Spiritual warrior. It’s a term I find occasionally in yoga magazines as well as New Age texts. You find it in Christian works as well, although it seems to mean something different there. Or does it?
I admit that I’ve never appreciated or really understood the term. In many contexts, it seems to indicate a person who ventures forth — in this case, “forth” means something internal rather than an actual physical direction — to confront spiritual challenges. These can be the stereotypical “shadow self,” ignorance or what-have-you; at the end of the day, the “demons” constitute whatever keeps one from a spiritual life, however that’s defined. Bad thoughts, bad actions, bad habits. A spiritual warrior’s weapons aren’t spears or halberds, but will, determination, a recognition of one’s weaknesses and vulnerabilities.
All this is well and good, but it doesn’t fit the definition of a warrior. The very term has “war” at its heart: conflict, a battle in which there are winners and losers, whether or not those winners and losers are clearly defined. It’s the idea that there are defined winners and losers in the first place.
War is conflict and hostility, whether with fists or fighter jets, words or bullets. It sets the tribe/self/”good guys” against the Other/outlaws/”bad guys” and is probably the core to the entire concept of hierarchical dualism. We like to say that the military is about “being all you can be,” but at the end of the day, such service often involves killing. All that training has a particular purpose.
This sure doesn’t sound like an appropriate spiritual metaphor to me, at least in the yogic and New Age circles. The Christian concept of spiritual warfare is closer, because it involves literally praying for the enemy’s defeat and death. I can see, in Pagan contexts, a spiritual warrior as one who practices battle magick — say, the priests and priestesses of Angelsey, who cast curses on the invading Romans.
In this example, spiritual warfare is a well-defined skill, probably seldom-used (at least I would hope).
Why do we insist on the warfare metaphor for spiritual endeavors outside that context, however?
My guess: It’s our culture, which privileges Dumezil’s second function. We valorize warriors. I use that term deliberately, since it’s about the government determining the value of a commodity artificially by buying it up or funding the producers. That is a good metaphor for how war is used in our culture. Our leaders beat the war drums, driving up the sound and the fury, because it’s a hell of a lot easier to kill and invade than do the dirty work of the farmer and provider, the nuturer and the parent, the teacher and the builder.
So, for something to have value, we speak the language of war. It means something difficult to attain, something that brings worth and value.
Why not “labor”? Both the labor of the birthing mother and the labor of the worker — farmer, builder, artist, musician. Labor implies tedium, but so much of anything valuable — spiritual or otherwise — is tedium. Spiritual work should be just that: work.
In closing — because I really do need to run out the door right now — I’m reminded of a different kind of spiritual personage, the anti-warrior, so to speak. The Druid walking out to the field of battle and shaking the bell branch, stopping warring armies. That’s the kind of working we need.