This is the Way: the factions following Mandalore’s creed, stories, and rites

This is a follow-up to my previous post looking at religious elements in Andor.

The Mandalorian is saturated in religious imagery. Most recently we have seen Din Djarin seeking the living waters under the mines of Mandalore. For Christians, Jesus is the Living Water (John 4:10-15), with the waters of baptism being a means of grace and initiation into the Christian faith. Water has a cleansing, renewing, saving function throughout the Hebrew and Christian Bibles (including: the waters of Creation, Genesis 1; the Great Flood, Genesis 6-9; the child Moses in the river, Exodus 2; The Israelites passing through the Red Sea, Exodus 14; water from the rock, Numbers 20; the cleansing of Naaman in 2 Kings 5; John’s baptism, Matthew 3, Mark 1, Luke 3; the Pool of Siloam, John 9; the River of Life, Revelation 22), as certainly it does in other religions (about which my knowledge is limited).

Din Djarin entering the Living Waters of Mandalore in a rite of atonement

This season we have seen both a young initiate take the Mandalorian oath while standing in water as the Armorer prepares to pour water over him, and Din Djarin himself step into the Living Waters of Mandalore as he professes the creed. As with Christian baptism, each of these rites included the joining of water and creed. The initiate received his helmet during the rite, whereas Din Djarin did not remove either his helmet or his armor as he entered the Living Waters. The beskar metal from which Mandalorian armor is made, originally mined near the Living Waters, is part of both rites.

Mandalorians have a Creed to which all Mandalorians pledge an oath.

“I swear on my name and the names of the ancestors, that I shall walk the Way of the Mand’alor, and the words of the Creed shall be forever forged in my heart. This is the Way.”

Mandalorian oath

This oath references a “Creed” which is probably a larger body of rules and commitments of Mandalorian life and belief, such as care for foundlings, origin stories and prophesies, an exceedingly high sense of honor, and training as a warrior. As we see in this show, different factions embrace the Mandalorian Creed to different degrees – just like religions, denominations, sects, and cults do in our world’s religions. This schism between multiple groups of believers who loathe each other more than they do their mortal enemies makes this fictional small-screen religion all the more believable. I love that these shows present religion with a complexity and dynamism worthy of religion’s real-world textures. We see this most poignantly in the unfolding religious differences on view between Din Djarin, Bo-Katan, and the Children of the Watch (personified most extensively by the Armorer).

“Weapons are part of my religion,” Din Djarin says in The Book of Bobba Fett. Yet in reality, it all begins with the beskar. Beskar is central to Mandalorian identity. “[The mines] supplied beskar ore to our ancestors,” Bo-Katan Kryze says, even as she dismisses the lore around Mandalorian identity as “superstition.” The impenetrability of beskar to most weapon fire and especially to lightsabers instantly makes anyone who wears the armor a formidable and difficult-to-defeat foe. Donning beskar armor allows the Mandalorians to be aggressive – and even reckless – warriors, resorting to violence to address most any situation they face.

While rejecting most of it as “children’s stories,” Bo-Katan embraces – or, at least, takes advantage of  – one aspect of Mandalorian lore. In Season 2 she wanted to win the Dark Saber in combat, and with it earn the right to rule Mandalore once again. However, Din Djarin won the Dark Saber in a duel with Moff Gideon, resulting in Bo-Katan’s forces “melting away” since she did not succeed in winning the Dark Saber in combat. Her interest in Mandalorian lore is purely practical – use it so she can retake leadership of Mandalore. Her followers saw no point in serving with her if she couldn’t win the Dark Saber.

Bo-Katan Kryze, dejected and angry, sitting on her throne, ruling over nothing

The Children of the Watch, the sect of believers that raised Din Djarin, have less regard for the mythology of the Dark Saber. Though Din Djarin won the Dark Saber in combat, the remaining members of the Children of the Watch reject him as an apostate because he removed his helmet in violation of how they interpret the Mandalorian Creed. Amazingly, the lore around an ancient weapon deeply associated with Mandalorian power is relegated to a lower status than a previously unacknowledged rule about wearing helmets. Of course, we see this kind of distinctions contemporary religion, where differences by Christians who otherwise might agree on the essentials of the divinity of Christ, the forgiveness of sins, and the resurrection of the dead disagree on issues of precisely how to baptize a newcomer to the faith, or how to structure of the church.

So, where does this extreme helmet position originate? We aren’t told, but here’s a theory: A generation or so earlier, the schismatic terrorist group Death Watch was formed to restore Mandalore to their warrior traditions (see The Clone Wars). They opposed the rule of Dutchess Satine Kryze, who had attempted to rule Mandalore as a non-aligned, pacifist system in a galaxy increasingly polarized between the Separatist Alliance and the Republic. Death Watch, with the aid of rogue one-time Sith lord Darth Maul, took control of Mandalore but later fell to a counter-offensive launched by a combined force of Mandalorians and Republic forces. Not long after defeating Death Watch, the Republic transformed into the Galactic Empire, and imperial forces destroyed Mandalore with relentless bombing. Death Watch ultimately failed. Death Watch’s successors, the Children of the Watch, seems to have become more radical in at least one way – the helmet requirement, which Death Watch did not practice – perhaps as a judgment on their predecessor’s failure to maintain rule over Mandalore. Religious extremism, in this theory, evolved from a humiliating defeat.

