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.

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!

Moving into the Realms of other Gods

There is a surreal quality in being devoted to certain gods, one that often separates them from other devotees and general worshippers. Apollonians are very artsy while Dionysians are very mystical. Artemesian women are very strong-willed and the devotees of Aphrodite tend to be emotive, warm people. Being a devotee means immersing yourself in the influences of your god, often with such intensity as to make even the voices of other gods seem a little distant.

For the last few years, I have been so immersed in the Aresian lifestyle of conflict, war, and law that one might wonder if I’d ever be anything but harsh and disagreeable. Indeed, even after leaving the military, I set down the road to being a lawyer—a very contrarian and testosterone-fueled career path that while women can and do excel in, is still (at least in the US) a good ole’ boys’ club. I have always loved war and justice and naturalism in society; my Facebook friends often see me sharing military and conflict-related articles.

Recently though, I have been given a break in my schedule, one enough to pursue a second associate’s degree (to be fair, I only need 15 new credits). I decided, therefore, to pursue a fine art’s degree. Some of you have already seen the new artwork that’s popped up on my Facebook page, and I plan on posting much of it here as well. It’s amazing what a change in environment can do to modify one’s perspective, especially in a sacred sense.

Now, I’ve never spent much effort on appreciating the arts. Sure, some paintings are nice, and creating statuary and other votives is an important aspect of my worship, but in all, I’ve always viewed art as more of a way to waste time. Besides, most professional artists are the wispy, out-there types that deeply annoy my need for everything to do something, to have a practical use. An aesthetically beautiful shield is nice unless it can’t do what it’s meant to do.

I should note that art and the world of war aren’t incompatible; after all, some of the best ballads, paintings, statues, etc. are all about some good old-fashioned ass kicking between nations. Warrior-poet traditions abound in many cultures, and as mentioned above, armor and armament can be considered works of art in and of themselves. Except in ancient Sparta and Rome, there were no professional soldiers; everyone from the generals to the lowly peltasts (poorer soldiers who were recruited as skirmishers and scouts armed with javelins) was an artisan, baker, doctor, or other common worker first and a soldier only when needed. Even the ephebes of Athens only served a few years before moving on.

And so, being out of my element  of professional conflict (or learning therefore), I’m experiencing a whole new spiritual paradigm, one dominated by Apollon, the Mousai, Aphrodite and her Graces, and all the fun-loving, less serious gods (or should I say less grim and grave?). I’ll admit it’s uncomfortable. Right now I’m taking music, drawing, and ceramics. All three classes are already stretching my patience, both with the respective mediums and with me (perfectionism is a curse). While the professors can say I’m good, I still get frustrated with the process it takes to get to a finished product. Clay is especially difficult because of its pliability; I’m more accustomed to metal, which must be beaten and abused to find its shape, whereas clay must be caressed and goaded into even the crudest forms (and even then, it has the tendency to do whatever it wants anyway).

The worst part, in my opinion, is how draining it is on my personality. Art and creating art are simultaneously intense and incredibly droll. You can’t argue with art—there’s no dynamism in it. When I’m not diving into the process, I find myself incredibly bored and apathetic. It’s very annoying at times. While I don’t find it hard to be stimulated by this new environment, I do find it hard to stay engaged.

I really do find it amazing how the personalities of different gods are exposed in their realms and in their devotees. The passions evoked by the Muses are much different from the Passions Ares or Aphrodite give. Needless to say, this is all going to take some getting used to. For now, Hail Ares (and the other gods).

Prayer to Ares Epekoos

So I’ve reached an impasse in writing this weekend. I realized my book may have to be split in two. The first part–which is very academic and analyzes myth, history, and goes very deep into philosophy–is taking forever to write. Part of that involves ridiculous amounts of research. The portion on Diomedes in book five of the Iliad (which only encompasses about a page and a half) took about three or four hours alone. However, the portion I’ve written on cult and all that is going much more smoothly, and is accruing material at a much faster pace. That part, however, does rely on some of the theological and historic points raised in the other portion of my writing. Thus, I’m stuck, and I’m not quite sure what to do.

Now, because I have two options (one big volume versus two smaller ones), I’m in a pretty good position for asking an oracle. I thought about asking Sannion, who does a monthly Dionysian oracle. However, I’m late for this month, and in addition, the little voice in my head is telling me I need to get more comfortable doing divination myself. Why? Well first off, Ares does have an oracle in the mountains of southern Anatolia–simply put, it’s part of His cult. Secondly, if I do want to become a priest, I need to become more receptive to the will of my god. So, in pursuit of an answer, I have composed a prayer to Ares Epekoos, he who listens, to grace me with an answer. I do hope it works, and that I can interpret any answer correctly. I don’t do tarot or anything like that, so I’m looking for a dream or a sign (I’m looking for woodpeckers, methinks). Cross your fingers!

Hear me, O Epekoos,

You god who listens to the purple-clad seers.

Listen to me, oh Ares,

I who have given you burnt offerings of young lambs,

I who have raised prayers to you on sweet smoking altars,

Lend me your ear and answer my inquest

Show me, oh giver of good counsel, as I may see,

Whether it is better to give the first course or the second.

Show me, oh Rallier of men, as I may see,

Whether I shall rally in ones or twos.

Pray to thee I do for your token in answer,

A sign as I may see your will,

You who give council to those who raise your banner.

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.