Okay folks, here it is. I’m satisfied at this point with the Festival reconstruction I’ve been working on for the past month. After great consideration, I named the festival the Greater Aresia, following a pattern I noticed in naming conventions for festivals. This is of course, not the ancient name of the festival, as it was not given; this is purely UPG. You may also note that this is the “greater” festival — I am planning on making a ritual for untying Ares, to be called the Lesser Aresia
This festival is set in fall; I write about reasons for this below. I realize that means we have to wait a whole season and a half for this festival to occur, but you’ll get an idea why this is so further on. On the whole I think this is a good thing; it gives those who want to celebrate this festival time to review and become familiar with its themes and structures before it is thrust upon them in the calendar.
My heartfelt thanks go out to Lykeia and Lesley Madytinou for their help in reviewing this ritual and offering advice on style, structure, and timing. Without further ado, here we go.
Draft V 2.2
Many have asked about why one may choose to reconstruct the worship of Ares, even within modern Hellenismos.You too may even have similar concerns about reviving his worship. Ares was, and still is, seen as a negative force in the world by some, however, in His modern cult as well as the ancient, people have called on the god for protection, prosperity, and hope. The context in which I write this ritual is similar to that found in the region this festival originated in, Syedra in what is now southern Turkey. Like Syedra, many of us in the West face physical threats from foreign lands and economic insecurity due to predatory financial systems and the pressures of conflict. The ancient Syedrians, as we, searched for a solution to these issues and were proscribed a festival meant to ensure the favor of Ares, who might otherwise turn against them.
Today we face even greater challenges, such as international terrorism, riotous populations and political instability, and economic woes bordering on financial depression. In reconstructing this festival, we may hope to re-establish the reciprocal relationship with Ares that was shared in centuries past, and perhaps even share in the peace and prosperity the god promises to ensure. For those who may have qualms about worshipping Ares, this festival serves as a tangible reminder that the poets of great fame , such as Homer, and the often misunderstood nature of the myths are not the end all be all of Hellenic Religion. Rather, Ares’ role in the pantheon, in our daily lives, is about more than violence and calamity. In addition, I hope this ritual fills the needs of the scattered peoples who still do pour libations and offer sacrifices to Ares and helps fill the wide gap in available liturgical material within Ares’ modern cult.
Historical Background and Synopsis:
One feature of Ares’ cult in ancient Greece, and Asia Minor in particular, was an annual festival of binding Ares in chains; even where no festival is held, depictions of Ares in chains were common throughout the Greek world. The strongest evidence we have of this cult festival is an inscription of an oracular statement, attributed by Lewis Robert to the oracle of Apollon at Klaros, though Matthew Gonzales, author of “Cults and Sanctuaries of Ares and Enyalios,” believes it more appropriately came from the oracle of Ares at Termessos. Syedra, the city which the oracle addresses, was at the time under constant threat of pirates and brigands. Here is the text as translated by Robert#:
Pamphylians of Syedra, who inhabit a rich land of mixed men in
shared fields, plant a statue of bloody, man-slaying Ares in the
middle of the city and beside (him) perform sacrifices as you
bind him with the iron bonds of Hermes, and on the other side
let Justice administer the law and judge him; let him resemble a
suppliant. Thus will he become a peaceful deity for you, once he
has driven the enemy horde far from your country, and he will
give rise to prosperity much prayed for. And you, at the same
time, take great pain, either chasing them or placing them in unbreakable
bonds, and do not, out of fear of the pirates, pay their
terrible penalty. For thus will you escape from all degradation.
Theological and Mythological Notes and Ritual Themes:
I want to explain, briefly, the theological ideas at play within the ritual, the roles of Ares, Dike, and Hermes in the process, and mythological allusions and how it relates here.
Some may view the chaining of a god as blasphemous or impious. While the imagery is certainly provocative, binding cult images was common in ancient Greece, and cannot necessarily be said to be hubris. Remember, the statues are only images, not the gods themselves.
The relationship between Ares, Dike, and Hermes is well attested in ancient myth and literature. When Ares is captured by the Aloadae Giants, He is freed by Hermes. When Ares is to come before the gods on the Areopagus, it is most likely Hermes who led Him there. When bringing the mythical criminal Sisyphos to justice (Dike) for capturing Thanatos (Death), Hermes and Ares work in tandem. In the plays of Aeschylus, Ares is the agent of Dike, bringing retribution upon murderers and the breakers of oaths. He is even depicted on a shield within the Seven Against Thebes, where he is led by Dike; it is there that the characters learn what fate befalls them.
The themes of this festival and its rites concern protection, prosperity, and justice. By propitiating Ares, we hope to invoke His favor and protection on our community. Hermes is not only worshipped here as a liberator from oppression and unjust violence, but He helps us approach Ares in a diplomatic and respectful manner. Dike is approached not only in Her own right as a hater of injustice and falsehood, but the agent by which Ares is led to be peaceful and ensures prosperity.
