Mars versus Ares? Detecting subtle differences in the gods.

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.




15 thoughts on “Mars versus Ares? Detecting subtle differences in the gods.

  1. Pingback: Weekly round-up of interesting links « The House of Vines

  2. It is interesting to see some of my own thoughts echoed here! I have long thought of Mars as one of those stereotypical Roman generals who gets out and fights when required, and does it well, but would really rather be back on his estate supervising the tending of the vineyards… whereas Ares is happiest in the thick of the battle.

  3. I tend to think of Ares and Mars as the same but then I tend to think of Ares much differently than most. He’s the Redneck that all rednecks tend to imitate. Strong ties of loyalty, dare devil, love of home, not afraid to get dirty/gory, more than willing to try something “stupid” just for the fun of it. He’s a motivator, loving father, warrior, “man’s man”. I see him equally at home in the field (farm or war), in the city, in the bedroom or in the dining room. I have a strong love for Ares…which is bizarre that he isn’t on the list of gods I typically honor. I just don’t feel the need/urge.

    • This is how I think of Ares as well (see the post of mine that is linked to in the OP), and I think it’s a well-founded understanding.

      How do “most” think of Ares?

      • @Aj / Melia : I diagree with that statement. He was also worshipped as a protector of soldiers during battle, and as a protector of the city walls. So he is not purely villainous, I think that is a misheld view similar to views of Haidēs as a devil-figure.

        War is also a fundamental aspect of human nature, so we’ll always be connected to Arēs. And after all, he IS a God and therefore worthy of our worship and reverence. That alone should be enough.

      • @ Aj/Melia

        I think this whole ancients-loathing-Ares thing is something that got blown out of proportion because of the way he is written about in the Iliad, and because we have so few extant sources and myths centered solely on him. Everyone seems to forget his Homeric hymn, where he is, “you who bring help to Themis … you who are leader of humans who cherish justice most.” Homer does not pray to him for victory in war, but rather, “Shed down a kindly ray from above upon my life, and strength of war, that I may be able to drive away bitter cowardice from my head and crush down the deceitful impulses of my soul. Restrain also the keen fury of my heart which provokes me to tread the ways of blood-curdling strife. Rather, O blessed one, give you me boldness to abide within the harmless laws of peace, avoiding strife and hatred and the violent fiends of death.”

        He is praying to Ares to STAY his fury, not to incite more of it. That is contradictory to Ares just being a plain old villain. And if you look at the cthonic aspects of any of the well-beloved gods, Hermes and Dionysos to name a few, there are bloody myths and a darker underbelly to just about every god in “textbook Greek mythology.”

        Polytheists are welcome to worship as they will, but willfully remaining in ignorance about one of the twelve Olympians strikes me as completely wrong, and a holdover from Judaeo-Christian abhorrence of violence and war.

  4. “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.”

    Exactly! It’s always the Goddess this, the Goddess that? Where is the God in all of it? Wiccans, Neo-Wiccans and Wiccan-inspired neopagans, claim to seek balance between male and female, yet the feminine is clearly overpowering in most of that community. This is one of the things that always bothered me with (neo-)Wicca and ultimately drove me away from Wiccan thought and beliefs (I never came to practice it). Ultimately it led me to Hellenismos, and I feel very good in it 🙂

  5. @apollodorosh: That is my point. Most people that I hear from compare Ares to a villain or blood-thirsty thug. I agree with you that this is a mistaken view (along with your comment about Hades).

    @Wednesday: I have to agree with you. The way that the gods are portrayed in the Iliad and Odyssey have painted them in colors that they have a hard time washing off. There would not be so many temples and such honoring Ares if he was not more than Homer’s portrayal of him in those stories. (For I do see them as stories where we do not have the cultural lens to be able to pick out the “fact” from the “fiction”.)

    • Well, the stories do show a side of Ares, but not the whole god in all his glory and complexity. Ditto with everyone else in the Iliad. Its a mythic story that comes from a particular place and written with a particular purpose and perspective. It is indispensible in understanding the gods and humanity’s relationship to the gods, but it is not a comprehensive theological text.

  6. Pingback: Why Ares is Unpopular « the blue bus is calling us

  7. Pingback: My Reply to the Survey on Arēs « A Young Flemish Hellenist

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