The Warrior Within

Othin of Cae Forres

Othin of Cae Forres, Ranger of the North Branch

The primordial image, or archetype, is a figure–be it a daemon, a human being, or a process–that constantly recurs in the course of history and appears wherever creative fantasy is freely expressed. ― Carl Jung

I once kicked a hole in the kitchen wall. This happened some time ago, in another house, another life. I honestly don’t recall what triggered it. I was wearing a pair of Doc Martens, which made the act particularly satisfying. I can still feel the sensation of the wallpaper exploding as the sheetrock caved in.

I left that hole there for some time, like a sacrifice to a war god. Then one day I knelt there, fixed the sheetrock and lovingly pieced a matched swatch of wallpaper over the wound like a mother patching up a scraped knee. There, there. These things happen.

How This IsDon’t get me wrong, this aspect of my personality as gotten me into trouble aplenty. He’s rising to his feet now, yelling, “Yeah only with people who fucking deserved it.” Debatable; however, my inner warrior stepped up like a boss on the battlefield of my childhood, where I took on a legion of thousands-year-old collective beliefs designed to bully women into being safe and predictable. Girls aren’t supposed to kick holes in walls. Keep it under control, don’t threaten the Powers That Be or you’ll be sorry. No talking back. No swearing. No waving swords or apple tree wands. Throw your weight around and we’ll throw you out. Yada yada. At some point I pushed all that noise off the cliff into the sea.

I like my warrior.

Building a Better Battlefield

Fantasy is hardly an escape from reality. It’s a way of understanding it. ― Lloyd Alexander

There’s this quaint idea that fantasy isn’t real, but only worthy as entertainment or worse, escapism. This is right up there with the idea that dark, extreme music makes people angry or violent ― another garden cart load of crap. As a child, unfortunately, I adopted and then chafed under these ideas because I wanted an escape and I wanted the truth. The whole thing just pissed me off.

In fantasy novels I found my warrior, alive and well and ready to teach me how it’s done. I started out reading books and watching movies, until the forces of an ever hungry and curious psyche drove me into writing. After many years cutting my teeth on worldbuilding, the development of writing skills and the maddening vagaries of the traditional publishing industry, an assassin named Lorth of Ostarin stepped out of my subconscious and into the light. “Would you rather kick holes in walls, or tell my tale?” he inquired. Four books later, Lorth has proven himself to be an exemplary spokesperson for my warrior side.

Lorth of Ostarin

Lorth of Ostarin

Since nothing is complete without music, this tune sums up Lorth nicely:

 

Variations on The Warrior Archetype

The term “warrior” can evoke many images, some of them simplistic; say, a person engaged or experienced in warfare. But there’s nothing simple about this archetype. There are infinite variations. Here are some of my favorites.

The Noble Warrior

Thus came Aragorn son of Arathorn, Elessar, Isildur’s heir, out of the Paths of the Dead, borne upon a wind from the sea to the kingdom of Gondor. ― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Return of the King

Aragorn

Who doesn’t love this guy? He has legendary ancestors, lofty titles, powerful friends and a destiny. He’s done his time. He plays by the rules. His sword has an elven name you can’t pronounce. The golden standard by which all variations of the warrior archetype are defined, he can send you and your shit packing with a deadpan stare.

A Tolkien votary from a young age, I was properly initiated by Aragorn. But I was so innocent. Like a little hare beneath the gaze of a great horned owl.

The Initiated Warrior

A warrior acts as if he knows what he is doing, when in effect he knows nothing. ― Carlos Castaneda

In ancient Norse traditions there were berserkers and warrior shamans called úlfheðnar (wolf-hides), who underwent brutal, powerful initiations. In the wilds they lived like wolves, to reach a state of possession and thereby acquire the beasts’ strength, fearlessness, and fury.

Ripley vs. The Alien Queen

Initiation rites for warriors are as old as time. But sometimes, a person with a warrior’s soul may not be aware of what she’s capable of until put to the test. To my mind, Ellen Ripley of Alien fame fits this aspect well. A warrant officer and first mate of the Nostromo, she becomes the badass we all know and love as the crew starts to realize what manner of thing they’re up against. The sole survivor of a terrifying battle with a superior life form, she goes on to set the record straight for every scientist, android and military type who crosses her path. Who knew?

