Ares and Feminists

First I want to say that I am by no means an expert in the cult and myth of Ares. Certainly there are folks, such as Pete Helms at Aspis of Ares, who are a bit more qualified due to their heavy dedication and studies, to talk about Ares more affluently. However, when I, as a feminist, see feminist literature that takes pot shots at my gods, well I have a problem with it. And so it is in that spirit that I wanted to discuss how feminists can appreciate Ares, and how he is not some evil maniacal patriarchal overlord god bent on destroying all life (my summarization of what a feminist article on Ares more or less said about Ares). The article I am giving commentary about can be found here.

The primary assertion of said article seems to have been that Mars is preferable to Ares (and the author said that anyone who worships Ares is out of their mind) due to agricultural roots associated with the cult of Mars. This of course presumes that Ares may not have evolved along similar premises of protection of the land, however, because we have known epithets for Mars that speaks towards crop protection it is assumed that Ares has none of these historic traits. Of course in feminist pagan literature this would be an important differential between an otherwise beneficial god associated with nature (as is played up in this article regarding Mars) who takes up arms out of necessity….and therefore playing on ideals common in feminist paganism that “matriarchal” society is naturally benevolent and non-violent. That females are compassionate, empathic nurturers. Effectively placing warfare and violence firmly in the domain of male dominance inherent in patriarchy. Of course this ideal is a load of crap quite frankly. As a woman, as a feminist, and as an observer of human nature who has seen how violently insane women can get, the idea of the matriarchal utopia is no more likely under female dominance than utopia is under male dominance. Therefore the idea that a god is one worthy of feminist attention is one that doesn’t have an inherently violent nature is also crap, because this brutality and violence is just as much a part of female nature as it is a part of male nature. The number of women we have in armed forces, not as national guard, which would play more in the idea of defense of the homeland, but part of our offensive military action certainly a big indicator, as is female gang activity.

In fact, if you take a look at many of the goddesses worshiped by feminist pagans, you would probably notice a large number of them who have rather brutal myths and violent natures too. Artemis is a great example. After over a decade in service to Artemis as her devotee in my youth before being claimed by Apollon, I am under no illusions about the goddess as she is portrayed in her myth and cults throughout Hellas. Everything that Ares is condemned for in brutality, rage, violence is just as present with Artemis. Yet with Artemis it is almost glorified as some kind of sacred female power. The acceptance of power for females and stripping it away from males is, in my mind, just as grievous as the reverse happening. I have said before that our males need strong male deities as much as women need strong female deities, but I will go one further and say that women also need strong male deities. A strong male deity doesn’t undercut the strength of a woman, and certainly this isn’t the case for Ares, who is the father of the legendary Amazons, the epitome of female strength and independence, as well as the ideal thought of by feminists in regards of matriarchal society. Ares support of his mother, Hera, continues the idea in which Ares supports female strength, as well as being the idealized male strength as marital hymns likened the bridegroom to Ares. Certainly this would be more than about just manliness, but also to the purpose of men in their self identification as protectors of their families. This protectiveness is a trait of Ares which we see characterized in myth in which Ares slew the rapist of his daughter.

Therefore the juxtaposition that is placed in the article between Mars, as a protective deity, and Ares as nothing more than a divine bully, is rather inaccurate. I would also go as far as to say that the idea of Ares being divorced from the land is also incorrect. I say this for two reasons. One, is that there is a strong reference to the weapons of war associated bull-goadwith the tools of agriculture in the Orphic Hymn to Ares. The association between weapons of war and agricultural tools is one that is rather apparent. I recall once watching a documentary which discussed and portrayed archaic imagery of Perseus slaying Medusa shows the action being carried out, not by a sword, but rather a scythe, which scholars believe may have been a common weapon in the archaic period. The similarity between the bull-goad (as seen in the picture to the left)and a common spear is also quite noteworthy.

The question then becomes that if Ares, as the Orphic hymns notes, is a god associated with agricultural tools and is also petitioned to bring peace and cease war, then how does this account for poetic descriptions of Ares as the most loathsome of gods.  I would say that this has more to do with his domain. The brutal savagery that is part of life comes in the strife and battles that we engage in. Growth is a messy, violent affair typically, as is spiritual growth. More than one person has spoken of confronting their own private demons to resolve their problems and grow as a person. Struggle is a part of mortal life, it is not pretty but it is necessary regardless if one is a man or a woman. In such messy struggles it is helpful to have a god who doesn’t mind getting his hands dirty so to speak…who gets right in with the muck and mess of mortal struggles, and takes pleasure in doing so. Perhaps his rather robust pleasure in battles may shock tender sensibilities, especially of those who wish to ignore this elemental part of nature. Life is as much pain and struggle as it is the good moments that you keep to your heart like precious jewels. In a manner he is part of the very primal principles of life. The contests over territory and potential mates that can turn even good friends into bitter opponents.  Granted such natural displays of violence and aggression seldom lead to death, but it is there at the root of Ares in the cosmos. He is the conflict of energies that encourages life, just as much as he is beside us in every battle we undergo. And he favors none over another, but rather just fights on all sides for his purpose.

