Friday, May 13, 2011

A Personal Farewell to Gods of War

Having received some fine and thoughtful responses on the issue of the contemporary relevance of war gods, I am now ready to offer my own perspective. I posed the question, "Do the gods of war still speak to us?," which I could also rephrase as "Do we still need gods of war?" or "Should we still believe in gods of war?" I have a simple and straightforward answer: NO. As far as I am concerned, war gods no longer serve any useful purpose for modern mankind; at least not for me. When I imagine a Pagan spirituality cleansed of war and violence, I feel I am breathing clear, pure air again, not the smell of blood and burning corpses.

I know that many Pagan and Heathen readers will respond that my proposal is absurd, unthinkable; sacrilegious, even. After all, the ancient Norsemen, Celts and other pre-Christian Europeans, as well as other indigenous peoples of other regions, certainly worshipped war gods, so aren't we modern heirs to the Pagan tradition duty-bound to also worship these gods, and exult in the excitment and camaraderie of the warrior life? I say, NO. I believe we are all free people with the right to think and choose about which aspects of old religions we wish to continue and those we wish to leave behind. Reinterpretation and reconstruction are always selective, and this is my selection. Other may choose differently, and that is fine. Freedom to all to worship as they please.

If you, my friend, wish to worship the old war gods, because they are meaningful to you for any number of reasons, please go ahead. I have no wish to limit your own spirituality. Perhaps if I were a soldier or had a strong bond to the military, I would join you. But my experience in life has led me to nothing but opposition to war and militarism. I have walked the earth in countries that have been crushed again and again by insane and destructive wars, often fought for no other reason than the desire for power and glory of megalomaniacal leaders. I have been to Yasukuni Jinja in Tokyo where right-wing militarists revere the dead soldiers of WW II as semi-divine heroes, even though Japanese militarism led to nothing but misery and destruction across Asia.

As an American living with great unease in America, I see my country going down the self-destructive track of ever-increasing, ever-more costly, ever-more unquestioned militarism, even as basic structures of society from roads to schools to bridges to state parks crumble from neglect, while huge numbers of Americans fall into poverty and discover that there is little to no "safety net" in America, while billions keep being spent on what seem to be endless, eternal wars. I don't see anything much to celebrate. I think the war god is firmly in control of American society, and he is leading us to a future of angry, blind destructiveness.

I have always prized intelligence and compassion over brute force and violence. When I look around the barren landscape of American culture, I see such an overabundance of violence and aggression that I am almost dumbfounded. Worse still, the violence in our popular culture seems increasingly interchangeable with the official violence of our government and military agencies. TV shows like CSI and Law and Order , in their endless, repetitive iterations, teach us that there is no cure for our social ills other than swift, brutal police action to beat up, lock up, or simply exterminate the "evil-doers." Look at the larger society: the trend for many years has been to reduce funding for social programs and education, increase funding for prisons, police and military. Meanwhile, the popularity of "first person shooter" video games perfectly corresponds with the Bush-Obama military strategy of using remote-controlled drone bombers to hunt down and attack people thousands of miles away, all from the safety and security of video screens at military installations in Colorado and elsewhere. Where does the video game end and the war begin? It seems that many people do not care anymore; as long as we get to kill "bad guys," whether in fantasy or for real, without regard for "collateral damage," it's all good!

War God bless America....

I cannot, as a thinking, intelligent person in the age of Hiroshima, My Lai and CIA drone attacks, think of war as a wonderful, honorable thing that we need to honor with a war god.

I note with happiness that most Pagan gods are multi-functional. We can dispense with various gods and goddesses' war functions and concentrate on those aspects more in keeping with modern life. The Pagan religions of the past were always in a state of transformation. Let us continue the transformation to create 21st century Paganism.

19 comments:

Alison Leigh Lilly said...

Excellent post, and I couldn't agree more! Plus, we have plenty of evidence that in ancient Pagan cultures war gods were not the glorified, celebrated deities that our militaristic modern culture likes to imagine. There was deep ambivalence about war and its deities in ancient times, in the same way there was deep ambivalence about the natural world itself with its wildness and often unpredictable aspects. We also have evidence (at least in ancient Celtic culture, which is the one I'm most familiar with) of war gods being adapted and refined. The Roman war god, Mars, was slowly transformed into a Romano-Celtic deity of fertility and prosperity with very little connection to "war" as we understand it today. His role as "protector of the tribe" in the syncretic Romano-Celtic world was far more metaphorical, adapted for a people living during a relatively peaceful time who were more concerned about their crops thriving and their hunts going well.

