Ares 101: The Many Faces of Ares

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

Ancient Cult Titles:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Poetic and Dramatic Titles

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Brainstorming Festival Ideas

In light of my goal to create a new festival calendar, I’ve been brainstorming ideas for festivals and thought I might share a few. This is by no means a complete list, and some a more personal than others, and some are more historical while others are more UPG/mimicry of could have been.

The Lesser Aresia or Antibiannia (Unbinding)–this festival involving Ares, Hermes, and Dike is the opposite of my previously created Greater Aresia festival, and celebrates the opening of the campaign season and unleashing Ares to war. It will echo the Greater festival in reverse order, and include war blessings and such. While hardly any evidence exists for such a festival in Greece, an annual binding ritual implies an annual unbinding, and the Romans explicitly practiced a festival like this in which the iron gates of Mars’ temple were thrust open as the army marched out to begin the campaign.

The Xenia Festival–this festival would commemorate the accomplishments of community members and would occur on July 1st in remembrance of many of us who came together for Silent July. It would include offerings to Zeus Xenios and Zeus Philios to strengthen and watch over our communal bonds.

The Basilia/Tyrania–this festival reflects my own political aspirations/hopes for my country, and would celebrate Zeus Basilios as supreme king and beseech him to grant kings to the nations of the world. I plan on placing this festival on the Demokratia as my own cheeky way of giving the Ancient Athenians the bird.

The Enyalia–this is an ancient festival from Salamis celebrating Ares for victory during the marine invasion of a Persian encampment while the Athenian navy attacked the Persian fleet.

Untitled Festival–I’m not sure what to call this festival, but in keeping with my Laconophilia, I want to commemorate the victory of the Pelopponessian League over the Delian league and the hero-general Lysander. I was thinking of making this an event marked by ceremonial battle between Ares (to represent Sparta & the PL) and Athene (to represent Athens and the DL), finishing with a victorious but reconcillitory Ares after the manner of Lysander, who chose not to destroy Athens like his Theban and Corinthian allies wanted. I may also turn this into a three-day festival, with the above occurring on one day, a re-enactment of the victory of Athene over Ares in the Iliad and Theuseus’ victory over the Amazones another, and yet another showing their support of each other in the war against the titans. I’m not sure yet.

Areia–kind of the opposite to the last festival, this festival is a partial reconstruction of one held in the Athenian deme of Acharnai, in which the new Ephebes would take their oath at Athene’s altar, have a procession to the altar of Ares and Aglauros, and repeat their oath there. Little is known about this festival, but I think I might place it either near the Athenian new year (as this was probably the historic time) or near/on Veteran’s day. It’s a day meant to celebrate soldiers, and I plan to emphasize it.

Untitled Festival II–I’m not sure where to place this one (maybe Memorial Day), but I think there should be a festival celebrating the gods and heroes who fought the Trojan War and perhaps other mythic wars, like Dionysos’ campaign against India, the conquests of the Amazones, etc.

Some of the less-developed ideas I have include celebrating the relationship of Ares and Aphrodite (including offerings of apology to Hephaestos), the deaths of Julian and Alexander, the deaths or anniversaries of other important figures and battles like Patton and the Battle of Thermopylae, and maybe the service birthdays. That’s all I really have for now. None of them have real set dates, rituals, prayers, etc. written yet, so I’ll keep everyone informed if they’re interested. In the meantime, Hail Ares!

Surrounded by Spartoi

If you’ve read my blog more than once, you’re probably familiar with the Spartoi, warriors who spring from the ground fully formed. They are children of Ares, and are often savage and single-minded. Little did you know, you are surrounded by spartoi every day. I am talking, of course, about ants.

Yes, you heard me correctly. I said ants. Ants are fascinating creatures. Their societies are highly organized with a queen at the top, followed by a soldier class, and finally the workers. They never see the earth’s surface until they are fully grown, and are one of the few species on earth known to go to war. Using some believe is a sophisticated hive mind, entire armies of ants scour entire regions looking for resources, fighting anything that gets in their way.

One species of ant, the Argentine ant, are very similar in behavior to humans. They are prolific colonizers, having colonized every continent but Antarctica (the irony is in the name, is it not?). Much like man, the Argentine ant recognises its own colonies, but becomes aggressive to native species and minority groups of Argentine ants. Ants are also one of the few creatures on earth that will enslave or domesticate other creatures. They can also cultivate certain species of fungus as a crop.

