Fair Weather Warriors

I have just returned from the KoY Althing 2003, and have been 'inspired' to write this piece, if one can use the word that way. There should be other reports dealing with the Althing and the overwhelming message we seem to have been given from the Aes and Van is that things must change. This essay is my personal feeling on the matter and I write as an individual, not as Secretary.

For more than twenty three years I have practised and taught a Zen based martial art. It is not taught as a sport, but as a way of transmitting the philosophy associated with the organisation, which encompasses more than a million people, and as a practical method of self defence. For years we were regaled by tales of how the founder, and his students, established the art in a devastated and gangster ridden post-war Japan. Of how 'rough justice' was meted out in self defence, and in defence of ordinary people. Of how all that was required to summon immediate aid from ones comrades was a call, whereupon everything would be dropped and the call answered no matter what the threat. That it was a Brotherhood of martial monks in the Shaolin tradition.

Fast forward to the mid Nineties, and a party in progress that gets gatecrashed by some local drunken thugs. Unfortunately for them, it was a party organised by my students for themselves and their friends (also other martial artists). Having taken umbrage at being asked to leave they then unwisely started a fight whereupon they were taken apart in short order. By the time the police arrived they were already in various painful locks and of a somewhat dishevelled appearance. The police commented upon a job well done and arrested the scum, who were actually relieved to be taken away and charged with various offences.

The problems started later when charges were pressed and witnesses required. It seems one of the prominent criminals had a rather large and well known family and had in fact just come out of prison, or rather, Rampton - the secure hospital for the criminally insane. There then followed acts of vandalism and attempts at intimidation, with threats of violence made if anyone testified. Naturally nobody backed down and the date of the trial was set.

Given the quite plausible threat of post trial violence hanging over those who gave evidence in court I decided we needed a few 'bodies' on the day to attend the court as well. That if there was any chance of their gang showing up ours had to be there as well, and in greater numbers. It was at this point I called my own teacher and asked for help.

Well, it seems that macho stories set in Japan are one thing and violent petty gangsterism set in modern crime ridden Britain quite another. Real life had come knocking and nobody really wanted to answer the door. It took me three hours of conversation to point out that the police are only interested in counting the victims after the crimes have been committed and that they do not as a rule offer any protection whatsoever to witnesses in any case short of multimillion pound criminal and terrorism cases.

However, in the end he reluctantly agreed to ask some of my fellow students at his branch whether they would be prepared to attend. By that time I was pretty disillusioned. If the situation had been reversed all I would have said is 'where and when?'. In the end I told him to forget it, and that my own students would handle it - which we did. When the criminals saw that the witnesses had turned up they pleaded guilty and got the usual 'bad boy' speech from the magistrate and a slap on the wrist. Not much for what was actually a violent house invasion, but that's British justice for you.

And the point of this tale?
Simply that too many people are 'fair weather warriors', and are mired in macho self delusion right up to the point where they have to practice what they preach. Then we get to see who is true, and who is not. Suddenly, all those who love the idea of risking their lives to stand up for what is right, help the underdog and fight crime in a lawless society realise the horrible truth. That behind all those words lies a grim reality and a grim commitment.

The illusion of glorious 'Kung Fu' combat of good versus evil is dissipated and a rather more sober assessment works its way to the forefront of their minds. The new scenario boils down to a nasty fight in the street, with people having their noses broken and teeth smashed in. Then the police arrive and arrests follow, maybe courts and convictions, a criminal record, lost jobs, mortgage arrears…

Yes, it's one thing to risk ones life and die gloriously for Freedom and Principle, but quite another to be labelled a criminal and risk ending up homeless if not actually in prison eh?

But what did they expect?
All my senior students volunteered to be with me and our comrades at the court, without hesitation, and I was proud that they did so. Unknown to them, had they not I would have kicked them out. And had my own teacher actually refused I would have resigned from the organisation immediately. Even so it left me with a nasty taste in my mouth.

So, why am I writing this for Sunwheel? The answer is that I see exactly the same thing amongst Heathens, only worse.
As a low end example consider the news group on Usenet, alt.religion.asatru (ARA). It is the only uncensored and fully public forum for our religion. It is how I discovered both Asatru as a living religion and the Middlesex Hearth. And I am not alone in being here because of it - at least two other people I know of have come via that route to either the Kith or Odinic Rite. However, the group has come under 'attack' by a troll (Net slang for contentious pest) who is most likely mentally ill and who bears a hatred for our religion. He posts sarcastic comments to everything anyone posts and incites others by posting provocative comments to other groups who often reply into ARA.

