Dividends Part I

Some days it amazes me how a little effort gets one a long way–a spark creates a raging fire, a smile a date, or some whispered words a swelling wave of action. I have felt acutely aware in recent days just how the littlest things reverberate and cycle up like electricity in a capacitor, causing tiny currents to grow into palpable and powerful surges, enough to move entire groups of people. This is of course how reciprocity–a cornerstone of both Hellenic religion and human interaction–works.

I read a great article earlier today which, though vulgar, made me really think about the community as it is changing now. Some folks may not think it has changed much, but for me it has. I have changed in relation to it, too. I don’t want to jinx it, but it *almost* seems like the polytheist community is -gasp- growing up and into its own. How do I know? To take a leaf from John Cheese’s article:

#5. We’ve Become Embarrassed of Our Past Selves (And Then We Let It Go)

When I started in Hellenismos about five or six years ago, it was because I was tired of eclecticism in neopaganism, which seemed to be a common thread to many other Hellene’s conversion stories. At the time, I was definitely embarrassed about my roots; I was definitely a Silver Ravenwolf kid. A part of my still cringes writing that, but when I really reflect back on it, that woman did more to pique my curiosity in alternative religion than any other author I know. That’s me letting go. That’s not the end of the story, though. I was a very aggressive in my anti-eclecticism in my early days as a Hellene. I knew a lot of other youngish firebrands who were the same way. Eventually, however, I noticed a lot of people started to mellow out. At least in the circles I currently associate in, we’ve (mostly) moved past breaking things down into building things up.

 

#4. We’ve Started Double-Thinking Our Actions

 

From my contacts with polytheists, I know a lot goes unsaid and undone. I’m always cautious before committing words to the page; it’s tough to balance what I feel everyone should know about Ares and what I personally feel about things. We’ve begun to really acquire a self-awareness of how our actions affect others in the polytheist community. As Cheese’s article states, “You know you’ve made a huge step toward adulthood when you start regularly thinking about how your words and actions affect other people. Especially when dealing with anger.”  There was a huge upset over the summer regarding the effects pop-culture has on paganism/polytheism which led to the Silent July protest. The ripples caused by that protest are just now returning to the center from the edges of the blogoshpere. What amazes me is that, for the most part, the Silent July event did more to cement our small community’s values than talking to folks ever could. By writing letters instead of blogging–by writing letters in a physical medium rather than typing–I got to know other polytheists more than I could by reading. It’s that sort of intimacy that creates the environment necessary for building real relationships, which in turn creates real community. Sometimes that means caring even when you could care less (because there’s really only so many times you can read about how utterly awesome my chihuahua Chloe is).

 

#3. We’ve Stopped Following Through on the Desire to Break Shit

This one goes back to the whole pop-culture debacle, too. While Cheese is correct in saying it’s mostly a guy thing, it can occur with women, too. Remember a year or so ago when some polytheist women started veiling and were called regressive, damaging to women’s rights, and even racist for somehow marginalizing the plight of women forced to veil in the Muslim world? Because that happened. Yes, trolling still exists, but in my experience at least, things have died down or gone underground. Part of my struggle as a devotee of Ares is certainly about using a blanket “kill them all” solution to communal strife, because it’s not a practical (or even really desirable) solution. As I mentioned earlier, we’re beginning to move away from breaking things to building things, as evidenced by the Polytheism Without Borders project and Thessaly Temenos’ Hellenic Revival.

 

#2. We Learned Ways to Make Responsibility Suck Less

This is really more of a mish-mash of individual achievements lately. A lot of folks are stopping talking about creating community and are doing it. While the two projects above certainly are the largest and ambitious so far, there’s a lot of little stuff going on, too. Community building is a long, tedious process, one which we are all responsible for. Silent July really helped this when everyone decided to write letters. Yes, we created a new responsibility/chore for ourselves; writing a letter means taking time out of a busy day, buying paper, pens, envelopes, and stamps. That’s right, we had to spend money–a book of stamps costs around $20 right now, pens can be up to $5, and a ream of paper or box of envelopes are about $2. If you’re like me and like to write everyone at once, that means sacrificing about an hour or two of your day. But you know what? That shit is worth it. There’s no better feeling than opening up the mailbox at the end of the day and finding something other than a bill, a fistful of ads, or some stupid notice from the VA telling you something you already know. It makes the effort and the expense worth it. The mutual obligation and responsibility also create shared experiences and esprit de corps, two very necessary elements in molding a group of very different people into one cohesive whole.

