by Peggy Andreas
This is the first in my series of articles about Tribal Paths. The second is Path of the Sacred Clown and the third is Path of the Sacred Shaman.
“Hoka Hey!” exclaims the Sioux warrior riding into battle, “Today is a good day to die.” A true warrior dares to do the impossible. He/She dares death and respects death, both. A story about Native American warriors puts it this way, “Warriors live with death at their side, and from the knowledge that death is with them, they draw the courage to face anything. The worst that can happen to us is that we have to die, and since that is already our unalterable fate, we are free; those who have lost everything no longer have anything to fear.”1
The Path of the Sacred Warrior begins with the awareness that we are mortal beings, that we are going to die. Knowing this, we can see our lives in better perspective. Knowing this, we can act ALWAYS so that we will be able to die centered, beyond fear, at peace with what we have made from the stuff of our lives. The goal is to live our lives well in order to eventually die well, so that what is eternal about us (our Spirit?) will be set free. We must each come to terms with our own personal Deaths. For instance, I like to think that my body is offspring of an act of love between my Spirit and the Elemental world. I like to think that MY death will be a final consummation and bittersweet orgasmic consumption of that love!
The Sacred Warrior walks her path with her Death at her side. And her death makes herself available to the Sacred Warrior as an advisor, teacher, and friend. This relationship with her Death calls the Sacred Warrior to be who he/she truly is, to live her life fully and completely, to use the power-from-within. As Agnes Whistling Elk says in the story Medicine Woman, “You can only be dangerous when you accept your death. Then you become dangerous in spite of anything. You must learn to see the awake ones. A dangerous woman can do anything because he/she will do anything. A powerful woman is unthinkable because the unthinkable belongs to her. Everything belongs to her, and anything is possible.”2
In Native American lore, stories of warriors often reveal a childhood filled with inner turmoil and outward aggressiveness. Baby warriors are keen to explore the world and they don’t want anyone or anything to get in their way. They may fight with their siblings or test the parents mercilessly. Warriors often seem to have come into life with an excess of energy. Their temperaments are fiery; their wills, strong. A young warrior who is thwarted in her physical expression will almost certainly compensate with surplus mental or emotional energy.
The story of the Tewa Cottonwood Warchief, Pohaha, illustrates this theme. Always angry when young, she rebelled when coaxed to do domestic work. Finally, her tribe consented to let her go to battle, where she distinguished herself mightily. After that, it was said, her constant anger disappeared and “she became a good woman.”3 Her name, Pohaha, means “wet-between-the-legs-ha-ha” because of her habit of pulling up her dress to taunt her enemies with the fact that she was a woman! Eventually, the great Pohaha was elected “Warchief” by the elders. As War Chief, she would have to lead her people against enemies, protect them from sickness and treat them as her children. She took her charge seriously; and when she died, she left her mask and said it would represent her even if she was dead. “I will be with you all the time,” she told her tribe, “The mask is me.”4 The Cottonwood people keep her mask, and tell her story, to this day.
A young warrior is hard to control. But once that warrior is trusted with a challenging task, he/she is on her way to SELF-CONTROL. Native Americans begin the warrior-training with hunting lessons, along with basic wilderness-survival skills. They teach the young hunter a respect for his “prey.” They show the young one that to learn from one’s Death (the Ultimate Huntress), one needs to develop humility, patience, and an ability to keep a clear head—or, at least, to clear one’s head, fast! The wilderness-survival training is a good idea for a Sacred Warrior—it gives her a true knowledge of her world, and of her relationship to it. It gives her Nature as her first Opponent. He/She learns that one cannot “compete” with such a powerful Opponent. Yet he/she also learns that this Opponent is a mirror to her own heart, and as such deserves respect and, even, love. From this realization, he/she goes on to learn self-defense and self-reliance.
Obviously, this is a path of courage. Native Americans call their warriors “Braves” for a reason. The more courage one showed, the more honored the warrior! “Braves” (both female and male) who rode into battle did not seek to kill the opposition. It was considered much braver to humiliate (“count coup on”) the opposition by getting close enough to simply touch, or to capture the opposition’s ceremonial pipe, war bonnet, shield or bow.5 To kill another warrior was considered a dubious accomplishment. To kill “innocents” was considered cowardly. In ancient days, it is said that great warriors would not attack a camp, but would enter and be welcomed. They would be put up in the “enemy tipi” to rest and be fed. Then all the young warriors of the camp would come to challenge the great warrior, hoping to “count coup” but usually just lucky to hold their own. No doubt they received a few lessons in the holding.
“Capturing” (what we might call “stealing”) became one of the greatest warrior feats. Since there was no idea of property, it was more like “reclaiming.” This is where the White insult of “Indian-giver” originated. Entities (like horses) or places (like a forest or a plain) could not be “owned” by anyone; therefore they belonged to those who took care of them.
