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.

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Ares 101: Building a Shrine to Ares

Last time in the Ares 101 series, I covered the reasons one might consider when deciding whether or not to build a shrine to Ares. So let’s say that’s something you are now contemplating doing. Where do we want to start? Let’s look at the bare essentials and move out from there. Keep in mind, the “essentials” aren’t  so essential as in mandatory, but essential as in “this is generally what one has on a shrine regardless of who/what it’s for”. For ease of explanation, I am including photos of my current shrine to serve as inspiration, as well as some other from around the internet. shrine

The Essentials:

A cult image–cult images often serve as the focal point of any shrine. Many folks use a framed picture or a statue as their cult images. Sometimes, there is more than one cult image; my own shrine currently contains four. They can be simple drawings or complex paintings, simple effigies or elaborately made affairs cast from metal. Don’t think you need expensive stone or metal statuary to serve as your cult image; some of the most beautiful, like this one at Hellenion’s Temenos site, are a simple yet elegant homemade painting. In fact, I will always suggest a handmade, personal cult image over a run-of-the-mill one you can buy in a store. They’re much more meaningful, and make great gifts to the god.

Not all cult images depicted the god, however. The Thakians used an old iron sword, and weapons of all types have been used to represent the god, the spear in particular. The Corinthian helm is another iconic symbol of the ancient warrior and can be used to represent Ares among others. I have two statues that serve as cult images, one I’ve made and one bought online. I also have two other drawn images I use as cult images.

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Ares Andreiohontes A Libation dish–libation dishes serve to hold liquids from libations. It is important you use a vessel that is not porous or can tarnish; wine is acidic and will eventually work its way through metal. Glazed clay or wax-sealed metal vessels are your best bet. Many craft stores sell both pre-fired vessels and a variety of clays  for making your own dishes, and most can be sealed simply by paining them with food-safe acrylic paints or melted beeswax. If you have access to a pottery, you can buy or throw a small vessel and glaze your own. This is what I have done myself. I used an underglaze to include armor and weapon motifs and Ares’ name before adding a clear coat to seal the clay and make it watertight. As a matter of courtesy to the god as well as good hygiene, it is important to regularly clean your vessel so it does not develop mold.

Libation dish

 

Incense burner–the final item I would consider essential would be an incense burner. Depending on the type of incense you use, this could be a stick burner, a stone platform for cones, or even a metal urn for holding coals for use with resin incenses. I actually use both stick and resin incenses, so I have a wooden stick burner and a black metal urn filled with sand. I generally use the stick incense, but I will use the resin for special occasions. The benefit to sticks is that you can technically reuse the stick by putting it out and relighting it until it is gone, though I don’t know too many who do this. Resin incense is great because it creates a lot of fragrant smoke and is always dung free, unlike some cheaper sticks and cones.

 

Other Items

 

Some other items you may encounter include a tablecloth to protect the surface of your shrine, a container for incense (I use soapstone jars for resin incenses), candles, and various devotional or votive offerings. Items common to Ares’ historical shrines included the weapons and armor of dead heroes and enemies as well. I welded together a wire frame Corinthian helmet to signify this,

shrine 2

 

 

 

Hopefully, This gives you enough information to start your own shrine for the war-god. If you want to go deeper into Ares’ cult, I suggest staying tuned in. In the next few posts, I will be covering symbols for representing Ares, holy days and more. If you have any topics you wish to see covered, or have any suggestions or comments regarding your decisions about whether or not to build a shrine, let everyone know in the comments. Until then, hail Ares!

S**t I Wish I had Known

Going back to the theme of beginning a devotional practice, I wanted to go over some things that I’ve learned during my few years in the Hellenic Polytheist community and beginning my devotional practice. These are some things I wish I had known going in and don’t necessarily get written down anywhere, so I wanted to get them down in print. I hope they help you as much as reflecting upon them helps me.

 

1: Devote yourself to the gods, and also to people.

Being in a minority religion, even if you’re just dabbling, can be intimidating, especially in reconstructionist groups (you know, homework and all that). The gods make great leaders, but because of their transcendent, often aloof nature, they don’t always make the best of companions. The gods aren’t friends after all (imo anyway); who has the time when there are wars to start, a million newborns to watch over, etc.? My advice? Find some friends, even if you only talk online. If you can converse via letters, the phone, or (good gravy) even in person, all the better. You don’t necessarily have to be good friends or agree on everything; a simple study buddy can be a great help. Getting through the Iliad is tough, even for a hardcore student. But imagine if you could read it book by book with a partner and discuss the themes, anecdotes, and minor myths contained therein; it could even be fun. In a religion with homework, a study partner is almost essential.

2: Keep a diary and record your experiences and offerings you give.

I’ve always found diaries a tedious undertaking, because writing without an audience just bites at the practical side of myself. However, if your goal is to become pious and more aware of the ineffable, a diary can be a powerful tool. The ancients used to keep ledgers containing lists of offerings they gave to the gods, both to organize the gods’ property, and to keep track of the gifts passed back and forth. If your ledger was in the red (the gods gave you more than you gave), maybe you could try pushing it toward black again with a libation or other offering. My advice: keep track of your blessings. It’s a great way to keep humble and put meaning into the offerings you give back.

