Ares 101: The Many Faces of Ares

Previously throughout the series, I have discussed Ares in the general sense, simply as a war-god as opposed to a god with a multitude of titles and divine functions. In order to move on to the next topic, constructing prayers and hymns, we need to look at some of the names, titles, and duties of Ares. Some have already been mentioned, but many bear repeating.

Ancient Cult Titles:

Theritas: this cult title comes from Sparta. This was supposedly derived from the name of Ares’ nurse Thero, though when questioned by Pausanias, the locals knew of no Thero. The writer instead concluded the proper title was “beastly”, a throwback to Ares’ brutal nature and monstrous offspring.

Hippios: this cult originated in Olympia, where Ares was worshiped alongside Athene Hippias in the hippodrome. Horsemen and charioteers often invoked Ares Hippios before races and possibly before battle.

Aphneios: this title, meaning “abundant”, was given to Ares at a temple in Tegea. After one of Ares’ mortal lovers died in childbirth, but Ares caused her to nourish the baby nonetheless. This is some of the most significant pieces of evidence of Ares’ cthonic aspects, which are further compounded by another cult title from Anatolia.

Kiddeudas: though I have not found an exact translation for this title (it does not appear on theoi.com), it was found inscribed on an altar to the god in central Asia Minor. Interestingly, this altar pointed to an agricultural cult as, among the standard weapon and armor motifs, the altar was carved with a cornucopia. It is most likely that this particular cult was devoted to ensuring and protecting the chora, or the countryside which was essential to the survival of the population centers.

Epekoos: this title from central Asia Minor meaning “he who hears”, which refers to the Ares that answers oracles.\

Polypalmeros: This is another Anatolian incarnation of the god meaning “many-handed” or “he of many devices”. He is invoked as a generally beneficent god who helps those in need.

Gynaikothoinas: this is a title of Ares from Tegea meaning “feasted by women”. It refers to the god’s intervention on behalf of the Tegean women who fought and won against Sparta’s hoplites. A festival was held every year by the women in which men were not allowed to participate.

Poetic and Dramatic Titles

Brotoloigos, Andreiphontês,Miaiphonos: these titles, bestowed upon Ares in the Iliad, are all closely related in theme; they mean “manslaughtering”, “destroyer of men”, and “bloodstained” respectively. Oft repeated by Homer, these titles are often the first known by most investigating Ares and stain their first experiences with the god. Many other titles like these can be found here, as they are too many and too similar to list out in entirety.

Alloprosallos: this Homeric epithet meaning “double-faced” is meant to be derogatory, calling Ares a liar, though I feel it speaks to Ares’ nature of nurture and destruction.

Sunarogos Themistos: from the Homeric Hymn, it calls Ares the “succoror of Themis”, or ally of Law. A vital part of Aresian theology, this title meshes well with Ares’ Orphic role as guardian of the natural laws of life and the Aeschylian avenger of those who transgress the laws of nature.

Polydakros: another of Aeschylus’ titles for Ares that translates to “bringer of much weeping: or (my favorite) “Father of tears”. The dramatist refers to Ares as “plucking the fairest flowers of a host” during battle (another agricultural reference!).

My favorite title, however, is not one I’ve found the Greek for. It comes from Aeschylus (can you tell I like the guy?) and describes Ares as the “Gold-broker of corpses”. Fun stuff, eh?

 

Hopefully perusing through these titles gives you a better of how and what for Ares is worshiped. If you want to go deeper into Ares’ cult, I suggest staying tuned in. In the next few posts, I will be covering constructing prayers and hymns,  holy days, syncretism,  and more. If you have any topics you wish to see covered, or have any suggestions or comments regarding other titles you use, let everyone know in the comments. Until then, hail Ares!

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!

Ares, God of Manliness

So I was poking around Facebook groups the last few days, and I started to get annoyed (go figure). One incident got my attention and incensed me like no other. It was some guy complaining about how some in the group hurt his feelings. Maybe it’s the dangerous amount of testosterone I hide in my beard, but I wanted to tear this guy a new rectum. Why? Because he was breaking what many would call “man code”, an institution so old, women first started the earth’s rotation with a collective eye-roll (and they just altered it reading that just now ;).

All joking aside, what is the man code and why does it matter? Every boy is brought up with models, scenarios, and rules, both spoken and unspoken, about what it means to be a man. This code can sometimes change, but some parts do not, being biological. Ares, as the god of manliness, exemplifies the qualities of manliness that the ancient Greeks ascribed to, as do many people today. Let’s explore some of those qualities, and how they reflect (or do not reflect) some of the same values we hold today.

Number one: A man is responsible for his words and actions.

