Archive for the ‘Worship’ Category

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Aphrodite Anaduomenê

January 14, 2010

Aphrodite Anaduomenê is an oft-forgotten aspect of this wonderful goddess. It is not an aspect that is hostile to the interpretation of her as borne of Zeus and Dione, too—it exists separately from the question of her parentage, curving away from such questions with all the speed and skill of the winged divine.

The sea has always represented mystery. It is the Unknown – even more than our sprawling fields or city streets at night, when the amber light of the streetlights or of the lanterns held high can stave away the darkness. The sea cannot be pushed back, cannot be made anything other than well and truly Other. It ebbs and flows, rising and falling—it can crash down in a tangle of shimmering fury, or it can lap languidly against the shore.

Does this not describe Aphrodite, too? Even removed from her oceanic aspects, one cannot deny that this description also fits the goddess of beauty, love, sex and human nature. She might sun herself in summer-light with the Kharites, but she also dances in the winter months with the Erinyes. She is often shown, in art both Ancient and modern, without clothes; suggesting at her open nature, at her willingness to Reveal herself to all whom ask. But so many look only at the surface—at the beauty of the skin—that they do not look beyond, to the mysteries concealed in her veins and behind her smiling eyes.

Aphrodite Anaduomenê, rising from the sea, is the goddess of the otherworldly Unknown. She is a tantalising link between this world—that which is known and can be both experienced and perceived by the human senses—and the world of the gods, which is beyond our limited mortal perception. She, as well as few of her fellows (such as Hermes, the lord of the liminal spaces), represent the Journey, both between this world and the gods’, and in one’s own life.

In life, you cannot know everything that will happen – just as we can only ever guess at what truly occurs within the ocean. Even with our machines and all our modernity, we can never know what truly lurks at the depths of All That There Is. To find out that would be to discover the forgotten Links, to unearth the true depths of human consciousness and to reveal the shadows that linger in every mortal soul.

She rises from the sea to bring this knowledge in her wake. To open oneself to the ecstatic mysteries of Aphrodite is to open oneself to those of Life itself. Beauty, grace and pleasure are masks she wears, and so are grief, pain and loss. One must accept and even embrace each of Aphrodite’s masks to understand the depths of this ancient, sea-rising goddess—and she rises from the sea, the mystery of the Unknown, to help facilitate just this in her suppliants.

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Gender-Changing in Gods and Daimones

November 21, 2009

The theme of gender-changing, whether by one’s own hand or choice or by another’s, occurs frequently in Hellenic mythologies. It is accompanied, often, by gender-reversal; by gods and daimones acting as the opposite gender, rather than actually becoming the opposite gender. Part of this is undoubtedly due to the gender fluidity of the gods (and certain gods in particular), and part to the necessity of their act for their own gain, or for the gain of the entire kosmos. In this essay, I will be discussing, in-depth, the three most notable occurrences of gender-changing – Hermaphroditos’, Agdistis-Rhea-Kybele’s, and Attis’.

