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.


Inspired by Pete Helm’s post in Aspis of Ares here about what is a warrior? The post was very thoughtful, and many of the comments quite intriguing when contimplating what defines a warrior. Like Pete I am a literalist when it comes to the word warrior. I understand that there are those who use warrior in a metaphorical sense refering to personal combat and being engaged in struggles, or even in the context of putting oneself in dangerous situations (for whim one commenter brought up firefighters and EMTs). However, I don’t think that being in a dangerous situation alone qualifies as a warrior. After all many professions can be involve potentially life threatening dangerous situations. Big game hunting itself is quite risky to one’s wellbeing, but that doesn’t make a hunter a warrior by any stretch of the imagination (though it is not unheard of for warriors to enjoy hunting, and in ancient Sparta youths did participate in hunting before they achieved adulthood).

To be accurate we must attribute what people actually do, and we do no service to attribute inaccurate classifications. An artist creates art, a musician creates music, a hunter hunts game, a warrior serves in fighting in war..though like Pete I would be willing to extend this definition to police as well as it wasn’t too long ago that there was little distinction. To this extent we see that what people are doing, and context, plays a big part in determining what a warrior is…and this is keeping in mind that there many gods, aside from Ares, who are associated with warfare, but are not typically seen classified as a warrior god.

Apollon is not a warrior god….though he participates in it in the work of Homer (as does his twin), and the twins likewise are honored in other successful battles they are not addressed as warriors. Yet, Apollon has a prominent place in warfare and was honored in Sparta as a god of similar appearance to Ares with his spear and helmet at Amyclae as Pausanias describes the statue. So Apollon for all instensive purpose certainly seems to resemble a warrior. But when we look to his function in warfare it is very precise. He is the Marshaller of the host. Specifically he is the god of the paian, to whom it was sung, bolstering the courage of the forces even as it drove fear into the enemy. Singing the paian for Apollon was to turn evil away from themselves in the course of the battle. Thus Apollon in the context of war served as a protective deity of the troops engaging in bloodshed rather than a soldiering god. So when I saw someone ask of EMTs this is automatically what came to mind. Yes they are in dangerous situations, and yes they are often performing a protective service. But their service is not really that of a warrior, but participating in a fashion akin to Apollon’s own role in warfare (though certainly that doesn’t estrange them from Ares either as they are working within his general domain). Apollon may not be a warrior, but he is a protector and guardian. A different function with a different definition, but certainly not less than being a warrior. There is no reason for people to cling to a romance of being a warrior if that is not who they are. There are many other terms which can be attributed to other manifestations of strength, and community service.

Religion and Localized Flora and Fauna

I was asked not too long ago about what changes I noticed to my religious practices of having a mediteranean religion in an arctic (well just shy of arctic actually since I don’t live that far north in Alaska) environment. So I thought I would take a moment to blog about that.

As I have inferred in a previous post as a person who grew and came into worshiping the gods early in life, and having grown up in this environment, it is something that never really occured to me. Alaska was my home during the formative point of years in which I was “meeting” various gods of my religion, and therefore was a tangible part of my religious experience. You must understand that I never even lived outside of Alaska, with the exception of one year in the first grade when we moved to Washington state, in a more southern climate, so the flora and fauna and even the weather and general environment of such places just never registered much with me. But it seems about time to rather point out how things of Hellenismos relate to my religious life in this part of the world.

As I had mentioned before, Demeter was not a huge part of my early religious life largely because Alaska is not an agricultural based area in our seasons. We have a very short growing season, and therefore I associated her with the brief growing periods that were a brief brilliant joy during the year between mid May and mid September, and the very brief autumn in which the good smells made the world richer in sensory texture. This was how I understood Demeter, as a goddess who, with her daughter in company, more or less wandered north for about three or four months, following closely behind the bird migrations, before leaving again. An season of celebration, but not a huge note in my experience of the year itself during which the growing season is minimal. Of course things have changed since then as I see Persephone more present in a sense as everything sleeps here for the long long dark winter and so she represented in the winter that seed and root within the earth being nurtured by the protective covering of the snows from the frigid arctic wind.

Which leads me to Zeus. Zeus more often than not I associated with snow. Rain is something we don’t get a lot of, though I did experience quite a bit when I visisted my dad in the southeastern parts of Alaska where the Tongass National Rainforest (a temperate rainforest) is. so I did have a fairly long association with Zeus in connection to thunder, lightning and rain from these visits and in lesser occurances in my more northernly home. But the winter was the blessed snow. Don’t get me wrong, it is cold, miserable to move in, and there is usually tons of it. But it is also beautiful, and very very important to our local water supply. The snow covers the earth keeping it insulated even as it provides important water to the soil in its lower warmer levels, and later becoming groundwater that our plants depend on during the summer. Not enough snow means drought in the summer. Of course this has changed a bit too to include Poseidon who rules over the winter month in which much snow comes, and as a god associated with the precious liquid of water in general. But as a state plentiful in eagles, I could always see the eagle of Zeus, regally soaring in the skies. Other animals we don’t really have. There are no bulls, we don’t even have cow or ranches with the very slight exception of one protected valley where a dairy farm was erected that has adequate protection from the worse of the elements) with the exception of the very virile and aggressive bull moose which I guess could be a stand-in now that I think of it. They are certainly the more impressive in appearance and size of our herbivores. In fact, I would likely associate both Zeus and Dionysos with the bull moose when paying respects to local widllife. And the fiercely protective moose cow can likewise be attributed to both Demeter and Hera. Essentially in much of Alaska moose has often acted as a stable of human life in a similar manner that cows have played in other parts of the world. We even have laws to which every citizen is entitled to be able to get a license for one moose a year, and subsistance hunters generally get more than that from what I understand. Moose noses are used in making a kind of fatty berry mix as emergency food the way some folks use jerked beef, and the size of a moose could easily feed a family, and quite probably their neighbors, for a good amount of time.