The Reviled Warrior

Nobody loves a warrior until the enemy is at the gate. ― Unknown

Geralt of Rivia

Geralt of Rivia, the protagonist of Andrzej Sapkowski’s Witcher series, is one messed up dude. Trained as a child by a dark order of warriors called Witchers, he develops supernatural abilities via rigorous training and a ghastly transformation involving sorcery and narcotics, thereby rendering him capable of hunting the nonhuman fiends and beasties that haunt the wilds. With the eyes of a viper, milk-white hair and a collection of scars, he is hated and feared across the land ― until some constable’s daughter ends up shredded by a harpy or something, at which time they are happy enough to hire him.

A thankless job, but somebody has to do it.

The Broken Warrior

He who conquers himself is the mightiest warrior. ― Confucius

Elric of Melniboné

Michael Moorcock’s Elric saga is old-school sword and sorcery at its finest. The protagonist, Elric of Melniboné, is the reluctant emperor of a mighty race with a well-earned reputation for cruelty. Elric is born flawed, an albino with weakness he is only able to overcome with drugs made from herbs and such. Disgusted by his own people, he ventures into the greater world to find his fortune. But he serves Chaos, and wields a malevolent sword named Stormbringer that drinks the souls of its victims, an addiction to which our hero swiftly succumbs, as the blade gives him strength as nothing else can.

Thus tormented, Elric destroys everything he loves, slaughters his own race and at some point has no fucks left to give. He tries to destroy Stormbringer, to bury it, to hide it away. But of course, “What you resist, persists,” and it’s only a matter of time before he’s driven to pick it up again. So it goes.

I’m still rooting for him.

Little Tree, by F.T. McKinstry

Finally, if anything sums up the more shadowy aspects of the warrior archetype, this song does. And well, you know, Seether. C’mon.

Sleep with one eye open…

© F.T. McKinstry 2018. All Rights Reserved.

Demons at the Bar

Swamped

“The most terrifying thing is to accept oneself completely.” – C.G. Jung

My life is falling apart.

Sounds charming, put like that. Imagine if you will some poor bastard, drunk at a bar, ordering that fifth whiskey while he drags his fingers through his hair as if to pull it out. The bartender is shaking his head with a faint smile. He’s heard it all before.

A better image would be of a sand castle being slowly sapped and dissolved by the waves of an uncaring sea. Cruel, silent, inexorable, years of it, career issues, health issues and the ever-strengthening shadows of my fucked up youth. I sit up here in the woods and write stories, talk to myself and the gods and the houseplants, and crank metal until my ears bleed. I don’t want to talk to anyone. I don’t want to do yoga. I’m sick of eating healthy. If I see one more sanctimonious, inspirational meme on Facebook I’m going put my fist through the screen. I sit outside, and my cats come around and sit with me, looking this way and that, alert, or sleeping with one eye open, as if they’re guarding me. They have a big responsibility. The veil between my mind and the boundless waters of the unconscious has grown thin and my demons won’t leave me alone.

Goblins

There are some interesting names for this process: life transition, Neptune/Chiron transits, clinical depression, dark night of the soul, desensitization and reprocessing, alchemical dissolution, and shamanic initiation, to name a few.

Let’s go with that last one. I’ve read quite a few books on these sorts of things. I want answers. I was attracted to the idea of shamanism, particularly the Northern European variety, and I looked into it. But it wasn’t until things got nasty that I went back and looked at it again, particularly the dark parts concerning initiation. This rugged ordeal involves long-term isolation, debilitating illness, dismemberment, being devoured and spit out into a steaming pile of cat puke by your demons (ok, I added that last part, except for the demons).

So after I shook off the chill, I thought, Yeah right. Shamanic initiation. I’m just inventing something romantic to deal with my crumbling life. But there’s nothing romantic about this. It’s a suckfest wielding one nasty punch after another, a testament to humans’ amazing ability to invent false bottoms. It goes something like this: “I have to be at the bottom, now! This can’t possibly get any worse!” Uh-huh, nice try. Go directly to Jail. Do not pass Go. Do not collect $200. Feel free to imagine me laughing hysterically.

My man left me, just recently. Ah, the peaceful sound of another false bottom washing away into the sea. He moved in with another woman and they’re dancing and laughing in some sunny meadow of romantic fulfillment, or so it seems to me, sitting in my cave, staring into the void, issuing concert tickets to a never-ending flood of demons arriving from the shadows of my past. It’s like this dream I once had. I’m standing in the dark on the forest’s edge, gazing at a warm campfire in the distance, when something invisible comes up behind me, put its hand over my mouth and drags me into the night. Just like that.

