The Dogs of War

Whilst researching the cultic connections between Ares and His sister, Athene, I could not help but to be intrigued by the commonalities between Ares and Hekate as well. Ares and Hekate have odd symmetry at times, from cult sacrifices to titles, and even symbolism. I wanted to take time today to speculate on possible links and associations within their myths and cult, and what we might do to incorporate those in our own practices.

As the title of this post may suggest, both Hekate and Ares are associated with dogs. Hekate is often depicted in art as being accompanied by a female dog, a companion she gained when Hekabe threw herself from the walls of Troy. Though Ares, to my knowledge has never been depicted with a dog in art, He is nonetheless associated with dogs through His dominion over war and, more specifically, His cults in Sparta and Thrake.

It should be interesting to note, that of all the various victims in Greek sacrificial practice, dogs were only offered to two divinities: Ares and Hekate. Pausanias describes these sacrifices as both rare amongst Greeks and chthonic, using a black puppy as the victim and the ritual taking place at night, often in seclusion. Spartan ephebes would sacrifice a puppy to Ares Enyalios as an offering before ritual combat, as Pausanias says, “… holding that the most valiant of tame animals is an acceptable victim to the most valiant of the gods”. Pausanias went on to describe that the people of Kolophon, near Ephesus, also sacrifice puppies to Hekate in this way. Speculation on the origin of this practice occurred even in ancient times; I suspect it may have originated in Thrake, as both gods have prominent cults in the region, and have a greater variance of sacrificial victims than on mainland Greece, however it may be a hold-over from more archaic Greek practice. For a more in-depth look at dogs in Greek religion, see Lykeia’s recent post “Of dogs and wolves“.

One oft-overlooked connection between Ares and Hekate is the symbolic use of the torch. Hekate’s association with torches is common knowledge; She is often depicted carrying two torches, and seeing that her cults are mainly chthonic and take place during darkness, it makes sense for Her to carry a light source. Most people miss the connection of Ares to torches, however. In later Hellenic warfare custom, and early Roman, it was tradition that when two armies met, the ground on which they fought must be cleansed and sanctified. This was done possibly to lessen the miasma that occurs when blood is shed. Each army would send forth a torch-bearer to the center of the field, who would then throw their torches in the direction of the opposing army, thus consecrating them and the battlefield. It was actually considered a war crime to harm these men until they had rejoined their lines, because as some historical texts indicate, these men were considered priests of Ares.

Now, this loose connection can not be said to actually link the two gods in any definitive way; it is simply an association. However, I feel it can be speculated that, in these instances, the symbol of the torch is both purifying and protective. It could also be speculated that the torch is as a badge of office, as in the case of Ares’ torch bearers, as well as Hekate as a guide to the dead. Both gods do deal significantly with death, and both have been called terrible or frightening and destroyers. It may be that they are more closely tied, at least in function, than previously thought, which leads me to the last significant detail.

Hekate’s associations with witchcraft and curses is well-known to many, much to the chagrin of many modern Hellenic Polytheists who feel modern neopagans co-opted Hekate and turned Her into a distortion of Her original form. While I won’t comment on that here, Hekate has been called on in the past to both aid and work against witches, including acting as the bringer and fulfiller of curses. Cursing was a serious act in the ancient world; you could be put to death for practicing magic and cursing people, even in ancient Hellas.

It may surprise you that Ares was also invoked as an agent in retributive curses. In Aeschylus’ plays, Ares leads two brothers, doomed by a curse uttered by their dying father, to die at each other’s hand. The brothers, fighting over their inheritance, find out too late that Ares is the agent of their father’s curse, and Ares, led by Dike and accompanied by the Furies, lays the brothers and their armies low. Two of Ares’ sacred animals, the barn owl and the eagle owl, fly by night, and are portents of sedition and war. Interesting that they may be nocturnal, creatures at home in Hekate’s realm…

So, now armed with this knowledge, how might we incorporate this into our rites and practices? Personally, up to this point, I have barely acknowledged Hekate in my personal devotions. This information, however, does give me ideas.

The very first thing that came to mind was to sacrifice a votive pair of dogs to both Hekate and Ares. My plan is to carve a pair in wood, and to paint them black. Perhaps then I may leave one at a crossroads, for Hekate, and dedicate the other before a airsoft battle, for Ares. I think this would appropriately fulfill the spirit of the ancient sacrifices, while at the same time avoiding having to actually kill a puppy.

Speaking of puppies, I would also encourage you to contact your local animal shelter to see what you can do to help. If you can, adopt a dog, as many who do not become adopted are euthanized. Or, visit a no-kill shelter and volunteer some time to play with the dogs there, as dogs who are socialized are more likely to be adopted. In the United States, there is also a special organization called  Soldier’s Best Friend, who train service and therapy dogs for veterans and service members with PTSD and TBI. SBF often uses rescue dogs, and you can apply for one for vets you know, or donate on their website, linked above.

Another way to represent both Ares and Hekate as part of your home shrine is to keep a small candle or torch. Unless you can do so safely, never leave a lit candle or torch going continuously or unattended. If you have the space, you can even install brackets for torches, and I’m sure I’ve seen modern electric torches if you are so inclined. Certainly, torches are appropriate for outdoor rituals, both private and group affairs. As always, remember to be safe, and avoid using fire in dry areas or in high winds, which may blow hot ash and start a wildfire.

One last tidbit I might suggest is also to honor Ares as part of Hekate’s Diepnon, though you may wish to perform some sort of divination beforehand to avoid offending the goddess.

I hope you enjoyed this little survey of similarities and links between Ares and Hekate, and I hope you learned something, as I did. In the meantime, Hail Ares!

2 comments on “The Dogs of War

  1. […] Helms examines the oft-neglected similarities between Ares and Hekate: It should be interesting to note, that of […]

  2. […] Read the full article […]

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