Apollon is, and has been, easier to identify with. As I said in the above mentioned post Alaska’s seasons are largely light-based, which is especially true the further up in Alaska that you get. We also have a number of wild animals that are significant to his worship (and to those of other gods who share these animals). Swans we have (which are sacred to Apollon, Zeus… and Ares from what I am told). In fact we have the largest species of swan, the trumpeter swan, that migrates up here every year from all over the U.S. in returning to their breeding grounds. Trumpeter swans are so called because of a musical french horn kind of sound that they make. We also have ravens galore which are particularly associated with Apollon, and the various species of hawks and falcons which I have always assigned to his worship). We also have wolves, again something he shares with Zeus, as are wild goats (aka mountains goats) and sheep (aka dall sheep) which live in our mountains throughout the state…the latter of which is another important subsistance animal for several tribes, particularly further north. And while we don’t have true dolphins here we do have porpoises and their cousins the orcas, both of which I associate to both Apollon and Poseidon in lieu of the dolphin and because of their very similar chacteristics.

Meanwhile Artemis has her deer in the more southern parts of Alaska, and caribou in the more northern reaches. The caribou I find distinctly appropriate since they are the only species in which the females are also horned and that puts me in mind of the sacred deer of Artemis. Athena has her owls, though sadly the owls which are sacred to Ares don’t live in this state though I might say that the clever snowy owl could easily work for both of them in the manner that his changing feathers during the seasons allows him to blend in and ambush his prey. Aphrodite has her geese, and sparrows…and the haunting song of the loon is something that I associate with her. Hera may not have her cuckoo or peacock here, but we do have the arctic tern that I consider a kind of stand-in for the cuckoo in some respects because it has not too disimilar nesting habits…though I think terns are more aggressive, though beautiful, birds. And the snowy egret, though i have never seen one myself, is supposed to be the most majestic bird in our state aside from the eagle. that I would consider worthy of taking the place of the peacock.  And so it follows.

Fauna is fairly adaptable and similarities of symbolic traits can be overlapped in some respects to give you a connection in your religious life with your local environment. Flora is a bit harder though I must admit because none of the trees or plantlife is native to here or even able to withstand the temperatures to allow outdoor transplant. Laurel, olive and oak don’t survive outdoors. Instead we have the late-budding aspen trees, the pale willow (which I tend to associate in lieu of laurel sometimes..especially the treasured diamond willow and in fact in my youth I used it as a sacred tree along the same lines of what is thought of in regards to laurel), and tons of pine and birch. Wheat doesn’t grow well here except in aforementioned valley and perhaps a few other isolated areas. However, beekeeping is pretty productive up here if one gets honeybees from colder environments rather than mediterannean stock bees which don’t hibernate long enough for our long winter and end up starving. Maple harvesting is also something of a big dealin some areas.

There are some things I am still trying to intellectually figure out how they relate, but when it comes to the gods themselves I don’t have any problems really connection to my local landscape. But it is a worthwhile thing to think about all the same 🙂 One’s local environment after all is as an extention of one’s oikos…it is what is immediately connected to you.

Ares and the Art of War

There has been some recent discussion of Ares and war (specifically the attractive image in representations of Ares and the brutal reality of war) , and I wanted to expand my thoughts here on my blog, as Ares is a god that I have some fond regard and a high dose of respect for. And as one born under the sign of Scorpio, I do feel that there is some justly needed acknowledgement towards a god who likely significantly impacts my being in this life.

It is easy, very easy in fact, to forget (especially with how beautiful Ares is often portrayed and how isolated most of us are from the reality of war) that there is something quite horrific about the extremities of his power. Even though the evidence of this is quite blatant before us in how the ancient Hellenes spoke of Ares in myth and in their poetics. The hymns and poetic verses in plays (such as Aeschylus’ Seven Against Thebes) makes an attempt to convey just how awful the god is. And I don’t think that saying it is awful should be taken to be meant as a dispersion against the god, that the god himself is undesirable and horrible, but rather that what he is capable of is fearful and strikes us with a sense of awe even as it inspires terror. He is awful in the way that staring into the magnetic eyes of a leopard, unsure of whether he is going to decide to eat you or not, is awful as you are paralyzed by an equal amount of fear and yet held in wonder at the same time.