Much like the Spartans, the Slavemaker ants only produce soldiers. To get the needed workforce to care for their queen, young, and retrieve foodstuffs, Slavemaker ants will send a strike team into the colony of another ant species and slaughter all the adults. Then, they take the larva from the nurseries and enslave the ants that develop from them. The Slavemaker queen fools these younglings by faking her own death so that she will be led to the enemy queen. She then slaughters the enemy and bathes in her goo, picking up her pheromones. Here’s a video of them:

 

Interestingly, however, is the fact that while ants are not directly tied to Ares in myth, the Greek word for ant, μυρμηκεσ (murmekes), is where we get the word Myrmidon from. Yes, the legendary band led by the hero Achilles are in fact named for/created from ants. The story goes that Zeus created the Myrmidons for his son Aeacus to rule over on the island of Aegina.

So yeah, ants are pretty cool. Hail Ares!

Fall is Ridiculous

There’s a huge part of me that hates Fall. On one hand, I’m my most creative during both Fall and Spring. On the other hand, both seasons are just so damned busy… Anyway, I thought I’d give everyone an update on to what’s going on in the world of Pete and Ares:

1: With 5 Pyanepsion falling on Saturday by Hellenion’s count, that means it’s finally time for the Greater Aresia! Isn’t that awesome? The transition into Fall and October also marks the relative start of the Spartan and Makedonian calendars, both very war-like states who may have set their calendars in relation to the war season, which is now coming to a close. Not that you might believe that, what with the recent attacks on US assets, but hey, modern warfare =/= ancient warfare.

2: I have successfully smelted bronze!!!! It’s not a very large amount, but it is enough to make small coins and the like. I think I am going to make some medallions in honor of the Aresia with my newly created metal bits. It should be fun. This of course only one small piece of a rash of devotional art I have started. For those of you who have checked out the Facebook page, you have seen the beginnings of those two projects. I’m also doing variations of the helmet I made, hopefully culminating in a solid bronze piece.

3: More creativity means more work on my book. Summer was a big lazy period, and may Ares forgive me for that. Luckily, three of my four classes (philosophy, ancient history, and sculpture) should keep me focused and gung-ho on writing, so maybe I can get a manuscript finished by February (no promises though). Speaking of books, Neos Alexandria is re-opening the call for submissions for Harnessing Fire, dedicated to Ares’ brother Hephaestos. I’ve already submitted a photo, and I’m considering doing a piece on the relationship between the two. Seeing as I’m doing that for my own book, it will be done regardless.

4: Last but not least, I’ll leave you with one of my favorite concert videos referencing one of my favorite myths:

What is a Warrior?

First, I want to acknowledge the fact that Aspis of Ares has made it an entire year (actually as of August) and I want to thank you all very much for the support and encouragement. Hopefully, I can continue to produce quality material that pleases both Ares and you, the readers. I’ve done my best to avoid overly salting each post with my own personal approach and politics while keeping things simple yet spicy enough to sate the voracious intellectual appetites of the recon and pagan communities. That being said, I’ve avoided this topic for as long as I’ve had this blog because it causes more awful controversy and nastiness in the community than seems appropriate. However, I realize I cannot shrink away from this any longer.

What is a warrior?

There is a lot of discussion and debate as to the meaning of this word, especially in pagan circles. Some take a literalist approach, using the dictionary definition of “warrior”. Others take a more psychological or “spiritual”  approach, and refer to the struggling warrior archetype of Jungian interpretation. Let’s explore the spectrum now, and I’ll add my understanding of how Ares plays in with those notions and we’ll see if we can find some sort of suitable definition from which we can work from.

Let’s start with the literal definition, here taken from Wikepedia:

warrior is a person skilled in combat or warfare, especially within the context of a tribal or clan-based society that recognizes a separate warrior class.

Okay, let’s pick out the key pieces of information. Most basically, a warrior is a person skilled in warfare or combat. That’s pretty simple, yes? That’s pretty basic, and the article clarifies this with the context of a “tribal or clan-based society” with a separate “warrior class”. Tribal and clan-based society is easy enough to define, but for our purposes as devotees of Ares, it doesn’t really work. Greece, as far as we can gather from the evidence, largely moved on from tribal structures by the time the cults became more established, for lack of a better term.

