I ran across a great post today on another blog on what Ares is. It’s a great post, and I strongly suggest you all go read it. It’s always great to see Ares talked about in a way other than, “Ooooh, god of war, spooky,” as some (ahem) Hellenic polytheists are wont to do.
But this post (and some stuff on a mailing list I’m on) got me thinking about the differences between Ares and Mars are. I did, after all, start as a devotee to Ares. But in the evolution of my faith, I ended up honoring Mars Pater and growing much, much closer to him. In fact, he’s the only Roman god I worship. The rest of the gods I worship are still Greek (and a couple of Norse ones, but for simplicity’s sake, we’ll focus on the Theoi). Why not just ascribe the “Mars-like” qualities to Ares and call him by that name to keep things Hellenic? Because Mars is a different god, with some very different aspects, but it was these differences that made Mars my patron in ways Ares could never be.
First difference? Mars is, more than anything in my mind, Mars Pater, Mars the Father. There was a distinct, paternal energy I encountered in all of my devotional rituals to the god I thought was Ares and ended up being Mars. (Are they the same god, or different? I have no idea, honestly. I tend to think they’re in the neighborhood of being more two gods than one. Hard polytheism yay!).
Another difference? Mars is very much a guardian of the home. He is not just a warrior. He is the figurative father of the nation-state, the paterfamilias of society, if you will. And call paternal bullshit if you will, but I think there is a lot to be said for the worth that comes from a good man acting as a strong, loving, protective father to his family. It is something intrinsically different than what a mother can give–not better or worse, but unarguably different.
Mars is also a god of agriculture. Cato’s prayer to him demonstrates this pretty much without question. (I imagine Mars grimacing somewhere every time I try to read the Latin prayer… badly… but I hope honest effort and improving a little every time counts for something.)
Mars also has always felt, in a way, more loving than Ares. Ares is the cool uncle who rides a motorcycle. Mars is the loving but stern father who tells your boyfriend to have you home by 10:00 while calmly cleaning his rifle at the kitchen table. Mars is the husband who gets up in the middle of the night with a baseball bat because you heard a noise in the garage. He is much more centric around the family, and honestly, finding myself worshiping a god that seemed so grounded upon family in a classic sense was strange, considering my relationship with my own family. Then again, maybe that’s why I gravitated to Mars. He offers a sense of stability and structure that I, personally, find very appealing. (I think it may be a little rare for other pagans to crave structure, but I do… I’m a lame polytheist, boring, but wholesome.)
This is not to say I think Mars is better than Ares. I don’t. Ares is the watcher in the night, the sword in the darkness, the bloody warrior upon which nations are founded. Ares is one of the most virile, man’s gods around, and I think that’s something paganism at large could use a little more of. (I’ve been trying to convince the people at the local metaphysical bookshop that we really, really need to set up a herm for Hermes. They haven’t bought it so far.) With all of the exposure I’ve had to Neopaganism and Wicca at large, there is a great emphasis on the Sacred Feminine. Which is great. Go girls. However, there comes a moment when men get left behind. And frankly, to be blunt, I think a big metaphysical dick slap for the pagan community at large is just what the doctor ordered.
Ahem. End mini-rant.
But still, until the oncoming Pagan Menaissance occurs, I am left pondering Mars versus Ares, questioning whether they’re one god, or two.