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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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!

PBP – A is for Amazons

Time for the second installment of Pete’s Pagan Blog Project. We’re still on A, so I thought I’d cover the Amazons.

The Amazons are the warrior daughters/lovers (myths sometimes conflict on this matter) of Ares. Among the most famous mythic races in history, the Amazons represent what was a unique motif in Greek history, and they continue to capture the imagination of the West.

The Amazons were some of the most war-like people in ancient history (assuming they are actually a historical race). They were said to live near the south end of the Caucasus and would only see men once or twice a year, and only then to fight or… procreate (almost went into alliteration, but this is a family blog 😉 ). Aeschylus places them on the borders of Scythia and Sarmatia, near Thrace, but says they later emigrated to the Pontic region of Asia Minor. Their chief gods were Ares and Artemis, and they founded many famous cults and temples, according to their myths. The Amazons were said to have founded the cult of Artemis at Ephesos, which was watched over by a sacred guard called the Areistai, or Aresian Guard. Another famous, though currently undiscovered, altar was erected to Ares on the island of Lesbos, purportedly of what may be a meteorite.

One of the coolest myths of the Amazons concerns their campaign against Theseus and the Athenians. The Amazons had invaded the city of Athena, and so vicious was their assault that the whole of the city left alive had barricaded itself within the citadel on the Akropolis. Settling in for a siege, the Amazons, according to Aeschylus, created a new citadel dedicated to Ares and sacrificed to him there. The nature of this sacrifice is unknown, but with their origins near Thrace and due to the popularity in the region, it may have been a human sacrifice, methinks. Athens wasn’t the only place or people to feel the mighty sting of the Amazons. The Amazons with their father supported Priam against the Greeks in the Trojan war, and they campaigned against the Phrygians, Lycians, and others in northen Greece and Anatolia. Some report they even went so far as to attack Egypt and even conquer Libya.

Among their most famous Queens were Hippolyta (which means something akin to ‘unbridled mare’) and her sister  Penthesileia. Hippolyta was the most famous of the pair and was said to be Ares daughter by Otrera. She was given a golden belt by her father, a symbol of her strength and prowess for battle. This belt was stolen by Heracles as one of his Labors. Another gift Ares bestowed upon his daughter was a flock of birds which bore iron feathers that could be shot by arrows, and these presented hazard to Jason and the Argonauts when they traveled to Ares’ grove to recover the golden fleece.  Penthesileia accidentally killed her sister Hippolyta, and came to Troy as a suppliant. Priam helped her perform the rites, and sealed the relationship between the Trojans and Amazons. She would later lead a contingent of women in the war, and was slain by Achilles himself. When Achilles beheld her beauty, he stopped fighting to let her body be recovered. However, Ares turned the place into a slaughterhouse, and the Myrmidons, sons of Zeus, were almost wiped out if Zeus himself had not intervened. It was at this point in the Iliad where Achilles actually begins to feel remorse, and knows his doom really will be coming; from this point on he seems more sullen and brooding.

The Amazons meant something special to the Greeks. In a time when women were little more than baby-makers, the Amazons represented breaking all the rules. They lived on their own, dressed and worked as men, and even supposedly cut of their own breasts in order to be better fighters. Wholly dedicated to war, they exemplified some of the best and most terrible qualities of both Ares and Artemis. Their legacy lives today in popular culture, euphemism, and the feminist movement. So hail to the daughters of Ares, the powerful and beautiful Amazons!

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!

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!

Ares and Athene, Revisited

So I was reading through my last post about Ares and Athene, and I was feeling slightly dissatisfied. It was rather dry and academic, and I feel I should have talked about their related symbolism, added a prayer, or included something people could actually use in worship. With that, I’m writing for a second (but probably not the last) time today.

Ares and Athene share some symbolic attributes and cultic practices; some, like their dominion over war, are obvious, while their joint relation to owls or horses may not be. We’ll get that obvious stuff out of the way first, then move on to the more obscure stuff.

First, both gods are often depicted as armor-clad and ready for battle. Both Athene and Ares are often depicted as melee fighters, as well, using the traditional spear, shield, sword, and armor combination favored by hoplites. According to Homer, it is important to note,  Athene doesn’t actually own the instruments of war; She borrows then from Her father, Zeus, when She has need of them, a nod to Her and Ares’ conflicting views toward warfare. Both are also related to the metal bronze, which the aforementioned armor and weapons were made of. Athene’s Spartan temple was even said to be encased in bronze.

Ares and Athene were more than just warriors. The people also worshipped Them as providers of fertility and bounty, as well. At Elis, suffering from depopulation due to war, Athene answered the prayer of the women there, that they may conceive of their husbands at their reunion; for this, Athene was named Meter, or mother. Ares, too, showed compassion for another. Near Mt. Kresios, the people dedicated a sanctuary to Ares Aphneios (the Abundant) for sparing the child His mortal lover Aerope, who died giving birth. Ares caused the deceased mother to produce milk for her child long enough for her child to survive before finding a wet-nurse. These are not typically what come to mind when you hear of Ares or Athene.

Ares and Athene often shared sanctuaries as well. In Athens, the sanctuary of Ares contained a statue of Ares, one of Athena, two of Aphrodite, and one of Enyo. It was here Athenians would sacrifice to Ares in remembrance of the war between Ares’ children the Amazons and Athene’s champion Theseus (this sort of behavior will be a topic for another post!). At the stadium in Olympia, the people of Elis would sacrifice to Ares Hippios and Athene Hippias (of horses) each month, though I found no evidence as to whether the sacrifice was actually a horse, a behavior attributed to Thrakians. The Spartans worshipped Athene as often as Ares, and though Ares’ cult there may be older, as the relics go, Athene was a chief divinity in Spartan life as both a defender and a healer.

Many people come to associate Athene with the owl, and that makes sense,  as it is one of Her sacred animals; I’ve seen Her depicted with one in over half the images I’ve ever seen of Her. Most people don’t know however, that certain owls, namely the barn owl and the eagle owl, are sacred to Ares. In orinthomancy, these birds’ appearances, or even just their cries, foretell war, sedition, and discord.

I suppose I’ll close with a short prayer, and let you all meditate on the symbols shared by Ares and Athene and how you might incorporate those into your own practices.

 

 

Hear me Ares, God of the Brazen Spear,

Hear me Athene, the Aegis Bearer,

Attend to me and receive my prayer,

I pray, lend my Your strength that I may walk between You,

And keep from my ear the frightful cry of Polyphonte

Lend me the strength to walk with Themis,

And keep me chained to righteousness

Accept my humble sacrifice, Stormers of Cities and Killers of Giants

That I may walk between you, in peace.