Tidbits

So I found this interesting ditty doing research for my book. Supposedly, it comes from the Suda Lexicon compiled by the Byzantines around the 10th century A.D.

Theus Ares (Dushrara); this is the god Ares in Arabic Petra. They worship the god Ares and venerate him above all. His statue is an unworked square black stone. It is four foot high and two feet wide. It rests on a golden base. They make sacrifices to him and before him they anoint the blood of the sacrifice that is their anointment.”

 

A few small, quick observations: one, that this syncretic Ares is the chief god of their pantheon, which could be one reason the region turns out such good warriors–they’d want to make their god proud. Second, that his icon is a square, black stone, much like the Kaaba. Three, they perform anointing with the blood much in the way I personally do when blood is involved in my rituals. I never really had a source for that, but they, I figure that if I do have past lives, many of them were in fact Arab. Then of course there’s the fun, personal coincidence that Petra is the feminine form of my name… Ah the things you learn.

Ares’ Best Friend

When people talk of Ares, and especially of his relations with other gods, there are a few words that get thrown around: “passion”, “hatred”, “love”, and “violent”. Yet for some reason, many people skip “friend”. The rivalry with Athene and passion for Aphrodite are common themes in Aresian myth, and yet, we often forget the many myths Ares spends paling around with whom I’d call his best buddy in the divine world. I’m talking, of course, of Hermes.

Hermes is a constant player in Aresian myth. He is the god who helps Ares escape the Aloadai giants, where he had been trapped for a year in a brazen jar. It is into Hermes’ hands that Ares delivers the criminal Sisyphos, who then escorts the petulant king to Haides. It is Hermes who retrieves Ares to his trial upon the Aeropagus, and it is Hermes who delivers Ares into the hands of Dike in his cult in Anatolia.

It should be of no surprise Ares and Hermes show up together in myth and cult. Ares and Hermes are both potent male figures with an erotic bent; Ares is the sexy bad boy where Hermes is the virile youth (ever see a herm?). Both are gods associated with the chora, with Ares as its general guardian and Hermes the guardian of travelers. Speaking of travelers, both are gods of banditry. Ares is alluded to having sat with Hermes at Olympian feasts by Homer. The pairing of Hermes and Ares is a central part of Aeschylean theology, especially in the cult at Syedra in Anatolia (and most likely Biannos on Crete as well). Both were associated with dogs (a trait that is shared with Hekate as well), with Hermes as their god and with Ares as accepting them in sacrifice.

It’s really a wonder we don’t see these gods paired more often in modern Hellenismos. However, they do figure prominently into my personal cult (gotta guide all those dead hippies out of the way :P), especially in the Aresia festivals. So a toast to Hermes:

Hail Hermes, companion of Ares

You who guides both Man and Beast

A toast to you, dear Hermes

Hold fast our friend and hold us in esteem

That we may be blessed as Ares

With kind words from you, swift messenger

Religious Goals for 2013

Along with the Year of Epic Crafting, which will have some religious undertones (notably the xiphos), I do have some even more religiously important goals for 2013.

My first two most ambitious goals are woven together intimately. The first part is finishing my book. The launch of the book, I have decided, will also launch my formal creation of a local Aresian cult. Now that I finally have what I feel is an acceptable cult image (my finished statue), I think I feel comfortable becoming a more formal dedicant, possibly even a (gasp) priest. Of course, almost 99% of the cultic material will be printed in my book, so no worries there, you can join me (cue “one of us” chanting).

I also plan on expanding my art projects. I may even begin selling some, especially of Ares, because if y’all are anything like me, those on the market just aren’t good enough (seriously, Ares is a war-god, put some armor on him!). I also want to expand my offerings to other gods. I think the most important ones, to me, would be Aphrodite (because I so neglect her, and it shows), Hephaestos (all the metal projects). and possibly Artemis (with the hunting and all). The other gods are important, and I give a nod to them every once in a while, but for now, I’m going to start out small and slow until things become more routine.

Speaking of routines, I really want to get into the rhythm of being more devotional. Pouring more wine, lighting more incense, and most importantly for you all, writing more. I’m a pretty spontaneous guy, so routines have never been my strong point, but I want to cultivate a little more discipline, especially religiously. It’s not that I don’t have the time; I just don’t have the mindfulness.

My final goal, at least for now, is to hunker down and finish reading the rest of the Greek classics, and make more progress actually learning  Ancient Greek. The last part will be toughest, especially because I would rather learn manly Greek (Dorian) as opposed to wuss Greek (Attic) [just teasing, for those of you who couldn’t catch that], and most of the sources are in Attic. I can already read the letters and words, and have a pretty good handle on some religious and war-related vocabulary. I’ve also got a basic understanding of how to make plurals and identify masculine, feminine, and neuter words. I really need to work on verbs and sentence structure. I think focusing on the Maxims should help me begin to grasp the grammar, as that’s part of their purpose.

