Ares and the Modern Era

Brontosproximo

O blessed Aphrodite, it is at your inspiration I create this work. You, who led me to my loves, led me to this path, let my eyes and mind be clear to see the truth and share it with those capable of understanding it.

Beautiful Aphrodite, mother of Eros, the paradox who came after and yet was there at the beginning, inspire me with the words to help the people understand your consort.  He has no desire for followers to strew petals and soft words for him but you who love him and who loves all knows the needs of the people.  Through you they will come to understand him and celebrate his gifts.

Modern Hellenes are never sure how to take Ares.  There aren’t too many balanced views of him. Homer’s interpretation seems to be where most people develop their opinions.  To generalize, most people seem to be polarized to either disliking his violent aspect, or celebrating it in an unhealthy manner.  The entry for Ares on Wikipedia reflects this:

“Many modern Neopagans maintain a somewhat traditional view of Ares. Hellenistic sects in the United States, discourage worship of Ares altogether. Some sects even forbid Ares worship. Many modern neopagans believe that ancient civilizations believed much the same, but worshipped Ares out of necessity rather than out of devotion. However, many other Neopagans do worship Ares, believing him to be a god who bestows courage, strength and determination in times of hardship and difficulty.”

Homer is not be-all and end-all of Hellenic religion, however it is widely read and therefore most people’s first images of the gods are developed from his words.  Unfortunately in some people’s search for a “bible” for our faith, Homer’s two stories have occasionally been revered as a sort of “gospel”.  While the plays and epics are very good sources for us to learn about ritual and about how people thought about the gods, they are poor tools for learning about the gods directly.

Homer described rituals, he described historical events as remembered. He interpreted them in a way the people could understand.  His portrayals of the gods in them were very sensational for literary effect.  They were meant to be entertaining

Apart from Quintus Smyrnaeus, there is little corroboration for Homer’s views of Ares.  Quintus Smyrnaeus is one of the few writer who speaks of Ares in the same fashion as Homer, but he is a latecomer who likely did nothing more but embellish the original stories.  Homer did not know or understand the will of the gods.  He was an entertainer, not a mantis.

Some say the ancient Hellenes did not honor him, but evidence of temples and his cultus can be found in Herodotus.  Then there is the Areopagos.  The Areopagos or Areios Pagos is the ‘Hill of Ares’, north-west of the Acropolis.  It played a major role in the daily life of Athenians and even gets a mention in the christian bible.

The origin myth of the Arepagos is a celebration of Ares as a wise and fierce protector of his children.  Apollodorus (3.180), Pausanias and Suidas recount the myth of the rape of his daughter Alkippe by Poseidon’s son Aalirrhothios.  Ares slew the rapist and was tried and acquitted by the gods for it there.

Ares’ has garnered a reputation for wanton violence in modern times. The ancient records do not bear this out.  For example, from the Shield of Herakles: “Ares insatiable in battle, blazing like the light of burning fire in his armour and standing in his chariot, and his running horses trampled and dented the ground with their hooves, and the dust swirled up around them, beaten up between the compacted chariot and the feet of the horses, and the well-put-together chariots

and their rails clattered to the gallop of the straining horses.” He fought to honor and avenge Kyknos, his son.  Careful study of the ancient texts reveals that each killing attributed directly to him were either acts of war or vengeance.  Furthermore Ares has not be associated with rape.

He could be merciful as well. Apollodorus (3.22) describes how he punished Kadmos for slaying his child the serpent.  The sources are not all consistent, but Kadmos’ punishment was not death.  In fact, Kadmos marries Ares’ daughter Harmonia.  Ares is described as dancing at Kadmos and Harmonia’s wedding where he celebrated as any proud father might.

Information about Ares is somewhat scarce compared to other gods, although with the recent breakthroughs in understanding Thrakian, more information may be coming. Farnell notes, for example (1896:401-402)that “no inscriptions or dedications from Thebes attest his influence nor does his form or countenance appear on the Theban coins.”

Pausanias, in his Description of Greece makes mention of temples and altars to Ares.  Herodotus describes an oracle among the Thrakians (7.76.1) “They had little shields of raw oxhide; each man carried two wolf-hunters’ spears; they wore helmets of bronze, and on these helmets were the ears and horns of oxen wrought in bronze, and also crests; their legs were wrapped around with strips of purple rags. Among these men is a place of divination sacred to Ares.” [also translated as: Among these men there is an Oracle of Ares.]

Modern researches such as Matthew Gonzales also refutes the negative perceptions in his article “The Binding of Ares in Myth and Cult: A Re-assessment

“The complex rationales for Ares’ binding appear most clearly in two inscriptions from southern Asia Minor, one from Pamphylian Syedra, and another example from Iconium. In both cases, an oracle bade the cities to create a statue group depicting Ares bound before Hermes and Dike.