That there is an apparent contradiction going on with his (not unremarked) attractiveness doesn’t not surprise me. As I have indicated above, many of the deadliest things in nature are beautiful and attractive. This goes for the gods as well, as we may note that Apollon (whose name translates as “destroyer”) is considered one of the most beautiful of the gods, and the huntress Artemis is likewise possessing greaty beauty that is often the subject of desire in myth). Even the domain of Aphrodite-the goddess of the golden apple, who I feel is quite appropriately depicted by the Spartans as an armored goddess, has a very aggressive attribute for which Zeus admonishes her in the Iliad that she should keep herself toward the more delicate affairs..yet there is a kind of inherant aggressiveness even in marriage ceremonies in which kidnappings were reinacted, and the power of Eros, the son of Aphrodite and Ares, was quite possibly as feared as much as his father because he could rouse the passions of men into following into the line of war. It is all to easy to soften this deities, but it would, I feel, a misrepresentation of how the gods, and nature (which the gods do not exist outside of) is. Felines, wolves, birds of prey, snakes…tyrannosauruas rex (hey I know it is extinct but consider how many children love the T-rex and how popular it is of the dinosaurs! So it seemed amiss to not include it) are examples of predators held in great esteem. But because we are attracted to them, we can sometimes act foolishly in presumption that the gods are harmless, which is a severe error, especially among these specific gods I have described above. I have heard of it happening in relation to wild animals happening quite frequently. Especially in one case where a tourist got mauled to death when visiting the Alaska State Zoo because they passed beyond the safety zone to take a close up picture of a Polar Bear.  This is just one example of how dismissive and ignorant people can be towards nature, and how much they can be towards the gods as well.

Therefore, Ares’ contradiction, rather than being repellant, tells us something about the nature of things and just how far things can go if we don’t possess some sense of moderation for Ares will go with the war to its length and the ruin that it causes, not because he is a despisable god but rather that he is a warrior who does what he does best. It is up to us, the humans who are fighting, to possess some decorum and settle conflicts in ways that don’t amount to such considerable blood shed. Sadly our modern weaponry makes it all too easy to create horrors upon each other that we may perceive as the enemy. Especially that we are able to do widescale damage, often in a very impersonal manner. In this manner, Ares is beautiful the way a blade is beautiful to me, and the way that predators in general are often beautiful, because the summation of the parts of its purpose makes it beautiful together. Ares demands reponsibility for ourselves so it seems to me, just as owning a sword/gun requires responisbility. The weapon is present and makes no bones about what it does, but we are responsible.

Therefore, taking a page from the gunowners association, I shall say ” Ares doesn’t kill people, people warring with Ares kills people.”

The domain of Ares does serve purpose when we approach this with moderation. It is a teaching tool for advancement as conflicts and their resolutions allow us to grow but as a species and spiritually. As Ares is a very caring protective deity, particularly where his children are concerned, we can see the benefice of his domain and what implications it has for us. We can exercise these benefits if we moderate how they impact us. We can build up a defensive force, and should do so because weakness encourages predators to prey. Likewise people should be endowed with a reasonable understanding of self defense in some fashion. By removing ourselves from a state of helplessness we can move forward as we have some control in our lives and environment. Conflict, on various levels, makes us stronger. We have to destroy and remake ourselves over and over again in order to grow. And this is the most personal battles, one in which there is no hiding behind some barriers but rather face to face and hand to hand (which is quite reminiscent of the sparring contest between Ares and Apollon in boxing). War brings increase and advancement. We know this in life when we see the baby booms that accompany war, and the technology advancements. However we are responsible in how we impliment the power of Ares, as I stated above. It is a great teacher too, so that from our trials we grow. The Civil War in the U.S. for instance was of such travesity and burtality that our country seems to have a written memo say “umm lets not go there again”. When it coms to battles there is a tendency for people to become aware, and therefore desire to seek alternative ways of resolving conflict. This is not say that it negates the conflict, or makes it disappear (because the absence of conflict is not reality…not within ourselves and certainly not between each other), but rather it gives us the tools to deal more reasonably with conflict before it gets out of control and to benefit from it. The hope is always that conflict, rather than leading to considerably bloodshed, may lead instead into a series of very intense negotiations or a sense of competitive rivalry..both of which is preferably in my estimation. We can use conflict and battle in order to hone ourselves, in a manner in which I would say that chess hones one’s foresight and strategy…minus the killing, it goes without saying. Therefore there is much benefit from Ares domain, but one which we must treat with caution and moderation even as we admire the lethal beauty of the god himself.

I am now inspired to find a copy of the Art of War, and read this book. I was talking about it just this weekend how I wanted to read it when the subject of philosophy came up in the house. Though coming from China rather than Hellas, I do think it may have something significant to say that may help me develope a further understanding of Ares. Hail Ares, the strong!

wolves and goats

I find it quite interesting that gods who have strong associations with wolves, share similar associations with goats in both Hellenismos and Religio Romana. In this there seems to be a natural order taking place symbolically in which the two are intricately tied. Take for instance (in honor of this day of Lupercalia) the Roman gods Mars.