The Armorer is the ideological heart of the covert that we first meet in hiding on Nevarro, and then later on the space station Glavis Ringworld (in Book of Bobba Fett). She creates armor which, for each Mandalorian, is requisite garb for life. She mediates disputes within the covert, and teaches The Way of the Mandalore. She recounts the recent history of Mandalore, highlighting that Bo-Katan is a “cautionary tale” for having failed in her rule because of her neglect of The Way. The Armorer credits her survival, and that of her sect, to strict adherence to the Creed. Mandalorians who do not strictly keep the Creed, such as Bo-Katan, view such rigidity as foolish superstitious.

Bo-Katan rolls her eyes at the credal purity of the Children of the Watch. Her cynicism around Mandalorian mythology is partly a function of her failure as one-time ruler of Mandalore, and partly a result of her upbringing in the royal family of Mandalore. She recalls going through the motions of adolescent initiation rituals as a requirement of being in the royal family, a kind of spectacle to “please their subjects.” Clearly, she viewed such public ritual as mere ceremony necessary for her family’s political rule rather than a meaningful rite of passage for her own growth as a child of Mandalore.

Din Djarin was raised as a “foundling” in the Children of the Watch. Rescued as a child by Mandalorians, they took him in as one of their own. All he has ever known is this one sect of Mandalorians. Early in the show, it becomes clear that Din Djarin didn’t know that there are other types of Mandalorians who practice their identity differently. His sect teaches that they are the one true sect of Mandalorians, dismissing all others as apostates and failures. Yet, not having as long a history with the religion and the war that both the Armorer and Bo-Katan have, he also goes through life with a bit of a naivete around these … which, as we see, will ultimately serve him well.

Through his work as a bounty hunter, Din Djarin rescues and forms an attachment to a Force-sensitive child, Grogu. Not sure what precisely to do with the child, he seeks counsel from the Armorer. She teaches Din Djarin about the Jedi, a sect of Force-wielders who were once enemies of the Mandalorians, and tells him that Grogu belongs with them. Din, in keeping with The Way, seeks to return Grogu to the Jedi.

The Armorer, who as a forger of beskar, is the de facto leader of The Children of the Watch

When Grogu is abducted by the Empire, Din goes on a life-or-death quest to recover him … only to ultimately give him up to “his own kind,” a Jedi Master named Luke Skywalker. In recovering Grogu and returning him to the Jedi, Din Djarin removes his helmet on two occasions, violating the Creed and becoming an apostate in the eyes of the Children of the Watch. Yet, the reasons he removes his helmet demonstrate that Din Djarin is, indeed, deeply committed to the Creed in ways that go much deeper than the letter of the law.

The reasons Din removes his helmet demonstrate that he is, indeed, deeply committed to the Creed in ways that go much deeper than the letter of the law.

His first violation of the Creed takes place while seeking the location of Grogu’s Imperial captors. A computer device in an Imperial compound requires facial scanning to assure that the individual accessing the machine is a human (the Empire was famously prejudiced against non-humans, welcoming very few non-human sentient being into their ranks). Having sneaked into the compound and arriving at the computer terminal, Din Djarin removes his helmet for facial scanning in order to look up the location of the child. Din prioritizes his commitment to return Grogu to the Jedi over a rule about not removing one’s helmet. He makes the kind of choice that people of faith have to make all the time, prioritizing the greater value when facing an apparent conflict.

The second time Din Djarin removes his helmet is when he returns Grogu “to his own kind,” to Jedi Master Luke Skywalker. Grogu reaches for Din’s mask, as if requesting to see his face. Din removes his mask and looks upon Grogu with his own eyes (recalling the scene from Return of the Jedi, where a redeemed Anakin Skywalker asks Luke to remove his helmet so he can see his son with his own eyes before he dies). This instance of mask removal is not required to complete the mission, but instead reflects the high value Mandalorians place on loyalty. Din shows his face to show his deep commitment to Grogu.

Loyalty and solidarity, not helmets or sabers, is the central tenet of Mandalorian faith.

Din Djarin is teaching us, and his fellow Mandalorians, that loyalty and solidarity, not helmets or sabers, is the central tenet of Mandalorian faith. In Book of Bobba Fett Din Djarin requests that the Armorer forge armor for Grogu, who is now with the Jedi. She warns him that the Jedi forgo all attachments in order to master the Force, suggesting that he can no longer bond with his one-time foundling. Din responds, “That is the opposite of our Creed. Loyalty and solidarity are the way.” She responds, “The is the way,” and begins making armor for the foundling Grogu.

It is with this tenet of Mandalorian faith – loyalty and solidarity – that Din Djarin may succeed in bringing different factions of Mandalorians together. Both Bo-Katan and the Armorer admire Din’s loyalty to and care for Grogu. When Din visits the Armorer to appeal for his restoration to the sect if he can prove that he has washed in the Living Waters of Mandalore, it is only after she looks at Grogu that she consents to his plan. So too when Din’s ship returns to Bo-Katan’s castle. At first sight, Bo-Katan wants to “get rid of” Din Djarin “once and for all.” It is only upon seeing Grogu that her demeanor changes. If Mandalore is to be restored, loyalty and solidarity, more than any mythology around the Dark Saber or the armor, will prove to be the abiding tenet of faith that helps achieve that goal.

Published by Chris Duckworth

Spouse. Parent. Lutheran Pastor. Veteran. Jedi. Political Junkie. Baseball Fan.

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