The most memorable case of gender-changing is that of Hermaphroditos, the god of hermaphrodites, effeminate men, masculine women, transsexuals, transgenders, etc. Hermaphroditos’ gender-change (or, more correctly, gender-merge) is also his primary mythology. He is rarely named in the literature that points to the Erotes, although he is numbered among them, both by his parentage and divine function; and even the mythology of his birth is short and barely-considered. His pre- and post-merge mythology is barely touched upon; despite his Olympic parentage, he seems to have been all but forgotten by the Classical writers, in all respects other than detailing his merge with the nympha Salmakis.
Hermaphroditos (or Atlantius, as he was once/otherwise known, according to Hyginus, Fabulae, 271), ‘whom in Mount Ida’s caves the Naiades nurtured’ (Ovid, Metamorphoses, 4.28ff), was a youth comparable in beauty only to Adonis, Ganymedes, Endymion, Hyakinthos, Narkissos, Hylas and Khrysippos. It is interesting to note, here, that several of these most beautiful youths–Adonis, Hyakinthos and Ganymedes and, to a lesser extent, Hylas–all experienced a gender reversal, which will be discussed in Gender-Reversal in Gods and Daimones.
When he was fifteen–‘when thrice five years had passed’ (Met, 4.28ff)–Hermaphroditos ventured from Mount Ida, ‘eager to roam strange lands afar’ (Met, 4.28ff), and eventually came upon Salmakis’ ‘limpid shining pool’ (Met, 4.28ff). Salmakis, upon seeing the beautiful youth, declared her love for him. He, who ‘knew not what love was’ (Met, 4.28ff), rejected her as she ‘besought at least a sister’s kiss’ (Met, 4.28ff). Pretending to accept his rejection, the nympha Salmakis withdrew from sight; and Hermaphroditos, thinking himself alone, stepped into her pool and ‘stripped his light garments from his slender limbs’ (Met, 4.28ff). Salmakis watched him until he dived into the pool; and that–in succumbing to the pull of her water–made him hers, seemingly, for she ‘flung aside her clothes and plunged far out into the pool and grappled him’ (Met, 4.28ff). Hermaphroditos struggled to free himself and, at last, she managed to gain such a hold on him that ‘her clinging body seemed fixed fast to his’ (Met, 4.28ff), and she beseeched the gods to never let their bodies part. The gods (though it is unknown which gods) accepted the prayer and ‘both bodies merged in one, both blended in one form and face . . . they two were two no more, nor man, nor woman–one body then that neither seemed and both.’ (Met, 4.28ff) Hermaphroditos, now merged with Salmakis, emerged from the pool, saw that ‘the waters of the pool, where he had dived a man, had rendered him half woman’ (Met, 4.28ff) and beseeched his divine parents, Hermes and Aphrodite, that ‘whoso in these waters bathes a man emerge half woman, weakened instantly’ (Met, 4.28ff). His parents agreed; and ‘drugged the bright water with that power impure’ (Met, 4.28ff).
Diodorus Siculus described Hermaphroditos, after the merging with the nympha: ‘Some say that this Hermaphroditos is a god and appears at certain times among men, and that he is born with a physical body which is a combination of that of a man and that of a woman, in that he has a body which is beautiful and delicate like that of a woman, but has the masculine quality and vigour of a man.’ (Diodorus Siculus, Library of History, 4.6.5.) Diodorus Siculus then continued to note that ‘there are some who declare that such creatures of two sexes are monstrosities, and coming rarely into the world as they do they have the quality of presaging the future, sometimes for evil and sometimes for good.’ (Library of History, 4.6.5.)

The above quote of Diodorus Siculus can be applied, in turn, to the monster-god Agdistis, born of the Phrygian Sky God and Earth Goddess–Ouranos and Gaia–who would later become Kybele, equated with Rhea as Rhea-Kybele, mother of the gods.
Agdistis was, according to Pausanias, born when Ouranos (or, rather, the Phrygian sky god – who Pausanias equates with Zeus, strangely), ‘let fall in his sleep seed upon the ground, which in course of time sent up a Daimon, with two sexual organs, male and female.’ (Pausanias, Guide to Greece, 7.17.8.) Fearing Agdistis–the bi-sexed, and therefore aggressively, and by some accounts, literally insanely, sexual god–the other gods ‘cut off the male organ’ (Guide to Greece, 7.17.8), thus effectively changing Agdistis, a bi-sexed god, to Rhea-Kybele, a solely female god. An almond tree grew from Agdistis-Kybele’s castrated organ, and a nympha daughter of the river-god Sangarios ‘took the fruit and laid it in her bosom, when it at once disappeared, but she was with child.’ (Guide to Greece, 7.17.8.)
The child born was the youth Attis; and as he grew, his beauty, which was ‘more than human’ (Guide to Greece, 7.17.8) drew Agdistis-Kybele’s eye. She fell in love with him; and he ‘conquered the towered goddess with pure love’ (Ovid, Fasti, 4.222). Attis swore to her that he would ‘desire to be a boy always’ and that if he ever cheated, the one ‘I cheat with [will] be my last’ (Fasti, 4.222). He cheated, either by having an affair with the nympha Sagaritis (Fasti, 4.222) or by an attempt at marrying a king’s daughter (Guide to Greece, 7.17.8).
Agdistis-Rhea-Kybele, in divine wrath and madness, either then killed Sagaritis–by cutting down the nympha’s tree; ‘her fate was the tree’s’ (Fasti, 4.222)–or showed up at the wedding of Attis and the king’s daughter, whilst ‘the marriage-song was being song’ (Guide to Greece, 7.17.8); either version, though, caused Attis to descend into instant madness. Attis ‘bolts to Dindymus’ heights’ (Fasti, 4.222) and ‘went mad and cut off his genitals’ (Guide to Greece, 7.17.8), until ‘no signs of manhood remained.’ (Fasti, 4.222.) According to Pausanias, she then ‘repented of what she had done to Attis, and persuaded Zeus to grant the body of Attis should neither rot at all nor decay’ (Guide to Greece, 7.17.8); effectively, then, immortalising him.
This myth–beginning with Agdistis’ conception and ending with Attis’ immortal rebirth–has several common themes. The first, of course, is gender-changing; Agdistis, the bi-sexed, became Rhea-Kybele, a mother goddess, and simultaneously impregnated Sangarios’ nympha daughter, and thus became a father goddess, too. Attis, the boy born of the nympha and Agdistis’ castrated genitals, castrated himself, in turn, and ‘became a model: soft-skinned acolytes toss their hair and cut their worthless organs’ (Fasti, 4.222), thus effectively changing his own gender – and although his gender was changed by his own hands, it was caused by Agdistis-Rhea-Kybele. The second important theme is accidental pregnancy: the Phrygian Sky God’s/Ouranos’ impregnation of Gaia, the Earth, creating the bi-sexed Agdistis; and then Agdistis’ castrated genitals’ impregnation of Sangarios’ daughter, creating the lovely Attis. The entire myth continues the theme of ‘creatures of two sexes are monstrosities’, as suggested by Diodorus Siculus; and is a reoccuring theme within Hellenic mythology. Perhaps the other gods are wary the raw, fertile, mad power of bi-sexed gods; or, perhaps it was simply the prejudices of Classical society, made into divine acceptance through the mythos.

