In terms of libations and such, Ares kicks off the holiday season.
At first blush, that seems very counter-intuitive. Most non-Pagans are a little confused by the idea of Ares as a holiday god, and most Pagans would agree with them. Ares is not your party boy, unless your idea of a party is one that ends with at least one ambulance called and possibly the cops. Just make sure there are no large pots nearby.
For those who aren’t familiar with him, Ares is the son of Hera and Zeus and a fairly well known war god. But that’s about all his duties encompass. Ares is almost exclusively a war deity, true he is also a patron of the police (#Ferguson and #Icantbreathe make so much more sense now) and an ancestral god of Thebes but that’s about it. He isn’t a particularly glamorous war god either, he doesn’t have the wisdom of Athene, nor does he carry a sense of honor for those who die in battle. Ares does not offer a glorious death, there is no Valhalla for those in his service. But in an odd, contradictory way, Ares is a god of peace.
Ares is a god of peace, in that war avoided is peace; and for this reason offerings are given to him. Which seems a little bit like bribery. Or maybe like Christian prayer-bargaining, “If you give me this, then I will do this”. But I think that it’s a little more complex than that. So humor my explanation.
Ares isn’t the easiest god to identify in art. He doesn’t have very distinctive symbols like Hecate’s torches, or Apollo’s harp, or Athene’s owls. In all the ancient images I’ve seen (and I will totally own up to not having seen them all, so if anyone has a counter example I’d love to see it!) he shows up as a man with weapons and helmet, pants and shield optional. When he does carry a shield, the device seems to change if it has one at all. The point I’m trying to get at is, even when it’s not obvious Ares is there. That temper, blood lust and almost uncontrollable desire to cause damage is there. Which all sounds vastly negative and harmful; so why am I spending a whole blog post on him this close to the holidays?
Because the holidays suck. Everyone has a story about a holiday gone sour. And not just sour; screaming, raging, furious, throw-the-plates-on-the-floor bad. Where the strongest desire you have is to hurt those who have hurt you, when you revel in the shock and pain on the face of the person you are fighting with, when seeing them hurt makes you feel good. This kind of family throw down seems to happen most often when children are different in a way that their parents and families have difficulty processing. When we have been hurt, we want to hurt others back, particularly those who have caused us pain.
For those of us like that, for us Pagans who have some pretty intense friction with our families, the holidays are exceptionally difficult. As we attempt to navigate the murky waters of family, family tradition, and our own autonomy and core; it helps to remember Ares and that lurking rage. Honoring Ares is honoring that anger and rage, we acknowledge it exists. We acknowledge that it is there, and by honoring we can move forward.
This is why Ares is the first god to receive a libation during the holiday season at my house. Thanksgiving and Yule don’t seem like the best time to do shadow work, and to be honest I’m fairly certain libations to Ares is shadow work lite. But at a time when the lights can be a bit over bearing, Ares can be a nice break. Below, I’ve included the hymn I give to Ares when I pour libations.
To Ares, fumigation of frankincense:
Magnanimous, unconquered, boisterous Ares, in dart rejoicing, and in bloody wars; fierce and untamed, whose mighty power can make the strongest walls from their foundations shake: mortal destroying king, defiled with gore, pleased with war’s dreadful and tumultuous roar. Thee human blood, and swords, and spears delight, and the dire ruin of mad savage fight. Stay furious contests and avenging strife, whose works with woe embitter life; to lovely Aphrodite and Dionysus yield, for arms exchange the labors of the field; encourage peace, to gentle works inclined, and give abundance with benignant mind.
~Orphic Hymn 65