3: Start slow.

If you try to offer to all twelve Olympians, the other gods, the titans, and other spirits, ancestors,heroes, and perhaps foreign deities, you’re going to go crazy. And broke. If you’re like most folks, you probably aren’t super wealthy anyway, so don’t worry about commissioning statues or building temples just yet. Pick one or two gods and start there. Students often give to Athene, and many folks follow Dionysos or Hekate. Also, don’t worry about being a full-fledged scholar. Yes, the recon groups are a bunch of stuck-up know-it-alls sometimes, but you will pick things up pretty quick if you pay attention. Besides, scholarship will come; you’ll read or hear some epithet or reference in conversation and want to know more. If you feel guilty about not offering to one god or another, be assured that some kind priestly person is offering on everyone’s behalf. Once you get into a comfortable routine, then add to it. A great way to start is to follow the simple monthly regimen given at HMEPA, which follows the ancient Athenian calendar (add Ares to day five!). Add to it as needed, and remember to keep your notebook handy!

4: Be patient and persevere.

Remember above how I wrote a lot of people are into Dionysos or Hekate? Well, I’m not really into either. At all. I feel called to Ares, who isn’t exactly the most popular god, either in antiquity or today. Most books have only a tiny section devoted to the god, and will rarely fill a chapter in even the most exhaustive books. It took me about four years and almost $100 to find an obscure dissertation about Ares’ cult. And Ares was an Olympian. Feel called to Nyx, Haides, or Harmonia? Good luck finding sources. They exist, but they are few. Don’t let that get you down. Information, both historic and nuministic (in the form of UPG and oracular announcements) can come to light at any time. Don’t be afraid to ask around and dig deep into whatever you find.

5: Pack your big-kid underpants.

The Hellenic community is filled with a lot of very smart people with very strong opinions that are often backed up by heaps of evidence, which can be great for a lively debate, but not for making friends. Between passionate reverence and cold, analytical study, little room can be left for empathy or sympathy. I’m a hardass and I know it. It’s important to remember that often times, a sharp jab at an idea or comment isn’t a jab against you personally. Most recons, in practice, often act too coldly to really be personal. If you make it personal though, do bring the Greek fire, because you can bet someone else will. Eris and Ares love the infighting, or as I like to call it, the crucible of awesomeness.  If you are the sensitive type, you may have trouble, but if you stick with the like-minded, stick up for yourself, and refuse to succumb to trolls, you’ll be just fine.

6: Don’t forget the gods.

It can be easy to get wrapped up in debates about the validity of magic, which edition of whatever book is best, and exactly how much UPG is too much. Sometimes, you get so wrapped up in the academics and debates you get burnt out and forget the central focus of Hellenismos: revering the gods. They are the most important part. If you have to deviate from the books because your god told you to, everyone can bitch, but they can’t stop you. I disagree with the practice of magic, but there are plenty of people that do it and I can’t do jack squat about it. Does it interfere with my worship? No. Should it? Never. The gods are most important, and if they find anything particularly offensive, they’ll probably let the offender know before you. Seriously, don’t forget the gods.

 

 

 

7-9 Metageitnion

The last few days have been interesting. Libations were offered to a few gods. It was a little weird offering to Poseidon and Theseus. I’ve never been a fan of either, really. In fact, I absolutely hate water and avoid it except to bathe and/or not die of dehydration. I always get terribly seasick despite being born into a sailing family (my grandparents used to do the Mackinac race every year). Hell, swimming is a part of most Michigan public school curricula, and in many districts, you can’t graduate without it.

I did have a very odd dream last night, however. At first I was on a ship, with pirates. That didn’t last very long, as I was sent to hunt this giant white stag. It was probably six feet tall at the shoulder and living on a steep, Rocky Mountain covered in deep green mosses and lichens. The hunt occurred at night with moonlight, but I didn’t see what phase. I shot the stag, and somewhere along the course of the dream he transformed into a walrus. No clue why. Anyway, I sank probably twenty or so arrows deep into its flesh, but it just wouldn’t die. I went to fetch a knife, blue and very, very sharp, to end the poor beast, but it gave me this very sad look that said, “No, the knife is cheating, you must use the arrows.” That’s about where I woke up. I’m not one to remember dreams, and those I do remember are just the standard killing folks (I have those dreams a lot, because of war and all). This dream was oddly vivid and outside the normal symbolism of my dreamscape. Anyone care to interpret? Because I have a feeling this one means something. I made sure to thank whatever god it was that gave me the dream, but thanking is not understanding. Should be fun to learn, however. Until then, hail Ares!

5 & 6 Metageitnion

So I missed yesterday’s libation in the frenzy of cleaning that hit my home for today’s city inspection, therefore I preformed both Ares’ and Artemis’ today. However, it did give me the opportunity to move some things around, clean out some miasma, and hang a few pictures above my shrine. Aphrodite even got her own offering dish. I need to glaze/paint a few more I have waiting in the ceramics lab over the next couple days, but I should be doing okay.

