views updated


Down through the ages religion played an important part in warfare: in delineating the conduct of warriors, the role of the warrior, and the justifications for war. The interaction of religion and the state, particularly in this area, has been fraught with contradictions and paradoxes. The same religions often both legitimate and condemn warfare. Legitimation may take the form of casting a war as an epic struggle between good and evil and in assigning prestige to those members of society performing deeds of valor and bravery. Condemnation of violence and the advocacy of pacifism find prominent places in major religious traditions.

Historically, an ambivalence existed within cultures and religions regarding both warfare and warriorship. Many religions elevated the role of warrior. Viking culture and religion elevated heroic death. Death in battle or childbirth, both viewed as areas that added to the life and welfare of the community, guaranteed one a place in either Valhalla, Odin's feast hall for the slain, or Sessrumnir, Freya's feast hall. In the Middle Ages, Christianity lauded the chivalrous Christian knight, combining an idealized view of the warrior with the role of Christian. Although jihad, or holy war, does not necessarily refer to warfare, many Muslims view those who die a warrior's death while engaged in jihad as especially blessed. Even Buddhism, which traditionally teaches the ideal of ahimsa, or nonharm, at times advocated the path of the sacred warrior. For instance, Zen appealed to the samurai class in Japan.

In the United States today the connection between religion and warfare does not possess the clear-cut connections that often existed in the past. However, the warrior tradition remains, alive and well, within the new religions existing under the umbrella of Paganism, or Neopaganism. Like other religions, the relationship between Neopaganism and the role of warrior remains ambivalent. Many witches take the Wiccan motto "An it harm none, do what you will" as a pacifist manifesto. Other groups, such as the Asatru, who seek to follow Viking traditions as faithfully as possible, combine warriorship and leading a moral life. The constants between the various groups with regard to this issue lie in two areas: a romanticization of the past and an insistence that morality remains a matter of individual consideration and decision.

Within Neopaganism warrior lodges and warrior paths exist that draw from a variety of sources: Norse tradition, the eastern idea of shambhala, legends of King Arthur and chivalrous knights, dungeons and dragons, fantasy novels, and the Klingon culture of Star Trek. People drawn to the warrior path tend to come from two groups: those who serve, or served, in the military or police, and those whose idea of what it means to be a warrior comes from fantasy, science fiction, myth, or role-playing games. Whether one comes from a warrior background or whether one has fallen in love with the ideal of warrior, both types of warrior tend to emphasize valor and honor. Neopagans consider these virtues among the ancient ideals of warriorship.

See alsoNeopaganism; Pacifism; Star Trek; Wicca.


Fields, Rick, ed. The Awakened Warrior: Living withCourage, Compassion and Discipline. 1994.

Harrow, Judy. "Initiation by Ordeal: Military Service as a Passage into Adulthood." In Modern Rites of Passage, Vol. 2 of Witchcraft Today, edited by Charles S. Clifton. 1993.

Nancy Ramsey

More From encyclopedia.com