Ares in Chains

One of the things that I think is important to discuss in the onus of the recent sexual abuse allegations within the pagan community is the theological importance we levy to our gods. Sannion touched on this briefly, but I wanted to expound on the myth of Ares’ trial for the retributive murder of Hallirhothios and the story’s theological and instructive value to both the polytheist community and pagans who assert archetypal philosophies.

 

Ares Kills Poseidon's Son

 

The myth is summed up as follows: Hallirhothios, a son of Poseidon, rapes (and this time in the myth, rape definitely means “sexually assaults”) Ares’ daughter Alkippe. Upon learning of the assault, Ares kills Hallirhothios. Poseidon, of course, is pissed, and so brings Ares to trial. Assembled before the rest of the gods, Ares and Poseidon give their cases, and the gods acquit Ares of wrongdoing; the place of the trial is renamed the Areopagus and becomes a place where the Athenians try capital cases.

 

This myth is significant for a variety of reasons. First, it sets up the first case of truly justifiable homicide. If you rape someone, it is justified–and some would say necessary–to kill the rapist. This precedent has trickled down to our modern legal system, where rape is a capital crime in places that have not abolished the death penalty. Even in places that have, many courts consider homicide in defense of self or another during the course of a sexual assault to be justified.

This is of course not to say that we can just go out killing abusers and rapists with impunity; you will go to jail if the homicide occurs after the fact, and of course the accused is still entitled to a trial. False accusations, though very rare, do happen, which is why courts can only justify violence in self defense during the commission of crime against you, and even then, self-defense laws vary from place to place. For more information about self-defense law in the US, follow this link.

 

Secondly, this myth demonstrates why it may be prudent to incorporate Ares’ cult into our community. It would be a slap in the face to victims to say, “Oh, if you only prayed to Ares more, maybe this wouldn’t have happened.” I’m not saying that nor would I attempt to. However, I feel that the sort of culture that Ares’ cult perpetuates, one of responsibility and care for victims, would be beneficial to the entire community.

Ares teaches us that “no” means “no,” and that the consequences for transgressing those boundaries of consent can and should be met with the most severe consequences. He teaches that someone will have the victim’s backs; by not fulfilling Ares’ promise (see below), we insult him and his charges. Ares can also bring courage to victims, and inspires the vulnerable to strengthen themselves when the strength of those charged to protect them fails. He is compassionate towards women and children, and his mythology attests to this. Yes, Ares is a violent, bloody god, but he is only wrathful towards those that transgress the law and make war.

Archetypically, Ares represents the upholder of laws and the protective father. Therefore, rejecting even the archetype of Ares is nonsensical for me. Ares, whose voice is louder than a thousand men, does not encourage silence. His companions are Justice and the Furies, those who send abusers to their doom. Make no mistake, the modern artistic depiction of Justice is dead wrong; Justice sees everything, carries a sword in her right (read [traditionally] dominant) hand, and keeps Ares, Oath, and Furies in tow.

 

Lastly, I feel this myth creates a morally binding promise between society and the innocent victims of abuse to advocate and seek retribution upon those who commit violence against the innocent. It describes a natural law, higher than any statutory authority, wherein victims must be made whole through justice. We can worry about PR and image and community structures AFTER we have begun to care for the hurt.

So please, don’t leave Ares in chains. We as a community cannot afford to break Ares’ promises. So hail Ares, that he may be at our backs and led behind Dike to the betterment of all.

It’s not enough

Having just got out of my business ethics class, I had to sit down and write about the ethical culture of paganism and polytheism, especially in light of the Kenny Klein controversy and the storm of criticism, finger-pointing, and blame games. This is because we (my class) touched on some very good points about the individual’s place in an organization/culture and what it takes to create an ethical culture.

What it boils down to is that no, it’s not enough to be a good person.

