Wednesday, June 9, 2010

The Peaceful Warrior: Pagan Pacifism Without Excuse (Part 2)

Pagan Values Month '10Vulnerability, Individuality and Interdependence

Contemporaries of the Celts reported them as being strongly independent, and many of the heroic tales passed down to current day describe courageous individuals who choose a life of glory and accomplishment to be remembered down the ages, rather than an unremarkable life of longevity and quiet. Cu Chulainn, the quintessential Celtic warrior-hero, makes just this choice when he overhears a prophecy that the young man to take up arms that day would become the most famous hero in Erin; the eager young hero then proceeds to test out, and break, every piece of weaponry in the land until the king himself must offer him his own spear and war chariot.[6] At first glance, such stories might seem to support the notion that the ancient Celts were hungry for conflict and the accolades that could be earned, that they were downright scornful of peace and "easy living." But other well-documented aspects of Celtic culture suggest another interpretation, perhaps no more true than this first but more relevant to today's world.

courtesy of Eden-lys, via flickrThe emphasis that the Celts put on the head, as the seat of the individual soul, is evidenced both in myths (such as the prophesying heads of Sualtam and Conall Cernach, and the severed head of Bran the Blessed which brought comfort to his comrades and protection to his land) and in archeological finds of skulls kept in places of reverence or display. Celtic warriors did not collect the heads of slain enemies merely as trophies to exhibit their battle-prowess; rather, it seems they preserved only the heads of those fellow warriors for whom they had respect and admiration, friends and enemies alike.[7] This practice suggests that the reverence for the head is tied intimately to the honor or value of the individual, the other. Myth supports this interpretation with stories of enemies meeting and exchanging compliments about the weaponry and skills of the other, and of brothers or old friends who must face each other on the battlefield, often sorrowing over their conflict brought about by some misunderstanding. The story of how Cu Chulainn comes to kill his son Connla through the tragedy of mistaken identity is especially curious, and may communicate a lesson about the importance of individuality and the uncertainty of otherness.[6] In a society that valued face-to-face honor so highly,[5, 7] reverence and respect for the individual played a clear role in what it meant to be a warrior, and yet we understand today that violence itself rejects or negates this reverence — leaving us with the challenge of how to reconcile such violence with a genuine commitment to honor.

Another rather remarkable aspect of Celtic warriorship is the depiction of warriors and war gods — both in myth and iconography — as naked and exposed, engaging in battle equipped only with sword and shield, and sometimes helmet.[2, 3, 7] In our modern world, the very idea of waging war without the complicated trappings of tanks and armor, "smart bombs" and satellite surveillance is simply bizarre, self-defeating. Even metaphorical nakedness or exposure is considered impractical, almost blasphemous. In ancient Celtic society, however, it seems more emphasis was placed on the terrifying demeanor of each opposing army — complete with painted or tattooed bodies, dyed hair or horned helmets, whirling spears, shimmering shields, and screaming, chanting and the blaring of horns — than on the efficacy of their weaponry alone. War gods were depicted nude, an erect phallus evocative of this animated battle frenzy and the thriving life-force from which it sprang.[3] Even contemporaries of the ancient Celts found their wild nakedness baffling, an example of their basic savagery.[1, 4] In myth, the nakedness of warriors is rarely a central theme, though several stories tell of warriors who dilate to enormous size or burn with the physical heart of battle fury and must be doused in cold water to restore them to themselves.[6] It is easy to imagine why, with such images of the warrior, clothes might be considered a restriction to be burst through or even burned off.

Yet even in ancient society, nudity must have also evoked a kind of vulnerability, the bareness of skin exposed to the elements as well as the blade of the sword. Without armor or even tunic to clothe each warrior in visual uniformity, their bodies displayed their individual physical strengths, but also were unable to hide potential weaknesses. Here we see that essential relationship between individuality and vulnerability, where the experience of unique other-ness is also an experience of risk, and the expression of difference also a potential revelation of weakness or uncertainty. Hand in hand with the Celts' emphasis on individual honor and reverence for other-ness in foe and friend, is the acknowledgement that to do so leaves us vulnerable. But rather than deny this vulnerability or seek to escape it, the Celtic warrior puts it on display and revels in its, embracing it as a powerful revelation of fearlessness. This relationship between vulnerability and fearlessness rears its head again, so to speak, in the ithyphallic iconography of war gods, where the sensitive penis is also a symbol of vitality and fertility, the life-force pushing its way into manifestation despite potentially difficult or hostile environments. The fact that the Roman war god Mars adopted by the Celts in later times was often adapted to or associated with gods of wilderness and forests, such as Cocidius and Esus, seems to support this view.[2, 7]