So do we as modern Pagans have the right to choose our gods wisely and honor those gods who deserve honor, while having respect enough to be wary of those who can wreak such destruction on a massive scale? Most definitely! (If I wanted to be lectured about the need for piety to take precedence over personal ethical integrity.... I could have stayed Christian. ;)

Bashmu the Oracle said...

War Gods, to me at least, are not simply the grantors of power for battles between nations. When recapitulated from the pantheonic macrocosm into the microcosm of an individual's personal life, they similarly serve the catabolic function played upon the persona as well as within the social environment. In all cases, it is the concentration and focusing of passionate energies directed at an area of contention. Whether it's a group of social activists shouldering signs as they march to the forefront of a civil battlefield while chanting and beating the proverbial war-drum, an emplyoyee who takes up the psychological sword and shield in order to confront a manager about poor working conditions or the need for a raise, or even just someone who is fighting the internal war by slaying the demons of misapplied forces within the self.

Oddly enough, amongst some Eastern perspectives, war dieties have far more strictly a connotation direction at the individual. Within the indo-european religions, there is the the Goddess Kali who is unquestionably a depiction of violence, but whose forces are often applied towards change within the individual. Similarly, Acalanatha in Buddhism has a demon-like visage and carries a sword and rope, which are applied to destroy delusions. More so, in Eastern cultures, the ideal warrior was also a scholar, artist, and moral exemplar. This is not too dissimilar from individuals in the West who work with the ideal of the chivalric knight and there are entire spiritual systems devoted to translating the Arthurian myth into an allegory for internal processes of battle.

Most importantly, though, for the modern in a nature-centered spirituality is to look at the example of Nature herself. Natural "disasters" - hurricanes, tornados, lightning strikes, flooding, volcanic eruptions, etc. - are remarkably violent forces and destructive in appearance. None-the-less, the are at-the-same-time forces of growth and regeneration. High winds blow down dead limbs and old, weak trees to open the sky to new growth. Lightning strikes (which are the greatest cause of forest fires), volcanic eruptions and seasonal flood all refresh the land and fertilize the soil. The fact that Thor, the Norse god of war, is also the god of Lightning and what that implies as it relates to Nature and natural forces is a subject worthy of meditation.

I think the Wikipedia article on the Roman God Mars, an obvious War God says it best, when describing his "essential nature":

"Virility as a kind of life force (vis) or virtue (virtus) is an essential characteristic of Mars. As an agricultural god, he directs his energies toward creating conditions that allow crops to grow, which may include warding off hostile forces of nature. As an embodiment of masculine aggression, he is the force that drives wars — but ideally, war that delivers a secure peace.

The priesthood of the Arval Brothers called on Mars to drive off "rust" (lues), with its double meaning of wheat fungus and the red oxides that affect metal, a threat to both iron farm implements and weaponry. In the surviving text of their hymn, the Arval Brothers invoked Mars as ferus, "savage" or "feral" like a wild animal.

Mars' potential for savagery is expressed in his obscure connections to the wild woodlands, and he may even have originated as a god of the wild, beyond the boundaries set by humans, and thus a force to be propitiated. In his book on farming, Cato invokes Mars Silvanus for a ritual to be carried out in silva, in the woods, an uncultivated place that if not held within bounds can threaten to overtake the fields needed for crops. Mars' character as an agricultural god may derive solely from his role as a defender and protector, or may be inseparable from his warrior nature, as the leaping of his armed priests the Salii was meant to quicken the growth of crops."

Dagyi Rivera said...

merry meet... I understand your point of view but as pagans we conceive the universe as a balance between the good and evil, light and darkness, peace and war... and our mission is live and preserve this balance. When we work with Athenea or Ares, we are looking for bring that active and strong energy into our lives in order to accomplish some tasks or obstacles that we need to outstrip. We use the energy of the warriors not to make war just to preserve balance in our lives. Pagans works from inside, we don´t think or act - well not in some cases- like the rest of the humans... We just live looking for our inner balance with the universe. Blessed be

Seeing Eye Chick said...

There is a great departure between a Warrior Ethic and Militarism.

I certainly see nothing glorified about the jingoism that represents this country presently. And I don't see that as part and parcel to those Gods whose aspects include War or Warrior mentalities.

