A Little Musing (and foul language, just an FYI)

So I just broke out the good whiskey (Crown XR for those who care about such things). Why? Well I have a few reasons. For one, this is my third post for the day, and for me, that’s a lot. Secondly, because Sannion is driving me to drink. In a good way. This is toasting whiskey, so a toast to him.

He wrote a great post about writers in the community, and how basically everyone is full of crap. It definitely left me with a kill-the-phonies vibe ala Catcher in the Rye. There are days when I can’t tell when Sannion is being a jerk or when he’s being serious. Maybe like me he’s serious about being a jerk? It doesn’t really matter, because all I’m doing is gabbing. And he f**king called it.

So anyway, he was wondering where all the other folks in Hellenism are at. You know, people who aren’t writers. The sad thing is, while it may be his fingers doing the typing, there’s a part of me that’s damn sure he’s not the one speaking. Sannion is the tool of a god. You don’t have to believe it. I’m not even sure I believe it, but there’a a part of me that knows I’m right (because I usually am). We need to start doing things. We need to really come together if we want to create a community. I’ve seen the posts everywhere, too, so you can’t say, at least nominally, that you don’t want it.

Sannion also talked about leadership, and went into it more with Suz in the comments (she’s pretty great, even if I’ve never really gotten to interact with her much). They talked about how people get pushed into leadership, and how that never works out well for people. There’s a problem with leadership though. It has to be wanted. But it’s a catch-22, because we inherently mistrust the people who want to lead. We have cautionary tales about groups that became insular because of self-aggrandizing leaders. I get that and that sucks, but here’s the deal: if someone doesn’t want to do a job, are they going to do a good job? Hell no. One of the reasons the military works so well (and let;s face it, it works better than anything you civilians can really imagine, even when it doesn’t) is because you don’t get to pick your leaders. If you get a shitty commander, you deal with him or her until another one comes along to replace them in two years.

I’ve thought about starting groups before, but I put up with too little bullshit to really make that happen. I’m what you’d call a hyper-conservative. If I could, I’d go back in time to Sparta, then throw myself from the cliff because I have psoriasis, and the Spartans wouldn’t have any of that shit. I really live up to my name’s etymology, and I’m as unmoving in my positions as a stone monument; it literally takes a force of nature to get me to move. Don;t get me wrong, I know what I’m doing and I have the experience, but even if it’s something a community might need, my impatience for stupidity wouldn’t allow it.

Part of the problem is due to the nature of the internet. Sannion talked longingly of days past when people got to get together to do ritual and yada yada yada. Then the internet happened and we were given choices. Choice, contrary to what republicans (the system advocates, not the party) may posit, does not actually make people happy, especially when we get all the choices the internet offers. Don’t like Hellenion? Join Neokoroi. Still not a fan? How about Elaion? There are (or at least were) plenty of groups, fora, and mailing lists. So what happened? Choice happened. The days Sannion and Suz and the other folks miss–they had one choice: participate or be alone.

I can say I’ve tried not being just a writer. The truth is probably less than that. My ego is even disappointed, and there isn’t enough collective data-space in the world to fit my ego. Also, as nice as it would be to be a “professional pagan”, that doersn’t pay the bills, and I’m not the kind of person who is okay with merely getting by. Maybe that’s why I love Ares so much: the world really is not enough. So I guess I’ll go out and start taking things over. Gotta make the big man proud after all. And Sannion, if you’re reading this, I owe you a drink, and you’ll have to come out into the world to get it.

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 and Aphrodite, Reprise #1

Having recently started a new relationship, I haven’t felt very inspired to write lately. Well, maybe not uninspired, but distracted. I’m sure we’ve all been there. Anyway, I’ve been thinking about what it will take to be a good boyfriend, and that has me wanting to reprise the article I wrote up on Ares and Aphrodite a while ago. Sure it was okay, but the more I write, the more I feel I need to be more… priestly? You know, in the pastoral counseling kind of way, where one tries to help others relate myths and parables to their own lives (religions across the board are doing pretty terribly at this, our own often included). I don’t feel just putting random facts out there is enough; just because you can read the letters doesn’t necessarily mean you can understand the words.

My first article was rather macro level, this one will be more at the individual, micro level. Therefore, I want to reexamine the love relationship of Ares and Aphrodite, and perhaps even more importantly, talk about the offspring of that union. From Anteros to Phobos, the children of this divine pair all have parts to play in our romantic lives, and it’s my belief that it is important to recognise the impact fear, longing, and desire play into our relationships. This will probably be a long post broken up into parts, hence this being “#1”. First I’ll look at the myths surrounding Ares’ and Aphrodite’s relationship, particularly its beginning, as well as their child Harmonia, and how harmony plays an integral part in successful relationships.