Perhaps the most fascinating, and pertinent, of these nude war gods is the Sky-Warrior, a figure found throughout the Romano-Celtic world. The deity depicted was usually a Celtic version of the Roman ruler-god Jupiter, king of the gods of the Greco-Roman pantheon. Wielding a lightning-like weapon and placed atop high columns as though reaching up towards his proper celestial realm, his iconography differs from the classic Roman depiction, however, in that he is portrayed as a warrior on horseback and very often (though not always) as naked and ithyphallic.[2, 3] Horses were themselves strongly associated with the sun, the realm of the sky and the heavens, as well as with warfare, and sometimes the Sky-Warrior is portrayed along with a spoked wheel evocative of solar associations.[3] In many of these depictions, the Sky-Warrior, proudly astride his rearing steed, rides down some kind of monster or giant with exaggerated, grotesque features and serpents for arms.

Encapsulated in this iconography is an incredibly interesting pairing of animals associated with the solar/celestial and the telluric/underworld realms, as well as anthropomorphic figures evoking the same duality. At first glance, the iconography of the Sky-Warrior looks to be that of the powers of order and light overcoming the powers of chaos and darkness.[2, 3] This in itself tells us something about the Celtic notion of warriorship, with its emphasis on honor, individuality and vulnerability expressing itself through images of protection and victory over forces of destruction and irreverent violence. But closer examination, of a few specific examples of Sky-Warrior figures in particular, suggests that the horse-riding deity is not merely trampling down the monster/giant, but is also in some ways upheld or supported by him.[3] Certainly, the serpent did not have purely negative connotations in the ancient Celtic world, but also represented earthy wisdom and energies and was even at times connected to the protection of warriors.[3,7] It is just possible that the Sky-Warrior figures were meant to evoke a more complex, intimate relationship of interconnection between life and death, creation and destruction. Such an interpretation makes sense in light of Julius Caesar's report that the Gauls went so recklessly into battle because they did not fear death, believing instead in a very real reincarnation or rebirth of the soul.[1, 4] Whether this rebirth occurred in this world or some Otherworld is not exactly clear; but regardless, the interweaving of light and dark, order and chaos, life and death is an important theme found both in ancient Celtic society as well as modern Druidry today.

A Celtic Model for Practical Pacifism

courtesy of jonathanb1989, via flickrWith only this brief look at Celtic mythology and iconography, we can already see the beginnings of a viable philosophy of practical peaceful warriorship, rooted in ancestral wisdom but also responsive to the needs of today. When we draw on these three elements of the Celtic worldview — vulnerability, individuality and interdependence — to guide our understanding of pacifism and its potential role in our everyday lives, we see several definite themes emerge. Honesty, gentleness and creativity, among others, all take on deeper meanings when we view them not merely as moral qualities or personality quirks, but as vital manifestations of fearlessness.

The Celtic emphasis on nakedness, for instance, may serve as a reminder of the value of making oneself naked, not only physically in intimate or sacred contexts, but also metaphorically in quite ordinary situations. By revealing our nakedness, we accept our own essential fragility, the delicate beauty of our being. With this vulnerability in mind, we can learn to relinquish our clinging need to construct elaborate defenses, accepting our eventual bodily destruction as a natural and fitting dissolution back into the receptive earth. This willingness to embrace death and cessation is itself perhaps the biggest and most important step we can take towards remedying a culture of control. The challenge of learning to be vulnerable with each other demands a daily commitment, always asking us to strive for honesty and flexibility but also teaching us to respect the natural boundaries of others and treat one another with gentleness. We can begin this process immediately, in our daily interactions with coworkers, family members and friends. Practical pacifism takes root in our everyday lives long before it begins to manifest on the larger social and political level. But eventually, remembering our nakedness and honoring the nakedness of others, we find ourselves moving through our lives with grace in harmony with the currents of peace.

