THE WARRIOR ARCHETYPE
I want to preface this by saying to anyone in the armed forces that feels I am minimising or misunderstanding their experience, that I openly admit to having no direct experience of being in armed conflict, nor would I ever claim to know its effects on the human mind and soul.
A FEW THOUGHTS
Before I speak to at the Warrior, I want to look at the word from which it derives, which informs my understanding of it. It was finished with a stash of old, near dead pens, because it needed to be born.
The word ‘war’ has an ancient and complex etymology. It originated from the Old English term “wyrre,” which was used to describe a state of hostility, conflict, or armed struggle, which in turn originated from a broader proto-Germanic and Proto-Indo-European root “*wers-” or “*werǝ-” meaning “to confuse” or “to mix up.”
The earliest concept of war was associated with a state of confusion, disorder, or tumult.
Does the evolution of the term reflect our understanding and experience of conflict throughout history? Or, while it is most definitely accurate to use the term conflict, are the states that those early words described, more applicable than we might think?
I would hazard a guess that when most people think of a warrior, they think of armed conflict and soldiers – battle, barbarity, bravery. But what is a warrior really? Certainly, those in the armed forces qualify without question, but if we think of the ancient definitions of war, maybe a warrior is anyone fighting or surviving states of conflict, confusion, disorder, or tumult. Anyone forced to survive unavoidable and hostile situations they do not fully comprehend.
The principle phrases that come to my mind when I think of the warrior are courage, honour, resilience and perseverance.
In pure military terms, naturally there are those eager to enter the fray and there always have been. But through the ages, I wonder if the majority of combatants were on the battlefield because it was a lifelong dream.
In my country, South Africa, men were conscripted into the army as soon as they left school, (until I was in high school in the 90’s), regardless of whether they believed in what they were fighting for (apartheid). I have yet to meet in person, a single man who did. The alternative was imprisonment, and I have yet to meet an ex-combatant of that conflict who did not have PTSD. And they never, ever spoke in depth about what really happened. In veiled references, I gathered what I could. From drunken and agonised recountings, I glimpsed splinters. But none of them ever really spoke in any detail or depth. No even to each other. They didn’t need to, one told me.
A survey quoted on QI, a show I quite enjoy, suggested that although extremely hard to quantify, some estimates suggest that as many as 50% of soldiers in WW1 and WW2 may have deliberately avoided shooting at the enemy or shot to miss on purpose, Studies of WW1 soldiers’ letters and diaries, for example, suggest that many soldiers were reluctant to kill, and often found ways to avoid doing so.
I will say two things very clearly: I am not an academic and am no expert in the field of battlefield psychology, and I abhor violence, so the views expressed here are not of an academic nature and the tilt of this missive is biased. What I do have is life experience, a lifetime of conversations with reluctant ex-soldiers, an insatiable curiosity about the human condition, and an interest in reading and learning.
I believe warriors come in more than one form, the obvious one being those in the armed forces I have mentioned – those who chose to brave danger as a way of life. The less obvious one being human beings who have repeatedly or for a prolonged period, had to endure and survive stress, conflict, confusion, disorder and disturbance. To me this means everything from actual military or political conflict, to bullying, chronic illness, discrimination, to outright psychological, emotional and physical abuse. People who have endured these conditions and survived and somehow learned to cope with the scars they carry. People who have over, and over again, picked themselves up off the battlefield and kept on marching, no matter what it took. And most often I’ve found, these most damaged of people, are also the kindest and most compassionate.
In Jung’s view, the warrior embodies the fundamental aspects of human psychology related to strength, courage, and the pursuit of justice. The archetype is a living-out of the hero’s journey, representing the individual’s quest for inner mastery and the ability to confront external challenges.
Strength and Courage: The Warrior archetype epitomises strength, be it physical, psychological or both. The courage required to confront external adversity and circumstance, as well as the internal struggles individuals face in their personal growth.
Structure and Honor: Warriors adhere to a code of conduct, reflecting discipline and honour. This archetype underscores the importance of ethical principles and integrity, both in external conflicts and the internal battle for self-realisation. To me this shows up in the people who have stayed true to themselves no matter what life has put them though.
“The hero is the one who conquers the dragon, not the one who is devoured by it.” ~ Carl Jung.
Protective Instincts: Warriors are often associated with protection, whether defending a community, loved ones, or principles. This protective instinct extends to the individual’s inner world, safeguarding values and beliefs.
Hero’s journey: The Warrior embarks on a heroic quest, symbolising the journey of self-discovery and mastery. This quest involves facing challenges, overcoming obstacles, and emerging transformed—a narrative echoed in various mythologies and epics.
The most common symbolism associated with the warrior are weaponry, such as swords or shields, armour for protection, battlefields, and other militaristic icons. I chose not to include too much in this regard, aside from the mask. Rather I chose a forward-moving figure, who despite substantial damage, still perseveres with determination.
Of the warrior, Jung said “…The warrior, the soldier of fortune, the dragon-slayer, are all types of the hero and are all projections of the hero-function of the unconscious, which is relatively unconscious, not immediately evident and not quite what people call ‘I.‘” ( “Man and His Symbols”)
The Warrior is, perhaps, the Hero, in action or survival mode.
I know so many warriors.