The second qualifier, a warrior class, is a little more tricky to define in the context of ancient Greek society. On the pan-Hellenic scale, there was no warrior class, just as there was not priestly class. However, certain localities held their warriors in higher esteem than the common man,  most notably Sparta, but also Thrake and the deme of Acharnai in Athens (home of the cult of Ares and Athena Areia). These regions were well-known for producing exceptionally strong and dedicated hoplites, and of course the adjective Spartan has entered the common vernacular to describe anything exceedingly challenging or doggedly simple (almost a contradiction, but that’s English…).

So now, at the base level, we have a certain class of people who are skilled in combat. This is a very straight-forward definition, and one that harmonizes well with the etymology of Ares’ name, whose root is “are”, ‘to harm’. Warriors are a group or class of people whose profession/place in life is to harm other people or things.

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On to the second, more psychological definition of a warrior. This may describe any “… person who shows or has shown great vigor, courage, or aggressiveness, as in politics or athletics.” In the macro-level sense of the word, a warrior is one who struggles. This is a broad definition that can be applied to a vast array of people, such as the aforementioned politicians or athletes, as well as lawyers (who fight legal “battles”), people who overcome personal struggles (weight, emotional issues, handicaps, etc.), or even one who works against things such as abstract or non-violent as weeds in the lawn. This definition is classless (equal) and broad. Everyone struggles against something.

In addition, the second definition almost always suggests some sort of abstract code to be used. Lawyers and politicians are (supposed) to closely follow both the written law and unwritten laws of social mores. Athletes are held by society to perform under their own power and skill and avoid performance enhancers. Individuals are (hopefully) expected to at least do as they say they will, be it in a diet or actively trying to better their situation without resorting to shortcuts (i.e. cheating). While the literal violent warriors of the previous definition often do have codes of conduct, they are not expressly required to have one.

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These two definitions can come into conflict, and often do in the pagan community. On one side, a small but growing group of pagan military veterans, who embody the first definition,  are coming forward to claim our “tribe’s” status as warriors. However, this can clash with people who use the second definition and  give that status to anyone who struggles. Some folks feel it is inappropriate to give a title to someone who, by one definition, have not earned it by going to war (which is the root word of warrior, obviously). Others may contend that the literal definition is too narrow and excludes people who struggle, especially those who struggle on behalf of others.

Personally, I am in the first camp, that of the literalists. To me, it would be giving out an unearned status to call anyone a warrior who has not at least formally trained for its profession. A status is exactly what we are talking about. One can embody many of the traits one needs to attain a status, but that doesn’t mean the status applies.  People should not feel bad about not being able to enter into one status or another. I can never earn the status of being  a mom. I cannot, and an American citizen, earn the title of Knight. Statuses have to have some exclusivity to maintain value. Not all women can be moms, and that’s what makes being a mom special. Not everyone can be a manager.

Does this mean that one cannot harmonize the two definitions, that they are mutually exclusive? No. Do you have to accept my reasoning on the matter? No. It is also unlikely we can speculate on the nature of Ares’ or any of the other gods’ thoughts. Hopefully though, there is enough information here to start a serious discussion of the merits of both definitions and how we can better apply them to the members of our communities. And, as always, Hail Ares!

Ares and Gender

I’ve been fighting myself not to comment on the mess that is Pantheacon. On one hand, it’s a crapshoot of progressive versus conservative politics, which I attempt (and sometimes fail) to avoid on my blog. On the other, I just love conflict and am drawn to it like a moth to the flame. Though this post is related to the debacle, I mean debate, it does give me the opportunity to describe an interesting feature of Ares’ cults- the idea of gender-exclusive rites.

To my knowledge, while other gods may have local cults which excluded one or the other sex, only Ares had exclusive festivals for both sexes. This is interesting, because both sets of rites were intrinsically tied to battle. For many, including myself initially, it seems odd Ares is so… equal opportunity. If you really think about it though, strength, courage, and passion are needed by every person, regardless of gender or sex. So why then, would these festivals be limited to either one sex or the other.