Remembering our nakedness is also a way of revealing ourselves to ourselves — shedding our self-justifications and excuses and cultivating an attitude of fearlessness towards ourselves as well as towards the world. When we seek our naked selves, we are also seeking our individuality — the sacred spirit the Celts located in the head — in all its flaws and weaknesses as well as its strengths and skills. We learn to acknowledge places of resistance that keep us from living up to our ideals of peace-making. Even when we understand, for instance, that eating animal flesh can be done honorably and with reverence in theory, we can also admit when we are simply making excuses for our appetites, laziness or even our sense of helplessness by indulging in that fastfood burger in spite of our knowledge that it is the product of the abusive, environmentally-devastating meat industry. Rather than turn our backs on these limits and failings, we can face them in our nakedness and learn to work to overcome them. We can watch ourselves with sharp insight and honesty, and learn to judge our motives, to know better when we are dishonoring or showing irreverence (that is, doing violence) to others. In this way, we cultivate a deep-seated integrity that strengthens us in our resolve as well as giving us the self-knowledge that will render our efforts at peace-making more practical, grounded in the reality of our individual needs and abilities.

Our individuality also leads us to appreciate Awen, or inspiration, as the "fire in the head" which can aid us in finding peaceful, honorable alternatives to violence. When we feel helpless or overwhelmed, caught between two bad choices, we can strive to cultivate our sense of that divine creativity, standing strong in our vulnerable integrity and commitment. We can make new paths, create new options and opportunities where none existed before. Rather than settling for "the lesser of two evils," our inspiration sheds light on the world around us and illuminates new possibilities. We can sing, make art, tell stories and express our individuality in many ways that serve as peaceful protests against the mainstream values of our violent, controlling culture, but that also create new meanings and make new myths about our place in the world. Awen, that gift of divine inspiration and creativity, that "fire in the head" that illumines and animates as well as inspires, is also a reminder that, like the Sky-Warrior and the monster who supports him, we are all interconnected through our story-telling and peace-making. Our destruction of the old mythologies of control and fear make room for new stories about who we are and how we can live together in reverence, and these new stories can embrace both dark and light, life and death, as valuable and beautiful when they support each other in a cyclical dance between the celestial and the earthly.

When we apply the same passionate fearlessness to our commitments to peace and nonviolence that our ancestors brought to the literal wars they waged, we work to create not only a more livable world for all of us, but a world in which our ancient spiritual ways can find new relevance and meaning. We can embrace mystery and uncertainty as holding within them the potential for true creativity and infinite opportunities for courage and beauty as well as strength and grace. We can celebrate the coming darkness, the winter's wandering fingers reaching chill over the hills and rooftops, as a reminder that order and life must always give way again to entropy and death, and that we can participate willingly in this dance, lighting our own lights in the darkness. We can respond to destruction with new creativity, and to violence with a fearless peace rooted deeply in the present moment.

This essay originally appeared in Sky Earth Sea: A Journal of Practical Spirituality, Winter 2009. Many thanks to my editors, Paige Varner and Bob Patrick, for their encouragement and feedback. The essay in its entirety now appears as a permanent page, and can be accessed at any time by clicking the Pagan Pacifism button just below the header of this blog.

References and Citations

[1] Ellis, Peter Berresford. The Druids. Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1994.

[2] Green, Miranda. The Gods of the Celts. Gloucestershire: Sutton Publishing Limited, 2004.

[3] —. Symbol and Image in Celtic Religious Art. London: Routledge, 1989.

[4] Hutton, Ronald. Blood and Misteltoe: The History of the Druids in Britain. Padstow, Cornwall: Yale University Press, 2009.

[5] Orr, Emma Restall. Living with Honour: A Pagan Ethics. Ropley, Hants: O Books, 2007.

[6] Rolleston, T.W. Celtic Myths and Legends. New York: Dover Publications, Inc., 1990.

[7] Ross, Anne. Pagan Celtic Britain: Studies in Iconography and Tradition. Chicago, Illinois: Academy Chicago Publishers, 1996.


  1. Your path is the path of diplomacy and I certainly respect that as a first line approach to any conflict. That is the wise path, as is the path of civil disobedience, which I also detect in undertones of your statement. Those are noble and courageous approaches to the situation and there is evidence to suggest that the druids tried those avenues of approach in dealing with the oncoming storm of the roman empire overtaking the world as they knew it. I'm sure they tried those approaches.

    However, it's apparent that the celts and especially the druids also understood the value and the wisdom and bringing it to bear upon your enemy. When words fall on deaf ears and diplomacy and civil means of resistance to authority are clearly not effective what other choice do you have? When the romans are slowly taking over your world or when they declare war and outlaw your way of life do you step aside and allow them to burn down your sacred groves?

    Do you put down your oak laurel and sickle and take up the crucifix as the symbol of your faith just to appease the roman masters? How far does pacifism take you down the path of becoming someone's subject before you decide it's worthwhile to take up arms to defend your way of life?