In my experience, ethics is a subject glossed over by much of mainstream Western culture, and even more so in the greater pagan community; yes, that includes the recons and devotional polytheists. Why? The answers are many. On one hand, you have an intellectual culture today that, for some reason, is based around the idea that everything is relative. Small pockets of traditional “judgmental” ethical philosophers exist, mostly within the framework of conservative theological schools, but these groups are increasingly marginalized. Our legal culture has also become more shaded, where rich white kids can get off for murder (while poor black kids get the chair) and lawyers frequently circumvent the just will of the people. This is, of course, exacerbated by unscrupulous scientists who use both the nature and nurture sides of human psychology to say, “You can’t blame the criminal, he was born that way/brought up to be a monster.” We, as a society, have accepted these things. If we didn’t, we would surely put our money where our moths are. We have come to value personal liberty over any kind of real responsibility. Many I’ve seen take a libertarian (not necessarily the political) attitude  that, hey, I’m a good person, I’m not hurting anyone, and what other people do or think is no business of mine.

Well, that’s certainly untrue, unwise, and unethical.

 

What we do and what we don’t do will always have an impact. Oh, your next-door neighbor is dating a rather seedy looking guy, and while you’d like to ask about him, it would be impolite, and besides, it’s none of your business, right? Well, just so happens the guy is a criminal; maybe he hits the girl or deals in stolen property. Let’s say this guy isn’t even a bad guy; he may have a shady past, but it’s all behind him now, and he’s a pretty upstanding guy. Well, just because his past is behind him doesn’t mean he’s behind his past. You’d certainly want to know why your house was mistakenly graffitied or gods forbid shot at. If this sounds far-fetched, watch the local Detroit news. That sort of stuff happens all the time here.

Even if it doesn’t happen in your local community, it can spill over. Back in 2005, we had a grisly murder in my town, which is one of the safest in the state, where a whole family was executed in a mafia hit at Christmas. What would have happened if the gunmen were sloppy? I live in a very affluent, tight-knit area at the moment, but even in Boringsville, USA, these things happen. It’s not enough to simply say, “Well I’m a good person, and that’s enough.”

 

Part of the problem with the Klein case has already been pointed out by others: the Rede is not conducive to creating an ethical culture. If you give an inch by saying a little pot is okay, or public nudity, or whatever, that’s fine, but it will often invite bad people to take a mile. Personal accountability is not enough, and our communities do little to encourage public accountability, sometimes even deliberately so.

Let’s not just pick on the Wiccans, though. Hellenic Polytheists have the Maxims of Delphi, which while certainly more complete than the Rede, at least theoretically, still has many holes and is certainly up for interpretation. Take, for example, the instruction “Benefit yourself.” One could argue cheating on a math tests benefits oneself, especially if it’s just a filler credit required by the college and you as a fine arts major have no use for differential equations. Others would say no, you’re cheating yourself, too, and therefore are not really benefiting yourself. This is why the Greeks of old fought ALL THE TIME. Still do, really (all the rioting, all the time, right media?).

So what can we do? The status quo isn’t working, as we can plainly see. Some of you may cringe at being compared to Catholics, but like them, it’s time for us to address the fundamental structures that have–and most likely will continue to–enable abusers and other ne’er-do-wells to plague the community. Well, I have some ideas myself. You may debate them at your leisure, but I’ve found through my experience as an Airman and a student journalist who has covered sex abuse that these steps are important:

 

Step One: Acknowledge the problem

The military has had a huge problem with sexual abuse in recent years, and probably has before that I’m sure, it never hit me until I helped a female colleague carry 15 or so 10″ combat knives to distribute to the females deploying from my unit. Why did they need them? Because every female on deployment was, from that point on, required to carry the blade on her at all times to protect her from her brothers in arms. That’s a huge problem, and the military is only beginning to address it, even though politicians want to make hings harder for them to do so. Thankfully, despite the awful impetus for such, we are now beginning to widely acknowledge that yes, Houston, we have a problem.

 

Step Two: Bystander education

In cases of sexual assault and abuse, there are often people known as passive enablers or bystanders that know an assault or abuse is occurring, but they choose not to intervene.  This may be due to a perceived lack of power to render aide, an assumption that someone else has or will stop the act, or even more insidious reasons. Like the notorious murder of Kitty Genovese in 1964, people assume someone already called the police and therefore they do not have to take any responsibility. While you may not be held legally culpable as a bystander, you are ethically culpable, and it’s important that we as a community hold accountable the evil of good men doing nothing.