Let’s start with the ladies’ cult, that of Ares Gynaikothoinas, or Ares, Feasted by Women. This cult originated in Tegea, in Arkadia, according to Pausanias. The Tegeans were at war with Lakonia (the Spartans) at the time, and when things started going south for the Tegean men, the women rose up themselves under the command of Marpessa Khoira. The women pushed back the Lakonians, then made a sacrifice to Ares, leaving their disappointing husbands out of the celebration.  How to interpret this story is problematic in today’s world. The way I interpret the legend is that the men weren’t being manly enough (by losing), so the town’s women got the job done for them. By excluding the men from the sacrifice, the women were both celebrating the power of women and taunting the men for their lack of masculinity.

Mind you, this is the way I interpret the story based upon the knowledge of traditional gender roles in Greece at the time. Of course, times change, so reconstructing this festival commemorating the victory would probably be problematic in today’s social arena. Gender roles are shifting, and have become more laissez faire. There are more women in the workplace than men, now. A lot of men, and even women and families are struggling to identify with new, progressive norms. I’ve seen conservative women who believe in upholding their traditional gender roles berated as “traitors” to the feminist movement and only do so because they are being controlled by men. On the flip side, progressive men are berated for being stay-at-home dads and doing “women’s work”.

For the men, Pausanias describes the cult of the village of Geronthrai in Lakonia. Every year, the men there would hold a festival women were not allowed to attend. Though Pausanias doesn’t have anything more to say, Matthew Gonzales contends that this was probably a pre-campaign festival meant to bless those who would serve as soldiers and ask for a victorious season. He bases this assumption on other local cults, such as the cults in near-by Sparta, and archeological evidence dating back to the Mycenean age culture. That being said, war was men’s work, and women would therefore simply interfere. Of course, the notion of war being simply men’s work has changed, but this would have held true in ancient culture. In addition, if this was in fact a festival to prepare for the campaign season, it would have been important psychologically to remove the presence of the women folk in order to cast thoughts of doubt and fear from the mind of the husbands going off to war. Any military member can tell you the hardest part of deploying is saying goodbye, not knowing if you’ll come back in one piece.

Again, this festival would be problematic to reconstruct. First, it’s not just men who are soldiers these days; women serve beside them and are just as deserving, just as in need of a blessing before going into battle. Secondly, there is no delineated “campaign season” today. Any service member, of any gender, can be called up at a moment’s notice to deploy anywhere in the world, no matter the season. Also, soldiers don’t just respond to violence any more; natural disasters, guard duty, and humanitarian crises all warrant military response, called Military Operations Other Than War (MOOTW). While blessing soldiers and asking for victory is important, annual festivals simply aren’t congruent with the concepts of a modern military force.

 

So while the gender debate about Pantheacon rages on, I hope you learned something about Ares’ gender-specific cults. Perhaps one day I can (with the help of some awesome ladies) come up with suitable rites to celebrate the themes of both these festivals in a way appropriate to our modern circumstances. Until that time, maybe we can move on without too many people taking themselves down in the fiery pit of gender politics and the unfortunate blending of politics, both progressive and conservative, into our religious rituals…

The Dogs of War

Whilst researching the cultic connections between Ares and His sister, Athene, I could not help but to be intrigued by the commonalities between Ares and Hekate as well. Ares and Hekate have odd symmetry at times, from cult sacrifices to titles, and even symbolism. I wanted to take time today to speculate on possible links and associations within their myths and cult, and what we might do to incorporate those in our own practices.

As the title of this post may suggest, both Hekate and Ares are associated with dogs. Hekate is often depicted in art as being accompanied by a female dog, a companion she gained when Hekabe threw herself from the walls of Troy. Though Ares, to my knowledge has never been depicted with a dog in art, He is nonetheless associated with dogs through His dominion over war and, more specifically, His cults in Sparta and Thrake.

It should be interesting to note, that of all the various victims in Greek sacrificial practice, dogs were only offered to two divinities: Ares and Hekate. Pausanias describes these sacrifices as both rare amongst Greeks and chthonic, using a black puppy as the victim and the ritual taking place at night, often in seclusion. Spartan ephebes would sacrifice a puppy to Ares Enyalios as an offering before ritual combat, as Pausanias says, “… holding that the most valiant of tame animals is an acceptable victim to the most valiant of the gods”. Pausanias went on to describe that the people of Kolophon, near Ephesus, also sacrifice puppies to Hekate in this way. Speculation on the origin of this practice occurred even in ancient times; I suspect it may have originated in Thrake, as both gods have prominent cults in the region, and have a greater variance of sacrificial victims than on mainland Greece, however it may be a hold-over from more archaic Greek practice. For a more in-depth look at dogs in Greek religion, see Lykeia’s recent post “Of dogs and wolves“.

