Friday, March 8, 2013

Fighters of Divine Favor

As ancient Europe eventually became Christian Europe, and with the pronouncement of some Pope, nobody, not even Emperors and Kings, could claim descent from a god. How, then, do heroes gain favor in combat? By what right do kings rule if they are not divine? To answer that question, they turned to the Bible. Heroes, such as Samson, David, and Joshua achieved military victory, not through bloodline, but through the favor of GOd. They were the chosen ones of God, and with God behind them, no enemy could stand against them.

Naturally, the legends of knighthood in the middle ages coalesced around this very idea. The Christian knight, with his faith in God, would overcome his enemies. In the Muslim world, the exact same idea grew as well. It was through God’s power that Amr ibn al-As conquered the land of Egypt and the Rashidun Caliphate spread.

That is not to say that every Christian knight was a walking, talking virtue. Quite the opposite, the stories of knightly crudity and cruelty would fill volumes. It was another new idea, the Court of Love, that brought about the ideal that a knight should find his power in his faith, as portrayed generally by the Knights of the Round Table, and specifically in such heroes as Lancelot, and Galahad.

Not surprisingly, the tales of such knights inspired much of our idea of what a D&D fighter could do and how he acted. The paladin class (sometimes a fighter, sometimes its own class) modeled these holier warriors. Interestingly, the original cleric was meant to be such a holy warrior, but that class evolved into its own ideal.

So what are the themes running through such characters? First off, miracles. These characters are not merely mortals, they are miracle conduit. God literally works His will through them. Secondly, these warriors are actively protected from harm. God protects them. God provides them strength in proportion to their faith. Their strength literally flows from the divine, making them superior to lesser men. They do not need wisdom or education, for they follow in the ways of God, and this provides them all the wisdom that they need.

In some ways, faith acts much like the Chosen One archetype, but don’t get them confused. Ordinary men, with enough faith, can achieve just as many miracles as these heroes. The heroes are not innately special. For the Chosen One archetype, only one person can be the Chosen One. This choosing may be religious in nature, but that is not necessarily the case.

Going beyond the Christian tradition, we have other examples of divinity mixed with with the warrior culture.

In the Roman army, Mithraism was a popular cult. The cult itself was secret. We don’t know exactly what they believed. However, as the cult was popular in the army, it must have provided the soldiers with some benefits that soldiers valued. Given that Mithra’s symbol was a bull, we can speculate that the bull’s strength and vitality must have been conferred upon the initiates. We can also assume some afterlife where soldiers who died in battle were particularly honored. So Legionnaires gained their prowess through their relationship with the divine.

Among most peoples, warriors do not accidentally become warriors. Instead, they must be initiated to the warrior way. For example, the Mandans of North America lifted their warrior initiates on hooks. After enduring an ordeal, the initiate is recognized by his people as a warrior. He is different now because he is filled with a sort of magic that he received from spirits.

Some warrior cults go beyond this basic version of a warrior. Crazy Horse, of the Lakota, had visions and acquired an owl as a spirit animal. By this vision, he became a leader among his people.

After a quick perusal of warrior literature, I found no culture where the warrior was not, by nature, an aspect of religion. It’s only in the modern world where the warrior is divorced from religion, and even then, there are still civil ceremonies involved. The warrior must still go through boot camp and be initiated into the army. As the old saying goes, “there are no atheists in foxholes.”