I hear a lot from certain friends of mine about how we are “addicted to outrage.” That being offended makes us feel powerful. Many of the stories cited about how people are getting unreasonably offended are told about women, people of color, trans people, people of minority faiths and people with disabilities who “just need to relax.”
No, we should not relax. It will negate our sense of personhood and our inner divinity. Allow me to explain.
At Pantheacon, there was a con-suite ritual which has sparked much thought for me. It is a devotional for Ares, Athena and Hephaestos.
If you follow my blog, you know that I love Ares, and I love Hephaestos. If you follow Greek mythology, you know that they don’t so much love eachother. And it goes a bit beyond mere sibling rivalry, or the rivalry between lovers.
Just as Apollon is a living emblem of masculine beauty, Ares is the pinacle of physical ability. He is called “The sceptered king of manliness” in the Homeric Hymn to Ares.
Heracles might be physically stronger than Ares, and Hermes is certainly faster. But Herakles has trouble with his temper, and Hermes has a brain and body that are often on about two completely separate things.
Ares, however, represents a sublime unity of body and spirit, and control over both. He’s that guy who can always will himself to do one more rep. He is the will to keep crawling when death is almost certain. He is the ability to feel fear and behave in defiance of it. He is also the god you call to crush the evil impulses in your soul. No, I’m serious. Read it:
Shed down a kindly ray from above upon my life, and strength of war, that I may be able to drive away bitter cowardice from my head and crush down the deceitful impulses of my soul. Restrain also the keen fury of my heart which provokes me to tread the ways of blood-curdling strife. Rather, O blessed one, give you me boldness to abide within the harmless laws of peace, avoiding strife and hatred and the violent fiends of death. — Homeric Hymn to Ares #8, Lines 15-17
If you have ever suffered impulse control issues. If your emotions have ever gotten the better of you. If you have ever called it quits because your body was screaming at you to stop. If you have ever known the pain of shouting at limbs (or a brain, or a pounding heart) to do as you will and had them straight up laugh at you. If you ever started to do one thing, and then found yourself ten minutes later doing something completely unrelated. If you have ever experienced a lack of emotional regulation. You understand the gap between spirit and body. Ares does not have that gap.
Hephaestos, by contrast, stands in that gap and sanctifies it, reminding us that we can find beauty and creativity there.
Both of these things are needed. We need to be able to call on divinity to help us do more than we can do. And we need a god to help us love ourselves when we realize our hard limits.
But the relationship between those two gods is understandably fraught. Ares would tell you in a heartbeat that he respects his brother. And Hephaistos will tell you that casual ableism is rampant in the world, and that Ares, with his “no excuses” and “no mountain too high to climb” rhetoric is exactly the embodiment of why. Our culture loves a good story of people overcoming all obstacles without help. It dislikes admitting that not all context accommodate all bodies. It even dislikes admitting that some bodies, no matter how much willpower is applied, can ever be included in a space without accommodations.
Every person suffering from depression who is told that they don’t need medication if they have art or nature or unicorn farts by a neurotypical person, or that they should try yoga for their panic disorder instead of a benzodiazepine knows the feeling of being Hephaistos interacting with Ares.
Every person who suffers from chronic pain or illness and has been told to “just” do that one more thing, or has been interrogated by people blissfully unaware of the struggle about why something didn’t get done, knows that feeling.
Every fat person who has ever been invited to go clothing shopping with straight-size people knows that feeling, too.
It’s being “invited” into spaces where you cannot reasonably participate. It’s the feeling of your struggles being simply invisible, and not because they are hard to notice. It’s being born into a body that society problematizes, even as it gives lip-service to your equality. It’s trying to struggle through spaces and contexts that are harder for you than they are for other people, even as you are told that the playing field is perfectly level.
“It’s perfectly fair, Hephaistos. Everyone has to go up the exact same flight of stairs.”
“Hey, everybody, let’s race to the summit! The slowest off us is a rotten egg! — Oh, come on, Hephaistos, it’s just a game! Lighten up!”
We cannot ask him, nor can we be asked, to just “lighten up” about being disrespected for what we can never change about our bodies. To do so is letting go of the idea that we deserve to be treated equally, to be respected, to be loved, and to be included.
To pray for the reconciliation of Ares and Hephaistos is also to pray for the perfect inclusion of people who daily experience the gap that Hephaistos embodies. To suggest that there is no animosity between them is to suggest that society has done as much work as it needs to already on recognizing, honoring and accommodating people with physical limitations, visible and invisible.