"Live your questions now, and perhaps even without knowing it, you will live along some distant day into your answers. "
-Rainer Maria Rilke

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Devotion is a Warrior's Art

by Galina Krasskova

In the desert of my heart You came.
Lady of fire, You stripped me bare.
With fire and searing heat You opened me,
Implacable One.
Mighty Warrior Goddess,
You have devoured me,
torn the flesh from the withered reliquary of my heart,,
gnawed at the battered bones of my spirit.
You have nourished Yourself on my pain
until I could not run,
could not flee,
could not beg, or plead, or cry.
And in doing so,
You have gifted me
with wholeness.

I have always been attracted to the warrior arts. It is a deeply ingrained passion that over the years honed me and honed my spirituality. Picking up a sword for the first time when I began my study of Iaido as an adult was like coming home. Closing my hands around a Glock 9mm when first learning to shoot even more so. There is a peace in the warrior’s abode, a calm serenity unsought after, unexpected that comes as a natural consequence of the discipline and intensely powerful focus needed for mastery of these arts. Not for me when I became Pagan the Maiden, Mother or Crone. No, I instinctively knew myself to be drawn to a far different type of Goddess.

From the very beginning, I sought out Warrior Goddesses: Sekhmet, Kali, Morrigan (especially Sekhmet)—Goddesses who revel in the bringing of death at weapons edge, at conquering the knife edge terror of impending mortality, of tempering the chaotic playground of one’s emotions and of living a life of single-minded purpose; Goddesses who understood violence and the unrelenting mastery of it. Of course, in those days—easily 15 years ago—no one really spoke of the war-Goddesses. It was a verboten subject as though the path of the warrior was diametrically opposed to any spiritual path at all. For me it was never so. For me, it was an ongoing path of harsh clarity. Of course, I learned very early on that not everything that is harsh is bad.

I was taken up by Sekhmet very early on in my Fellowship of Isis days, eventually becoming Her priestess. Eventually, She led me to Odin and Loki and handed over the reins if you will, but even so, She will always and forever remain my Mother. Her lessons were harsh and Her training implacable. In many respects, She readied me not only for Odin but for the work that He would have me to. She made me a warrior, broke and honed me and I emerged the better for it. Every night for a year I prayed to Sekhmet. I prayed that She burn me, purify me, strip me of everything that might interfere with my spirituality. I prayed that She make of me the most useful of tools. (That is a secret most warriors won’t think to tell: the highest compliment we can give is this: to say one has been of use). She took me at my word. I discovered rather quickly that it is one thing to pray to a Goddess or God. There is no necessary responsibility in the mere utterance of words. There is hope. There is wishing. There may be commitment but if one’s prayer is not immediately answered it is easy enough to back away, safely, secure in one’s own world. But when one receives a definite answer that entire world shatters. Nothing is ever the same again.

Sekhmet destroyed me.

She took an impulsive child and stripped me bear. She made of that child a devotee and a priest. She readied my heart for devotion, for service, for love. She took from me my profession, my apartment, those around me who had been friends and spiritual guides. She left me barren and bereft and anguished. And I am grateful. She took me to a place of desolation so profound that I had only Her to sustain me, only Her to turn to. I needed that. I needed to be reduced to simplicity, humility and raw, unhoned desire. I needed to be broken.

I served Sekhmet for many years. To this day, I pay homage to Her for setting my feet upon a warrior’s path, for naming those things I knew lay within me, for giving me the courage to live as She wished. Those things I learned at Her feet prepared me not only for priesthood but for a life of centered devotion. Of all the gifts I learned, both from Goddesses of war and my study of warrior arts the most invaluable one was this: when I chose to commit to my Gods, I did so fully. When I set my feet upon the path that eventually led me to become inextricably bound to Woden – as my life now is-- it was those lessons learned at the edge of a warrior’s blade that prepared me for the commitment.

Ah, Sekhmet seemed so cruel at the time. She took me in hand early on and stripped me bare. I who had played at being a warrior for so long, who had hungered for the starkness of the training learned soon enough what it meant to belong to such a Goddess. The compassion of a Warrior Goddess is the most ruthless compassion of all. It leaves no room for emotion or sentiment, no room for doubt or fear or regret. All of these things must be sacrificed. All of these things are given over to the duty of unending puja. From Her I learned the value of conflict. I learned that within me at my deepest core lay a beast of rage and fury, a killer that would devour all I held dear in my life if I let it. Oh, I had a temper. I still do though I strive hard not to give it free reign. My rage would boil up in word and deed eating away at my integrity, reputation and friendships. No one else could calm that beast. It was for me reign it in. And that was a duty I was failing at. I saw myself in the mirror of Her fire as I never hope to see myself again. She shattered me in that first year and then slowly began the process of rebuilding. Looking back at a process that began years before I ever consciously uttered Her name, I realize that She was giving me exactly what I needed. She was tempering me like a blade is tempered in the heated forge: being beaten, hammered, molded and beaten again, subjected to annealing flame over and over again. I’m afraid I was very stubborn and it took me a very long time to fully accept the precious gift of self-discipline that She offered.

Eventually, I learned to rule (at least a little more) that beast of rage that lay inside. I who had a vicious temper and a physicality and training enough to be dangerous, I learned restraint. I so deeply passionate about everything I did for good or for ill learned to govern my passions. I learned to examine emotions carefully and then to set them aside. “A warrior acts from duty first”, She taught me. “And she does not fear to live.” There are no facades with these Goddesses, no room for sentiment, no hiding from truths however painful. Most of all, there is no safety. She and She alone taught me to love my Gods without condition, to step into the fire of ecstasy and inspiration that They bring and willingly court immolation. It was the Warrior who made of me a mystic.