 

When we take a look at the way Ares’ and Aphrodite’s relationship began, it was pretty much a hot mess. Aphrodite was given in marriage to Hephaestus, whom she didn’t really love, if myths are to be believed. Aphrodite’s eyes wandered, and settled upon Ares, who was probably, and understandably, smitten with her. Homer’s depiction of the scene of the affair is quite vivid, detailing the anger and anguish of Hephaestus, the shame and embarrassment of Ares and Aphrodite, and the amusement that many of the other gods felt as they laughed at the couple.

On the surface, the myth can clearly be interpreted as a parable expounding the evils of adultery and unrestrained passion. Then, as now, marriage was a bond meant to be unbroken and unsullied. Cheating is bad, and if you cheat, you will get your comeuppance. Ares now owes Hephaestus a debt, and demands from Zeus his dowry back; this alludes to the attitude toward woman as property in ancient culture. Aphrodite is now “damaged goods”, and therefore her husband, aka the “property holder” demands recompense. While not as prevalent today, there is still a notion that an adulterer, male or female, is “damaged goods”, and that has served to further divide our society along gender lines, perpetuating stereotypes and double-standards, such as a woman being a slut for sleeping with more than one man in her lifetime (especially before marriage), or that men in relationships are never faithful, so why bother?

Let’s look at the myth from the inside, however. Sometimes, people find themselves stuck in loveless, boring relationships, or even worse, abusive ones. Sometimes, people start new relationships before the old ones have dissolved, for one reason or another. Aphrodite was stuck in such a loveless relationship. While I’m sure Hephaestus did feel deeply and kindly toward her, I don’t think Aphrodite could reciprocate that love and affection. It’s hard to fake being attracted to someone. Remember, their marriage was a political one, arranged for the release of Hera from Hephaestus’ trap. It was Aphrodite’s duty to her husband that forced her to stay by his side before straying. Well, that and the lack of no-fault divorce. One might sympathize for Aphrodite.

On the other side of the coin, we have to look at what happened to Hephaestus and acknowledge the deep pain and shame her felt by being rejected. Mind you, this comes after being cast away from his mother, who you should generally assume to be her child’s number one fan. One painful rejection after the other is really hard for even a god to bear, I’d think, especially in so public a manner. I think Hephaestus’ dialogue as related in the Odyssey sums things up best:

“because I am lame she never ceased to do me outrage and give her love to destructive Ares, since he is handsome and sound-footed and I am a cripple from my birth; yet for that my two parents are to blame, no one else at all, and I wish they had never begotten me. You will see the pair of lovers now as they lie embracing in my bed; the sight of them makes me sick at heart.” Homer, Odyssey 8. 267

His pain is so great he actually wishes he had not been born. That’s pretty low. I’m sure we’ve all said that once or twice as children, but as adults? Probably pretty rare. I do know we’ve all probably felt that pit-like feeling in our chests after a bad breakup though. or seen something so emotionally awful it literally makes you feel sick.

So what can we take from this? Cheating sucks. It hurts people. Keep in mind though, that not all cheating is without cause. If you’ve been cheated on, I’m sorry. Take the time though, to ask yourself if there was maybe something you could have done to keep your partner from straying. If you’re entering a new relationship with someone who perhaps cheated on a previous partner, consider the circumstances before you write the person off. I’m not saying that everyone who cheats has a decent or forgivable excuse; some people are dicks. Just get to know the context first. Also, if you find yourself stuck in a bad relationship, get out before you become too invested before the temptation to be unfaithful occurs. If you feel unsafe, please, go to someone else like the police or a rescue shelter; it’s not worth your life to stay with a person for sake of appearances.

Okay, so for as rocky as this relationship started out, it resulted in one of the most important immortals (in my opinion) in the entire pantheon: Harmonia. Born of passion and love, in my mind she represents one of the most important requirements of a successful relationship: compatibility. There’s no words more insidious in a relationship than “I’m gonna change that about you”, and it is Harmonia’s blessings that allow us to find those who are compatible as well as look past and actually accept the differences with our partners and become more than comparable; Harmonia makes partners complimentary, which I see as the loftiest ideal of a relationship.

Take a look back at Aphrodite’s marriage to Hephaestus. Harmonia, theoretically, did not exist yet. Had she, things might have gone differently. Perhaps she could have smoothed things out with her mother and her uncle (would-be father?). Part of me has always seen Harmonia as chatty, mostly because communication can make or break a relationship. I myself have encountered a lot of strife because I couldn’t communicate effectively with my then girlfriend. You can’t expect compatibility and harmony to occur if you don’t communicate your needs, desires, and interests. I’m reminded of the song Escape , where the artist sings of leaving a loveless, boring relationship, puts an ad in the local paper, and when he meets the “love of his life”, it turns out that it was the wife he wanted to leave. He didn’t realize the person he wanted was the one he had, all because (it is implied) they didn’t communicate these things to each other.