 

#1. You Realize That if Something Happens to You, Other People Are Fucked

A lot of people don’t know they’re important to other people. Part of the reason we  as a species record and pass on information is that we’re mortal, and any day can be our last. Even in cases not involving mortality, things still change or come to an end. Some people stop blogging, and if you’re the only one who’s got the info on a particular subject, everyone loses out if you somehow go missing. I’m not sure if any of you have noticed, but for one reason or another, the voices of Apollon’s worshipers have gone pretty quiet lately, at least for the blogs I follow. I’ve been contacted by folks as far afield as Brazil and France saying they thought they were the only ones who worshiped Ares. I’m glad there are more Areisian voices out there, but I feel bad when I don’t post enough, because there is a desire out there to learn about my god. For those of you that were members of the Hellenismos.us forum, it was pretty disappointing when it was shut down for (silly) political reasons involving its creator (thankfully a few folks there created the Olympianismos forum instead). Its nice to see that a lot of polytheists are noticing this and are doing more to spread the knowledge and experience around, as well as mentoring and supporting each other.

 

 

Don’t think that because you aren’t writing a blog, starting an event, or creating artwork that you aren’t integral to the community. There are plenty of polytheists I interact with on Facebook or other places that don’t write, but they do support me and I in turn support them. Just because it was religion that brought us together doesn’t mean we don’t have other things to talk about. Plenty of you are parents, which I’m not. Some are artists, some are cooks, others are students. You want to know what Lady Imbrium I talk about most? Goats. I really look forward to her letters because I love hearing about her goats and the rest of the farm. She’s doing some pretty awesome stuff, and supporting her outside of the religious sphere is my duty and privilege as a friends. In the end, no matter what you do, that’s what community building is all about: support. Keep doing good work folks.

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.

Gun Control, Etc.

So I know I normally try to stay away from politics on my blog, but because of the subject matter in relation to Ares, I felt it was necessary to address. This week, President Obama convened a task force to address the topic of violence and gun control, headed by Vice President Biden. Also on the docket is the issue of mental health in relation to gun violence.

 

I am personally an advocate for common-sense gun control. Surprisingly to some, I don’t own any firearms, despite my prior military service. I know a lot of other service personnel, both current and former, that might think that’s funny. I just don’t see any reason for me to own a firearm, so I don’t. I do hunt, but I use a crossbow. I live in a safe neighborhood, so I don’t really need a home-defense weapon, and even if I did, I still have that crossbow handy. I may get a hunting rifle eventually, because it’s silly to waste the tags, but then I know enough to keep it in a locked safe, separate from the ammunition.

I am a fan of background-check laws. There’s no reason that anyone should be able to just pick up a gun at a store without at least checking for a weapons offense or similar previous criminal activity. At the same time, I live close enough to Detroit to know that, if I wanted a gun today, I could take a couple hundred dollars and find one by the end of the night, skipping background checks, regimentation  and other legal safeguards. I know better than to think any law could stop me if I had true criminal intent.

And that brings me to the heart of my post today. I’m neither for nor against executive action or legislation regarding gun control. The way I see it, anything any legislative or other government body can do will be ultimately ineffective. You can’t control criminal intent due to its nature, you can only respond to it. By attacking the symptom of a problem, we divert attention from its cause, and thus lose solvency. I could write pages on what I believe are the root causes of violence and criminal activity, but that would be ultimately missing the point of this post. Only families, friends, and peer groups can effectively address the sorts of problems that lead to any sort of violence, and it’s up to those groups to recognize warning signs and tackle the underlying cause of the symptoms of violence.