Please note that this ritual is being written for at least three participants, in the hope that as our numbers grow, we can worship together as we were always meant to. With that in mind, I will leave enough flexibility to adapt the rites for solitary use. Always feel free to do what you feel is most appropriate; this script is a guideline, not a dictate of divine law.
A Note on Timing:
Within the period of researching this festival, no date was given for holding the festival day. After consulting with more knowledgeable and experienced polytheists, I have made the decision to place this festival on 5 Pyanepsion. I came to this decision based on the following criteria:
- Being late in the Gregorian month of September to early October, the military campaign season is ending. Now that the time for war is over, and Ares has “driven the enemy hoard far from your country”, Ares can return from battle to the polis.
- Due to the intention of providing for the prosperity of the polis, I wanted to place this festival before the agricultural rituals that follow in the days after, so as to strengthen that connection between Ares and abundance, prosperity, and communal self-assurance.
I suggest a number of supplies for use in this ritual. Some objects are tied in general to the cults of Ares, while others are more generic. Feel free to modify the list as you see fit to conform to your style, budget, and resources.
- Images of Ares, Dike, and Hermes. I suggest using three separate images, because the ritual is written with the assumption that they will be separate and later bound together. I also prefer to use statues, as they are not only more suited to being bound with chain, they also conform to the mandate of the oracle. If statues are not in your budget, feel free to improvise. You may use paintings, clay figures, or even human actors, if there are enough participants.
- A small chain. I suggest a small chain such as those used for jewelry. You may choose to use a plain necklace, or you can buy prefabricated links at many craft stores and make your own chain. Ensure that the length is sufficient to bind the images together, and that it flexible enough to easily wrap around whatever image you use. I have found a chain approximately 20 inches is sufficient.
- Khernips and Barley. Both of these substances are used for purification purposes at the start of the ritual. Considering the gravity of the festival, ritual purity from miasma is important and will be emphasized within the actual rites.
- Offerings. While wine and incense are standard, you may wish to dedicate other offerings as well. My favorite wine is a Greek variety from Nemea called Kouros, though you can of course use any variety (or none) you wish. For incense, I suggest following the Orphic standard for Ares, frankincense. One alternative is sweet myrrh, but any incense should do. I do think one should avoid dragon’s blood, to avoid invoking the wrath of the god, but this is my own UPG and should not be taken as law.
- Miscellaneous Supplies. Make sure you have a safe container for incense, any candles or lamps, or any other heat source. If using candles, as I do, red is a striking color and is associated with Ares. You may also wish to have pitchers and glasses for wine and other liquid offerings, and baskets to hold other offerings.
The setup of this ritual is rather simple. Construct an altar as you see fit, but put aside the image of Ares and the chain for now; these will be part of the procession. Coins from the area the festival was celebrated depict Hermes on the right of Ares and Dike on the left, and so I arrange my altar this way. For this ritual, I chose to leave Ares off the altar initially, to be led “resembling a suppliant” as part of the procession as an echo of kthartic practices from the Odyssey and Argonautica. Purify and dedicate the altar as you see fit, and lite any candles, lamps, or charcoal for incense then prepare for the procession. One item you may wish to include on your altar is a miniature flag representing your group, region, or country, as this is essentially a protective rite meant to ward the entire polis.
This procession is intended, unlike at some other festivals, to be somber and silent, again reflective of Ares being led as a suppliant. The first person in the procession should carry the image of Ares, and place it upon the altar when arriving at the ritual space. The second person in the procession is the chain-bearer, who will do the actual binding of Ares. It is important that this person be deemed the purest of the group. While each group may use its own criteria to qualify the chain-bearer, some potential criteria may include a short period of sexual abstinence or fasting prior to the festival, in addition to normal purification rites. The third, and any subsequent members of the procession, shall act as basket-bearers, water-bearers, etc. who carry offerings and other materials to the ritual space. If you are working alone, or with only a second person, place any offerings at the edge of the ritual space before the procession. However, the separation and reintegration of Ares to the altar remains integral to the mood of the ritual, so I still suggest conducting the procession by leading Ares to the altar.
Purification and First Offering:
While participants should be expected to have performed purification rites appropriate for the festival prior to arriving, a short rite of purification using khernips is appropriate and will abolish any incidental miasma. Sprinkle the altar with the khernips and say a blessing as appropriate; some groups like to say, “Let all profane ones depart!” which is acceptable as it is short and simple. Each member of the rite should then wash their hands and face to cleanse themselves. Participants may then give the initial offering of barley to the gods.
Hymnodia: You may begin the ritual with hymns to Ares, Hermes, and Dike as you feel appropriate. I enjoy the Homeric hymns over the Orphic, but that is a matter of personal preference. Below are prayers tailored to the ritual, and you may choose to use these as well. Begin by offering libations and thanks to Dike and Hermes for their assistance in the matter at hand, using these words or others. They can be spoken as a group, or different individuals can each address a different god.