 

Step Three: Setting standards

It’s obvious to me that the current standards, or lack thereof, within our various communities is not sufficient. You can seek priesthood, chaplaincy, or the erection of temples and tax-exempt status as an organization, but in the end, it does no one any good if no one is accountable to anyone else. One responsibility of any board, leader, or other governing body is to have a firm ethical policy; this may seem obvious to many, but realize that most corporations and NGOs in the US weren’t required to have ethics programs or officers until the passage of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act in 2002. WRITE THESE STANDARDS DOWN, and in the case of a group, make sure everyone knows they exist. Not everyone has to agree to the standards, but the leaders should, and they should be enforced.

 

Step Four: Standards are not enough

Standards are great, but standards are like a skeleton: they aren’t going to move unless they have the muscles to do so. While this may only be truly applicable to groups (and only legally so to formal, recognized groups), all standards need to addressed with a plan when those standards are transgressed. If Joe Pagan is repeatedly showing up to festivals drunk and is making a mess of things, what are your methods of sanction? Do you tolerate behavior that is illegal but most people consider ethically grey, like the use of marijuana or other controlled substances? If you don’t, do you take Joe aside and try to correct the behavior alone or as a group? Do you send Joe to rehab or narc on him to the cops? What if you’re okay with Joe using pot on his own time, but he’s constantly pressuring others to incorporate it into ritual? While it’s not feasible to plan for every occasion or transgression, you should be fairly able to cover the big stuff or tailor your plans to issues that exist in your group and community. Don’t forget: WRITE IT DOWN!

 

Step Five: Acknowledge you are responsible for and to others

This may be the hardest thing for a lot of people today, but everything you do and don’t do will affect someone else. This is tough lesson I learned in the Air Force, where my actions or lack thereof could get people killed. While most decisions we make do not involve life or death, even the smallest, most innocuous action can cause an unintentional ripple effect. Now, we can debate the merit or harm of certain actions, but the point is to acknowledge that yes, I am responsible to you as a human being, and I am responsible to you if you slip and I refuse to catch you. I’m also responsible for you and the people you hurt if I know you’re doing something wrong and I don’t make any effort to prevent it.  Is it fair? Maybe not. But it’s Just, and that’s what the gods require of us.

Dividends Part I

Some days it amazes me how a little effort gets one a long way–a spark creates a raging fire, a smile a date, or some whispered words a swelling wave of action. I have felt acutely aware in recent days just how the littlest things reverberate and cycle up like electricity in a capacitor, causing tiny currents to grow into palpable and powerful surges, enough to move entire groups of people. This is of course how reciprocity–a cornerstone of both Hellenic religion and human interaction–works.

I read a great article earlier today which, though vulgar, made me really think about the community as it is changing now. Some folks may not think it has changed much, but for me it has. I have changed in relation to it, too. I don’t want to jinx it, but it *almost* seems like the polytheist community is -gasp- growing up and into its own. How do I know? To take a leaf from John Cheese’s article:

#5. We’ve Become Embarrassed of Our Past Selves (And Then We Let It Go)

When I started in Hellenismos about five or six years ago, it was because I was tired of eclecticism in neopaganism, which seemed to be a common thread to many other Hellene’s conversion stories. At the time, I was definitely embarrassed about my roots; I was definitely a Silver Ravenwolf kid. A part of my still cringes writing that, but when I really reflect back on it, that woman did more to pique my curiosity in alternative religion than any other author I know. That’s me letting go. That’s not the end of the story, though. I was a very aggressive in my anti-eclecticism in my early days as a Hellene. I knew a lot of other youngish firebrands who were the same way. Eventually, however, I noticed a lot of people started to mellow out. At least in the circles I currently associate in, we’ve (mostly) moved past breaking things down into building things up.