I learned to pray with a sword in my hand-or a gun for I find pistol shooting to be extremely calming and meditative. It is ice to the heat of the sword’s song. I learned through strict training to seek an unerring center, to allow nothing to deter me from my goals, not my own ego, my own stubborn resistance to change, my own laziness, emotion upset and certainly not anyone or anything outside of myself. I learned to seek the Gods with an unswerving surety that scares even me when I think back on it. She made sure I would never be a slave to my own fear, my own desires, my own pride or ego or hubris. I was painfully young when I came to Her, and so hungry for knowledge. Sekhmet, upon taking me in hand had pushed me pretty quickly into serious study of the martial arts. This of course, was no hardship. My only difficulty lay in deciding what to study! Of all the weapons in the world, the katana has always held the greatest fascination for me. It presents clean almost stark lines and must be wielded with a ruthless precision that causes my spirit to rejoice. After observing one class at a local dojo, I knew that I had found the martial art for me. The only exhilaration comparable was the moment, a few years later, when I learned to shoot a gun. Through the years the Gods used my study of Iaido as a very visible parallel to my spiritual health. My work in the dojo came to reflect sometimes to frightening proportions, the work that I was doing spiritually and what progress (or not) I was making.

Best of all, at the dojo, my aggressive nature is considered a virtue, though one in need of direction which the physical discipline of training itself provided. The very first class I took, on one of the hottest days of summer, I nearly passed out. I truly thought I was going to die. But one adapts and a little pain is good for the spirit. It is an uncomfortable thing, however, this process of stripping away. For that is what I have committed, by virtue of my commitment to my Gods, to continually doing. When I entered the dojo, I was taken me back to the beginning, and forced gain those skills and self control that I should have been trained in years ago well before I ever became an adult. I am a child again fumbling for understanding. My meditation and magic came to lie on the material plane, in a stark training hall and endless repetition of kata; my ritual garb hakama and gi; my libations sweat, bloody hands and aching muscles. (Those initial classes during the summer proved the first time in my life where I’ve been so sore I just sat down at home and cried). This was all to Sekhmet’s liking. When She relinquished Her hold on me, passing me into the arms and auspices of Woden (a God known for His penchant for strong women) I was a completely different creature than the one that had first reached out for the Gods.

Through Her, I had been forged into something, someone that could be of service to the God that I love beyond breath and being. Oh, I fell deeply in love with Woden and service to Him soon began to govern my life. To love a God so deeply that you willing seek out the sharing of Their pain requires a will strong enough to endure proximity with the terrifying reality of the numinous. It requires a will and a sense of self forged in stone, one that will not break under the weight of duty, nor seek the safety of imagination and personal comfort. I have many faults (my temper for one remains a constant reminder that I am FAR from perfect!) but one small thing I have learned as only a warrior can: when there is nothing else to be done, in the midst of the most tumultuous of storms, hold fast and endure. I like to hope that this one quality has enabled me to be of some use to Woden and the other Gods that I adore. At the very least, I think it ensures I am not too much of a burden.

I worry when I encounter people who are drawn to the idea of being a God-servant or becoming a shaman. Those of us who have been through the breaking, the dying, the reforging answer those innocent queries with “no, you really don’t. You don’t know what it entails. Run now, while you still have the freedom to do so.” Watching novices jumping headlong into “shamanism” without any preparation, without any idea of what ‘shamanism’ really entails chills me to the core. They don’t understand that they may not survive the journey. Those who do this without a strong devotional practice, without a strong connection to a specific Deity (who will also look after the person in question) makes it that much more difficult. Devotion may involve openness of heart, and surrender of spirit but with that it calls for tremendous courage. Rather than explore ‘shamanism’ I’d encourage any would be spirit worker to first get their spiritual “house” in order. Begin with devotion. Allow devotion to lead to strength, discipline, and other essential training. This is a fundamental all too often neglected. It’s not the only thing one needs to survive, not by a long shot, but it certainly ups the odds.

Warriorship is not a metaphor for me. It remains incomprehensible to me that one could grow on one’s spiritual path without ever exploring and embracing the qualities traditionally associated with warriorship. In my life, both daily and devotional, they remain foundational, however disturbing that may be in these politically correct times. Walking this path has enabled me to grow in devotion and love and commitment to my Gods. It has impacted the ways in which I relate to the world and the ways in which I serve my Gods. It has made me a better person. I owe that to Sekhmet.


  1. So much of what you say here resonates with my own experience with Lilith. In that case, she taught me the transformative power of sexuality in all its forms. I had to explore parts of my self that were degrading and humiliating. She made me own my desire for submission, which I fought for a long time. She also showed me the cathartic power of topping others. You really could replace the work warrior with sex worker in here and it'd be an essay about me.

    It's funny that we both apprenticed with fierce goddesses before being handed over to Odin. I know Lilith prepared me for Him - I'm not sure I could have accepted my work for him unless she'd broken me first.

  2. I've always maintained that the fierce Goddesses are a thousand times harsher than our Gods. @_@ It really is great preparation.

  3. While I am not on a warrior path, I admire the beauty and strength of your words, as always, especially the acknowledgment that warriors must learn restraint first and foremost. I wish more people would heed that!