Warrior Archetypes III: Scathach - Teacher of Warriors
The Celtic goddess Scathach was the archetypal teacher of warriors, a goddess of martial arts. She was no palace tutor of rich younglings, however. She lives on an island off the coast of the Isle of Skye, and to get there you have to pass through a field of grass that will try to trap your feet, and a valley of monsters that will devour you. If you get that far, the only way onto her island is a bridge that humped high and narrow and could barely be crossed. Most fell to their deaths trying. In order to get across safely, the would-be student must make the heroic “salmon’s leap”, crossing the narrows and landing safely on the shore.
The young hero Cuchulain comes to Scathach, and wins the love of her daughter. He threatens her with a terrible death if she does not agree to train him; she laughs in delight at his audacity and agrees to turn him into the greatest warrior in the land. Eventually he repays her training by protecting her borders from a rival warrior. It is true that Scathach tends to like the audacious, and has little time for the shy or retiring. A Scathach warrior is often drawn to those who are more openly courageous, as she is always judging the strength of others. It is one of her best talents.
Part of her gift is that she tests our strength. Sometimes we may not be sure that we are actually competent, or adult, or strong enough to handle what life intends to dish out. It’s the Scathach warrior who can show us our worth. After we’ve been through her fires, we know exactly what we are capable of.....and it’s usually not what we originally thought. In a culture with few real rites of passage, this can be a valuable commodity.
Some people are frightened off by Scathach’s implacable intensity. That’s all right with her; her gifts are not for the weak or timid. Her stern, unrelenting approach can feel hellish to more sensitive types who need their criticism sugared with gentleness. There is nothing gentle about Scathach. That’s not her job. Her task is to turn out warriors, and those who break under her tutelage probably weren’t appropriate anyway. It takes a strong student to stand up to her, and a dedicated one. If they rebel or argue, she simply throws them out. Part of the necessary show of strength is a show of trust. If you came to Scathach to learn, it was because you felt that she was worthy to teach you. If you question the validity of that teaching, you breach trust with her, and she will not tolerate that. If you really have a strong will, then you’ll be able to take the hardship in silence, without giving in to verbalized mistrust. It’s a hard lesson, and one that most people don’t wish to learn. It’s where the salmon’s leap comes in - the leap of trust in her ability and certainty, and in your own willingness to learn.
Scathach pushes you relentlessly to be your best. She will not take excuses about how you are aching or tired or just tired of doing it. She takes you up to your limits, and then insists that you push them. She is not a kindly teacher, because she knows that she is preparing you to face death without flinching. You will have to face much worse things that her out on the front lines, and she is painfully aware of that fact. The sorrow of this goddess is that she knows she must send her shining golden prodigies out to be eaten up. Maybe they will survive, and maybe not....and much of that may have to do with how well you learned her lessons. This hangs over the head of every Scathach warrior. Did I teach them enough, did I get it through their thick skulls? Will this trick save them in the pinch? Am I sending them out unprepared, possibly to injury or death? Will they simply end up more names in my long litany of mourning?
To be Scathach is to fight from behind the lines, preparing those who must fight on the front lines. It is also to fight for the long run, planning and preparing, knowing all too well what trouble may come. Scathach was also a prophetess, having the Druid gift of seeing the future. She predicted Cuchulain’s young death in battle - and how difficult that must have been, to send him off knowing that he would never return - and the Scathach warrior often has such a talent, even if it is only a gift for uncannily estimating probability. The Scathach warrior thinks ahead and prepares accordingly.....not resources but people. She can look at you and figure out what you’re good for, and where you need to improve. If you can accept it, it’s a supremely valuable gift.