While the position of Ares as suppliant before an image of Justice could imply a malevolent and hostile relationship between Ares and the city, a closer reading of the inscription tends to undermine this reading. The relationship of Ares and Dike had earlier received considerable elaboration by none other than Aeschylus in his Septemand Oresteia. In these four plays, Ares is constantly and consistently depicted as the träger of cosmic, retributive justice. It is in this capacity that Ares appears alongside Zeus and Athena at the heart of the Athenian Ephebic oath, and similar concerns likely informed Ares’ binding at Syedra and Iconium. Ares was bound and placed before Dike so that his violent and retributive energies would not harm the polis. Far from diminishing the god’s power, cities sought to focus Ares’ potentially destructive energies outward by binding his image to the land and subjecting him to Dike. This is the Ares found alongside Athena on the Shield of Achilles and invoked in the Hymn to Ares as ally of Themis.'”

Even our own Sannion disputes the misrepresentation of Ares as spoiled masochist. In his description of Ares, he writes “The world can be a hard and cruel place: Ares helps us to get through it. His blessings are strength, courage, fortitude, cunning, and the passion to fight for the things that we think are important. He helps us to shed what is not efficient, to become hard in order to meet life’s adversity. He is a tough master, but when things start falling apart around you, that’s precisely the person you want on your side.”

So, what do I believe?  On what am I suggesting the modern cult of Ares be founded?

Most sources are clear that he is the son of Zeus and Hera, although some later sources have said that he was produced by Hera alone, out of spite for Zeus having given birth to Athena.  There are similar asexual myths surrounding the birth of Hephaistos.

Indeed some traditions call Mars the son of Hercules and Athena.

From birth it seems that Ares was no ordinary immortal. Thebaid(4.786) refers to him playing in the Odrysian snow shortly after his birth.

His tutelage was attributed to Priapus.  In Lucian’s Se Saltatione 21 Priapus was said to have taught Ares how to dance.  In every martial art the first thing the student learns are forms.  Forms are a ritualized sort of fighting, a dance designed for the student to learn and practice their skills without an opponent present.  When performed by an advanced student, forms are indistinguishable from dance to the untrained observer.  Forms practice benefits the student in many ways.  There is no better way to warm up the human body than forms done correctly.  It is an excellent form of isometric exercise.  Forms encourage balance, grace and endurance in the student. Learning additional forms stretches mind, especially memory skills. Understanding the movements, performing them gracefully is the goal of every student, and long after grandmasters age past jumping over six cars and breaking refrigerators with their earlobe, the forms remain. The forms are the Alpha and the Omega of the martial artist.

As a martial artists, practicing martial arts forms is an integral part of my personal devotions to Ares.

When I discuss my worship of Ares, frequently I lose people when I begin to how I worship him by training in the martial arts.  It seems to reinforce many people’s opinion of a god of war and their dislike of him.  I mean after all, war is evil, right?  And those kids of his, Phobos (Fear) and Deimos (Panic)?  Nothing but trouble.

It’s not as simple as that.

Ares is the god of conflict.  Conflict, like everything else in this existence can be good or evil.  It is the choices the participants make, the actions they take to resolve a conflict which may be characterized as good or bad.

Some years ago, Dallas/Fort Worth Star Telegram Ed Brice characterized Hellenists as “kooks”.  When this was brought to my attention, did I not demand an apology?  And receive one?  The tone of the apology may be argued, but Mr. Brice understood that at least one of us would not be ignored.

Do not shrink from conflict.  Conflict is his gift to us, use it to grow.

Rosa Parks refused to get up from her seat and created a conflict. Many would argue that much good from that conflict.

I challenge you all to have another look at Ares.  Even Phobos and Deimos.  I have prayed to them more than once to stand beside me rather than in front of me.  Fear and panic can be good, if they are inspired in an opponent, or someone considering doing you harm.

I train in martial arts, between 6 and 8 hours a week.  Each time I go into the studio I offer my training to him.  He does not look for flowers and flattery from us.  He expects us to prepare for conflict and not shrink from it when it occurs and strive for victory in each conflict.

I praise Ares and his sons for the favor they have shown me.  I will honor him every day of my life by training and teaching others in the hopes of illuminating his path for them.

Listen to the drums. Feel the adrenaline rush in your veins and move you to action. Your heart pounds until it is impossible to ignore and you must get up and do something..

That something? Vote. Protest. Write a letter. Run for your life. Defend yourself.

I battle with many weapons. A blade, my hands, my words, my keyboard.

He motivates us to get off the couch and make a change. Not to “sit there and take it” but to take action. He was with Rosa Parks when she decided she needed a seat more than that ignorant redneck.

He was with Gandhi.  He was with Martin Luther.  He was with Martin Luther King Jr.  He was with Miyamoto Musashi and sent him enemies constantly to develop and practice his skills.  He was with a young Temujin the day his family’s horses were stolen, and with his grandson the day when his empire spanned from Korea to Poland.  He stood beside Lech Welesa as he faced down an entire government.

He is the embodiment of evolution. He message to us is to evolve or rot.

Embrace conflict and look for the advantage in it. Pray to Phobos and Deimos, his sons with his lover Aphrodite.  Pray they run beside you and turn your opponents’ blood to water and make them quake as they face you.  Honor Nike and her gifts.  Do not forget Nemesis and how quickly she can turn your world upside down.