Well, that’s all I have for now. I’ll let you know if I come with anything else (I know I will). Until then, Hail Ares!

What is a Warrior?

First, I want to acknowledge the fact that Aspis of Ares has made it an entire year (actually as of August) and I want to thank you all very much for the support and encouragement. Hopefully, I can continue to produce quality material that pleases both Ares and you, the readers. I’ve done my best to avoid overly salting each post with my own personal approach and politics while keeping things simple yet spicy enough to sate the voracious intellectual appetites of the recon and pagan communities. That being said, I’ve avoided this topic for as long as I’ve had this blog because it causes more awful controversy and nastiness in the community than seems appropriate. However, I realize I cannot shrink away from this any longer.

What is a warrior?

There is a lot of discussion and debate as to the meaning of this word, especially in pagan circles. Some take a literalist approach, using the dictionary definition of “warrior”. Others take a more psychological or “spiritual”  approach, and refer to the struggling warrior archetype of Jungian interpretation. Let’s explore the spectrum now, and I’ll add my understanding of how Ares plays in with those notions and we’ll see if we can find some sort of suitable definition from which we can work from.

Let’s start with the literal definition, here taken from Wikepedia:

warrior is a person skilled in combat or warfare, especially within the context of a tribal or clan-based society that recognizes a separate warrior class.

Okay, let’s pick out the key pieces of information. Most basically, a warrior is a person skilled in warfare or combat. That’s pretty simple, yes? That’s pretty basic, and the article clarifies this with the context of a “tribal or clan-based society” with a separate “warrior class”. Tribal and clan-based society is easy enough to define, but for our purposes as devotees of Ares, it doesn’t really work. Greece, as far as we can gather from the evidence, largely moved on from tribal structures by the time the cults became more established, for lack of a better term.

The second qualifier, a warrior class, is a little more tricky to define in the context of ancient Greek society. On the pan-Hellenic scale, there was no warrior class, just as there was not priestly class. However, certain localities held their warriors in higher esteem than the common man,  most notably Sparta, but also Thrake and the deme of Acharnai in Athens (home of the cult of Ares and Athena Areia). These regions were well-known for producing exceptionally strong and dedicated hoplites, and of course the adjective Spartan has entered the common vernacular to describe anything exceedingly challenging or doggedly simple (almost a contradiction, but that’s English…).

So now, at the base level, we have a certain class of people who are skilled in combat. This is a very straight-forward definition, and one that harmonizes well with the etymology of Ares’ name, whose root is “are”, ‘to harm’. Warriors are a group or class of people whose profession/place in life is to harm other people or things.

***

On to the second, more psychological definition of a warrior. This may describe any “… person who shows or has shown great vigor, courage, or aggressiveness, as in politics or athletics.” In the macro-level sense of the word, a warrior is one who struggles. This is a broad definition that can be applied to a vast array of people, such as the aforementioned politicians or athletes, as well as lawyers (who fight legal “battles”), people who overcome personal struggles (weight, emotional issues, handicaps, etc.), or even one who works against things such as abstract or non-violent as weeds in the lawn. This definition is classless (equal) and broad. Everyone struggles against something.

In addition, the second definition almost always suggests some sort of abstract code to be used. Lawyers and politicians are (supposed) to closely follow both the written law and unwritten laws of social mores. Athletes are held by society to perform under their own power and skill and avoid performance enhancers. Individuals are (hopefully) expected to at least do as they say they will, be it in a diet or actively trying to better their situation without resorting to shortcuts (i.e. cheating). While the literal violent warriors of the previous definition often do have codes of conduct, they are not expressly required to have one.

***

These two definitions can come into conflict, and often do in the pagan community. On one side, a small but growing group of pagan military veterans, who embody the first definition,  are coming forward to claim our “tribe’s” status as warriors. However, this can clash with people who use the second definition and  give that status to anyone who struggles. Some folks feel it is inappropriate to give a title to someone who, by one definition, have not earned it by going to war (which is the root word of warrior, obviously). Others may contend that the literal definition is too narrow and excludes people who struggle, especially those who struggle on behalf of others.

