Unboxing Ares

As I posted with great anticipation last week, in the mail yesterday I received my prize for winning the Aspis of Ares essay contest over the summer with Understanding Ares.  So today, it’s time for some unboxing.  The photos will literally unbox what I received, while I take some time unboxing my relationship with the god of war.

Can’t have an unboxing without a box.

The title of that essay, Understanding Ares, could be a bit misleading.  It wasn’t written to help others understand him at all; writing is my way of understanding things myself.  This particular essay was written as an assignment for the Basics of Hellenismos class I was taking at the time.  I don’t recall if my teacher assigned Ares specifically, or if I selected him because it was his fault I was taking the class at all, but I really needed to get a handle on comprehending this deity who, frankly, scared the piss out of me.

Rather than a blade, I opted to tear it apart bare-handed.

Yes, my embracing of Hellenismos is something I place in Ares’ hands, because he was the god who got it through my thick head that it was time.  Polytheists often speak about this god or that god not being particularly subtle with their signs and messages, but I think that’s not the case.  Sometimes, two boats and a helicopter aren’t enough for we mortals to see through the veil of our preconceived notions, and a much more direct approach is needed.  Of course, there’s also the possibility that watching one of us jump out of our skin is just really, really funny . . . but, I digress.  Ares was not subtle.

A handwritten note!

When I discovered that there were people reconstructing the ancient Greek religion, I was excited.  This was what I had envisioned Pagan religion to be!  These were the gods whose tales fired my imagination as a child, the powerful deities who, despite the negative light in which they were portrayed in the first translations I read, seemed far more approachable than the God of my church.  These were not abstractions, the archetypal pantheistic faceless powers that so many of my Pagan friends described as being central to my theology . . . these were the gods!

Snugly packed as a womb . . . but two treasures, not one!

But reconstruction is intimidating.  I barely made it through high school French, and you want me to learn the ancient form of a language that doesn’t even use the same alphabet?  Isn’t that one of the reasons I never became a Druid?  I consider myself a language specialist — I’m pretty good at the one, with virtually no knack for picking up another.  I considered the idea briefly and discarded it.

It was a long, summer day that I spent alone and lonely.  For various reasons, it was one of those days when introspection turns to deconstruction and then to self-destruction.  I sat on my couch, wrapped in a blanket against the cold I felt in my soul, Xena on the television, feeling memories of the many conflicts in my life wash over me.  I felt tired, I felt like a failure, I felt like I wanted to give up and finally know peace.  Life had kicked my ass and I was done.

“Consider the second piece an apology for the tardiness.”

At some point I looked up at the screen and saw Ares, as portrayed by Kevin Smith, stride across my field of view.  And somewhere deep inside, I felt Ares, god of war watching me.  How long he’d been there, I could not say, but I knew who it was and I knew what he wanted:  to bring me into the fold.  Maybe it’s time to stop fighting conflict.  I shot bolt upright, sweating and shaking, knowing that I’d gotten a message from a god for the first time in . . . ten or twenty years, I would think.

Like unraveling a cocoon.

Thing is, I don’t like fighting.  Or confrontation.  Or stirring up trouble.  Mind you, this stuff happens to me . . . a lot.  But I don’t like it, and I had some seriously mixed feelings about being tapped by the god of war.  But I sought out a teacher.  I started making regular offerings.  I’ve constructed shrines, do a much better job of keeping up the family altar, and the experience is starting to transform me into a better person, a man who is in touch with the gods.

The “apology” was to give me the poetry prize, too!

Ares, however, does not get much honor from me.  He is not one of the deities that I reserve a day of the week for, in keeping with modern practice.  Nor do I pour a libation to him every single month on his day of honor.  He gets from me offerings of blood and rage, when they occur, and nothing more.

That’s about to change.

Thrakian rider
It’s been in the back of my mind for a month or two that I should be working harder at building kharis with my gatekeeper god.  I know why I haven’t:  he still scares me.  Reveling in conflict is something I have shied away from, despite the fact that I’m drawn to it.  Resisting one’s nature causes more problems than it has ever solved, but the cool logic of that observation doesn’t make the plunge easier to make.  Part of me thinks embracing Ares will turn me into a bloodthirsty madman, and even though I know that’s nonsense (Dionysos is much more likely to strike me with madness), it’s still hard to overcome.
But now I have beautiful icons of Ares, lovingly crafted by his devotee, and they will not be shoved into a drawer.  And I have regular contact with other Ares worshipers in the Shrine of Ares, a Facebook group which has really helped me put things in perspective.  Through them, I’ve learned that Ares often comes unbidden, and acceptance of his path is not always a simple thing.  Ares has much to teach me, and the first step towards understanding him is understanding my own warrior nature.

For the record, I was expecting them to look like this.  Mind = blown.

This post is part of the Pagan Blog Project, a yearlong exploration of spirituality.  This specific post is brought to you by the letter U.

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