What is a paladin, and why do I call myself one?
The origin of the term “paladin” can be found in ancient knightly romances — The Song of Roland, the Arthurian legends, and other tales of valor and chivalry. The original paladins were the companions of Charlemagne; since then, the epithet has come to mean any of the most pious and faithful knights. Of the Knights of the Round Table, Sir Galahad is the archetypical paladin, as is Lancelot — men of loyalty, devotion, and puissance.
Most people these days are more familiar with the modern incarnation of the paladin, as presented in games such as Dungeons and Dragons and World of Warcraft. In these games, the paladin is also a holy knight — a healer, guardian, servant of the faith, and defender of the people. There is always a strong spiritual aspect to the title, and paladins are typically granted special powers: curative and defensive, but also potent against evil creatures such as demons and the undead.
The defining mark of a paladin, as I see it, is a willingness to fight — and die — for those who cannot fight for themselves, and to stand against evil in all of its forms no matter the consequences. A paladin exhibits compassion and generosity to everyone, but is unbending in their principles and indomitable in the face of evil. A paladin is a warrior for God and the Light, where the priesthood and the knighthood intersect. A paladin is a soldier of the Light, and stands at the vanguard of the fight against the darkness.
So why do I call myself a paladin?
Yes, it is pretentious. Let’s just get that out of the way. It’s conceited, bordering on the absurd and delusional, to claim to be a paladin, particularly in the modern, video-game sense. Nevertheless, what I’m attempting to do is invoke the tradition and the imagery, to inspire myself and others. I call myself a paladin to remind myself of what I’m trying to live up to, and to hold myself and my actions and choices accountable to the world.
I know what is in my heart, and how I want to live my life. I know what is important to me, and I know what is right. I call myself a paladin because doing so encompasses my professed morality, and signals my willingness to serve a higher ideal. I am a paladin because I will fight for the Light. I will stand against evil wherever I see it, and I will give of myself and my abilities to help those I can. As a paladin, what I want is to heal the world, and help move humanity towards the Light, however I can.
Have I earned the title? I don’t know. I’ve taken it for myself; it hasn’t been bestowed upon me. No knightly order will recognize me as a member, no faith will name me among their templars. It is, indeed, self-aggrandizing of me to adopt the title without having “earned” it.
It’s also incumbent upon me to confess that I am far from perfect. Without going into details, there have been times in my life, even recently, when I’ve been unworthy of the name. I’ve failed to exhibit compassion, integrity, or strength. I’ve acted out of greed, out of delusion, out of apathy. I’ve been unkind to those I professed to love, and I’ve been idle when there is work to be done. My life, so far, has been more cautionary tale than hagiography.
But I’ve sworn my oaths. Oaths to give of myself to those in need, to live simply and humbly, to serve the Light in everything I do. I’ve sworn to stand against the darkness, and to never surrender even against insurmountable odds. These oaths shall bind me the rest of my life, and my sincerity will be shown through my actions.
I am a paladin, a warrior for the Light, and a servant of God. If the divine will forgive me this hubris, I swear I will live up to the ideal.