The Way of the Barbarian
Heroic & Dark Fantasy and Science Fiction Character created by Kevin L. O'Brien
here can be no doubt that Medb hErenn is a barbarian. Yet, as with everything else, she does not conform to the stereotypical view of who is a barbarian and how he should act. Just about the only point she agrees with is that a barbarian does not act like a civilized person, but she rejects the belief that barbarians are uncivilized savages. As she herself has often explained to anyone willing to listen, "There is a whole philosophy behind being a barbarian, a way of thinking, feeling, and acting that is different from the behavior of civilized men or savages. In a manner of speaking, being a barbarian means blending both extremes into a balanced and coherent whole that borrows the best from both worlds while rejecting the worst."
The barbarian philosophy describes three disciplines each person must master if he or she is to become a true barbarian. These are brawling, carousing, and wenching. Brawling is fighting in any circumstance other than in war. In other words, rather than battling an enemy on the field of combat as part of clashing armies for political objectives, brawling is street- or tavern-fighting for personal reasons. It's often spontaneous, and can just as quickly end. And while bad feelings and grudges can be involved, it is treated as something of a sport.
Carousing means more than simply partying hearty, it involves celebrating with such abandon that you stuff yourself with food, drink yourself insensate, and grope any woman that comes near you. And if that sounds sexist, keep in mind that a carousing female barbarian will be groping any man she can lay her hands on. The idea is to have fun with no inhibitions or reservations, to do whatever you feel like doing, provided you do no deliberate harm and you are willing to take no for an answer.
Wenching is the act of seducing a woman to have sex with her. (Barbarian women in turn seduce men.) But while sex is the goal, a barbarian wenches because he loves and honors women. At the risk of sounding crude, if all a barbarian wants is a good fuck, he is better off with a she-goat. The act of seduction itself is half the fun, with foreplay being the other half; the actual coupling should be merely the climax. And while it is true the men tend to want to come to the point more quickly than women, a barbarian who respects and satisfies the woman's needs will find her more than eager to satisfy his as well.
The main thing to keep in mind about these disciplines is that a barbarian does what he does to please himself, not others. In this respect, they are like savages, who are motivated by selfishness, whereas civilized men are expected to place society's needs above their own, to maintain harmony and cooperation. However, like civilized men, barbarians govern their actions; in fact, it would be correct to say that barbarians are motivated by enlightened self-interest. But whereas civilized men are governed by society using laws, religion, and customs, barbarians are self-governed using personal honor. For the ancient Irish, their honor was based on the three virtues of the warrior code: courage, generosity, and loyalty. The greatest compliment the Irish could bestow on anyone was to say that he or she was brave, generous, and faithful.
Courage is the easiest virtue to understand; it means being willing to confront danger and face impossible odds, for no more reward than your own personal satisfaction. Courage demands that you never back down from a fight; as such, a barbarian must be willing to face death, alone and in secret, for no reason other than it is important to his own sense of self-esteem. Similarly, it also means having the courage to hold to your convictions, even if no one else shares them; to speak out against or otherwise oppose what you feel is wrong, even if you are reviled and attacked for it; and to defend those who have been wronged, even if this makes you as unpopular as they are.
Generosity means being willing to give of your possessions and yourself, not for the sake of mere philanthropy or so that others may think you humanitarian, but for the sake of benefiting another living being. A barbarian must be willing to sacrifice anything and everything he possesses, even his own blood and life, to help another being in distress. Similarly, generosity insists that you celebrate with all your heart and strength, and never hold back; that you give freely of your time, skills, and wealth, and do not count the cost; and that you love or hate without restraint.
Loyalty means being faithful to your cause and comrades, not for the sake of mere ideologies or conventions or traditions that are mutable and transient and can be conveniently discarded, but for the sake of your own sense of self-worth. A barbarian must be willing to honor his commitments to his companions, his dependents, and himself simply because he believes it is the right thing to do. Similarly, loyalty requires that you treat everyone around you with honor and respect, until they demonstrate that they do not deserve it; that you trust those who deserve your respect; and that you forgive those who have earned your trust.
The dictates of loyalty can appear to conflict with the act of wenching. A barbarian with a wife and family is expected to be faithful to them, but he is not exempt from wenching or taking female captives. As well, a wife is not expected to remain celibate while her husband is away, though she too is expected to be faithful to her family. Nor will she object to her husband bringing home a bond maid, since when the girl isn't providing sex to the husband, she does house- and fieldwork for the wife. So being faithful does not mean marital fidelity as civilized people mean it. But neither is it totally lacking as in a savage population. For savages, fidelity actually works against survival, especially in small social groups. They instinctively know that genetic diversity is the key, even if they do not recognize it or would understand it. Men and women coupling in as many combinations as possible not only generates many children, but also a strong genetic foundation that helps to prevent inbreeding. Civilized people are less concerned about that and far more concerned about family lineage, especially in regard to inheritance. Spouses must make sure that their children are truly their own children, produced from their personal bloodlines, and not bastards with alien bloodlines from outside the family. As such, civilized societies try to ensure this by discouraging promiscuity, premarital sex, and adultery with punitive, often draconian, laws.
Barbarians are also concerned with lineage, but their communities tend to be small like those of savages, hence the social structure is more intimate. Concubines live in the same households as their masters' families, so everyone knows who are the children of the wives and who are the children of the bond maids. As well, if a man gets a neighbor woman pregnant, he knows her own family would be responsible for caring for the baby and raising it. (Some fathers, however, would take their male children in fosterage.) Unfortunately, this works both ways: if another man gets his wife pregnant, he would be responsible for raising the child himself. Yet everyone would still know it isn't his child, so there would be no lingering questions concerning lineage and inheritance. Ultimately, a barbarian would seek to properly provide for all of his or her children, but he or she would reserve the greatest reward for the children of his or her immediate family.
The warrior virtues that support the barbarian disciplines are themselves based on the existentialism of the ancient Irish people. This philosophy encourages the virtues by emphasizing the futility of personal aggrandizement.
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