    I in no way say this as an attack, just that this is not in any way the approach the historic druids took. They went down screaming, raging in fact according to roman accounts. Current archeological evidence even suggests that they may have even resorted to cannibalism in a desperate effort to empower their rituals to help defeat the romans.

    One could argue that their violence didn't help them in the end, but I'm sure it bought them at least a little time before they were wiped off the isle of Anglesey. In the end, the romans burned that too, but if given the choice between either pacifism to slavery or pacifism to the point of just letting them wipe out your way of life I have to go with option 3 and die with a sword in my hand.

    Your argument somehow implies that a pacifistic non-violent approach has some kind of moral superiority to taking up arms against your foes. Basing your pacifistic views off of historic celtic accounts is completely forsaking the spirit of the people (celts) to meet your own political and ethical ideals. If that's what your druidry means to you, then let it mean to you, but understand that that is NOT what historic druidry was.

    The celtic people were a beautiful culture and the druids represented the height of their wisdom and teaching, but even the druids were warriors. The druids were exempt from military service but they at times even settled their own disputes as to who would lead the druidic order by combat.

    The druids understood and revered nature. They studied it. They understood that nature and survival can be and often is a savage thing. The celts were a savage people when threatened. I don't see how you can base any stance in pacifism on the teachings of a people who routinely relished in warfare, bloodshed, the taking of heads and even human sacrifice (admittedly mainly of criminals).

    You might as well be using the christian bible to preach that christ (who was not a pacifist, he took up a whip to the money changers in the temple) was a one legged gypsey from nantucket :)

    with much love and respect (seriously, i respect you, just don't agree with you)

  2. Merddyn,

    As I address in Part One of this two-part essay, this is in no way an attempt to claim that the Druids and Celts of history were peaceful or nonviolent. On the other hand, I appreciate and follow in the footsteps of people like Gandhi, Trungpa and many Christian leaders such as King, who understand that to seek the qualities that might lead to peace in an admittedly violent past is a way of honoring that past, and learning from it, without repeating its mistakes.

    I would not say that pacifism is "morally superior," but yes, I do believe that in many ways it has more ethical integrity. To defend a way of life through violence is to already have lost it, to forsake it for some abstract "cause" or out of fear of a future which does not yet exist, to put that way of life temporarily "on hold" while we commit violent acts, until we feel safe enough to return to it. To defend a way of life through the peaceful, honorable living of that life even in the face of threat, on the other hand, is to preserve that way of life quite effectively. We see this in the history of China, which suffered invasion after invasion, and yet after each, the newest "conquerers" soon found themselves adopting the culture and ways of those they had conquered. Likewise, the Celts living in Ireland converted relatively peacefully to the Christian religion, and as a result Ireland remains one of the strongholds of Celtic culture to this day, a place where the old stories were preserved by those very Christian monks, and passed down through folk tales among the common people; indeed, many people today think of "Celtic" as synonymous with "Irish" even amongst the Pagan community. On the other hand, as you well point out, the violent rebellion against Roman invasion did the Celts in other areas very little good, but gave Romans an excuse to view them as savages worthy only of extermination. Do I admire the fearlessness and love of one's people that led to this violence? Yes. Does that mean I believe such violence was used effectively to "save" the Celts, or that it can be used to "save" us today? No.

    But in the end, the difference between the pacifist view and the view that accepts the use of violence is a radical shift in understanding the real goal of how we live our lives. Violence seeks to exert control over others, even if it is used in self-defense. But the philosophy of pacifism asserts that peace is a goal worthy in and of itself, not for what it can accomplish, not because of what it can make others do, but because of how it transforms you as a person, and the way it asks you to live your life, right here and now. It asserts that, like love, honor and gratitude, peace is not a means to an end, but an end in itself, and to act peacefully even in the face of your own destruction is a worthy cause. Violence is a means to some other end, disconnected from it except through force and manipulation; it is not creative, it cannot bring about a way of life, it can only preserve what already exists or destroy what it does not like. Peace-making has an integrity that violence, by definition, cannot have, for it is the active engagement with and creation of the way of life that violence only claims to fight for.

    I outline the reasons for why I think peace-making is so absolutely vital in the first part of this series. I cannot state it any more clearly than that (or, if I can, it will be some other time, where I have more room). If you do not find those reasons compelling, that's another issue entirely. I am not here to argue history, but to rise to the challenge of learning a better way to live for today.