One oft-overlooked connection between Ares and Hekate is the symbolic use of the torch. Hekate’s association with torches is common knowledge; She is often depicted carrying two torches, and seeing that her cults are mainly chthonic and take place during darkness, it makes sense for Her to carry a light source. Most people miss the connection of Ares to torches, however. In later Hellenic warfare custom, and early Roman, it was tradition that when two armies met, the ground on which they fought must be cleansed and sanctified. This was done possibly to lessen the miasma that occurs when blood is shed. Each army would send forth a torch-bearer to the center of the field, who would then throw their torches in the direction of the opposing army, thus consecrating them and the battlefield. It was actually considered a war crime to harm these men until they had rejoined their lines, because as some historical texts indicate, these men were considered priests of Ares.

Now, this loose connection can not be said to actually link the two gods in any definitive way; it is simply an association. However, I feel it can be speculated that, in these instances, the symbol of the torch is both purifying and protective. It could also be speculated that the torch is as a badge of office, as in the case of Ares’ torch bearers, as well as Hekate as a guide to the dead. Both gods do deal significantly with death, and both have been called terrible or frightening and destroyers. It may be that they are more closely tied, at least in function, than previously thought, which leads me to the last significant detail.

Hekate’s associations with witchcraft and curses is well-known to many, much to the chagrin of many modern Hellenic Polytheists who feel modern neopagans co-opted Hekate and turned Her into a distortion of Her original form. While I won’t comment on that here, Hekate has been called on in the past to both aid and work against witches, including acting as the bringer and fulfiller of curses. Cursing was a serious act in the ancient world; you could be put to death for practicing magic and cursing people, even in ancient Hellas.

It may surprise you that Ares was also invoked as an agent in retributive curses. In Aeschylus’ plays, Ares leads two brothers, doomed by a curse uttered by their dying father, to die at each other’s hand. The brothers, fighting over their inheritance, find out too late that Ares is the agent of their father’s curse, and Ares, led by Dike and accompanied by the Furies, lays the brothers and their armies low. Two of Ares’ sacred animals, the barn owl and the eagle owl, fly by night, and are portents of sedition and war. Interesting that they may be nocturnal, creatures at home in Hekate’s realm…

So, now armed with this knowledge, how might we incorporate this into our rites and practices? Personally, up to this point, I have barely acknowledged Hekate in my personal devotions. This information, however, does give me ideas.

The very first thing that came to mind was to sacrifice a votive pair of dogs to both Hekate and Ares. My plan is to carve a pair in wood, and to paint them black. Perhaps then I may leave one at a crossroads, for Hekate, and dedicate the other before a airsoft battle, for Ares. I think this would appropriately fulfill the spirit of the ancient sacrifices, while at the same time avoiding having to actually kill a puppy.

Speaking of puppies, I would also encourage you to contact your local animal shelter to see what you can do to help. If you can, adopt a dog, as many who do not become adopted are euthanized. Or, visit a no-kill shelter and volunteer some time to play with the dogs there, as dogs who are socialized are more likely to be adopted. In the United States, there is also a special organization called  Soldier’s Best Friend, who train service and therapy dogs for veterans and service members with PTSD and TBI. SBF often uses rescue dogs, and you can apply for one for vets you know, or donate on their website, linked above.

Another way to represent both Ares and Hekate as part of your home shrine is to keep a small candle or torch. Unless you can do so safely, never leave a lit candle or torch going continuously or unattended. If you have the space, you can even install brackets for torches, and I’m sure I’ve seen modern electric torches if you are so inclined. Certainly, torches are appropriate for outdoor rituals, both private and group affairs. As always, remember to be safe, and avoid using fire in dry areas or in high winds, which may blow hot ash and start a wildfire.

One last tidbit I might suggest is also to honor Ares as part of Hekate’s Diepnon, though you may wish to perform some sort of divination beforehand to avoid offending the goddess.

I hope you enjoyed this little survey of similarities and links between Ares and Hekate, and I hope you learned something, as I did. In the meantime, Hail Ares!