In the modern world, our battles are usually fought in somewhat different arenas. Many writers and re-claimers of Herstory are Sacred Warriors, realizing that “The pen is mightier than the sword”. “Say you were a writer and you decided to pick Anaïs Nin as your worthy opponent. You tried to beat her in creativity and ideas. In a sense, you would use her to see yourself. You don’t want her to fail—you would lose your model. What does a medicine person want you to do? They want to give away to you until you have power so that you can become a worthy opponent to another worthy warrior.”6 What IS opposition, anyway? This question is central to the Sacred Warrior’s Path. It does NOT involve contempt. It is wasteful to feel contempt for people or other entities. A Native American warrior speaking to a group of White Americans put it this way, “You people have such anger and fear and contempt for your so-called criminals that your crime rate goes up and up. Your society has a high crime rate because it is in a perfect position to receive crime. You should be working WITH these people, not in opposition to them. The idea is to have contempt for crime, not for people. It’s more useful to think of every individual as another YOU—to think of every individual as a representative of the universe. Even the worst criminal in life imprisonment sitting in his cell—the center of him is the same seed, the seed of the whole creation.”7
So what is the feeling that the Sacred Warrior cultivates within onesself? Detachment is important. “Everyone who wants to follow the warrior’s path has to rid herself of fixation: the compulsion to possess and hold onto things.”7 It is easy to see that walking with one’s Death at one’s side can help one remember that “you can’t take it with you.” Besides, a fluid warrior needs to be free of burdens, needs to be free to think clearly, and move at a moment’s notice. He/She also needs to be able to live in the present. In order to cultivate detachment, a warrior develops her sense of humor and a great sense of resourcefulness. These become her shields. She can feel her strong and passionate emotions and then let them pass THROUGH her. She can laugh at herself.
But there is a danger in detachment. A warrior can become so self-reliant that she becomes arrogant and uncompromising. She becomes incapable of compassion. What brings the “sacredness” to the path of the Sacred Warrior is LOVE. To the Sacred Warrior, Love is felt when the heart is open. Great warriors are said to have great hearts, and even the strongest, most skilled, most dangerous warrior becomes Sacred when she puts herself in service (as a Guardian or a Champion) to a child, a needy group, a holy place, a worthy task. MOST of all, the Sacred Warrior is at the service of those who truly require her. She does this not for them, but for herself. Her love and service are free, without attachment or expectation—unconditional. She knows, perhaps more than anyone else, that to truly love is the most dangerous and most daring act a Sacred Warrior can perform. An Apache maiden, Lozen, became a powerful and respected warrior. Expert in riding and roping, she was always able to bring back enemy horses. She was dedicated to helping her people. It is said that once she found herself alone in enemy territory with a young mother and her baby. She spent several gruelling months leading them to safety, when she could have just as easily rode away by herself. As she matured in her compassion, she began to develop the uncanny ability to determine the location of the enemy, and became a welcome voice at tribal strategy meetings.9 Throughout Native American lore, there are many such stories of big-hearted Braves. While they are much admired and honored for their hunting, fighting, and survival skills, they are even more respected and loved for their compassion and kindness.
In the past, Sacred Warriors battled for the protection and survival of their tribes, and for personal satisfaction. This is still true, but in our Age, the definition of “tribe” can vary. The Sacred Warrior who travels on “A path with a heart” must find her own sacred battlefield. The fight may be for justice, or peace, or respect—whether personally or publicly. Many Sacred Warriors fulfil the Native American prophecy of the “Warriors of the Rainbow” that says, “When the Earth is sick and dying, all over the world people will rise up as Warriors of the Rainbow to save the planet.”10 This prophecy is furthered by the words of a modern Native American/Eskimo who says, “Great are the tasks ahead, terrifying are the mountains of ignorance and hate and prejudice, but the Warriors of the Rainbow shall rise as on the wings of the eagle to surmount all difficulties. They will be happy to find that there are now millions of people all over the earth ready and eager to rise and join them in conquering all barriers that bar the way to a new and glorious world! We have had enough now of talk. Let there be deeds.”11
- Quote from Don Juan, Yaqui Medicine Man, from The Fire From Within by Carlos Casteneda, 1984, Pocket Books, Simon & Schuster, Inc., NY.
- Agnes Whistling Elk, from Lynn Andrews’ book Medicine Woman, 1981, Harper & Row, NY.
- From the book Daughters of the Earth by Carolyn Niethammer, 1977, MacMillan Publishing Co., NY.
- Indians of North America by Geoffrey Turner, 1977, Blandford Press.
- Agnes Whistling Elk, from Medicine Woman.
- Mad Bear, from Rolling Thunder by Doug Boyd, 1974, Dell Publishing Company.
- La Gorda, quoted from Carlos Casteneda’s book, The Second Ring of Power, 1977, Simon & Schuster, NY.
- Daughters of the Earth, Niethammer.
- Greenpeace literature.
- William Willoya, Warriors of the Rainbow: Strange and Prophetic Dreams of the Indians, 1962, Naturegraph Publishers, P.O. Box 1075, Happy Camp, CA 96039.
Peggy Andreas wrote this article in 1995 and was first circulated on the newsgroup alt.religion.shamanism.