In Gender-Reversal in Gods and Daimones, I will be further exploring the gender switches in the Greek mythos; including Zeus’ gender-switch into Artemis, Adonis’ androgynous nature, Ganymedes’ and Hyakinthos’ apparent femininity and feminine values; and others.

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The Songs of Bilitis: The Old Man and the Nymphs

November 15, 2009

An old blind man lives on the mountain. For having looked at the nymphs his eyes have long been dead. And from that time his happiness has been a far-off memory.

“Yes, I saw them,” he told me: “Helopsychria, Limnanthis; they were standing near the bank, in the green pool of Physos. The water shimmered higher than their knees.

“Their necks were bent beneath their heavy hair. Their nails were filmy, like the wings of grasshoppers. Their breasts were deep, like the calyx of the hyacinth.

“They trailed their fingers upon the water, and pulled long-stemmed lilies from the unseen silt. About their separated thighs, slow circles spread…”

The Songs of Bilitis: The Old Man and the Nymphs

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Delphic Maxim 129

November 4, 2009

Delphic Maxim 129: Respect Yourself.

In order to respect yourself, you must first know yourself. You must then understand and accept yourself – your limits, your beliefs and your values. Others around you will often not respect you until you respect yourself–and so if you’re seeking respect, you must become worthy of it by respecting yourself.

That isn’t to say that one must become a god in their own eyes to respect themselves. If you wish to truly respect yourself, you must understand both the good and bad parts of who you are; everyone has them, after all.

Accepting just who you are can be difficult, but it is not impossible. The gods accept who we are–with all our triumphs and all our faults–and so do those who love us. Friends, family, pets – those who know and accept us also love and respect us. In my opinion (as a young woman devoted to a variety of gods, primarily Hellenic, and as a fairly balanced human), we should take a leaf out of the books of our gods, friends, family and pets–and learn to accept, understand, love and respect ourselves and everything around us.

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Delphic Maxim 8

October 21, 2009

Delphic Maxim 8: Be Yourself.

In the modern world, it is easy to forget ourselves. Traditional roles–particularly traditional gender roles–blur together; we can be anything we want, especially in the Western world… and yet we’ve forgotten much of who we are.

We know what we want: we want that pair of shoes, that job, this many children, that religion. We know what we need: food, shelter, drink, love, warmth. And yet we don’t know who we are, at the core of everything. We hide ourselves behind material goods and wants, and we try to forget everything else.

Who am I?

I am a daughter. I’m a half-sister, a cousin, a niece and a granddaughter. I’m a friend, a college student, a young woman, a teenager, a girl. I’m a dreamer, an idealist, an introvert and a believer in choice & chance & fate. I’m a consumer in a Capitalist society. I’m working class; English; white. I’m also a human. But what, exactly, does that mean?

I have skin, blood, teeth, hair. Two eyes, a nose, a mouth and two ears. I’m left-handed and able-bodied. I blink. If there’s a loud, unexpected noise, I flinch. If someone hits my leg, it twitches.

I’m part of something bigger than just myself and yet, paradoxically, I’m nothing more than just me. I play roles, and create personae to deal with those roles. I gather props, set the stage – and is that so different from lighting incense, and setting up an altar?

I come to the gods as I come to everything: with my roles mixing together, creating something that is individually me. I don’t approach the gods wearing a conscious ‘mask’, but my roles are there–and, when I approach the gods, I gain a new role, that of servant to the divine kings and queens I have chosen.