The best gun control advice I can ever give was given thousands of years ago: Know Yourself. If you do want to own or do own a firearm, know why you want/have it. Know how to use it. Know when to use it and when not to. Know how to keep your weapon from falling into the wrong hands, even if its someone you would trust. Know how to care for it so that it doesn’t accidentally harm someone. Remember, even weapons bought simply for recreation were built with one intention: to fire a deadly projectile. Know if you can bear the responsibility of owning a deadly device, and decide if you have the mental and moral fiber required to make a life-or-death decision under stress. If you’re not ready or don’t need a gun, then don’t buy one. Always keep that in mind–Know Yourself. Hail Ares.

Ares Doesn’t Love You

It’s okay though, he doesn’t love me, either. 99% sure on that one. “Well aren’t you just a Negative Nancy?” you may say. Perhaps I am. But why is it so important to us that the gods love us measly little mortals?

People want to be wanted and need to be needed. Cheap Trick were really on to something when they wrote that song. It’s just who we are as social creatures. It only follows that we wish the most powerful being known to us–the Gods– love us. After all, we (well, most of us, you silly atheists) love them. Some of us love them a bit too much, perhaps. But hey, our love of them has spawned some of the most beautiful, awe-inspiring monuments, literature, and even acts on this planet. Granted, it also spawned some lovely, f**ked up stuff, too, but we’ll skip over that for the sake of moving along nicely.

Now, my answer, personally, is that with rare exceptions, the gods couldn’t even be bothered to give a damn. It’s not even that they may harbor any real ill-will towards us (except maybe Ares and Zeus, but more on that later), but running an entire cosmos is busy work, and who really has time to bother with such petty trifles as human love, happiness, or money? But what about their responsibility for human affairs you say? Honestly, after the whole of human history of Athene teaching men to build, or Zeus judging righteousness, that has got to get old.

Remember the flood myth? You know, where Zeus decided everyone was a douche and told humanity to kindly go f**k itself? It’s a really common myth across various cultures. Oh, and remember how Prometheus (who is such a dreadful, self-righteous prat in “Prometheus Bound btw) got punished for helping out humanity in the first place, and then the gods punish man by creating women? If the mythographers and poets are to be even the least bit believed, then it’s pretty clear to me that the gods hold a grudge.

That’s not to say we can’t entertain the gods from time to time. Ares loves war. He is literally called Insatiate of Battle and the Bringer of Tears by Homer and Aeschylus  respectively. And Aeschylus liked Ares!  It really wouldn’t surprise me if Ares sits around Olympus until he gets bored and then goes off to whisper some bloodthirsty nothings in some poor mortal’s ear, who then promptly goes out and kills someone, simply for the amusement of a god. As I’ve said before, and been called as blasphemer for, no less–Ares is a dick sometimes.

Does this lack of love for humanity mean we shouldn’t pay the gods their due honors? Hell no. They are gods, and should receive their due whether they like us or not. I can dislike  my president or governor  (I actually love my governor, he’s awesome) or whatever, but I still pay taxes, because that’s how it works. They are in charge, and that is the pecking order. The gods are at the very top of the cosmic pecking order. Don’t sweat it if you don’t feel Olympic glory raining down on you and filling your butt with sunshine. It’s probably nothing personal. And hey, you’re alive right? That should at least mean none of the gods dislikes you 😉

The City of Ares

I like my hometown, Livonia, MI. It’s quiet, safe, and has plenty to do if you aren’t an idiot kid. Unfortunately, it is located mere miles from Detroit, a place dominated by fear, murder, and sorrow. It is a city of Ares Andrephontes, the slayer of men. It’s really quite sad how low the city has sunk, considering its great past.

Detroit, I’m told, used to be a beautiful place. The Western center of automotive manufacturing, Detroit was a busy, prosperous city only 40 years ago. Of course, under that gilded exterior, the foundations of the city began to rot under corrupt politicians, unions in bed with the mafia, and the ever-increasing strain of race relations. Now, we have a burnt-out shell of a city and a whopping 298 homicides just this year, many of them children. This is home of Ares the Man-slayer. This is not new, however; Detroit has always been a refuge for the Bringer of Weeping.

 

Detroit was founded as a military fort and missionary outpost in 1701 by the French. It was responsible for guarding the Detroit River and surrounding areas from native raids and bandits. The French ruled Detroit for only 59 years before surrendering it to the British in 1760 during the bloody French and Indian War. Only three years later, Chief Pontiac of the Ottawa would lay siege to the fort during Pontiac’s Rebellion.