This sort of thing should be obvious, and is rather understated in the myths of Ares. However, one myth does really call this virtue to the fore: that of the rape of Alkippe. Alkippe was Ares’ daughter, and she was raped (a dubious term for the ancients, so from the context of the myth, we’ll assume it means what it does today) by Poseidon’s son Halirrhothios. Ares caught him in the act, and like any dad could be expected to do, Ares killed him on the spot. Now, killing folks is what Ares does, and as a mortal, no one would have given a damn for Halirrhothios, except he was the son of another god. Well, once Poseidon found out, he demanded retribution. Now, Ares could have blown Poseidon off, but instead went to face the music in Athens (where the offence occurred). In a tribunal of the gods, Ares was acquitted on account of defense of another, and everyone went their merry way (except Poseidon). This is one reason given for the hill being named the Aeropagus, and the Athenians held their most serious trials there for centuries after.

This is not the only bit of wisdom we can draw on. In Plato’s etymologies of the names of the gods, he pondered that Ares is so named for his “hard and unbending nature”. Ares makes decisions that are often of a most permanent nature (death and all that), and thus must live with a decision he makes regardless of the outcome. Unfortunately, modern man has a very hard time with this concept. Politicians of all stripes are notorious flip-floppers. A major problem exists in urban populations, and despite the lamentations of Bill Cosby, it’s not just blacks that abandon their baby-mommas. Public apologies are all the rage today, and the media rarely reports consistency of character (unless it’s bad), and so many young men are given mixed messages in this department. Speaking of mixed messages, this brings us to number two on our list.

Number two: Men are fighters.

It’s pretty easy to see where Ares fits into this one. Almost all of Ares’ mythology is devoted to his war stories. From the Iliad to Aeschylus to modern myths by Sannion, Ares is a fighter. Much of a man’s inclination towards fighting is entirely involuntary, and comes to him though the wonderfully chaotic chemical testosterone.

Despite all the manly and awesome qualities testosterone provides (like aggression, sex drive in men and women, beards, etc.), average testosterone levels around the world are dropping. This is one reason many men these days just don’t seem so manly anymore. Between spending time indoors, dieting too much, becoming obese, and modern sleep patterns, testosterone doesn’t have the opportunity to be made, because all of those ingredients interfere with its production.

Fighting today is on odd thing to quantify today. Fewer and fewer boys have ever gotten in a fist fight. Unfortunately (in my opinion), this decrease in physical confrontation leads to a real lack of resolution in peer groups. You often hear of a “bullying epidemic” in the news today. Truth is, bullying has stayed pretty steady over the centuries. The strong pick on the weak until they are no longer weak. Now, however, the culture of non-confrontation (the use-your-words method) means the weak get picked on until a point they either commit suicide or homicide. Coping skills are at an all-time low, and you can see this today in politics, business, and domestic life.

Fighting should not be allowed to run willy-nilly, though. Much of the poets’ disdain for Ares stemmed from his “stab first, ask questions later” attitude. It is important then that Ares was coupled with a passionate yet gentler female influence; hence, Ares is paired with Aphrodite.

Number three: Most of a man’s emotions shouldn’t be public.

Now, it’s a truth that Ares was an extremely passionate character, and that said passion would get him in trouble. In addition, there are a few stories of Ares being quite the softy (saving a baby, yay!), especially when it came to his lovers and children. But there’s a difference you will see in Ares versus many other gods: most folks don’t get to see this. Unlike his own dad, Ares isn’t in the habit of making his affairs public. Other than his rage, Ares doesn’t go around putting his emotional baggage in others’ laps (and I’m sure that’s one reason he distracts himself with his wife).

Part of taking control, whether as a man or a woman, means putting aside emotion in order to do what needs done. People, as much as they might enjoy fighting, usually have a natural distaste for killing, however necessary. Sometimes, the only answer to a solution requires one to disregard that feeling. Man needs to eat, and despite raising the family pig for a year or two, he needs to kill the animal in order to prevent his family from starving. Do you hate your job? A lot of people do, but it needs done. Does this mean you can’t have those feelings, or can’t ever express them? No. What it means though is that you find the appropriate time and place (usually never public) to express that.

The best parable to emphasize this point also relates to Ares as a god of courage, which is seen by the ancients as a manly quality. Courage, as described by Aristotle, is not an absence of fear, but rather the acceptance and refusal to shrink back from fear. The courageous man is therefore afraid, but denies the power of fear despite his holding onto it.

Number four: A man is responsible for, and to, others.

This is a theme that has been running through the last three, especially in relation to Ares. Ares stands behind his children, his lovers, and his order, despite how others feel about him. Though Zeus calls him the most hated god on Olympos, Ares still supports his father (unless he’s supporting his mom). He and his sister Athene may fight, but when they need to, they fight together. He and his buddy Hermes work in tandem bringing criminals to bear. He may not be well-liked, but Ares gets his job done, and never stops even if he fails. His responsibility is to bring war to mankind, and thus mankind shall never find peace. Ares knows what is best for man, even if what’s best for him isn’t good for him or others.