  3. I've got to side with Merddy on this - if you're going to try to take a piece of history and learn from it, learn from the entire picture - not just the bits and pieces of it that might fit your political or personal beliefs. The Celts are among the last groups that I would consider in a pacifist model. I'm not as well-versed on them as Merddy is, but I do know they were very well known for some serious savagery when the situation called for it. This would be akin to justifying someone's anorexia by comparing it to the spiritual fasting of Ghandi....I know that's a bit extreme, but in a way it's not....

  4. Anonymous -- I think Ali's made it pretty clear that she's under no illusions that the Celts were pacifists, or even particularly peaceful. She is going down under the surface of violence to the values and philosophy underneath that.

    And yes, let's take your advice and learn from the whole picture -- let's learn from the Celts' warriorship as well as their peacefulness. Where are the Celts today? What did their warriorship buy them? They were almost wiped out -- their lands taken, their beliefs suppressed, their languages almost extinguished. Certainly their military tactics did them little good. What's left today -- their culture, ethos, art, philosophy -- has held on *despite* their warriorship, not because of it.

  5. Ali, please understand that while i respect the ideals of pacisfism I simply don't think they're practical in a daily world.

    I do feel like you have your thumb on the heartbeat of what I feel is druidry, both then and now. That's exactly why i'm using some of your material as reading assignments in my own druidry 101 course.

    My real concern here though is that despite your disclaimer in part one of the series some new impressionable reader just beginning to explore the field of druidry will read your stylized interpretation of celtic history and think that what you portray in the above article is historical fact. That concerns me a great deal simply because your writing is so fluent and powerful.

    I would feel a lot better about this piece if you had some kind of disclaimer on the page stating yet again that this is your interpretation and inspiration for pacifism and that you recognize that the celts, and in fact the druids were quite violent and considered that the norm.

    By all means, we are each entitled to our inspirations where ever we can find them, but when our inspirations are diametrically opposed to the events and ideals that inspired them it's bound to cause some serious confusion. I don't want historic druidry misrepresented anymore than I would like to see your interpretation of what druidry means to you misrepresented.

  6. Merddy,
    I believe Ali is attempting to write from Druidry as a living religious tradition. And living religions change and grow in response to the guidance given them by the realm of Spirit and by their understanding of history.

    You may disagree with Ali's conclusions about what a Celtic heroism demands of us in an age of such vast and potentially ecocidal violence as our own, but I hope you are not advocating for a static, unchanging Druidry, that can have no response to the modern world save one an ancient Celt, disoriented and transplanted into our century, would have. We do know that Celtic religion changed during its contacts with other cultures, such as that of Rome; that the ancient Druids were capable of learning and adapting, and transforming their teachings as a result.

    We, too, should be resilient as a people, if we are to properly honor their legacy. Ali is not pretending that the ancient Celts were pacifists. But neither is it her job, I think, in order to make you more comfortable, to write from the perspective of a static and un-adaptable ancient Celtic religion only. Having made clear what the roots are in a clearly linked previous essay, it is probably less important to guard against careless readers and thinkers (can anyone adequately guard against such readers in any case?) as it is to advance a potential new interpretation of ancient traditions--new growth on the ancient rootstocks, that may be more useful in a modern world.

    Druidry is not--and should not be--a museum piece, however well-researched its best writing may be.

  7. Merddy, I'm not sure what kind of disclaimer you're hoping for. If you want some indication that this post is only one in a series, then it is indicated in the title itself, as well as at the end, with a link to the entire essay as a whole.

    If, on the other hand, you want some kind of disclaimer stating that what I have written is baseless conjecture... you're not going to get it. My interpretation and analysis may not be a common one, but it is based on historical and archeological evidence, for which I provide pretty exhaustive citations and references throughout the essay. I do not anywhere claim that the ancient Celts were not violent — rather, I analyze patterns in their worldview that expressed themselves in their war and warriorship (but also in other ways, such as through their art and religious worship). I then explore what insight these themes and patterns can give us today; I do so in a separate section entirely, and I think it's clear from the piece that this is my own interpretation. That it is a new theory borne of my own contemplation of the material, rather than merely repeated from a book, is I think a mark in favor of the essay rather than a drawback.

    As a writer, my task is to make a compelling argument for my particular perspective, supported by citations to historical evidence. My task is not to compensate for a potential reader's lack of critical thinking skills by watering down my writing. All of my factual claims about ancient Celtic society come from the texts I referenced. Some scholars have made even bolder claims (for instance, Jean Markale, who claims that the "battles" of Celtic mythology were metaphors for poetic sparring between skilled Bards — even I find this a bit of a stretch in light of the physical evidence), but I stuck with the evidence provided by scholars widely-recognized for their expertise and reliability.