Scary WolfI’m between the worlds. I shapeshift between fearing the wolf and becoming the wolf.

At the end of the day, I am a creative sort, and if there’s anything that will not be ignored, it’s that. This is a good thing. So I’m working on my next book, The Wolf Lords. I never sat down and decided to write a story about all this. It doesn’t work that way. I just wrote a story. But, ironically, it’s full of demons and the sorcerers who love them, all kinds of surly, implacable characters wreaking havoc on things because they can.

The experts say, “Write what you know.” Writer blogs are full of platitudes like that, stale little cookies we devour to fill the void because facing the void means dealing with our demons. Fortunately, when it comes to that, I’m not inclined to take prisoners. So I’m taking the aforementioned platitude to heart.

We’ll see how many of my characters survive it.

© F.T. McKinstry 2017. All Rights Reserved.

Land of the Ice and Snow

Dark Mountains

In my eternal quest for mood-inducing music, I created a playlist on Spotify that attempts to capture the soul of the North, and I’d like to share. Norse tribal, dark ambient, folk, metal–I’m aiming for an atmosphere reminiscent of towering forests, mountains, wolves, ravens, gods, Vikings, howling wind, blazing fires, rough seas, seiðr, shamans, blood and runes.

Good times.

Here you’ll find Wardruna, Ulf Söderberg, Anilah, Forndom, Skogen, among others. I’m always tinkering with and adding new music to this, a loving work in progress, like a painting. It’s one of my favorite backgrounds for writing and reading broody tales, or when I’m not all here and need to weigh anchor.

It’s called Gods of the North.

© F.T. McKinstry 2017. All Rights Reserved.

Why Me Lord

My childhood was a war zone. I’m a poster child for a highly sensitive person (HSP – yeah, there’s a freaking acronym for that now) packing emotional trauma. Now I’m a seasoned veteran with a collection of scars I have names for. But hey, I’ve found my calling in the wasteland, and I write the sort of books that saved my life and mind when I was a kid.

As with any calling, we all reach a point sometimes when it all goes to hell and our calling becomes the stupidest fucking idea we ever had. Well, I’d been in that for a few days and at some point, I hit the bottom. Until yesterday.

It was a quintessential New England summer day, hot, smelling of grass and flowers, with catkins blowing in the air like snow. I went out for a ride with my husband. He’s a dark, miserable bastard too, but we understand each other. We got hot fudge sundaes and took them to a graveyard, parked in the shade and listened to Kris Kristofferson while my man gave me a tour of the graves where some of his kin and friends of the family were buried, complete with sordid details. It was a good day. And old Kris brought me back to a place I had almost forgotten.

Graveyard

At the tender age of seven, when things were bad but before they got a lot worse, my parents sent me to a summer camp called the J Bar J Ranch. It was right out on the highway outside of Houston, Texas. I learned how to ride horses, find my way to the haunted shack in the woods, and never to put my hand into a cluster of pears on a pear tree because hornets live there. In the mess hall, there was a juke box. And two songs on that juke box got into my heart and stayed with me to this day.

“Why Me Lord” by Kris Kristofferson. Feel free to replace the whole Lord Jesus thing with whatever you turn to when your world gets bleak, and you’ll get this baby in context. It’s the sort of song you put on repeat, sit with your head in your hands and sob like a drunk in a gutter on your last sorry dime.

 
“Nights in White Satin” by The Moody Blues. This song blew my mind like a portal to the Otherworld. I don’t know what it is about it, but when I hear it, my heart opens and everything changes. Or, I sob like a drunk in a gutter on my last sorry dime–but at least the moon and the stars are out.

 
Aside from writing, music is my therapy. I have a collection of playlists containing all manner of rough, dreary, pissed off, head banging music I listen to when I need to vent and go through the darkness to find the light again. And, because consciousness loves contrast, as my old therapist used to say, I also have playlists where the light shines, and I’ll close here with one of these, some background music for my calling–that is, when it’s not looking like the biggest cosmic scam ever.

 
It’s good to hit the bottom sometimes.

© F.T. McKinstry 2017. All Rights Reserved.