They served other purposes in addition to that. I understand why you are turned off by the behavior which glorifies their Gory Facets at the expense and exclusion of all other functions.

That being said--- it is more a reflection on the human beings who are doing this than on the entities you question.

I also see no use for the Gods of White Supremacism, but I also know that I cannot punish them or their paradigm for the twisted visage presented by the people who glorify that ideology.

Is it really about these Gods or about the exegisis of their stories by dysfunctional human followers?

Maelstrom said...

Readers: Due to malfunctions within Blogger, some of your earlier posted comments have been lost. Please feel free to send them again and I will re-post them.

Your humble Political Pagan.

Anonymous said...

Big problems.
Yemen.
Trudie.
Palm Beach.

Maelstrom said...

Since some earlier comments were lost due to a Blogger malfunction, I will be posting these missing comments as one long mega-comment. This seems the only way to restore them to the page.

Maelstrom

Maelstrom said...

Alison Leigh Lilly has left a new comment on your post "A Personal Farewell to Gods of War":

Excellent post, and I couldn't agree more! Plus, we have plenty of evidence that in ancient Pagan cultures war gods were not the glorified, celebrated deities that our militaristic modern culture likes to imagine. There was deep ambivalence about war and its deities in ancient times, in the same way there was deep ambivalence about the natural world itself with its wildness and often unpredictable aspects. We also have evidence (at least in ancient Celtic culture, which is the one I'm most familiar with) of war gods being adapted and refined. The Roman war god, Mars, was slowly transformed into a Romano-Celtic deity of fertility and prosperity with very little connection to "war" as we understand it today. His role as "protector of the tribe" in the syncretic Romano-Celtic world was far more metaphorical, adapted for a people living during a relatively peaceful time who were more concerned about their crops thriving and their hunts going well.

So do we as modern Pagans have the right to choose our gods wisely and honor those gods who deserve honor, while having respect enough to be wary of those who can wreak such destruction on a massive scale? Most definitely! (If I wanted to be lectured about the need for piety to take precedence over personal ethical integrity.... I could have stayed Christian. ;)

Maelstrom said...

Bashmu the Oracle has left a new comment on your post "A Personal Farewell to Gods of War":

War Gods, to me at least, are not simply the grantors of power for battles between nations. When recapitulated from the pantheonic macrocosm into the microcosm of an individual's personal life, they similarly serve the catabolic function played upon the persona as well as within the social environment. In all cases, it is the concentration and focusing of passionate energies directed at an area of contention. Whether it's a group of social activists shouldering signs as they march to the forefront of a civil battlefield while chanting and beating the proverbial war-drum, an emplyoyee who takes up the psychological sword and shield in order to confront a manager about poor working conditions or the need for a raise, or even just someone who is fighting the internal war by slaying the demons of misapplied forces within the self.

Oddly enough, amongst some Eastern perspectives, war dieties have far more strictly a connotation direction at the individual. Within the indo-european religions, there is the the Goddess Kali who is unquestionably a depiction of violence, but whose forces are often applied towards change within the individual. Similarly, Acalanatha in Buddhism has a demon-like visage and carries a sword and rope, which are applied to destroy delusions. More so, in Eastern cultures, the ideal warrior was also a scholar, artist, and moral exemplar. This is not too dissimilar from individuals in the West who work with the ideal of the chivalric knight and there are entire spiritual systems devoted to translating the Arthurian myth into an allegory for internal processes of battle.

Most importantly, though, for the modern in a nature-centered spirituality is to look at the example of Nature herself. Natural "disasters" - hurricanes, tornados, lightning strikes, flooding, volcanic eruptions, etc. - are remarkably violent forces and destructive in appearance. None-the-less, the are at-the-same-time forces of growth and regeneration. High winds blow down dead limbs and old, weak trees to open the sky to new growth.. Lightning strikes (which are the greatest cause of forest fires), volcanic eruptions and seasonal flood all refresh the land and fertilize the soil.. The fact that Thor, the Norse god of war, is also the god of Lightning and what that implies as it relates to Nature and natural forces is a subject worthy of meditation.
(cont.in next response.)

Maelstrom said...

(Bashu the Oracle comment cont.)

I think the Wikipedia article on the Roman God Mars, an obvious War God says it best, when describing his "essential nature":

"Virility as a kind of life force (vis) or virtue (virtus) is an essential characteristic of Mars. As an agricultural god, he directs his energies toward creating conditions that allow crops to grow, which may include warding off hostile forces of nature. As an embodiment of masculine aggression, he is the force that drives wars — but ideally, war that ddelivers a secure peace.