Lupercalia crosses over into three specific areas symbolically in the sacrifice in the Lupercali cave, a sacrifice carried out in honor of the place where Remus and Romulus (the founders of Rome and sons of Mars) were nursed by the she-wolf. First and foremost we must keep in mind in this ritual that its importance is connected to the birth of Rome and the prosperity of the Republic (and later the Empire). It therefore stresses the lineage through Mars. Though Mars shares many similarities to the Hellenic god Ares, there are scholars who cast him in a stronger assocation with Apollon in his more ancient aspects when speaking of relationships of cults than with Ares, from whom he later adopted much of his myths and characteristics. However the indigenous cultus of the god stresses his association to the fields (in which he shares association with Apollon as both gods are those that ward off “rust” which attacks grains) and there protection foremost from which it is believed that his more war-like characteristics developed in extention. Therefore it is natural that the god be associated with creatures of the feild, unlike his Hellenic counterpart Ares who shares less associations. Mars, for instance, is directly associated with wolves, and the wolf of the Lupercali cave was one that was sent by him to nurse his sons until a shepherd found them so that they would not freeze from exposure or starve. In that cave a cast of boys (all from noble families) were chosen to play the part of the Lupercii (as Lupus is latin for wolf we can infer that they are playing the part of wolves). The sacrifice carried out in the cave is one of goats and dogs (the latter being a traditional sacrifice to both Ares and Mars…in the case of Mars it was red dogs). Previously in a post on goats and deer I spoke of how the female goat is associated with nursing, as a goat was a nurse of Zeus, and the male is associated with fertility, it can be inferred that this ritual sacrifice is intended on two parts. One, it honors the nurse of the two heroes but the sacrifice of an animal associated with nursing. The second we see directly in the purpose that is carried out…the strapping of women with the strips of goatskin to promote fertility. This would appropriately honor both Mars, the father of Rome, and Faunus, the rustic god of Italy indirectly in one ritual. I say indirectly only because the description of the ritual itself does not directly mention Faunus (nor does it directly mention Lupercus) but I cede the point that in accordance to the lore of Italy that he may very well have been present indirectly and symbolically in association with the sacrifices carried out in the cave and the legendary roots of the sheperds being the original lupercii, that in ritual were actually the youths of patrician (noble) families in Rome specifically connected to the sphere of the children of Mars. It can be said that in mythology the origins of the Lupercalia lay with Faunus and his shepherds (from Romulus and Remus took part and upon being engaged in the festivities, according to Livy, were captured by Numitor’s people) but that these origins lay in the mythic history of the festival and the primary portion of the festival is in honor of the she-wolf of Mars. However, regardless of whether we are speaking of Mars or Faunus, the sacrifice of the goats (and dogs) at the cave of the wolf is very important symbolism. Therefore the wolf which destroys and protects is part of the cycle of the fertile and nursing goat, an idea which we see carried out in the cults of very closely related Hellenic gods Zeus, Apollon, and Pan, and slightly with Artemis via her epithets Lykeia (wolfish) and Kourotrophos (nurse), the latter of which I had discussed in my previous post on goats and deer.

Lupercalia, according to Roman legend, is said to have sprung from the Lykaia of Arkadia, upon the mountain of which on three hills there were three temples. The temple of Zeus Lykaia in the middle surrounded by the temples of Pan and Apollon to either side. Despite the emphasis given by later Italian recorders to the prominence of Pan on Lykaion, it is indisputable that Zeus Lykaia was the prominent figure in the Arkadian cult…one which was echoed in Kyrene, in Libya, where there was a second mountain called Lykaion were Zeus Lykaia was honored following the Arkadian aspect. According to myth Zeus assumed the form of a wolf for nine years and on the 10th year (one divine year) was restored, a pattern that was followed by Demaenetus when he tasted of the sacrifice to Zeus. This form of Zeus supposedly may have been related to the myth in which Arkadians took the form of wolves for nine years after swimming across a pond, after which, if they hadn’t consumed human flesh, would regain their state. All of which must be tied to the king Lykaon, coincidentally the father of Callisto who became a bear. He was the first to be transformed into a wolf by Zeus for the punishment of offering Zeus (in human disguise) human flesh, that of a child, to feast upon. Zeus’ tasting of human flesh may be related to this form of Zeus, as Lykaon is credited with having sacrificed a child to Zeus which was what transformed Zeus into a wolf for nine years. Though there is no direction mention of Pan in the myth, it is wide known that Pan was an important deity among the Arkadians and the fact that both Pan and Apollon had temples joining that of Zeus Lykaia is an important feature in which we see three wolfish gods honored together, and of whom have important features as gods associated with shepherds, the fertility of feilds (to which bees can be connected) and livestock, and oracles. And all three of whom are represented in association with goats, as both Apollon and Pan are called Tragoidos, and as bearing goat, or ram, horns in Peloponnese and its associated colonies…such as that in Libya in which Apollon-Ammon (called Karneios in Peloponnese) and his wife Kyrene are ram-horned, and Zeus-Ammon is likewise horned at his oracle near the Egyptian border.