It is perhaps his lack of loyalty to “sides” that makes him loathsome, for even the Thebans in Seven Against Thebes bemoaned Ares, acknowledging him as a most  horrific deity, who had deserted his children, his city, to bring down their walls. This nature of Ares may be loathsome to mankind, and a good reason why in some areas, such as at Sparta, Ares was shackled to keep him there with the city (much in the same way as other city states shackled gods such as Victory). Yet for him to be loathsome to the gods as per Homer, I suspect has less to do with his changeability in battle, and more to do with his association with the seedy underbelly that makes up all manner of strife and battles. The gods themselves, are more or less above such things. There are few great battles among the gods. One is the War of the Titans in which Kronos was overthrown, and another was the War of the Giants. Both cases seem to have more to do with cosmic order and preservation of such. And then there is the war of the gods in the Iliad, a short-lived war as the gods took the sides of their favored (the Greeks or the Trojans) or whatever side they were designated to. That the gods did not typical engage in battles between each other, and such would have been seen as beneath them we can hazard from the conversation between Poseidon and Apollon, as the latter god deigns to not strike his uncle for the sake of mortal conflict (although he is not adverse in leading the Trojans against the Greeks at Zeus’ bidding, playing his part in the mortal drama). As such it often seems that warfare is more of a spectator’s sport among the gods in which they may temporarily step in to give some counsel to one they favor, but are otherwise unengaged directly in battle…with the exception of Ares. While Athena is darting in with prudent counsel, Ares is up to his armpits in the muck, ever present in the rush of endorphins that give rise to the flight or fight instincts. He is up close and personal with our struggles and battles in a very unique way. What he does is not pretty, not desirable, and not loved, but it is necessary.

His presence can therefore be a positive thing for a feminist as much as anyone else.  He gives us strength, and is our champion in our battles (even if he is not so much a knight in shining armor, rather said armor is a bit rusty, dinged and gore-stained…but that is reality, shining armor is armor than never did anything). He is present whenever a woman finds the strength to defend herself, or loved ones, against great odds against an attacker of greater strength. He is there when we learn how we can effectively protect ourselves from an assailant and potential rape and abuse. He is there when we rally together to wage battle for the common good. He is there when we fight our internal battles, just as he is there in our public battles. He is a loathsome god because it is necessary for him to be so, to do what he does. But this does not make him an unfeeling god, nor does it make him a bully. He is a father god with the weight of mortal life in all its unpleasantness and ugliness all around him….and he cares for and protects us through it all, even if sometimes he stands against us to force us to grow, even if he must be the master that cuts his pupil down to make him stronger.

Those who worship Ares are not out of their mind as the author of the aforementioned article says. Rather we worship Ares out of acknowledgement of his necessity in life, in the cosmos, and in thanks for the things that he does for us…even if we aren’t always appreciative at the time (after all as selfish creatures we are more inclined to avoid pain and discomfort even if it is necessary and beneficial to us…..and to seek out pleasure even if it gives no spiritual reward…for good and bad are often based on perception of how they impact us in terms of pain or pleasure). We are thankful to Ares and recognize the positive place he has in his domain.

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29 thoughts on “Ares and Feminists

  1. “The question then becomes that if Ares, as the Orphic hymns notes, is a god associated with agricultural tools and is also petitioned to bring peace and cease war, then how does this account for poetic descriptions of Ares as the most loathsome of gods.”

    I’m currently dissecting the fifth book of the Iliad (about Diomedes) and you really see that juxtaposition even in Homer. Heroes are called “peers of Ares”, yet he is called detestable, murderous, etc. You even see how Apollon calls Ares to rally the Trojans to stop the rampage of Diomedes, and the language Apollon uses suggests Ares isn’t simply defending Apollon or Aphrodite, but is indeed punishing the hubris of Diomedes’ actions (which are instigated by Athene no less).