Personally, I am in the first camp, that of the literalists. To me, it would be giving out an unearned status to call anyone a warrior who has not at least formally trained for its profession. A status is exactly what we are talking about. One can embody many of the traits one needs to attain a status, but that doesn’t mean the status applies.  People should not feel bad about not being able to enter into one status or another. I can never earn the status of being  a mom. I cannot, and an American citizen, earn the title of Knight. Statuses have to have some exclusivity to maintain value. Not all women can be moms, and that’s what makes being a mom special. Not everyone can be a manager.

Does this mean that one cannot harmonize the two definitions, that they are mutually exclusive? No. Do you have to accept my reasoning on the matter? No. It is also unlikely we can speculate on the nature of Ares’ or any of the other gods’ thoughts. Hopefully though, there is enough information here to start a serious discussion of the merits of both definitions and how we can better apply them to the members of our communities. And, as always, Hail Ares!

Cults and Sanctuaries

So today I was reading Ancient Greek Religion (2nd ed.) (AGR) by Jon Mikalson. It’s a really great book, especially for its first chapter. It takes one, step-by-step, through the process of founding a new cult, from catalyst to festivals. The example used by Mikalson is that of Poseidon Soter at Sunium, a fortification and village of Athens. Mikalson does a fantastic job capturing the mind of the reader, and for the reconstructionist, he may as well have called it a handbook. Because this is something I planned on addressing in my book, I figured I’d go over the basics for what founding a cult of Ares might look like.

For the purpose of simplicity, I will outline the process as ordered in AGR: Location, Altar, Temenos, Priests and Priestesses, Sacred Days, Dedications, Statue and Temple, and Worship. Like Mikalson, I will be rather generic in my application here, so as not to unnecessarily mix and match specific, established cultic elements from various times or places, but rather choose common cultic elements associated with Ares.

For the sake of example, I will set up a cult to Ares Enyalios, the Lord of War. In our hypothetical situation, we are ephebes tasked with establishing a new garrison on the road between our city and the next. We want to ensure not only our safety, but also our strength, in the event our neighbor becomes unfriendly. In addition, we must also ensure the safety of the road from bandits and thieves who may attempt to prey on farmers and merchants travelling the road.

 

I: Location.

Ares’ sanctuaries are often extramural, that is, outside the city gates. This is because He must be there to protect both the chora (farmlands surrounding a city) but be in such a position so as to prevent the enemy from reaching the polis. For Ares, we might also look for springs, hills and other natural “fortifications”, or even ancient battlefields. Or, if no inherently sacred place presents itself, divination may suffice. Because we want to include our cult as part of a garrison, we find a nice, rocky outcropping overlooking a major road between the two cities.

2: Altar.

The altar is the primary material focal point of any cult. The size and beauty are testament to both the prestige of the cult and its function; small altars serve smaller cults, and vice-versa. Altars also vary on the type of cult, Ouranic (sky) or Chthonic (underworld). Chthonic cults usually have pit-like altars, or are in some way open to the earth. However, Ares Enyalios is an Ouranic aspect, so our altar will be made of stone. Most altars were oriented east; Ares’ altars have been known to be oriented both east and west. We can say our garrison shall be east of a road travelling north-south, so we will go with greater tradition and point our altar east, facing away from the road. Because our garrison is rather small, maybe 100 strong, we will only set up a small stone altar, about 6’x3’x3′. We would chisel the name Ares Enyalios into the stone, and that would establish our most basic cult.

3. Temenos.

Once the altar is established, we must establish a temenos, or a cut-off portion of land that becomes the sacred property of the god. This border is not necessarily meant to protect or limit access to the altar, but it sets aside the sanctuary as sacred space, one which those who have been polluted are barred entry. However, pollution affects everyone, so at the entrance of the temenos is a stone basin for khernips. Because we’re setting up our sanctuary within a fort, we want to keep our temenos smaller, perhaps no more than 30’x30′, small enough to fit inside the battlements but big enough to fit the assembled soldiers.

4. Priests and Priestesses.

Mikalson gives a general pattern of men serving gods and women serving goddesses. In the case of Ares, both were common, given the prevalence for single-sex cultus. However, as a garrison which contains only men (at least in ancient times), we will have a priest, most likely the commander, who would be the most well-versed in the worship of Ares. It would be his responsibility to ensure the temenos was kept clean and ritually pure, as well as to lead group sacrifice on holy days and special occasions. Individuals, as always, could make offerings on their own behalf at their leisure.

5. Sacred Days.

Each cult has its own holy days, and these will vary even within the cult of the same deity in different locations. We may make a group sacrifice on the same day each month, or hold an annual festival commemorating a victory or the founding of the cult. Perhaps it is a festival of thanksgiving, where local farmers and merchants gather at the garrison to thank Ares and the ephebes for their protection.

