Ares and Hestia: Partners in Social Activism
By Anne Hatzakis*
There are many people both in the Hellenic Pagan communities and the greater community that we are a part of that would tend to think that Ares and Hestia would never share any duties in the affairs of humanity. After all, Hestia is the Goddess of the Hearth, whose main duties would seem to be in the so-called “peaceful” pursuits of maintaining the home itself and the stability of the community. Ares as the God of Conflict in general and War in particular is often seen as a destabilizing, or even a destructive and negative influence, forcing people to make changes in the world around us, often against our will.
These spheres of influence would seem at first glance to be the opposite ends of the spectrum, but in reality they are not so different as they can often appear to be. Many aspects of the Lord of Conflicts are addressed very well in an essay by Bronto Sproximo on the Neos Olympos website. In it he states that “Modern Hellenes are never sure how to take Ares. There aren’t too many balanced views of him. Homer’s interpretation seems to be where most people develop their opinions. To generalize, most people seem to be polarized to either disliking his violent aspect, or celebrating it in an unhealthy manner.” I find myself having been guilty of this error in the past and look forward to developing a more balanced perspective on Ares, which is likely to have been closer to the Ancient Hellenic view on this often-maligned deity. After all, if the hill in the city-state of Athens where juries met and philosophical debates occurred was named after Ares, there must be much more to his duties than would appear.
Bronto continues “Some say the ancient Hellenes did not honor him. They were wrong. The Areopagos in Athens is only one example of site devoted to him which survived to our modern times. The Areopagos or Areios Pagos is the ‘Hill of Ares’, north-west of the Acropolis. The origin myth of the Areopagos is a celebration of Ares as a wise and fierce protector of his children. Apollodorus (3.180), Pausanias and Suidas all recount the myth of the rape of his daughter Alkippe by Poseidon’s son Aalirrhothios. Ares slew the rapist and was tried by the gods for it there, upon the Areopagos.”
Bronto uses this information to make several points on social activism that I will now include as well. First, he states “Rosa Parks refused to get up from her seat and created a conflict. Many would argue that much good from that conflict.” One can only wonder how much longer it would have taken for the changes that conflict brought with it to occur if she hadn’t “stood” on her principles instead of in the bus.
In addition, Bronto goes on to state “Listen to the drums. Feel the adrenaline rush in your veins and move you to action. Your heart pounds until it is impossible to ignore and you must take action. That action? Vote. Protest. Write a letter. Run for your life. Defend yourself. I battle with many weapons. A blade, my hands, my words, my keyboard. He motivates us to get off the couch and make a change. Not to “sit there and take it” but to take action. He was with Rosa Parks when she decided she needed a seat more than that ignorant redneck. He was with Gandhi. He was with Martin Luther. He was with Martin Luther King Jr.”
It is notable that the people mentioned used their words, and non-violent actions to bring about change in the world around them rather than resorting to force to accomplish their goals. Although there are those who would not understand the power of words as weapons, both the Lord of Conflict and the Lady of the Hearth, use that power to accomplish their respective tasks in the Kosmos.
Finally, Bronto adds “Spiritual warriors can train their mind not to shrink from conflict, but find ways to use conflict towards positive ends. Conquer enemies, conquer fear, conquer doubt.”
It is the last two items to conquer that are the most important to understanding the partnership of Hestia and Ares in social activism by using the necessary conflicts involved and the partnerships they create to effect social change. To illustrate this point I would like to draw from Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous “I Have A Dream” speech delivered at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C. on the 28th of August, 1963.
“And so let freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire. Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York. Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania. Let freedom ring from the snow-capped Rockies of Colorado. Let freedom ring from the curvaceous slopes of California. But not only that: Let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia. Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee. Let freedom ring from every hill and molehill of Mississippi. From every mountainside, let freedom ring. And when this happens, when we allow freedom ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual: Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!”
The success of any attempt at social activism depends on not only recognizing the role of Ares in awakening us to the need to struggle against injustice, but also in acknowledging that we need the example of Hestia to build bridges between people so that we can depend on one another’s strength. For a single person can sometimes be broken, but even should a struggle take many years if we have the strength of community that Hestia brings with her in her own quiet way that effort will eventually pay off. My late father used sticks to illustrate just how community can make us stronger. If you only have one, it is relatively easy to break in half. But, when you have a bunch of them held together they become much harder to break. The Romans fasces, often associated with the might of Rome, is a good illustration of that principle. And it is interesting to note that the Vestals (priestesses of the Roman incarnation of Hestia) had the privilege, otherwise accorded only to important men, of having the fasces carried before them in the streets as a token of the importance Vesta, and by extension her priestesses had in the life of that city, or indeed any city of the Hellenized world.
Although, in many ways, it could be argued that Hestia is the most peace-loving of the Olympians and did not participate in violent conflict (after all even the Foam-Born Aphrodite made an appearance on the walls of Troy) there are very few people who will not agree that her gift of community-building is what binds people together in their quest for those things that were embodied in the slogan of the French Revolution “Liberté, égalité, fraternité, ou la mort!” (Freedom, Equality, Brotherhood, or Death!) This slogan outlived that failed attempt at social reform and has been used as a rallying cry for activists since that time. For it was Hestia herself, who in order to maintain the Peace of Olympos denied both Apollo and Poseidon’s requests for her hand in marriage, choosing instead perpetual virginity and being honored by Zeus himself with the first and last of the sacrifice along with the sure knowledge that she would be welcomed in every city as well as in every home.
To use some modern examples of peaceful quests for social justice, we can look at the case of the widow of a soldier killed in Iraq is struggling to get the U.S. Veteran’s Administration to allow a pentacle to be engraved on his memorial in recognition of his Wiccan beliefs. This man did his duty by his country and there was a struggle to get his country to do its duty by his family. Ares may have been the one leading the charge into the Pentagon, but it is Hestia who helped make people aware of the widow’s struggle and warmed their hearts to help support this quest.
Also, we can look at the struggle that worshippers of the Olympian Gods are facing right now simply to worship freely. They are working both for the ability to worship in their ancient temples, such as the temples to Zeus and Athena in the city of Athens (among others), as well as the ability to build new sanctuaries. Right now, Hellenic Pagan worshippers in Greece have to face uphill struggles to even have legally recognized clergy and the right to have Pagan marriage ceremonies, birth ceremonies, and even rites of passage. There is something even more disturbing that they have to face in that it is actually a criminal act to “convert” a person away from the majority Christian denomination, so even if a person would make a considered decision to become Pagan, that decision could be used to foster religious persecution. Hestia is there in the middle of that struggle to remind us that no matter our beliefs, we are all part of the community we live in, even while Ares armors us with the courage to persevere in both working for religious parity in our own countries and speaking out for those who have little or no voice in the religious life.
Hestia and Ares work as partners in the arena of social activism, and this is as it should be. They represent in this venue the forces that cause change, and the force that holds us together during the change. Without this partnership, this balance, the force of Ares can be misused for blind violence and cruelty. However, without it, Hestia’s gifts can be misused for cruel purposes as well because although she helps maintain civic institutions if those institutions are unjust then the partnership is needed to bring them to just ways. This balance is their joint gift. May we always honor this.
* Article published at “Witchvox” and “He Epistole” Issue #12 – Spring 2007 previously