The goat/ram appears to have a direct relationship in imagery to an idea to a sovereign divinity who brings prosperity by interacting with and fertilizing the world. Such imagery in relationship to sovereignity can also be recalled by a certain myth related to Atreus in which a golden lamb was to confer kingship upon whomever possessed it. Likewise the flying golden-fleeced ram, the son of Poseidon who rescued Phrixus and Helle, the children of king Cretheus, from being sacrificed (the latter whom fell into the sea…that place being called Hellespont after her) and upon carrying Phrixus across the Black Sea to king Aeetes in Colchis, was sacrificed to Zeus (or in some versions to Ares) and his fleece hidden in the holy grove of Ares, was the object of the heroic quest of Jason and the Argonauts for the pleasure of King Pelias. The associations with fertility are of course significant because this ram became the constellation Ares which signifies the time of year when grain is sown according to Psuedo-Hyginus in his Astronomica. This certainly aligns too with imagery of Apollon and Pan together greeting the rising of Semele which would be likewise associated with ideas of sowing and the return of vegetation. Thereby we see the the goat associated with fertile masculine deities of some regard as a divine king, yet of the Lykaion trinity of Zeus, Pan and Apollon we see three levels at work. First we have the high king Zeus, ruler of the world and aether, from whom all things issues. Second we have Apollon, the bright king, the king of light, the king who walks across all the earth. And we have Pan who is the rustic king (recognizably set apart by his distinctive half animal characteristics who opperates in cooperation with Apollon and revels with Dionysos)…and yet all the Orphic hymns to all three seem in some manner to refer to each other. There are, of course, numerous other deities associated with goats/rams such as Dionysos and the aforementioned Ares, but in this post I am concentrating on the divine association of wolves and goats which are expressed in only a few deities.

Thus within Pan, Zeus and Apollon we are presented gods that are connected with destruction via their assocation with wolves, but are also bringers of prosperity and abundance as we can see with their goat associations. They are the wolves that cull of the weaker members of the flock, they are the destroyer of wolves that may prey excessively upon the flock…in such they are both wolfish and protector/shepherd gods who oversee the welfare of the flocks and their healthy increase. Since both slaughter/destruction/sacrifice and fertility are necessary for the welfare of the flock, it is necessary for gods associated with some kingly title and duty to be associated directly with both functions as destroyers and saviors (the savior aspect of Zeus often partaken by Athena who possesses the skin of Almathaea…the aegis).

As far as I can see, regardless of which deity it is for, such festivals as the ongoing Lupercalia, which celebrate both the protective/destructive nature of the wolf (for the wolf is also protective as it is a social animal that cares for its young within a solid family group) and the fertility and nursing attributes associated with the goat are highly appropriate at each turn of the season…and likely accounts for their celebrations at different parts of the calendar through the Hellenic and Roman world. Generally speaking my focus when it comes to a shepherd’s festival in which goats/rams are sacrificed tends to be at the Karneia for Apollon Karneios prior to the start of autumn, but I can see the relevance at the beginning of spring in relation to this.

Boars and pigs

It seems like it would be appropriate at this moment, having concluded with deer and goats, and considering the dawning of the spring season….to address the subject of boars and pigs. Pigs are animals that have something of a bad rap that have become almost synonymous with poor health. I have my husband on one hand saying that people shouldn’t eat swine because it is unclean, and on the other hand there is another group counting how much fat content pork has….gods save you if you like bacon, ham or ribs! Or sausage for that matter (which seems to be a big part of much Italian and Greek cousine from what I can see). The word pig is even given as insult if you have a bit more girth about you. The pig has become synonymous with being fat, ugly, unhealthy, dirty (because obviously the fact that the animal is smart enough to protect its skin from sunburn by applying mud is just too ewwww for modern tastes), and altogether destructive to local ecology (as we understand from importations of pigs into environments where they are not native and the destructive of native habitats and wildlife in places such as Australia and in the southeastern United States where wild boars roam). In short, any noble or redeeming character the animal has once possessed has all but disappeared in this era. There have been some attempts to save the image of pigs by indication of their intelligence…often through popular children’s tales…but these have barely made a dint. Granted this is from an American perspective, and it may be that the reputation of pigs is not quite so dismal in other parts of the world, but it is in this kind of environment (at least in the USA) that people are discovering the beauty of Hellenismos….in which the pig/boar does have important significance.