6. Dedications.

Mikalson classifies a dedication as anything given to the god that is in someway permanent, such as a votive, war spoils, etc. This is opposed to consumables, such as incense,  animals, wine, or other foodstuff. Common in any sanctuary would be the weapons and armor of those who fell in battle, especially the enemy. Such gifts are signs of Ares’ favor and strength, and the power that he gives his followers. Soldiers may dedicate small statuettes of Ares or horses. When something becomes broken, it can either be disposed of within the temenos, or recycled; a collection of old spear-heads may be melted down and cast as a statue. As votives and other offerings pile up, the group decides they need a place to put the objects, leading to…

7. Statue and Temple.

Temples often serve two purposes: first, they are a “dwelling place” for the god to reside in when invoked; second, they serve as storehouses for the god’s property. Little if any worship actually takes place inside the temple; that takes place outdoors at the altar. However, if the ephebes need a place to store votives or protect the god’s property from the elements, they might build a temple. We only need a small temple, maybe 10’x10’x10′, enough to house a statue of Ares and some of his more valuable or vulnerable objects. As mentioned before, old votives made of bronze or other metals can be recycled into a new cult statue. Considering our cult is very martial, we might choose to portray Ares in full armor and in a pose of battle, or perhaps in a chariot commanding troops. Much of this may be determined by…

8. Worship.

Worship in Greek religion is deceptively simple: honor the gods. We offer honor to the gods by giving gifts and praising them, by keeping our vows, and by acting with virtue. We respect the god, his priests, and his property. We do our best to avoid profaning or polluting his sacred space. We sacrifice before a battle to ensure our safety, and afterwards to thank him for victory. We sing hymns and offer prayers, and honor the god with prowess in battle. From pouring wine to slaughtering beasts, we keep Ares ever in our mind, aiming for his honor and our own.

***

See how simple that was. Sure, getting land these days is not easy, nor has it ever been cheap, and Ares wasn’t exactly what you might call a household deity. However, as long as there’s a will, there’s a way (and a blessing from Olympos wouldn’t hurt, either). So, in the name of Ares, and in the names of the other gods, get out there and start something. You never know where it may end up. Hail Ares!

 

 

Dreaming a little dream of…me?

So, I don’t really dream often. I simply don’t do it. My eyes even stay pretty still. What dreams I do have are all either super mundane (think grocery shopping) or so horrifically violent that they don’t bear retelling. However I did have one cool dream I thought you may all appreciate, especially if it’s all prophetic-like.

 

So there I am in Athens. Never been there, except by means of Google Earth, so yeah. I was staying in an apartment with a friend (I have no friends in Athens) near the Akropolis, which I took a really cool helicopter tour of. Except, this isn’t the same Akropolis you can visit today, because today it is in ruins. The one I visited was restored. Granted, it wasn’t a functioning temple prescient, but rather a museum and monument.

After the aerial tour, I walked around the grounds and the Areopagus, where vendors were selling replica statues and canvas prints of ancient frescoes and such. It was pretty awesome. I remember one marble of Ares a sculptor was working on, standing tall and defiant with a spear in hand, as if he were looking out surveying a battlefield. Others were in various stages of completion, and the whole district was filled with ancient-style craftsmen.

Too bad it was all just a dream. It would make for an amazing trip though.

Research, Research, Research

Well folks, I have to say that so far, getting this book written is coming together better than I thought. With the unfortunate exception of my partner having to drop out, things are sailing along quite smoothly. With the addition of a Lesser Aresia, I’ve found at least two more festivals to reconstruct for my book: The Areia, an Athenian festival near the end of Metageitnion/beginning of Boedromion (about mid August) celebrates Ares and Athene Areia, possibly as founder gods and supporters of the Ephebes, and probably involves choral contests, among others; the second is the Enyalia, a celebration re-enacting the victory of the Athenians over Salamis, and involves a running procession to a promontory. I haven’t quite tracked down a date for this, but a review of the history books should suffice. But hey, awesomeness, right?

On another note, I’ve also been reading up on ancient battlefield religion, and how closely tied Ares, Apollon, and Artemis are in those respects. You can expect a few simple rites and prayers to come out honoring those three and others, too. More and more, this book is becoming liturgical more than philosophical, which appeases my inner “priestly” side greatly. It’s one thing to understand Ares through droll discussion and supposition, but it’s greater to follow behind him in practice, prayer, and ritual in my not-so-unbiased opinion.

Thank you all who have helped, are helping, and will help in this endeavor. I received an oracle from Sannion and Dionysos that the effort is well appreciated, which is very motivating. While I may not be blogging as frequently right now, I am thinking about you all! Hail Ares!