Finally over my cold for the most part. I have to blow my nose once or twice, and I get a tickle in my throat here or there, but it’s all good. In fact, I think they’re more symptoms of the cold outside than the lingering effects of the one inside me. Seriously though, it’s August, when MI is supposed to be in the 90s, and here we are at low 70s with the possibility of dipping into the 40s over night. At the very least there’s no drought this year; we’re already 5″ above average for the year, and fall isn’t even technically here, let alone winter and her snows.

Now, it’s only been a week of doing these libations, and I tell you what, I haven’t had a week this good in a while. There’s been flirting, an offer for a free suit (and expensive one, too, and boy do I love suits), an invitation to join Phi Theta Kappa, and I even found a dollar under my bed yesterday. Tell you what kids, forget pot, forget swag and YOLO and all that crap-get religion, That’s the stuff right there. There’s a reason science routinely tells us that religious people are happier. The secularists can argue any community affiliation can help raise happiness levels, but none do so consistently as religion, especially the really, really involved folks like the Amish or Mormons. This is also important in a country where there is a lot of hostility towards and among religions, both from the government and society at large. You can even see it in our community, especially against monotheism. I digress, this supposed to be a happy post.

Any way you want to look at it, giving to the gods is good. To paraphrase Pascal, reciprocity pays serious dividends. Go invest something, and hail Ares!

Getting Started with Ares

To “get the ball rolling” as Sannion put it, I wanted to write a short post for beginners and those unfamiliar with Ares to begin approaching him in worship.

On the fifth day of the lunar month, give an offering to Ares of incense (Orpheus suggests frankincense) or wine and say a prayer or recite either the Homeric or Orphic hymn to Ares. This is a very simple and unobtrusive way to add Ares’ worship into your routine.

If you want to further your understanding of the god, consider reciting and contemplating the Adorations of Ares. These hundred or so simple statements reflect on Ares’ nature, his role in the cosmos and religion, and the mysteries associated with him.

Brainstorming Festival Ideas

In light of my goal to create a new festival calendar, I’ve been brainstorming ideas for festivals and thought I might share a few. This is by no means a complete list, and some a more personal than others, and some are more historical while others are more UPG/mimicry of could have been.

The Lesser Aresia or Antibiannia (Unbinding)–this festival involving Ares, Hermes, and Dike is the opposite of my previously created Greater Aresia festival, and celebrates the opening of the campaign season and unleashing Ares to war. It will echo the Greater festival in reverse order, and include war blessings and such. While hardly any evidence exists for such a festival in Greece, an annual binding ritual implies an annual unbinding, and the Romans explicitly practiced a festival like this in which the iron gates of Mars’ temple were thrust open as the army marched out to begin the campaign.

The Xenia Festival–this festival would commemorate the accomplishments of community members and would occur on July 1st in remembrance of many of us who came together for Silent July. It would include offerings to Zeus Xenios and Zeus Philios to strengthen and watch over our communal bonds.

The Basilia/Tyrania–this festival reflects my own political aspirations/hopes for my country, and would celebrate Zeus Basilios as supreme king and beseech him to grant kings to the nations of the world. I plan on placing this festival on the Demokratia as my own cheeky way of giving the Ancient Athenians the bird.

The Enyalia–this is an ancient festival from Salamis celebrating Ares for victory during the marine invasion of a Persian encampment while the Athenian navy attacked the Persian fleet.

Untitled Festival–I’m not sure what to call this festival, but in keeping with my Laconophilia, I want to commemorate the victory of the Pelopponessian League over the Delian league and the hero-general Lysander. I was thinking of making this an event marked by ceremonial battle between Ares (to represent Sparta & the PL) and Athene (to represent Athens and the DL), finishing with a victorious but reconcillitory Ares after the manner of Lysander, who chose not to destroy Athens like his Theban and Corinthian allies wanted. I may also turn this into a three-day festival, with the above occurring on one day, a re-enactment of the victory of Athene over Ares in the Iliad and Theuseus’ victory over the Amazones another, and yet another showing their support of each other in the war against the titans. I’m not sure yet.

Areia–kind of the opposite to the last festival, this festival is a partial reconstruction of one held in the Athenian deme of Acharnai, in which the new Ephebes would take their oath at Athene’s altar, have a procession to the altar of Ares and Aglauros, and repeat their oath there. Little is known about this festival, but I think I might place it either near the Athenian new year (as this was probably the historic time) or near/on Veteran’s day. It’s a day meant to celebrate soldiers, and I plan to emphasize it.

Untitled Festival II–I’m not sure where to place this one (maybe Memorial Day), but I think there should be a festival celebrating the gods and heroes who fought the Trojan War and perhaps other mythic wars, like Dionysos’ campaign against India, the conquests of the Amazones, etc.

Some of the less-developed ideas I have include celebrating the relationship of Ares and Aphrodite (including offerings of apology to Hephaestos), the deaths of Julian and Alexander, the deaths or anniversaries of other important figures and battles like Patton and the Battle of Thermopylae, and maybe the service birthdays. That’s all I really have for now. None of them have real set dates, rituals, prayers, etc. written yet, so I’ll keep everyone informed if they’re interested. In the meantime, Hail Ares!