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: 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!

Ares 101: Symbols and Signs

In the last post in the series, we listened to some of the music  found online dedicated to Ares. This time, we will look at visual art and the symbols often associated with Ares that you can use in your own devotion and artwork.

 

The Panoply: armor and weapons are a mainstay of Ares symbolism. Ares is very rarely depicted without at least a helmet, and even many nudes, like the Ares Ludovisi or Ares Borghese, depict Ares with some implement or accouterments nearby.  My own emblem for the god depicts a spear set through a Corinthian helm with the transverse crest of an officer. The Thracians used an old iron sword as their cult image even.

Snakes/Dragons: Ares is often depicted with a snake, either a real one as in the photo below or on his shield. These potent creatures were probably associated with Ares due to his sneaky nature and often foul temper, and anyone who has ever encountered a rattler would know that even though the snake is probably more scared of you, they can still be nasty and aggressive. 

 

Horses: the epithet of the Ares worshiped at Olympia was “Hippios”, “of horses”. Ares was the progenitor of the man-eating mares of Thracian Diomedes. While they are often associated with Poseidon, Ares was often the patron of horse and chariot races, especially onward into Roman times.

The colors red and purple: the color red is often associated with Ares for two reasons: blood and Sparta. The blood of men is Ares’s food, and his shield was described as always being fresh with gore, so it’s pretty safe to assume Ares was very red and/or brownish red most of the time. His planet, Mars, is the red planet. Now purple may not seem to be very intuitive, but the Thracian warriors and priests wore purple, as did the later Roman emperors, who were always priests of Ares/Mars if not conflated into the same being.

Animals” all sorts of animals are associated with Ares other than snakes and horses, though they are the most prominent. Dogs are associated with Ares because Spartan ephebes would sacrifice them before ritual combat. Ares is also associated with the vulture, eagle owl, barn owl, and woodpecker. whom he created with the help of Hermes. I also personally associate ants with Ares.

 

This should give you plenty to get started with when you go off to create your own devotional projects. 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 using Ares’ titles, holy days and more. If you have any topics you wish to see covered, or have any suggestions or comments regarding other symbols 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!

A Mite on Fear

When I first started in paganism when I was little (and even before then in the pseudo-churches my dad went to for a while), I was always told you should never fear the gods. They always want the best for you. They can’t do any evil, they’re gods, and they love you so very much. I even believe this to an extent. There’s even an old story/movie trope that sets love in opposition to fear: is it better to be feared or loved?

I love my mother. I tell you what though, she often scares the pants off me. I also love my gods, and they scare me more than anything, even worse than needles (which I can’t look at without getting the heebie-jeebies). Should we fear that which we love? Can we?

My answer is yes, absolutely. That’s right FDR: you are f**king wrong you godless SOB! (personal vendetta, please excuse me)

Fear is both a process an a symptom. It is a system that alerts you to threats in your environment. It is also a symptom, one of attachment. Without attachment–to one’s environment, one’s being, to others–we could not survive as sapient beings. Think about it: what makes you seek a steady, well-paying job? Fear of hunger, of instability. What makes us seek companionship? The fear of trying to make it alone is strong in mankind. We can say other drives are at play, and I won’t deny they are. Ambition, love, anger–all these surface programs, our emotions, play significant and visible roles. But they are all just bullets without powder; fear is what adds the force to all of these. That’s not a bad thing, either.

Imagine how little you’d feel if you had no fear. Fear makes life precious. You needn’t fear your own death, but everyone has someone they do not want to lose. If there is no fear, there is no loss; without loss there is no risk; without risk, nary there be reward, no anticipation, no value. There’s an important lesson to be learned in observing that Phobos and Deimos are the sons of Ares and Aphrodite. Aphrodite gives us love and her children bring the fear of loss; Ares gives us strength to fight by keeping the fear of death in the form of his two closest sons by his side. She is the mother of smiles and he the father of tears, but we cannot even appreciate or even comprehend either if not for their sons. In the center of it all stands Harmonia, the culmination of all her family, the calm center in a storm of passion.

So please, appreciate your fears. Relish in the trepidation that you may displease the gods, if only to truly enjoy their blessings. Grab on to the fluttering of your heart as you approach that certain someone with an invitation for coffee. Drink in the fear of your own mortality, because you will die; take that fear and make something of it. Hail Ares, the father of your fears and mine!

Ares’ Best Friend

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

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

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

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

Hail Hermes, companion of Ares

You who guides both Man and Beast

A toast to you, dear Hermes

Hold fast our friend and hold us in esteem

That we may be blessed as Ares

With kind words from you, swift messenger

PBP: C is for Conservatism

So instead of posting my first C post for the Pagan Blog Project late, I thought I’d post it early. I wanted to talk about the idea of conservatism in religion and how that relates to both reconstructionism in general and Hellenic reconstructionism in particular. Keep in mind throughout though, that I’m talking about religion, not politics (though you can infer/extrapolate what you will).

Now, for starters, I’ll come out and say it: I’m religious. I’m not spiritual, I don’t get the tinglies in the presence of the ineffable, and I certainly don’t get into the idea that religion is something “someone just made up, man.”

Religion is inherently conservative. That is to say that religion is systematic (follows rules or guidelines[aka traditions]), resists rapid and unnecessary change, and establishes or provides a cohesive and continuous narrative for a group of people. So what does this all mean? Well, let’s break it down, bit by bit.