 

#4. We’ve Started Double-Thinking Our Actions

 

From my contacts with polytheists, I know a lot goes unsaid and undone. I’m always cautious before committing words to the page; it’s tough to balance what I feel everyone should know about Ares and what I personally feel about things. We’ve begun to really acquire a self-awareness of how our actions affect others in the polytheist community. As Cheese’s article states, “You know you’ve made a huge step toward adulthood when you start regularly thinking about how your words and actions affect other people. Especially when dealing with anger.”  There was a huge upset over the summer regarding the effects pop-culture has on paganism/polytheism which led to the Silent July protest. The ripples caused by that protest are just now returning to the center from the edges of the blogoshpere. What amazes me is that, for the most part, the Silent July event did more to cement our small community’s values than talking to folks ever could. By writing letters instead of blogging–by writing letters in a physical medium rather than typing–I got to know other polytheists more than I could by reading. It’s that sort of intimacy that creates the environment necessary for building real relationships, which in turn creates real community. Sometimes that means caring even when you could care less (because there’s really only so many times you can read about how utterly awesome my chihuahua Chloe is).

 

#3. We’ve Stopped Following Through on the Desire to Break Shit

This one goes back to the whole pop-culture debacle, too. While Cheese is correct in saying it’s mostly a guy thing, it can occur with women, too. Remember a year or so ago when some polytheist women started veiling and were called regressive, damaging to women’s rights, and even racist for somehow marginalizing the plight of women forced to veil in the Muslim world? Because that happened. Yes, trolling still exists, but in my experience at least, things have died down or gone underground. Part of my struggle as a devotee of Ares is certainly about using a blanket “kill them all” solution to communal strife, because it’s not a practical (or even really desirable) solution. As I mentioned earlier, we’re beginning to move away from breaking things to building things, as evidenced by the Polytheism Without Borders project and Thessaly Temenos’ Hellenic Revival.

 

#2. We Learned Ways to Make Responsibility Suck Less

This is really more of a mish-mash of individual achievements lately. A lot of folks are stopping talking about creating community and are doing it. While the two projects above certainly are the largest and ambitious so far, there’s a lot of little stuff going on, too. Community building is a long, tedious process, one which we are all responsible for. Silent July really helped this when everyone decided to write letters. Yes, we created a new responsibility/chore for ourselves; writing a letter means taking time out of a busy day, buying paper, pens, envelopes, and stamps. That’s right, we had to spend money–a book of stamps costs around $20 right now, pens can be up to $5, and a ream of paper or box of envelopes are about $2. If you’re like me and like to write everyone at once, that means sacrificing about an hour or two of your day. But you know what? That shit is worth it. There’s no better feeling than opening up the mailbox at the end of the day and finding something other than a bill, a fistful of ads, or some stupid notice from the VA telling you something you already know. It makes the effort and the expense worth it. The mutual obligation and responsibility also create shared experiences and esprit de corps, two very necessary elements in molding a group of very different people into one cohesive whole.

 

#1. You Realize That if Something Happens to You, Other People Are Fucked

A lot of people don’t know they’re important to other people. Part of the reason we  as a species record and pass on information is that we’re mortal, and any day can be our last. Even in cases not involving mortality, things still change or come to an end. Some people stop blogging, and if you’re the only one who’s got the info on a particular subject, everyone loses out if you somehow go missing. I’m not sure if any of you have noticed, but for one reason or another, the voices of Apollon’s worshipers have gone pretty quiet lately, at least for the blogs I follow. I’ve been contacted by folks as far afield as Brazil and France saying they thought they were the only ones who worshiped Ares. I’m glad there are more Areisian voices out there, but I feel bad when I don’t post enough, because there is a desire out there to learn about my god. For those of you that were members of the Hellenismos.us forum, it was pretty disappointing when it was shut down for (silly) political reasons involving its creator (thankfully a few folks there created the Olympianismos forum instead). Its nice to see that a lot of polytheists are noticing this and are doing more to spread the knowledge and experience around, as well as mentoring and supporting each other.

 

 

Don’t think that because you aren’t writing a blog, starting an event, or creating artwork that you aren’t integral to the community. There are plenty of polytheists I interact with on Facebook or other places that don’t write, but they do support me and I in turn support them. Just because it was religion that brought us together doesn’t mean we don’t have other things to talk about. Plenty of you are parents, which I’m not. Some are artists, some are cooks, others are students. You want to know what Lady Imbrium I talk about most? Goats. I really look forward to her letters because I love hearing about her goats and the rest of the farm. She’s doing some pretty awesome stuff, and supporting her outside of the religious sphere is my duty and privilege as a friends. In the end, no matter what you do, that’s what community building is all about: support. Keep doing good work folks.