So, what is the effect on the Heathen regulars?
The answer is depressing - they abandon ARA and retreat to their own moderated, fragmented and censored ghettos, replete with the bickering and infighting that made our Heathen ancestors such easy pickings.

In effect, a single person has closed down an international forum dedicated to our religion because the Heathen users cannot be bothered to persist in the face of what is basically a very pathetic opposition. And still we see debates about how and why Christianity displaced our Gods in our own lands. We have the answer - because en masse we were, and are, too lazy or cowardly to stand against them. It happened then, and it happens now on a daily basis. The victory goes to those who turn up to the field of battle - and we do not.

Every Blot we miss because it's raining, or the cat needs feeding, is a defeat. Conversely, every worshipper who turns up at the Church on a Sunday is a also a defeat for us. Believe it or not, some Christians turn up for Church every Sunday, while most of us cannot manage once a month.

Why do we fail?
Don't bother to reply - it's a rhetorical question and I really don't want a list of excuses no matter how plausible. In the end there are no excuses, there is only winning and losing.

Which brings me to what one might term the 'high end' of our religion - those who follow Odin. Now, I accept that most Heathens do not specifically dedicate themselves to Odin and what I am about to say does not really apply to them. However it is still something that is worth heeding simply because Odin is Aesir, and we do follow them, I assume…

On ARA a year or two back we had someone ask about what it meant to wear a Valknot, or have one tattooed on the body, since it they thought it seemed like a cool fashion accessory. The answer that was given was fairly unanimous. To wear the Valknot is to state that one is willing to be sacrificed to Odin, by Odin.

To certain who follow Odin there is only one destination they desire - to sit with the Einheriar in Valhalla. In order to get there, one usually has to die in battle, and despite modern fashionable interpretations about 'the death of self' or similar rubbish our ancestors knew it quite literally meant physical death in battle. Not inevitably, because occasionally an exceptional warrior would die of old age rather than on the battlefield. In addition, it is to be a volunteer on a suicide mission - Ragnarok.

Now one might stretch a point and believe that Odin is looking for all kinds of warriors, and that times change. However, you can be sure that if you are the kind of person who, when they hear screams outside in the street at night, makes sure the door is locked before calling the police and sitting tight - you are not Einheriar material.

Maybe one day if you tell me how you are dedicated to Odin and wish to stand with him as Einheriar at Ragnarok I will test you - perhaps challenge you to physical combat. Not some polite little re-enactment match with a blunt sword, but fists and feet and the one who cannot get up loses. If you refuse and walk away, I will call you a liar and a coward and spit on you - as no doubt will Odin also. If you accept the challenge then you can expect a hard time, and if you should be lucky enough to die accidentally (because I will not actually be trying to kill you) maybe Odin will consider you worthy of Valhalla. Or maybe not - Odin can be a real bastard to those who serve him, they know it and accept it as His will. On the other hand, maybe I will die, and you can use this article as 'mitigating circumstances' at your trial.

The message is - don't confuse flower arranging with the Odinic path.

There is something else concerning attitudes to our religion that rankles. It is a seeming inability to actually state something sober and solemn without trying to 'soften' it with a smile or a joke. It gives what is being said a veneer of cynicism, a kind of worldly wise feeling of 'I am saying this and I know it sounds a bit earnest but let's not take it too seriously…'. The effect is that it negates or dilutes what is being said and makes it sound more like an apology than a statement of power.

A perfect example of correct behaviour that illustrates the antithesis of the above occurred when I was with my friend Nik Warrenson in Sweden looking at a rock carving depicting what was believed to be Odin. There were a couple of German tourists with whom we spoke, and Nik said in a straightforward deadpan manner "That is my God there".

No smile or jokey manner, just a straight telling of the truth.

I can all too readily imagine other Heathens in that situation coming out with "Hey, that's me old pal Odin there!". The inner sentiment might be the same, but the delivery would demean themselves, their religion and their Gods. And in case you are wondering, no, I am not smiling as I write this.

Do we have a religion or a hobby? If we answer 'religion' then there is nothing more important. It is not merely a factor in our lives, it is our lives and we should consciously treat it as such. If the answer is 'hobby' then, to put it bluntly, take your hobby elsewhere.

I'm tired of serving people who do not reciprocate, I'm tired of fair weather warriors, and I would rather stand with one true Heathen than any number of dilettantes, time wasters and those too embarrassed to state the truth of their beliefs without sugaring the pill for the audience.

Sooner or later we are all tested, whether by the Gods or by circumstance. When that day comes we stand firm - not one step back.

Dirk Bruere July 2003