All religion is systematic. It has structure, and often a rather old one at that (more than just a couple generations). This means that a religion has certain definitions, values, behaviors, and expectations; they are a culture unto themselves. As a religious movement, paganism and its subsets represent a shift, both in terms of worship and overall culture. However, within paganism, recon movements such as Hellenismos, Heathenism, Romuva, etc. represent a more conservative strain of religiosity than other paganisms. In particular, recons have a wealth of culture and tradition, both material and immaterial (artifacts and text/intellectual material); this is not to say other paganisms do not have this–recons simply have more, both in quantity and in terms of antiquity and concreteness. Recons have an advantage because they can, with a certain degree of academic certainty, understand what our spiritual ancestors did and thought, because they left that culture with us.

This is especially true in Hellenismos. Comparatively, we have more knowledge of what the ancient Greeks did, religiously, than we do about the first generations of Wicca. The Greeks (with maybe the exception of outlying colonies and the Spartans) were prolific writer and chroniclers. The mild climate of the Mediterranean meant artifacts did not deteriorate as fast as they might have in places like Britain or the Holy Land. Even Christianity wasn’t as harsh on the physical remnants as Islam was in the Middle East. Scholars even used classics like the Iliad to teach Greek (and why paganism was inferior to Christianity, but that’s a different story for a different day).

In addition, Hellenismos contains a principle that stretches back to the most archaic times, that of Nomos Arkhaios, which translates to the “ancient way”. While the Greeks often switched governments, technologies, and laws seemingly at the drop of a hat, religion was one thing that stayed relatively consistent across the board. While the cult of a single god may differ from location to location, even then were the behaviors normative. Animal sacrifice, libations of wine, the tossing of barley–all these behaviors were standard, and most still are.

This brings us to our next topic. With rare exception (mostly neopaganism and church schisms), religions are resistant to unnecessary,  rapid, or arbitrary change. For instance, once Christianity cemented its doctrine following the Arian controversy and the subsequent Council of Nicaea, it went through a rather homogeneous period that lasted until the Great Schism 600 years later and then the Protestant Reformation about 400-500 years after that. Islam split at the very beginning into two factions, and since then, the two have remained doctrinally and practically (the five pillars, etc.) the same, with exception being the various schools of jurisprudence.

This is not to say that change doesn’t occur. Reconstructionism is not a methodology in which one “copies” the past; it recreates practices based on what one can academically and logically deduct a people would be doing had the advent of Christianity not interrupted the evolution of a given religion. For instance, we could deduce that, given time, most cultures would abolish slavery. A good example for this natural progression of change is found in Judaism, which is one of the oldest continuing cultures. The Hebrew Bible fully condones slavery, and yet it is not practiced by Jews today. Times change, and religions do, too. However, there are groups that even resist change from within. This can lead to schisms, which are natural. In Hellenismos, I personally differentiate between Hellenes based upon the amount of rigidity in their practice and the time period they focus on; “archaic” Hellenes might focus solely on historic offerings and allow less syncretism, while a “Hellenistic” Hellene might allow for a high degree of syncretism or improvise more in their practice.

The most important role of religion, however, is the creation and propagation of a shared narrative for a group. Through myth, doctrine, shared values and behavior, and history, religion helps to create an identity to which people can belong, satisfying one of the strongest urges of the human animal. Take Judaism for instance. They begin, in their eyes, as chosen by their god and suffer trials both divine and mundane. They celebrate the Exodus, mourn the diaspora and holocaust, and even though they may live in many nations of Gentiles, their shared stories, values, and behaviors make them a separate culture. This is something of a weakness for paganism, which has no common narrative, and struggles to create one due to valuing the individual over the group (my observation and opinion). For Recons this is less so, because we can fall back on the narratives of our chosen cultures, but there are still huge gaps, both chronologically and in evidence. Again, Hellenismos is luckier than others in the amount of material it has to fall back on, but this may still not be enough for some cults (like that of Ares).

That is, folks, why I am religious. While I see why people may ascribe to the description of “spiritual but not religious”, I can see no value in it for myself, or the continuation of paganism as a movement. I suppose that is why I left Wiccan-style neopaganism; for me, it had no real structure, no narrative, and too much fluidity. I’m religious, not spiritual. It’s not about me, it’s about the Gods. The way, in my opinion, religion should be. That is what I think lies at the heart of religion, the answer to why religion is conservative: it has order.

I pray that Ares, the Stern Governor of the Rebellious, can help bring religion back to the masses. Maybe then we can achieve our goals of erecting permanent, physical temples for the gods, where we may worship them as they require and deserve. I hope that we can then pass our religion, our traditions, even (dare I say) our rules to our children, and them to theirs. We need to embrace religion and continue creating our narrative, but we can only do that if we stop changing things simply to suit our fleeting preferences and settle on at least some basics (which is the sage we’re currently at, even if it pisses everyone off). May Ares, the Rallier of Men, rally us to achieving this goal. May we have the courage and prescience to pass down our traditions instead of setting yet another generation spiritually and religiously adrift. Ares, and the other gods, can help us get there, but we have to do this for them. The gods help those who help themselves; no amount of wishing will get us there. If we don’t agree, we have to realize we don’t have to. As the past shows us, schism is natural. If you can’t find voices that harmonize with your own, sing louder sing softer, or sing somewhere else. The gods, in my experience, despise indecision, Ares most of all. Ares will guide you, you just have to have the courage to let him.