 

We as a society can learn a lot from Ares. From him, we learn it’s okay to fight, but that there’s a time and place. We learn about responsibility in an irresponsible world. We can learn about tough choices, and about never backing down from the challenge. We can learn to deal with our own issues. Most of all, we can learn to make ourselves, and our sons, into good men. Hail Ares!

Ares Doesn’t Love You

It’s okay though, he doesn’t love me, either. 99% sure on that one. “Well aren’t you just a Negative Nancy?” you may say. Perhaps I am. But why is it so important to us that the gods love us measly little mortals?

People want to be wanted and need to be needed. Cheap Trick were really on to something when they wrote that song. It’s just who we are as social creatures. It only follows that we wish the most powerful being known to us–the Gods– love us. After all, we (well, most of us, you silly atheists) love them. Some of us love them a bit too much, perhaps. But hey, our love of them has spawned some of the most beautiful, awe-inspiring monuments, literature, and even acts on this planet. Granted, it also spawned some lovely, f**ked up stuff, too, but we’ll skip over that for the sake of moving along nicely.

Now, my answer, personally, is that with rare exceptions, the gods couldn’t even be bothered to give a damn. It’s not even that they may harbor any real ill-will towards us (except maybe Ares and Zeus, but more on that later), but running an entire cosmos is busy work, and who really has time to bother with such petty trifles as human love, happiness, or money? But what about their responsibility for human affairs you say? Honestly, after the whole of human history of Athene teaching men to build, or Zeus judging righteousness, that has got to get old.

Remember the flood myth? You know, where Zeus decided everyone was a douche and told humanity to kindly go f**k itself? It’s a really common myth across various cultures. Oh, and remember how Prometheus (who is such a dreadful, self-righteous prat in “Prometheus Bound btw) got punished for helping out humanity in the first place, and then the gods punish man by creating women? If the mythographers and poets are to be even the least bit believed, then it’s pretty clear to me that the gods hold a grudge.

That’s not to say we can’t entertain the gods from time to time. Ares loves war. He is literally called Insatiate of Battle and the Bringer of Tears by Homer and Aeschylus  respectively. And Aeschylus liked Ares!  It really wouldn’t surprise me if Ares sits around Olympus until he gets bored and then goes off to whisper some bloodthirsty nothings in some poor mortal’s ear, who then promptly goes out and kills someone, simply for the amusement of a god. As I’ve said before, and been called as blasphemer for, no less–Ares is a dick sometimes.

Does this lack of love for humanity mean we shouldn’t pay the gods their due honors? Hell no. They are gods, and should receive their due whether they like us or not. I can dislike  my president or governor  (I actually love my governor, he’s awesome) or whatever, but I still pay taxes, because that’s how it works. They are in charge, and that is the pecking order. The gods are at the very top of the cosmic pecking order. Don’t sweat it if you don’t feel Olympic glory raining down on you and filling your butt with sunshine. It’s probably nothing personal. And hey, you’re alive right? That should at least mean none of the gods dislikes you 😉

Ares and Athene, and Inner Struggle

This week has been interesting and very long. Before you start, I do in fact know today is only Thursday (which I did not know this morning). School is ramping up, and for the last two days, my college has put on the annual School Daze, which is an expo of both student activities (clubs, services, and special programs) as well as local businesses offering a variety of products and services from housing and banking to local eateries and shops. Needless to say, it’s a big to-do. As a student employee of the college (I’m an English tutor), I was out there promoting our program. This, combined with the rampant political ass-hattery of politics on Facebook, had me thinking about a fundamental conflict in my nature; I’ve also seen this conflict espoused in many of my more civilized friends.

So what is this conflict? It’s a pretty classic one: The heart tells you to do one thing while your brain tells you it is more prudent to do the other. Ares goads one to rage, and Athene stays your hand for a better course.

For any regular reader of my blog, they would know I try to stay away from politics on here, minus that one little rant about SOPA. I also try not to spam my personal Facebook feed with political stuff. For those of those who actually know me well, I have some very strong opinions, and most of those go against the grain of many of my friends.

Now, there are some days Ares is there, figuratively whispering in my ear, telling me to go forth and burn the hell out of all the bridges I’ve built. Some days, I even think it would be fun. Ares is a god of conflict. I’m sure seeing me laying a verbal smack-down on my ideological/moral opposites would be highly amusing to him. What a riot that would be.

Thankfully, Athene bestowed upon me one of her most precious gifts:a filter. She knows, probably best of all, the value of keeping your mouth shut and picking your battles. Few people I’ve met don’t have a filter; indeed, our current “me” culture in the West actually discourages it. Take a look at any news outlet to see what not having a filter can do. Unfiltered BS-spewing is the closest any political system gets to being bipartisan. Athene can help us here, as she has helped me.

I love Ares, and he is my favorite god, but sometimes his influence can be a pain to deal with. So thank Zeus for Athene, and thank her for filters. 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.

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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.

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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!