Many years ago I was in Israel visiting an archaeological museum perched high upon a dusty hill. There I came upon something that took me by surprise: dozens upon dozens of stone sarcophagi (carved and inscribed coffins) covered in images of women warriors fighting men in battle. The women rode on horseback and fought with sword and arrows. They were the Amazons. It was the first time I had seen actual renderings of them in person, not just in a picture or a book, and I was mesmerized by their solidity. They were powerful images and have stayed with me a long time.
Who are our heroes? What images of courage and strength do we draw upon as models for our lives?
Warriors of the ancient world listened to stories of heroes who had gone before such as Achilles, Hector, Theseus. Navy Seals and Special Forces have their own ancestors and stories. Men, in general, often have their favorites–Julius Caesar or Ulysses S. Grant–yet we women in the fire service have few. Can you name one female firefighter who lived before our time who is a model for you? I can’t. We are the first 3%, so we must look for images of strength in other realms: literature, film, myth, history, sports.
When it comes to powerful female images, I am a sort of collector. In college I studied ancient religions and was fascinated, in particular, by goddesses of war. There are many. The ones I am most familiar with stormed across the Ancient Near East, Mediterranean, and India. We have Inanna and Ishtar of Sumer and Babylon. Anat of what is now Palestine. Artemis and Athena of Greece. Kali from India. And there are countless others spread all over the world. Yet do most of us know their names? Probably not.
Do you know that Theseus married a warrior? Hippolyta. She was Queen of the Amazons and died fighting in battle. Did you know that Achilles fought a woman warrior in the Iliad? Penthesilea. She was another Amazon who died fighting. These women did not fear death. They prepared for it their whole lives and went out to face it head on. Theseus and Achilles are household names, but who remembers Hippolyta or Penthesilia?
Myth is full of powerful images, male and female, but if that is not your interest you can also find them in literature. The Hunger Games is a perfect example for our times. Film has plenty too: Sarah Connor (The Terminator), Ellen Ripley (Alien), G.I. Jane, to name a few. In history we have Joan of Arc who rode into battle as a teenager, took an arrow and continued to fight. She led men and liberated Orleans from the Burgundians. At the age of 19 she was burned alive at the stake. She had a chance to back out of that and she took it, but then ashamed of herself, quickly recanted her false confession knowing full well the consequences. She walked willingly to her death, terrified but strong.
There are so many images of female strength and the more we find them the more real they become.
But, they must be searched for. Often they are buried in the annals of time. They are the forgotten ones. The dismissed. An anomaly, they say, not to be taken seriously. Even those for which there is historical evidence (the Amazons) are considered myths because their story seems too far fetched to be true.
In fire, we must write our own story, and to do that we need images of inspiration. So instead of watching The Kardashians or other dismal scenes of weakness and dishonor, let us fill our minds with strength and courage. The images we feed ourselves matter. They shape our consciousness. Buddhist monks know this. Ancient warriors knew this. We are the warriors of our time. We may face fire instead of bullets or swords, but the peril is the same. Death. So let us fortify ourselves with the knowledge that other women went before us who were braver than most. Study them. Remember them. And know that if they could face death with such immense courage and discipline, then so can we.
If we want to develop a warrior mentality we must have the proper images and models to draw upon. They are models of human potential, male and female. Models of courage, strength, brotherhood, discipline, and sacrifice. This potential exists in us all if we can learn to recognize it and tap into it. For remember–
It’s not the size of the dog in the fight. It’s the size of the fight in the dog!