Now I classify pigs and wild boars together because it seems the biggest distinction between them is that pigs are nothing more than domesticated boars (of which there are various types). Here is a good description of them from a website called Hog Stoppers:

“The difference between the wild and domestic animals is largely a matter of perception; both are usually described as Sus scrofa, and domestic pigs quite readily become feral. The characterization of populations as wild, feral or domestic and pig or boar is usually decided by where the animals are encountered and what is known of their history. In New Zealand for example, wild pigs are known as “Captain Cookers” from their supposed descent from liberations and gifts to Māori by explorer Captain James Cook in the 1770s.
The term boar is used to denote an adult male of certain species, including, confusingly, domestic pigs. In the case of wild pigs only, it is correct to say “female boar” or “infant wild boar”, since boar or wild boar refers to the species itself
One characteristic by which domestic breed and wild animals are differentiated is coats. Wild animals almost always have thick, short bristly coats ranging in colour from brown through grey to black. A prominent ridge of hair matching the spine is also common, giving rise to the name razorback in the southern United States. The tail is usually short and straight. Wild animals tend also to have longer legs than domestic breeds and a longer and narrower head and snout. European adult males can be up to 200 kg (sometimes up to 300 kg in certain areas, particularly Eastern Europe) and have both upper and lower tusks; females do not have tusks and are around a third smaller on average.

So apparently it doesn’t take very long to go from pig back to boar. Differences appear to more or less superficial. Likewise in myth they do same to take different roles, in which the pig is connected agricultural goddesses such as Demeter and Persephone, and the boar has links to Ares, Apollon and Artemis who harness its more aggressive features. However, despite the form of these roles, there is no difference between them. So it is appropriate to consider them more or less together.

In Hellenismos the pig is identified specifically with the cult of Demeter and Persephone. This takes into consideration that the pig is appropriately representative of the earth and its procreative nature. This may relate in some degree to the girth of the pig, but perhaps has more to do with the nature of the pig itself. Among domesticated pigs, as described above, there is a tendency to wallow in mud in order to protect their sensitive skin. Domesticated pigs, for whatever reason, have lost their tougher bristly coats, and therefore submerge themselves within the earth. Of course wild pigs are mostly nocturnal animals by habit anyway, and are, suprisingly, a borrowing species of animal.

“The animals are usually nocturnal, foraging from dusk until dawn but with resting periods during both night and day. They eat almost anything they come across, including nuts, berries, carrion, roots, tubers, refuse, insects, small reptiles–even young deer and lambs.
Boars are the only hoofed animals known to dig burrows, a habit which can be explained by the fact that they are the only known mammals lacking brown adipose tissue. Therefore, they need to find other ways to protect themselves from the cold. For the same reason, piglets often shiver to produce heat themselves.”

This presents us with an image of a borrowing animal which is sensitive to the elements/environment, takes some refuge within the earth, that takes all things with into itself without distinction, that is a female-community social animal (living in female groups called sounders, during which males only enter for breeding season after which they leave), and produces multiple offspring (like many other animals connected with fertility such as rabbits, dogs, etc).

Therefore, one level we have an animal of which the female members represent and are closely linked to earth and agricultural goddesses (agriculture also being the seeds of civilization and community). If the soul is also considered one symbolic level to be feminine (via the mythic representation of Psykhe) it may infer something in regards the initiation process in which the individual offers a sacrifice of a piglet  in order to enter into the mysteries. I would hazzard to suggest that this piglet is representative of the human soul. I have talked before about associations that can be made with young animals and the immature youthful identity of the human soul in which humanity can be referred to in association with young animals (which nursed and cared for by the gods) and the adult animals are generally directly associated with the gods. So the initiates make a symbolic sacrifice of themself, a kind of mock death which they perform right beside the temple of Artemis Prothyrea (of the portal) as a symbol of passing the first gate of Eleusis before they can enter deeper within sacred citadel which possesses a second smaller gate into the Telesterion where the initiation rites were carried out.

It should not surprise us to see Artemis associated at all with the area in which the piglets were sacrificed. Though we more often see boars directly associated with her in myth, she is a femme-centric deity through which we can appreciate her association not only with lionesses (an animal which she can be seen holding in images characterized as Potnia Theron type images that seemed to have remained fairly common representations of her in the Peloponnese) but also with wild pigs that also connect her with her earthly domain. Thus the dangerous wild male boar becomes a natural tool of destruction rendered by her. We can see three cases which are connected with Artemis.

One of which I will mention first because it is the most indirect association, and that is the boar which slew Adonis. Now there are two distinct versions that we see here, and they are dinstinguished by the male god participating. One one version, that is perhaps the most commonly recognized, it was Ares who either took the form, or sent, the boar spurred by his own jealousy of Aphrodite’s lover. In the other version, which is elluded to in Euripedes’ play Hippolytus (and by that reference we can assume that it was a pretty well known version) was that Apollon sent/took the form of the boar to slay Aphrodite’s lover on the part of his twin Artemis, as well for his own reasons which are stated more explicitly below. For at the end of the play we see Artemis address Hippolytus that in return for Aphrodite’s offense she too will slay the one whom Aphrodite loves. Of course in the end it turns out that both Hippolytus and Adonis become deified from this exchange, but it does pose an interesting medium in which again we are presented with an image of the boar symbolizing death and a kind of blessed rebirth. This is not to say of course that the two versions of the myth are incompatible either…it could be Ares and Apollon both got in on it and featured a duel representation of the destructive component of the myth as they are referred together also in war (which I have spoken of at length before in regards to Apollon’s association with war and his relationship with Ares). This earthly end/destruction that rises to a new birth can also be viewed in the context in which I was informed that it is common for offerings of pig to be given to Apollon Noumenios, who is honored at the Noumenia as the new month manifests. Similarly we can see offerings of pig to Apollon (and Zeus..probably in his Cthonic character) in autumnal festivals of Demeter such as the Proerosia.