    My intent was never to prove that ancient Celtic society was not violent, and much of the evidence I cite illustrates the exact opposite. Rather, the point of this essay was to show how we can find the seeds of peace even in the most violent times. If we can find such seeds in the ancient Celtic past (and I could have chosen Norse, Greco-Roman or Egyptian culture, if that had been my particular interest, but I have ties both through heritage and tradition to the Celts), then we can find them today.

  8. Cat, You put it very well when you wrote that the intent of this essay was "to advance a potential new interpretation of ancient traditions--new growth on the ancient rootstocks, that may be more useful in a modern world." Precisely! Thank you! :)

  9. Cat, I certainly would not advocate any philosophical tradition that freezes itself in any state or time. In fact, I have my own pet theory that's also shared by others that one of the reasons the druids never wrote anything down was because they understood the importance of always having a fluid, living faith. It's also a lot harder to argue with a druid when he's the only one who has the laws/knowledge memorized :)

    I'm all for re-interpretations of original mythologies. Just pop over to my own website or google prismatic druidry and you'll find that I started to found a tradition of universal unitarian druidry myself. That is widely deviant from historical fact. But at the same time I gave that tradition a unique name to set it apart from the rest of druidic tradition. I made it clear that this was my interpretation/reinvention of druidry. I'm ok with that because I see it as a distinctly separate variety of druidry.

    I recognize that Ali is essentially doing the same thing here in this blog, but it disturbs me that it's so wildly different in tone from what historical druidry was. I suppose i should just chalk it up to anyone with more than 3 brain cells to rub together should be able to figure out that she is not trying to represent herself (in pacifism) as historically accurate. Anyone who reads any book on the subject should be able to figure that out. If they can't, well, I'm not sure I'd want them as a student of druidry either.

    You're right ali, critical thinking is implied here. I guess all the years of working in the academic realm have conditioned me to spoon-feed information to people and just pray it sparks off an original thought at some point. If you want to do that to someone who would like to wear the mantle of of druid then the whole movement is in a shit-load of trouble. :)

  10. Merddy, Honestly, at this point I'm starting to wonder if your bias against pacifism is actually clouding your understanding of the post. I went back and reread this post in its entirety, just to be sure I wasn't completely off base. That you characterize what I have written as "wildly different" from what has been recorded in other sources on the ancient Celts seems to strike me as strange, especially if you consider only the section in which I directly reference the scholarly sources (which is most relevant to that objection). Would you be more specific in where you think I have misstated the historical and archeological evidence (by which I mean, can you quote specific sentences)? If you can, I might be able to refer you to the passages from the original texts I used.

    If modern Druidry cannot find room in it for peace-making and nonviolence, then that would worry me. However, I'm a member of both AODA and OBOD (the latter being the largest Druidic organization in the world, if I remember right) both of which emphasize cultivation of "inner" peace as well as commitment to social justice. If you think my characterization of modern Druidry is dishonest in this way... I think maybe you've just been hanging out with the wrong Druids.

  11. P.S. From what I remember of my own academic training, it's not generally accepted practice to dismiss an argument just because you do not like its conclusions.

  12. You're thoughts draw me to consider the nakedness of Jesus, the peaceful warrior, as he died on the cross. Pacifism involves an inversion of values, of recognizing vulnerability as strength.

  13. Matt - Yes, a very good insight. And so eloquently and simply stated. :)

    I remember reading (a while back) in a book on Christian Hermeticism and the Tarot, about the "Hanged Man" card of the Major Arcana representing a kind of inversion, a "change in gravity" so that one's center feels drawn towards the "heavenly" rather than the "earthly." Of course, such an interpretation relies on an association with "earthly" as "bad" in some respects, but the idea of inversion or reversal is much the same in many traditions. You also find it throughout many Christian teachings - the first will become last, the meek will inherit the earth, etc.

    In various ancient pagan traditions, you have a similar concept of inversion or reversal, especially among "shamanic" figures. Various heroes and gods have been torn limb from limb, or hung upside-down from a tree, for instance. Many experience a form of illness or death as a kind of self-sacrifice, a wounding that initiates the shamanic figure into the Mysteries of healing and crossing the thresholds between life and death, creation and destruction. The vulnerability of the "sacred wound" or the disintegration of spiritual or literal death has a similar effect, of turning the world of ordinary consciousness on its head and profoundly altering one's perspective.

    You have given me a lot to contemplate. :) In fact, you may have just sparked another blog post!