    • The 5th book of the Iliad is awesome, as is the interaction of Apollon and Ares. I was going to address heroism in this post (and given the occasional appearance of the female heroine such as Atalanta in myth) but I didn’t get around to it and couldn’t think of a way to tie it into what I was saying. But you are right. The conflicts and struggles and battles undertaken are an important part of becoming a hero, so it is of no surprise to me that heroes are called peers of Ares. I am of the opinion that the juxtaposition in these qualities of Ares, that which is admirable and that which is loathsome, are both important components of the whole. You can’t have one without the other…rather like how by necessity Artemis is both a nurturer/nurse and a huntress (the latter which carries her more aggressive and brutal characteristics). Not a perfect parallel, but I think it serves the purpose here to illustrate what I mean. The admirable parts of Ares functions just wouldn’t exist without the undesirable. And that Ares punishes Diomedes’ hubris is of course of interest because that particular scene shows the unforgiveable crossing of the line of a mortal acting on a god. Great point.

  2. What I myself do is not pretty, desirable, or loved. It’s necessary. I am nowhere near as well versed in historical worship of Ares as Pete is. According to my gut and intuition you seem to have hit the proverbial nail on its head.

  3. Those feminists might also want to take note of Ares’ epithet Gunaikothalēs “Feasted by Women” (hope I spelled the epithet right), to whom a cult existed in Sparta that was exclusively for women.

      • I’m not sure. Sparta is widely known as being a polis with rather “liberal” values concerning women, compared to Athens for example. Women were quite independent, as they had to run the household and economy when their husbands were off to war.

      • Perhaps I give them (feminists) too little credit. I certainly hope they can look past any disdain for warfare in general that they may have. Those that I can recall speaking with in the past had no such respect for Spartan liberal values.

      • Well, I’m sure both views exist within feminist historical views, though I can’t be sure off course which view is more predominant then the other.

      • Both views do exist, but I know what Laurel is talking about because it is common at least in popular literature and thought among pagan feminists particularly of the modern goddess spirituality. I think it depends on what you are looking at case per case in regards to which is more predominant, though it often seems that this kind is far more vocal, especially when it comes to disdain of the gods.

      • I think that is the main problem is that the more vocal pagan feminists are of the set that disdains warfare as a patriarchal device (quite inaccurately too in my opinion as I indicated in my post) and therefore the war-like Spartan society would still not measure up very well even with the privileges that Spartan women enjoyed, because in the end it is still ruled by a male warrior class that many of this sort of pagan feminists can’t get past.

    • Indeed! That is a very good point to remember, although I tend to take a somewhat different view on what rape in the myths actually is, it is still a good point that Ares was considerably more polite in pursuit of his lovers 😉

  4. Ares fascinates me in several ways, especially considering how his earlier “greek” cults are so vastly different from the classical depictions, almost Helios-like in some ways. For a while, I’ve been too wary of his temper, but I am considering working with him.

    • I am glad you are considering it, and while there is little known about the pre-classical cults of many gods including Ares I suspect some things don’t change much when it comes to how the god was perceived 🙂 All the same I find worship of Ares to be quite beneficial.

  5. You already know how I feel about that article. This one, however, is great. Ares is not a part of my devotional radar (I hasten to add “yet”) but reading this has made me realize that so very much of Him reminds me a great deal of Odin. The “untrustworthy to have on your side,” bit especially, here. I do think He’d get on well with my more northerly relations, heh.

    I know They don’t need us to defend Them, but at the same time *sigh* poor Ares.

  6. Fantastic article! May I have your permission to reblog?

    I have had a fascination with Ares for quite awhile, though I’ve had a hard time figuring out how to approach him. This article is a big help.

    When reading this interpretation of Ares, I couldn’t help but think of how many feminist pagans worship the Celtic Goddess Morrigan. I mean, seriously people.

    (While I am a feminist, my confusion regarding Ares has nothing to do with that aspect of my life. )

    • Indeed that is what has often thrown me that goddesses of a rather violent nature such as Morrigan are ok but gods like Ares are not 😛
      And yes do feel free to reblog! I am so glad that you got something from this post!

  7. Reblogged this on Introspective Maenad and commented:
    Ares is a God I’ve been fascinated by for a long time, but have had no idea what to do about it, not being the warrior type. Lykeia at Beloved in Light recently wrote a wonderful post that sheds some light on Him, as well as asks important questions about why modern pagans tend to embrace some war Gods, and revile others.

  8. Excellent post Sue!

    “the idea of Ares being divorced from the land is also incorrect.”