The boar naturally then has become a subject of specific heroic feats. Perhaps one of the better known examples wold be the Erymanthian Boar (which may very well have been the same boar which slew Adonis, since the version of the tale in which Apollon sent the boar it is said to for his part to have been for the purpose because Aphrodite blinded his son Erymanthius…from whom logically the boar would have taken the name as it would from the place in which the boar roamed. It hardly seems as coincidence in any case, and the mountain itself may be associated with the myth of Apollon’s son who was blinded for seeing Aphrodite bathing…a common punishment for mortal men who transgress in this manner). It is perhaps then on the sacred mountain of Artemis, Erymanthos, in which these whole drama is contrived that appropriately sets up the setting for the fourth labor of Herakles (following up from the labor in which the hero has persued her hind that may further establish a link between Artemis and the hero). From the myth of this labor we learn that the mountain is the home of the centaur Chiron, whom Herakles is visiting and ends up poisoning with one of his arrows (which leads in later as a reason why Chiron agreed to give up his immortality…and so end the pain of the poison arrow… in exchange for Prometheus’ freedom whether that be figuratively by giving Herakles his strength or making a more literal bargain with Zeus that aids Herakles’ when he frees the Titan). So we see this grounds to be a focal point as a kind doorway between death and life, which is quite appropriate given the nature of Artemis. And likewise appropriate to whatever links it has with Ares and Apollon who are also connected to death and destruction. For whatever reason Eurystheus wanted it, and Herakles captured it by driving it into the snow via the advice of Chiron, but the king was so terrified of it when it was brought to him that by his wish Herakles disposed of it. In Cumae there was displayed a set of boars tusks in the temple of Apollon that were said to have been from this animal, on the belief that Herakles threw it into the sea and the boar swam to Italy where it later died and was there perserved.

Therefore if we take the labors of Herakles as a totality of parts in his deification (rather like the “toys” of Zagreus that Clement of Alexandria spoke of from the last post) we can see an important idea of each labor myth, as far as I see it anyway. So whereas he chased down the horned hind that I spoke of before, he is now confronting an animal directly associated with the seemingly very strong and near unbreakable cycle of death and rebirth of which he gains mastery of. Sounds like an important component in any case of being deified if we consider that his labors are the processes of his deification as per the instructions of Apollon that only once he has committed these labors would he be a god, all of which incurs as the result of his madness-inspired sacrifice of the self symbolized by the death of his two sons from the influence of Hera. It is interesting that Artemis figures in some manner in several of these labors, which insinuates her role in propelling foreward her “prey.” She is closely connected with the Amazons in myth from whom Herakles takes the girdle (which has its own symbolism), there is the hind of which we already spoke, and the boar.

But the most well known boar connection with Artemis is the myth of the Calydonian Boar (which was sent by Artemis in anger for being forgotten during the harvest sacrifices)..but Apollon again is not far away as we are told that Meleager’s spear was later dedicated to Apollon’s temple. This presents us another interrelated image of the boar in association with the relationship between Apollon and Artemis. What is remarkable about this tell, however, is that brings together an entire cast of heroes (a cast which we see much of in the tale of the Argonautika in pursuit of the golden fleece…and like the quest for the fleece ends up being minus Herakles which sets apart the journey of the son of Zeus from that of the other Heroes). The implications seem to be similar in the arrangement of the myth of the Calydonian Boar and the Erymanthian Boar in which we have a dangerous creature, a bringer of destruction, of which each hero is participating for the distinction of wishing to kill the animal. In myth it is the spear of Atalanta who delivers the fatal wound to the animal, which is finished off by the spear of Meleager. In recognition of this fact Meleager awards the remains of the boar to her, which causes a huge uprising that ultimately ends in Meleager’s death in that the firebrand (the fragile symbol of human life) that had been in safe keeping of his mother is snuffed out in retaliation for the consequential death of her brothers (which insidentally also led to her and Meleager’s wife to hang themselves). And yet the spear of the hero was perserved in the temple of Apollon which speaks of certain greatness of the hero. Therefore we see a richness in death symbolism here directly related to the hunt of the boar. That the hide of the boar was believed to have preserved in the temple of Athena seems to attribute not the boar to her, but rather the process in which the hero (who is usually attended by her) has become victorious over that which the boar represents. Or so it seems.

In any case, whether we have the pigs of Demeter and Persephone, or the boars associated with Artemis, Apollon and Ares, we have an animal that is deeply connected with the mortal state and its connection directly with the earth. The earth brings us into being, in an environment against which we have little protection, and in which offers certain death to us in our mortal forms of flesh and blood, but is also receives us kindly and by the mysteries of nature we progress and are reborn….with the hope that eventually we will take the boar by the tusks and be reborn into a greater blessed state.

