When I was eighteen, I had a pending university degree with no practical application, feared becoming unemployed and directionless, and had a strong faith in ideas of honour and service, so it seemed an excellent notion, to explore the Air Force and seriously consider a military career. After finishing a semester of ROTC classes and writing the officer’s qualifying test, I began preparing myself physically and mentally for officer training school that summer.
Then I woke up one night with some thoughts I’d not yet considered, conflicts I certainly needed to resolve before embarking upon this journey. I’d never fired a weapon before and didn’t like touching guns, even when others encouraged me to learn. I was a vegetarian who practiced yoga, a soft-spoken and shy person. Up until then, I’d thought that I simply needed more courage and resolve, that my doubts were only fears. Serving my country seemed a very noble purpose, and flying a wondrous thing; my eyesight barred me from pilot, but I could have trained for navigator. But I realised that night that, even if I didn’t work in a cockpit, the military still existed for the purpose of violence and that my job would be, essentially, to kill – to either do it myself or to support the people who would.
At that time my ideas of good and evil, life and death, were very clear-cut, direct, black-and-white, and fortunately – for everyone – I realised that the knowledge of killing would eventually, if not immediately, drive me mad. I couldn’t do it, and I didn’t.
Yet every God/dess I’ve worshipped relates to the Hunt or to War in some way. And many of my interests over the years – everything from flying/shooting video games, to archery and fencing – are militaristic in nature. Now, I don’t, and will never have, the experience and the perspective of someone who has fought in a battle or been part of a military group. The act of worshipping Battle and Hunt Deities does not make me a Warrior myself, nor does pursuing warrior training as a hobby.
At this point, years of Pagan worship, Vodou ceremony, and Hindu study have taught me that destruction is not the flagrant evil I once believed it to be, that not all aggression is unwarranted, and that death is not the enemy. But despite the principles involved at the highest levels, that doesn’t change my lack of understanding of war, at the human level. I still don’t fundamentally “get” it, in a practical way. There still remains a small-child part of me that thinks, well, if everybody just refused to fight each other…
I don’t understand why I’m drawn to activities that are designed for harm and death. Hand-eye coordination is all well and good, but I could play Skee-Ball or take up golf if I really delighted in the joy of aligning will with result. There’s no reason I have to satisfy that particular desire on the archery range, as opposed to anywhere else, except that that’s where I want to be. There’s history in the bow, a sense of ancestry and earthiness – you know, because my ancestors used them to kill things, with loud resounding smushes. And really, it isn’t simple play; it isn’t a mere hobby. Nor is the joy of scoring a touch in a fencing match similar to the pleasure of achieving a difficult posture in yoga or dance. It isn’t about the movement alone. It’s the hunt and the catch. Gotcha.
In at least one well-known Hindu story, archery is used to symbolise single-pointed devotion to God and singular dedication to a goal; this is why the archer Arjuna, who sees only the target and nothing else, is the best student of the five brothers who train. Indra’s battles against demons, too, have a spiritual meaning. And one of the most wonderful aspects of archery practice is the delight of using a bow without causing harm or even lasting effects; it’s also one of the most disturbing, as it feels strange and possibly quite dire to take pleasure in using such a thing at all.
Because bows weren’t invented as metaphorical exemplars of religious practice; the gore and death of the battlefield is real. I can’t take seriously, or even literally, only those stories of Indra’s which I happen to personally like and which fill me with snuggly fluffy emotions. Any devotees of a God of War must confront this nature of their beloved God – in part, by confronting it within themselves.
This is what I wish I knew about Indra, and what my own reticence and yes, cowardice refuse to allow me to access just yet: His violent and terrible nature, and not just in my flowery, romanticised blogpost writing, but the reality and the reason for it, and why I am His, such as I am.
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