I hope you all enjoyed this first installment into the themes of love and relationships, and now have a better understanding and perhaps new insight into the relationship of Ares and Aphrodite, as well as their daughter Harmonia. The second reprise will detail the realms of both Anteros and Phobos, their relationship to love, and their interactions with their parents. To close, here is a prayer to Harmonia for harmony and bliss in a relationship.

Dearest Harmonia, beautiful daughter of Boisterous Ares and Golden Aphrodite

Given in marriage to brave Kadmos, the King and Dragon-Slayer,

I pray you turn your lovely countenance to me, Theban Queen

Long-eduring one, bind me and mine by an unbroken chain

A close union of heart to heart

Grow within us your compassion, your patience, and your grace

Make our a pure love, free from wandering lusts

That we may be gracious to each other, as you are gracious to man

 

 

UPG and Divine Providence

I want to talk about things on the mystical side of religion today. More specifically, I wanted to talk about divine providence and UPG (or unverified personal gnosis for those of you who aren’t familiar with the acronym). The idea that the gods communicate their desires and instructions to us by a variety of means is pretty integral to my practice, which finds reflection in ancient practice. In fact, one of the Delphic Maxims is “Προνοιαν τιμα”, or “honor providence”.

In our scientific, “rational” society, it’s easy to see how relying on bird signs, liver spots, and gut feeling can seem silly, if not insane, to many both within and outside our religious community. Indeed, in a religion like Hellenismos, where more folks than not are college educated, it is hard to accept the idea of divine providence. Hell, I’ve been more than skeptical about my own experiences with the ineffable. However, both the concepts of UPG and divine providence are integral and inseparable from any religion, and especially our own.

I want you to sit back and ask yourself why religion exists at all. You could take the “scientific” approach, stating that religion was ancient man’s answer to the world around him, and those answers have now been found, science has replaced religion, and man is more civilized for it.  It is quite a logical argument to follow, if one ignores the divine. New evidence of stone age temples discovered in the Fertile Crescent have been shown to predate agriculture, possibly flipping the theory that agriculture allowed man to become civilized and thus create religion around on itself– man’s religion prompted him to plant crops and become civilized. This is all theory of course, and requires more study, but perhaps we have religion because, dare I say it, the gods told us to do it?

So if the gods did in fact tell us to do it, well then how do we know? We call this concept divine providence. All religion would have started as UPG. That’s right, one individual would have been touched by the ineffable, and a religion could form from that one experience. That’s not how it works, exactly. UPG has to go through a process, first. From that first experience, the individual must be able to communicate his or her experience. From there, it may become CVPG, or community verified personal gnosis. This is later passed down as tradition, is occasionally altered, and viola, you have a religious movement.

Now, picking out what counts as “divine providence” is a tricky business. Because of its very nature, it’s hard to pick out from a lineup of the myriad of other thoughts you will have throughout the day. Unfortunately, there’s no real hard and fast way I know to qualify those thoughts, though I can tell you of my experiences.

I’d say that 95% or more of my experiences with divine providence come in the form of automatic knowledge. By this I mean a sudden, non-learned answer to a religious or personal question, or a compelling “force”, known or unknown, within myself urging me to perform an act in a specific way. For example, I felt compelled to worship Ares in a traditional, historic manner in the late summer of 2008. At the time, though I was an eclectic neopagan, I still possessed many of the same qualities I do today, including a deep skepticism of divine providence. I believe Ares disagreed with this, and here I am today. This same compelling force prompted me to seek out my current love interest, and so far everything is going better than my logical mind had expected.

The difference between have experiences such as these, and say, craving a cheeseburger, is that the idea seems to be from and unidentifiable, unknown force, and usually falls outside the rational thought process. It is sudden, often unprompted and hard to qualify. Now, being somewhat of a consequentialist myself, I have a hard time coping with the notions of oracles and providence; after all, everything has to have a logical catalyst to come into being, right? In other words, it can be random but not arbitrary. That’s the stickler though; why Ares, why this specific girl? I guess I have to ask the gods.

The rest of my experiences with providence come in more traditional, divinatory forms, such as bird signs, dreams, and tools such as the tarot and the pendulum. Most systems appeal to me as much as flipping a coin, and make about as much sense. That’s not to put those of you who use these systems down; quite the contrary. I simply don’t understand or feel compelled to use any of them, generally speaking.

It is important, however, that you cite UPG as such when you present it to the community. Don’t feel that just because elements of a ritual or presentation are your own gnosis that it won’t be accepted or you will be looked down upon, and that therefore you should present it as fact. That’s very unethical, in my opinion. However, part of being a Reconstructionist means having to fill in the holes in our religion that were left by the decay of history, and we need UPG to do this. The worst that can happen is that the community isn’t moved by your revelation and does not adopt it. However, if you are honest about your UPG, and if it resonates with the community, it can end up becoming part of shared traditions and viola, you have just contributed to the spiritual lives of others and honor the gods.