Of dogs and wolves

Today I was inspired to speak briefly about the symbolic differences between dogs and wolves. Now I suppose to some this may seem like splitting hairs because there is a point at which there is a very fine line between the two especially since wolf-dog hyrbids are still pretty well known. And if they are able to cross-breed then they are of the same species and therefore pretty close to being the same. However what is being missed in such considerations is that the dog and wolf represent very different things, especially in Hellenic religion in which you have god (such as Apollon, Pan and Zeus) with very specific epithets that refer to wolves that generally speaking refer to a more wild/untamed and often solar destructive feature of a god, and goddesses (such as Artemis and Hekate) with very specific epithets that refer to dogs which seems to refer to their more liminal roles, as well as Ares. The exception to this of course appears to some small degree with Artemis who does bear an epithet Lykeia in reflection of her twin’s epithet Lykeios, but the cult of which only occurs in Troezen in association with Hippolytus, the son of Theseus and the amazon queen Hippolyte.

However, this exception can be easily understood because Artemis is the only truly independent goddess that really actively and personally destroys anything. Hekate may have associations with the dead as a significant part of her cultus, but doesn’t really take part in the destroying part whereas Artemis hunts your ass down with an arrow notched in her bow which she does as part of the natural order and really nothing to do with social systems. However as a huntress she is not accompanied by wolves, though she can be herself somewhat wolf-like, she is accompanied by hunting dogs, a symbol which speaks of the close association between the souls of the dead and protective spirits that oversee them. Thus also the dog imagery in the graveyards as dogs sit as sentinal guardians, some of which can be seen if you ever vention on a tour of Athens and its museums. The dog is present because it is part of the liminal edge through which we all pass in the cycles of life. The domesticated dog was used for hunting, and therefore was instrumental in nourishing the household, and as time passed its companionship of men and loyalty became one of the highlights of its nature by which the animal could be alternately sweet to its family and vicious to unwelcome intrudgers. Naturally the dog then takes the form of a kindly, and powerful, guardian animal for which poets speak that Cerebros is kindly to the dead as they enter but doesn’t allow them to pass out before him again on their own accord. Likewise the dogs accompany Hekate as companion to the goddess of this liminal portal, as they do with Artemis. In such respects dogs have great social and personal spiritual significance in relation to the human soul and its passage through life and death.

Such also rises a conception of war-dogs trained  in combat which can defend and strike in cases of need. There was a specific breed of dog in ancient Greece (now extinct) called the Molssus which was specifically bred to hunt large dangerous game..such as predators…as well  as act as guard dogs of property and participate in war. It should be of no surprise then that Ares is associated with dogs either as war itself is not particular to nature but rather to conflicts in human society in which case he may protect or cause utmost devastation. And certainly some ancient civilizations considered Ares as a protective presence for he he is called upon many times in prayer by Thebans in Aeschylus’ play Seven Against Thebes that the walls of Thebes would not fall and the children of Ares be spared. And of course we are all familiar with the old saying “let loose the dogs of war.” Dogs are just part of our experience as human and spiritual beings. In such fashion, unlike wolves which are entirely and seperately apart of nature, the dog is a creature that is enjoined and functions within the human experience.

So when someone says to me that wolf is more appropriate to depict with the gods than a domesticated animal such as a dog I have to look at them in askance. Because this opinion is operating out of the idea that the wolf, an animal which is wild, is closer to the gods and domesticated dogs, being a creature of human civilization is further removed from them. This seems to come from two factors. 1. The high status of wolf in neopaganism symbolically that celebrates not only the free qualities of nature but also is just simply really awe inspiring. Lets face it a wolf is just cooler than a dog, that is what it comes down to. 2. A tendency in modern paganism to develope extremes in which anything of civilization is considered inferior. Therefore domesticated dogs are inferior to wolves as humans are inferior to gods. In such thinking if this means that the dog is further away from the divine because of its connection with human civilization. Therefore we start seeing ideas manifest of wolves in company with Artemis and Hekate where never before have wolves been associated. Frankly both of these ideas are missing the point.

Wolves may seem more nifty in an abstract artistic way because of what they represent, but they are not superior to dogs…they are different and representing very different things…all of which is divine. Unlike modern paganism which tends to view civilization as corrupt and against nature, Hellenismos doesn’t embrace this idea. Granted people do some pretty shitty things to nature in the name of civilization, but this is a front for individual human greed and have nothing to do with the main principles of civilization. The definition of civilization is not destroying nature. It is possible, if we can get past corporate greed, for civilization to be harmonic with nature. In Hellenismos both nature and civilization are part of the domains of the gods and it is the gods’ functions with each of these that is glorified with different symbols.

We do nothing to honor gods like Artemis and Hekate by changing their dogs into wolves, because this ignores their fundamental domains and the beneficial gifts they bring to humanity as goddesses of the portal and kourotrophs (in which we can defer symbols of whelping bitches). We can love the dogs of Artemis, Ares and Hekate equally as we love the wolves of Apollon, Pan and Zeus in that they represent different forces in our world and spirituality.