The priesthood of the Arval Brothers called on Mars to drive off "rust" (lues), with its double meaning of wheat fungus and the red oxides that affect metal, a threat to both iron farm implements and weaponry. In the surviving text of their hymn, the Arval Brothers invoked Mars as ferus, "savage" or "feral" like a wild animal.

Mars' potential for savagery is expressed in his obscure connections to the wild woodlands, and he may even have originated as a god of the wild, beyond the boundaries set by humans, and thus a force to be propitiated. In his book on farming, Cato invokes Mars Silvanus for a ritual to be carried out in silva, in the woods, an uncultivated place that if not held within bounds can threaten to overtake the fields needed for crops. Mars' character as an agricultural god may derive solely from his role as a defender and protector, or may be inseparable from his warrior nature, as the leaping of his armed priests the Salii was meant to quicken the growth of crops."

=================================

Maelstrom said...

Anonymous has left a new comment on your post "A Personal Farewell to Gods of War":

i agree w/you . our current society is way too miltaristic and violent. i believe we only need a military for defence , at much smaller numbers than it is at now .the current military idea of nation building , that obama inherited is absurd . and i was quite dissapointed that he continued that bad idea.we do need to rebuild our nations infrastructure, it's in awful condition.we donot need to meddling in other countries affairs w/o invite. besides our support of isreal , that is why muslims hate us so much. we need to look at our own house and fix that first and stop screwing oaround elsewhere.but as i stated in an earlier post is still believe that the warrior path is still valid , for other reasons than being a combatant , the warrior path is a way of life , ethics and conduct. Kilm

Ananta Androscoggin said...

You've inspired me to create another of my sarcastic min-posters. This one says:

ARES
Grants His Blessings
to His
Loyal Followers in the
REPUBLICAN PARTY

using (perhaps) appropriate type fonts for each section. (can email [64KB] if I know where)

Maelstrom said...

Ananta: I don't like to put my email on public display, but if you send me your email address as part of a comment, I will then send you my email, and will NOT publish the comment.

Anonymous said...

i agree we don't really need warrior gods these days , our world is too connected [global] now. fortunatly within the norse and celtic pantheons most of our gods/goddesses have multiple aspects so we donot need to eliminate or forget any of them . but with that said the warlike aspects are no longer needed or desired.what i was trying to say in my previos posts was the warrior ethic is still valid , as is being a protector of a ritual/festival or your family . Kilm

Heather Awen said...

I don't see the Gods of war as being about war necessarily, but as fulfilling a Protector role. I have accepted the "war God" who called me and we've had many talks about what the world needs. I explain about corporate greed, human rights violations, rape, eco-devestation, and say that the people need Him now to fight for these things to end. The war Gods I think want to be of SERVICE, to protect us still. I avoided Them but one was so pushy I had to start working with Him - and I went to Quaker College and have a degree in Peace Studies! War Gods I don't think were ever meant to be "just" war Gods, but to be protectors - and providers since almost all wars are caused by lack of resources. Since Their real function is to protect and provide, to give strength to humans doing that, I now work with Him that way. He's very happy to be useful!

Maelstrom said...

Thanks, Heather.I have been thinking about the issue of war-god as protector and intend to make that the topic of my next blog entry. I am not sure I follow you as to how warrior "ethics" and "way of life" fit in with modern society, though. It would depend on how you define these things and how metaphorical you want to be. I would prefer to leave the warrior, the warrior way of life, and warrior ethics, on the battlefield.

Michael said...

With respect, I do sometimes wonder if perhaps you'd be happier just not bothering trying to be Asatru. Because all you seem to do is complain about it.

Maelstrom said...

Michael, I feel your pain. I am amazed that you keep coming back to gaze upon my grumbling. In my defense, though, let me point out that religions throughout history have been subject to complaints and dissent, which can sometimes lead to new directions. I think the reactions to this recent topic show that I am not alone in my concerns. I also would point out that I find that a number of Asatruar and Heathens who I know in Scandinavia share my sense of discontent about the American focus on warriors, war gods and wannabe Vikings. I would not be surprised if European and American Asatru/Heathenry part ways at some point.

Anonymous said...

In shifting times, we shift our attention..

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...