Dear Hermes, cunning lord of boundaries
Hear our prayer and be with us this day
To you, Pyschopompos, who leads the blessed and liberates
The righteous from bondage, Come, we pray
Lead before you the Man Slayer, the Companion of Dike
Bring Him before the altar in our time of need
Accept this offering, Swift son of Thundering Zeus
*pour libation or give other offering*
Dike, sweet Dike, Righteous daughter of Most High Zeus
Hear our prayer and be present
Most Just supporter of Cities, Enemy of Falsehoods
Attend to us, sweet Justice, and call forth the Brazen One
Call him to stand before us and defend the Righteous
Accept this offering that we may be judged worthy
*pour a libation or give another offering*
Now, the group addresses Ares. This address is designed to be a little more flexible, as I mean for it to address the ills current to the group or individual. This first hymn will be a bit vague, but I encourage you to make it more specific to add to the gravity of the festival.
Obrimos, Avenging Protector, hear our plea
Take heed of Kind Hermes and Just Dike, follow Their call
Come to this place and avenge us our suffering, succoror of Themis
Ares, son of Merciful Zeus and Hera the Queen
Accept our offerings and withhold from us Strife and Injustice
Binding and Sacrifices:
After the initial hymns and invocations have been recited, the person acting as chief priest shall instruct the chain-bearer to come forward. At the appropriate cues during the rite (marked by asterisks [*]) the chain-bearer will first bind Ares in the chain, then leads one end to Hermes and another to Dike, for a total of three actions. I find that wrapping the chain first around Ares’ shoulders, then His arms works best, using the center of the chain. From each arm, lead an end to be lightly fastened to the arm of Dike or Hermes at the appropriate part of the rite, again by winding the chain along the statue or other image. Use these or similar words:
We come before you, mighty Gods, as suppliants
In our hour of need for your aid
We are as a mixed people with enemies at our gates
Eris waits at our door, and Hunger, Fear, and Death are near
Ares, Lord of War and Abundant Father,
Would you not be bound to protect your people?
Pray we that you may be yoked to us*
Ensure the prosperity of our land and protect us from peril, Strong Ares
Be committed in bonds to Hermes, the Giver of Joy*
Let him lead you in justice as he has led you to us
Walk behind stern Dike, your sister and companion
Let her lead you to the house of Themis and be just*
Accept from us these offerings, dear Ares
Allow us to dance with Harmony as you have danced
Allow us recompense from our enemies and from thieves
At this point, each person who has prepared an offering should leave it at the altar. Some ideas for offerings may be tokens symbolic of one’s commitment or accomplishments serving the community, art or hymns depicting Ares as a protector of the people, or votive offerings in recompense for previous pledges now fulfilled. One activity you may choose to do, if worshipping in a group, is to acknowledge each other’s accomplishments and raise a toast to members who have gone above and beyond in serving others.
With the ritual now complete, you may wish to say a few prayers of thanksgiving for the attention of the gods, and pour further libations. An example of closing hymns may be similar to this:
Rejoice, oh men, that the Gods have come
Strong Ares, Swift Hermes, and Stern Dike
Our gifts are offered as thanks to You
Who nourish us, oh Gods, with mercy just
Thank you, Brazen God, that we may know the cover of your great Armor
Thank you, Liberator, for freeing us from the tyranny of uncertainty
Thank you, Enemy of Falsehoods, for banishing the unjust and ensuring peace
If part of a group, a feast following the conclusion of the rites can definitely occur. The mood of the festival should swing from somber and muted at the beginning to more jovial and relaxed towards the end. Having (hopefully) ensured Ares’ graces will benefit the community; focus should shift from negative, looming problems to positive, hopeful optimism.
Some activities to follow the ritual and feast can occur to help the group come together further. Perhaps you can have a symposium, discussing the issues facing you immediate community and brainstorming possible solutions. For the athletically minded, you can have a wrestling match. You could also write and act out a short play referencing Ares’ bondage at the hands of the Aloadai, or read from The Seven Against Thebes, which details in drama Ares’ relationship with Dike.
Alexander, Timothy Jay. Hellenismos Today. Raleigh, NC: Lulu, 2007. Print. 43-54.
Burkert, Walter. Greek Religion. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1985. Print. 99-108.
Campbell, Drew. Biblion Demois: A Manual for the Hellenion Demos. V 1.0.
Hellenion.org, Hellenion. 16 Oct, 2001. Web. 10 Feb, 2012.
Gonzales, Matthew Paul. Cults and Sanctuaries of Ares and Enyalios: A Survey of the Literary, Epigraphic, and Archeological Evidence. Diss. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2004. Print. 36-60.
–The Oracle and Cult of Ares in Asia Minor. Manchester, NH: St Anselm College, 2005. Print.
* Please note that the lack of in-line citations and only single footnote are intentional. I felt in-lince citations and the like would detract from the flow and purpose of the writing, which is religious, not academic. If you require specific selections to be cited for your personal use, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.