Later, Detroit would become a major staging area for the War of 1812 between the young United States and the British Empire. The battle over and for the Detroit River would continue in spats, and the British would eventually take Detroit with only two wounded, even though they were outnumbered by approximately 50%. & Americans lost their lives to British Cannon, making the siege one of the least bloody in history.

During the period of the American Civil War, Detroit served as a major stop on the underground railroad, where slaves would jump ship to nearby Windsor. Before being promoted to general, Ulysses Grant would be stationed at Detroit, and another famous officer, George Custer, lead the Michigan Brigade from Detroit. Detroit would also produce the 24th MI Infantry Regiment, which suffered over 80% casualties at Gettysburg . It was also during this time, in 1863, that Detroit would experience its first race riot, which left at least two dead and 35 buildings completely destroyed.

The World War II era would bring more war and violence to Detroit. In response to Hitler and Emperor Hirohito, Detroit would shift its great manufacturing capability to wartime use, earning it the nickname “The Arsenal of Democracy”. The Ford Motor Company would convert the Willow Run plant into a bomber factory, churning out a whopping one B-24 Liberator an hour, with pilots taking off to deliver the aircraft straight from the assembly line. In 1943, Detroit would hold yet another race riot, leaving 34 people dead; the Army was deployed to end the riot.

In 1967, Detroit would see its worst race riots yet. With 43 death, almost 500 injured, and over 2000 buildings destroyed, it stands as the third-worst riot in US history. You can still travel down the streets of the city and see the shells of the buildings left untouched even 40 years after the riots. It is after this point that Detroit became polarized, and self-segregation has led to Detroit becoming one of the most racially-tense cities in the US to this day.

 

It is this long, 300-year history that has led to me declaring Detroit a city of Ares. Violence has plagued the city since its founding, and there is no end in sight. Now, with very few, under-equipped police officers, dwindling city budgets and revenue, and the unwillingness of the residents to accept outside help, it looks like this grand city may soon die. Gone will be the city one hailed as the Western Paris. Gone will be the second-oldest Roman Catholic parish in the US. I love Ares, but it seems his influence will choke the life from the city I was born in. What a sad time to live in…

Ares the Avenger

Once again, we find ourselves at the anniversary of the terrorist attacks that attacked both the United States specifically and the West generally. Over 3,000 people died, and still many suffer from health complications related to burns, smoke inhalation, PTSD, and other injuries. The DoD has updated its official US casualty numbers to 6,750 as of 9/10/12. Countless insurgents have been arrested or killed, as have innocent bystanders, who have been either “collateral damage” or worse, targeted by their own countrymen. It’s easy to see, from this data, why some folks disapprove of violence and violence’s god, Ares. Violence begets violence, and it’s never fun.

I have written before that Ares is a violent god, and that he actually does like violence. One could reasonably argue that the whole mess we find ourselves in today is quite amusing to him in one way or another. Ares, while mythologically speaking may be a god of violence-for-violence’s-sake (as clearly given in the Iliad), was not worshiped as violence-for-violence’s-sake sort of god, with the only possible exception being in Thrake, though the sources are probably biased. No, Ares is most often an avenging, reactive, and protective force bent on punishing or destroying those who transgress various boundaries.

As I’ve described before, outside of Homer, Ares’ mythology is rife with examples of him acting as an agent of retribution and justice, and this is a major theme in the plays of Aeschylus. When Ares’ daughter Alkippe is raped, he kills the rapist in retribution. When Thanatos is captured by Sisyphos, it is Ares who brings the criminal into the hands of Death (he kills that guy, too). Ares rages against Hephaestos when his brother traps their mother on a throne, and he punishes Leto’s adultery by denying her shelter to give birth to his new siblings.

Ares also shows us however that violence and its application aren’t always perfect or just, and that those we entrust with violent authority aren’t perfect, either. In a jealous rage, Ares transformed into a boar and killed Adonis. While known for punishing adultery in others, Ares himself has a famous affair with Aphrodite. Ares is often shown as a coward who whines when he is wounded and flees from battle the moment he is hurt.

