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.