Judeo-Christian chastity belt merely to
adopt fetters forged from the twisted scrap of a bygone age. Chri-
stianity became fossilised before it reached the wisdom and tolerance
of maturity, let us not make the same mistake.
Paganism has always had its strength in its diversity and fluidity,
constantly adapting according to time and location. The form is always
evolving but the essence remains. This fluidity is indeed part of the
essence, and differentiates us from the anachronists who seek only
relief from reality. To the Pagan, reality is not the tiresome mud of
everyday, but colourful clay to be moulded lovingly in our hands.
Paganism is our way and warriorship is our vehicle. Without warri-
orship, Paganism becomes quaint anachronism. In my tradition warrior-
ship is not about aggression, in fact a warrior has gone beyond the
need for aggression. Warriorship is actually magick, the art of ma-
nifesting the True Will. An aspect of this is illustrated in our
understanding of the Berserk.
The word "berserk" comes from two words, "bare" and "sark" (a shirt).
A berserk was originally one who fought without a shirt, bare from the
waist up. Not only did they scorn body armour, they even went without
the psychological advantage of a layer of clothing between their skin
and the enemy's sword.
In our tradition, the symbolism of removing the armour is of great
importance, but before it is safe to do so, one must be adept at doing
battle with the armour on. Whether on the battlefield or in the
marketplace we all wear some sort of armour against "the slings and a-
rrows of outrageous fortune", or more to the point, the barbs of our
fellow humans. In order to operate efficiently we must know our stre-
ngths and weaknesses, and become aware of the style and construction
of our armour.
As our movements become increasingly efficient, we find that we can
afford to shed some of our armour. We then find that our movements
become even more efficient with the resulting freedom. Eventually we
find ourselves totally open to the world. No longer encumbered with
layers of protection we are free to be our true selves. Every act
becomes a spontaneous and joyous act of pure will. We become a vortex
of pure will force.
Paradoxically, while a novice stripped of armour would be instantly
slain, an adept becomes impervious to steel. The berserk ceases to be
a target by becoming as if devoid of gross substance. The Ynglinga
Saga describes the Berserks when inspired by Odin, "They cut down the
enemy, while neither fire nor iron could make an impression on them."
That which offers no resistance cannot be cut. That which is flexible
cannot be broken.
Anyone who has been in combat situations will realise that uncontr-
olled anger is rarely a friend in battle. Such emotion may well sti-
mulate enthusiasm and fearlessness, but at the cost of judgement and
precision. There is a Samurai saying- "The angry man will defeat
himself in battle as well as in life." The true berserk rage is
certainly not blind anger. An angry warrior may be frightening and
deadly but is unlikely to come out of a battle alive, let alone
The secret of the berserk's invulnerability is the ability to let the
True Will flow unimpeded. This requires the warrior to be totally calm
and centred while at the same time unleashing the destructive forces
of the Will. This is a form of meditation infinitely more difficult
than being calm and centred in a quiet room
(something most people find almost impossible anyway). The slightest
distracting thought can be fatal. By not letting thoughts interfere
with the flow of Will, the berserk is always in the right place at the
right time. Action flows, there is no rigidity or predictability,
there is nowhere a blade can strike.
The berserk acts without hesitation and is always in harmony with any
situation. Harmony in this case means being true to the self and inte-
racting with the situation in a way which is honest with the self. Th-
is can only be done when there is no barrier between the self and the
situation. One becomes a fluid part of the situation without losing
one's individuality, an indispensable and autonomous part of the
whole, every movement being a vital adjustment of one's position in
It is only through warriorship that we will be able to practise our
varied traditions without fear of persecution, for this fear betrays a
lack of confidence in one's own magickal ability and in the power of
one's tradition. Like the berserk, those who truly practise warriors-
hip or magick will find themselves beyond the reach of any attack, and
extremely unlikely to be attacked in the first place.
Judeo-Christian culture has taught us that we are powerless as indi-
viduals, that we must follow the mob to be saved. Pagan culture has
always taught that we should accept responsibility for ourselves. Our
power or lack of it is our own choice. Freedom is ours, taking res-
ponsibility for ourselves is the price. Many are not ready to pay it,
let them join the sheep of a herd religion until they are ready, they
too have a valid place in the greater whole. This is why Paganism does
not seek to make converts.
Ultimately warriorship is a path of compassion. When we no longer fear
others, we are free to sense their real needs. This is not sympathy or
just being nice, sometimes a harsh lesson will be far more beneficial
in the long run. Only fearless openness allows one to see the best way
to interact. Without fear we can be more tolerant and less defensive,
less inclined to take things personally, or become offended when
others do things a little differently, or moralise and interfere with
others because we feel threatened by their strangeness. Only fear
prevents us from achieving our potential. Only warriorship will defeat
the fears which divide us.
(Swein Runestaff is Steward of the South Pacific Region of the Rune-
Next: Glenn Innes Standing Stones