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.
Thank you. I love Ares, and have recently grown a fondness for Hephaestus. It’s really comforting that even an angry and violent god like Ares can help cool my heart 💞
Yes to all of this…
I have a bunch of stories on this, but I’ll save all but one for another time.
The one I’ll mention here is the one involving the responsibility of those who are fortunate enough to not have particular disabilities (especially those who have other sorts of disabilities but are relatively typical in other areas) to look out for those who do have a variety of limitations or necessary accommodations, and how utterly and willfully blind (in the worst sense) some who aren’t disabled are to those efforts, and in fact might even veto them or prevent them. When organizing a particular event a few years ago, I mentioned that I knew of a sign language interpreter who might be useful to have listed on the website whose services could be obtained if desired, and was told that if “deaf people need that, they can ask for it.” I suggested that it would be much better to say that such a person’s services being listed as available would do much more to show a welcome and openness and an effort toward accommodation would be far better in attracting people who might be interested in the event with those needs than not saying anything and waiting for someone who might need that to show up and then be put in the position of having to ask, which is never a fun or enjoyable thing to have to do, and which is why so often people with disabilities instead just go “Oh screw it, there’s no way this will work” and not doing things so as not to inconvenience others. My communication of this, borne of my own experiences of exactly that reality, fell on entirely unwilling ears, and thus no such thing was done, and holding people attending to standards of conduct related to inclusivity when engaging with a diverse population (on all fronts) was also vetoed.
To use the imagery here, it was a situation of “Stuff your mechanical assistants into the closet, Hephaistos, no one wants them here because no one has asked for them, and we don’t even need to acknowledge their existence unless someone asks about them,” when all Hephaistos was saying was “Don’t these helpful things deserve to be mentioned when we make our invitation?” And it was not Ares suggesting these matters…but He came to the gathering all the same because of it and so much else.
Honestly, I’d have a very hard time staying through all of that, knowing how much bitter resentment maintains to this day between these all powerful deities & how rude it is to basically invite them both to a dinner party in your honor. 😂 If that makes me easily offended, I’ll take it. Major props to you for lasting!
As someone who has the exact same attitude of Ares, reading this was an eye-opener. Thank you for showing me the difference – in some ways I am ableist against myself as well.
Also, I really wish the screenwriter of Wonder Woman read your explanation of Ares’ nature. That Homeric hymn exposes the film’s depiction of Ares to be horrifically disrespectful.
Well, the author chose to focus on the bad to the exclusion of the good.
Deities in the Hellenic mythos tend to represent polarities. Apollon is a god of healing and plague — indicating that he has complete mastery over the domain of health. Likewise, Dionysos is a god of madness as well as mental health, showing a complete mastery of psychology (which of course connects to his role as a god of acting and theater, and ecstasy, and initiation). Ares is a deity of Peace as well as War, which is why, though the mother of Harmonia might vary, Ares is always her father.
Am I offended by unflattering depictions in media? Well? I want to be? But I am far more concerned when Polytheists, whose views might be taken as representative of a deity’s character, render the gods as immature and villainous. And that happens all the time.
I really love the principle of dissolving polarities in a Deity since I tend to see the Divine that way. Although I’m not strictly a polytheist (more of a monist or panentheist with polytheistic practices), I know the kinds of polytheists you are talking about actually I’ve unfortunately seen the same problematic depictions of Gods in the Hindu community, even in Tantra. It really messed with my head for a while that some Tantric spiritual teachers unintentionally depict the Tantric Goddesses as aloof assholes who mess with your head just to “test” you. They were glorifying abusive relationships with the Goddesses, and that contributed to me losing trust in my own Goddess for a while…until she basically revealed to me that she doesn’t play head games, she doesn’t think humans are her slaves, and that I had been misled by the UPG of people who carried a lot of internal self-hatred. So that was a bittersweet moment.
I also want to say I’m grateful to you for some of the posts you’ve made on this subject, especially what you wrote about the physical manifestation of Deities. Before I read your take on it, I had a Tantric mentor who basically thought he had to grovel at the Goddess’ feet for the boon of a physical manifestation. He eventually did receive a physical visit from the Goddess, but only after 6 years of torturing himself into slave-like submission to her. Your way sounded MUCH healthier and more loving.
Different people need to be in different emotional states in order to be open to this experience, and different deities have different needs in order to feel comfortable doing it. I would never say that someone’s chosen practice, regardless of how it may look outwardly, is wrong or unhealthy unless they express that they hate it and are miserable.
That said, I wouldn’t work with a deity who required a sacrifice of my dignity or personal sovereignty. Not my kink.