And this brings me back to our anniversary. The West went to war shortly after 9/11 against radical Islamists to avenge the transgressions of one people against both us and their own. As Ares, we were not perfect, and committed transgressions of our own. Yet let not this anniversary be dominated with the litany of transgressions, but rather the litany of those whose lives were lost because of this event. In the end, all the silly excuses, from WMDs, oil, to plain old ass-hattery are just that: excuses. Today is about the dead, and avenging those dead by keeping their memories alive so that they never really die. Let it stay that way.

Religious Violence

So, I’m sure you’ve all seen the news about the shooting at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin. It sucks, especially because it may be a case of mistaken identity. What sucks more is how common religious violence is, and what sucks more is how few people would like to acknowledge it. Hell, religious violence isn’t limited to religious people; some of the worst massacres have been committed in the name of stamping religion out altogether.

I know a little about religious violence from my own experience. Part of my job as an analyst was to monitor tensions between nations in what were at least partially religiously motivated conflicts, including tensions between India and Pakistan, Israel and Palestine, as well as Sunni and Shia Muslims in Iraq. Some others you may know about include the conflicts between the Protestants and Catholics of Ireland, the religious civil war in the Philippines, the tension between churches and the government in China, and the issue with the  Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka. Damn, that’s a lot, huh? Oh wait, I forgot all the miscellaneous tensions in Africa and South America between missionary groups, indigenous populations, and even their own governments. Violence isn’t limited to any one sect, faith family, or theology. Even the ancient Hellenes had their own religious wars among themselves.  Yet, as much as the neopagan establishment wants to think otherwise, the world was not all peace and matriarchy–ever.

So why do we fight over religion in the first place? I’ll probably be the first Pagan, Hellenic or otherwise, to say this, but I think that answer is kind of obvious: some gods get a kick out of sending people to kill. We Hellenes even have mythic wars which are partially religious in nature, such as Dionysos’ campaign in India and the Titanomachy. Ares enjoys bloodshed, and I would not put it against him to motivate a follower based on religion. Many monotheistic faiths have God expressly commanding wars, and the Hebrews even carried G-d into battle on his throne, the Ark (btw, the Romans did this with Mars/Ares, too).

Other reasons include the fact that religions often cause conflict as part of a larger cultural conflict, such as that between the Protestants and Catholics in Ireland, or with any missionary ever. They may be seen as a foreign influence that may or may not be hostile (Western Islamophobia anyone?), or may be the symbol of political or historical rivalry (Ireland, India). Different religious views shape different, often opposing worldviews. We can even see this in the greater Pagan community in the strain between eclectic, syncretic groups and the “traditional” reconstuctionist groups.

At the end of the day, some folks are just nuts/assholes. Many violent folks don’t need an excuse to hurt others; they just do it. The fact is, religion or no, people will always kill each other. It’s hard-wired into our collective psyche. It transcends culture, race, and even sex.  That being said, so does healing and the need to acknowledge even our perceived enemies as people. Sometimes, violence is the only option a people is left with, but just because you may be harassed by one member of another faith, that doesn’t mean all of them are oppressing you. Thicker skins are required by all.

I think today is one of those days when we need to reflect; while you do, contemplate what Homer left us:

Ares, exceeding in strength, chariot-rider, golden-helmed, doughty in heart, shield-bearer, Saviour of cities, harnessed in bronze, strong of arm, unwearying, mighty with the spear, O defender of Olympos, father of warlike Nike (Victory), ally of Themis, stern governor of the rebellious, leader of the righteous men, sceptred King of manliness, who whirl your fiery sphere [the star Mars] among the planets in their sevenfold courses through the aither wherein your blazing steeds ever bear you above the third firmament of heaven; hear me, helper of men, giver of dauntless youth! Shed down a kindly ray from above upon my life, and strength of war, that I may be able to drive away bitter cowardice from my head and crush down the deceitful impulses of my soul. Restrain also the keen fury of my heart which provokes me to tread the ways of blood-curdling strife. Rather, O blessed one, give you me boldness to abide within the harmless laws of peace, avoiding strife and hatred and the violent fiends of death.