    I would agree … I think people tend to seek for that reassurance of nature. People forget that fire turns organic material into ash which is rich in minerals that can be returned to the soil. Much like the “death card” is misunderstood, I believe so is Ares.

    To take it one step further, Aphrodite always reminds me of the silky side of passion … the gentle caress of a woman’s lips, that soft beautiful glow. I find that Ares is the other side of passion, the side of passion that is animalistic and full of spirit. That ruthless fury of excitement that burns deep within and drives us to make terrible decisions in the heat of that passion 🙂

    “It is perhaps his lack of loyalty to “sides” that makes him loathsome, for even the Thebans in Seven Against Thebes bemoaned Ares, acknowledging him as a most horrific deity, who had deserted his children, his city, to bring down their walls.”

    Funny thing about war … it has only one side … survival. I liken it to self defense training, most notably women’s self defense (ironically). I was teaching a class a few years ago and I had a woman tell me “You fight dirty”. My answer … you bet your ass I fight dirty! Survival isn’t a sport, it’s essential! Whoever “wins” gets to decide if the fight was fair. Regardless of the “victor” in any battle … Ares always wins 🙂

    • Things your observations about war and fighting are quite reasonable. It is after all about survival and therefore isn’t necessary about what is fair or nice etc, which is what made me associate his domain with the instinctual fight or flight as I had mentioned. Fighting is seldom noble in and of itself, but it can be necessary when survival is put into question. So great thoughts and thanks for sharing about them!
      Likewise I can understand where you are going with the relationship of Ares and Aphrodite. I am not sure if I entirely agree, but I understand how you see it that way 🙂

  9. hey, i know it’s late for replying but i just can’t help writing this.i love ares specially his protective side which he represents completely in trojan war i always sided with trojans and that makes me like and honor him even more,he was so passionate in protecting them that he tried to destroy trojan horse and got into a fight with athena also i agree with you about the amazons.as a feminist he is the only god whom i can certainly say that doesn’t act misogynistic and about what you said: “a god who doesn’t mind getting his hands dirty …who gets right in with the muck and mess of mortal struggles, and takes pleasure in doing so.” i totally agree with you please read ares’s profile in shmoop.com in which ares’s favourite quote is: “People sleep peaceably in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf.”
    – George Orwell
    and sorry for my errors english isn’t my first language.

  10. First of all: Khaire Lykeia. I’m glad I finally found the bravery to comment on one of your posts, even if an old one.
    Secondly, as a feminist and a fellow polytheist I thank you for this post. Ares is a very important God to me, as he decided to help me in my depression and problems in life, taking me under his protective “wing” and always being at my side, so I get very angry when people dismiss Ares like that and don’t understand how important He is and how “complex” He really is. Not just a “bully”. But a War God, a God of Justice and Righteous Indignation, a loving and protective Father, and so much more. Thank you for this post.

  11. Thank you for your great post . I’m not a pagan yet,but as someone who loves both Apollon and Ares, i find your blog very interesting.as a feminist woman and someone who practices martial arts,i am fascinated by Ares; He is a god that respects women more than other olympian gods, he loves and protects his children and lovers.and most of his relationships are serious and more than one night stands.Ares is one of the few Gods who Aphrodite slept with willingly.I don’t remember the city’s name but he helped women of the city to fight the enemy and that’s how he got the epithet feasted by women.Also Amazon warrior women were his daughters.He was fierce in protecting his family and also Trojans.If he is portrayed somehow negatively in Iliad ,that’s because Homer was an Athenian.He is a god full of passions and yes,emotions.and he was very compassionate to his children.If some people think Ares is sexist because he is the God of war and because he is associated with martial skills,it’s their sexism for thinking women can’t engage in such things,not his.i know my comment was long,but i love talking (writing),about Ares;).

    • Thanks for your input, I am glad that you enjoyed this post!Ares is a great god, and yet like all gods whose myths are taken a bit too literally, he tends to get a bad reputation unjustly. For any of the Hellenic gods, it is far more useful to look further into the nature of the gods that are revealed that what they are literally doing in a myth. As such we see the hints even buried in myths of the nature of the gods, and the benevolence that they extend to mankind and their role in the order of things. As such Ares offers a lot that gets ignored. I am certainly glad that there are those such as yourself out there who appreciate him!

  12. I do agree with you that people take myths too literal,but even in the myths, Ares has many positive traits (which i mentioned in my former comment),but people just consider the war and fighting part and ignore the rest.

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