Recently I was discussing Aphrodite and Ares and their progeny.  This person felt close to Harmonia, but Phobos and Deimos not so much.

Without Fear we’d all be in trouble.  Fear of consequences is something that helps us all avoid doing something unfortunate on a whim.  Panic can be a motivator.  Panic at the thought of losing a lover over a stupid argument.  Panic at the idea of cutting your own life short with stupid health choices.

Panic when you close in for the first kiss with someone new.  It’s a delicious heart-pounding sensation, isn’t it?  Will they kiss back? Have I ruined it by doing this too soon? Too late?  Will the relationship be too passionate and I’ll lose myself?

Embrace that heart-pounding excitement.  Roll in it!  Don’t you feel most alive at that moment?

When I’m in a confrontational situation I frequently invoke both Phobos and Deimos.  It is far better to have someone confrontational decide that you are too scary to mess with than it is to test either of your skills.

In the ring, I ask Fear and Panic help me.  I try to recognize when my opponent is trying to intimidate me and I try to intimidate them to throw off their timing.  When I’m facing a larger or faster opponent, I use it to gain an advantage.  I remember several months ago frightening a faster younger opponent and stunning him for long enough to take control of the match.

If you choose to walk Ares’ path, he will not come to you with flowers and pretty words.  Do not insult him by trying to win him with empty promises. Make an offering of your actions.  His reward will be to toss boulders in your way, to make things more difficult, each task a larger challenge.  Accept each as his special gift to you.

It takes no special effort to sit on the couch.  Choosing not to do that makes anyone worth of praise.

Ares’ path is not just for martial artists.  Spiritual warriors can train their mind not to shrink from conflict, but find ways to use conflict towards positive ends.  Conquer enemies, conquer fear, conquer doubt.  Not studying a martial art, or sparring ring every week doesn’t mean that there are no worthy victories ahead of you.

Clearly there are people who need help with conflict.  Not everyone was reared in an environment that has taught them to deal with it successfully and there are professionals that can help people learn tools to negotiate these transact successfully.  Problems should be worked on rather than suppressed.

Ares celebrates rage, but finds productive uses for it.  Focusing it on the enemy, on the despoiler of his daughter, on the people attaching the city.

Deal with rage. Conflict is a gift.  It is a motivator that gets us off the couch.  What we do with that energy is up to us.  We can bottle it, or we can use it productively.  Given that running your supervisor through with a spear is frowned on these days, the goal is to find a use for that energy.

Many times self medicating and in some cases prescribed medications only deaden the sensations.  It does nothing to solve the original problem and usually compounds it.  There are two parts to the problem, the unacceptable behavior on the other person’s part and our inability to deal with it.  Certainly there are people who suffer from a chemical imbalance and need assistance, but their numbers are dwarfed by those who hide beneath the sheets of a prescription pad.

I do not mean to emasculate Ares.  He indeed is the god of conflict, with blood on his shield, armor and sword.  His war-cry is jubilant and he exults in victory with a worthy opponent.  He is the personal god of war, the linebacker to Athena’s quarterback.

Ares and Athena provide complimentary roles. Consider a lumbermill. At the top is the mill manager and at the bottom is the lumberjack. It is the responsibility of the mill manager to select forests for harvest, to predict which sort of wood will be in demand, to organize the lumberjacks, to see they are well prepared for their days work. If the mill manager is poor at their job, the mill fails.

A lumberjack does not care which species the tree is.  He does not even care which tree he cuts.  Direction comes down from the manager, he chooses a tree based on those instructions and has at it with his broad ax.

Athena is the mill manager, the mind of the strategist who is thinking of the larger battle. Ares is the lumberjack concerned with the work at hand.  As the lumberjack loves the woods, the smell of fresh wood and cares for his ax, so Ares loves the battlefield, the smell of sweat and blood and cares for his weapons.

Yes, Ares is bloodthirsty but the blood is not on his lips, it is on his shield, his armor and his sword, as the lumberjack emerges covered from head to toe in wood chips and sap.

To honor him, train hard in martial arts and prepare for all types of conflict.  Do not avoid conflict, meet the opponent fairly and if you do not win the moment, be worthy of Ares in your efforts.

Lastly, be worthy of winning.  Be ready.

– Brontosproximo, Speaker and Oracle for Ares of Hercules Invictus

 

About the Order of Ares

The Order of Ares is devoted to understanding the nature of conflict and development of warriors. The Order shall pursue the understanding of the role of Ares in our modern culture. The purpose of the Order is not to encourage or glorify war, but to honor the god by developing and honoring warriors. Access to this group is by invitation only. Interested parties should announce their interest on Hercules_Invictus or Thiasos_Ares, the public list associated with this order. Brontosproximo is the current Speaker and Oracle for Ares.

About Hercules Invictus

Hercules Invictus is a non profit corporation that embraces Olympianism and launches Mythic Initiatives to improve the quality of life in our community. We invite you to join us on our real-world adventures.

 

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