But I don’t lose my other roles. I don’t suddenly stop being a student, a young woman or a daughter. I don’t step away from the altar and become a different person. That, in my humble opinion, is what seperates true religion from abstract thought. I approach the gods clean, but wearing my daily clothes; and I wear jewellery for the gods in my day-to-day life that reminds me constantly of their presence. I’ve not invited the gods into a tiny, enclosed part of my life, but right into it. I think of them very regularly, and try to honour them in every action. It brings me closer to them, and them to me, and I prefer it that way.

As the Delphic Maxim says, then; Be yourself. I try–and I think that I, personally, am starting to get the hang of it. I am myself: and my friends and my gods accept me for that.

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An Exploration of Peitho

October 17, 2009

As the goddess of seduction, Peitho is intimately connected with fertility, sex, pleasure and love. She is also connected to the natural order, to the workings of the kosmos and the continued survival of the human race – and, of course, it is by her will that humans (and certain other animals) are able to have sex simply for the sake thereof.

In myth, Peitho is commonly paired with Aphrodite – either as her daughter (as indicated in the Sappho, Fragments 96 and 200; and Aeschylus, Suppliant Women, 1039) or, else, as her companion. They share the sacred attribute of the dove, too. Peitho’s sacred ball of binding twine is interestingly linked to Tykhe’s ball of fate; the goddesses are quite often given the same parentage, and the links between love–or, at least, sex–and chance or fate are extremely strong.

A further, interesting parallel between fate and Peitho is shown by Nonnus when Aphrodite enters a weaving contest against Athene: ‘Pasithea made the spindle run round, Peitho dressed the wool, Aglaia gave thread and yarn to her mistress. And weddings went all astray in human life.’ (Nonnus, Dionysiaca, 24.261.)The three Moirai–Klotho, the spinner of the thread of life; Lakhesis, the apportioner of lots; and Atropos, the cutter of life–are sometimes said to be led by Aphrodite (in the Orphic Hymn 55 to Aphrodite; in Pausanias, Description of Greece, 1.19.2; and in Nonnus, Dionysiaca, 41.155). Here, then, Pasithea can be identified with Klotho, Peitho with Lakhesis, and Aglaia with Atropos. Plato has this to say regarding the Moirai: ‘The Moirai, daughters of Ananke, clad in white vestments with filleted heads, Lakhesis, and Klotho, and Atropos, who sang in unison with the music of the Seirenes, Lakhesis singing the things that were, Klotho the things that are, and Atropos the things that are to be.’ (Plato, Republic, 617c.) Peitho-as-Lakhesis, then, controls that which has passed–such as the birth of the kosmos, the ability of humans to enjoy sex for the sake of itself and the tried-and-true methods of seduction–, Pasithea-as-Klotho controls that which is–the blurring of the now: reality and imagination, hallucination and truth–, and Aglaia-as-Atropos controls that which will be–the beauty of tomorrow, the joy of a heavily pregnant woman, the opportunity of marriage.

Peitho was, in Classical times, portrayed merely as the goddess of seduction, persuasion and charming speech – this was emphasised by the titling of her, in the works of some Classical authors, as ‘winning Peitho’ (Aeschylus, Suppliant Woman, 1035; and Nonnus, Dionysiaca, 41.250), and ‘she to whom nothing is denied’ (Aeschylus, Suppliant Woman, 1035).

A modern contemplation of Peitho allows for further consideration of her nature and her influence.

As the goddess of seduction, Peitho naturally presides over the methods of seduction: hers are the candle-lit dinners, the love poetry, and the first spark of desire, the seduction that wings through the veins as eyes meet. She is mostly unconcerned with animals and the behaviour of them – they offer her no incense and worship her with their hands and lips, as humans do, honouring her in all of the pleasures that the body can indulge in. It is no surprise, then, that Peitho is sometimes numbered among the Kharites (Hermesianax; Pindar, Eulogies Fragment 123; and Nonnus, Dionysiaca, 24.261) – for she presides over pleasures, but hers are the pleasures of the body, rather than of the spirit.

As the goddess of persuasion and charming speech, Peitho acquires influence over bribes, persuasive speech, compliments and flattery. Anacreon outright identifies Peitho as a goddess of bribes and bribery – ‘And in those days Peitho did not yet shine all silver.’ (Anacreon, Fragment 384) This indicates that, ‘in those days’, Peitho had no care for money–beyond how it could be used to gain pleasure–and yet, with the changing times, she took more of an interest in it for how else it could be used. Further to this, and as a goddess of the pleasures of the body and the sensations that affect it, Peitho is easy to name as the goddess of prostitutes; Pindar, in Eulogies Fragment 122, identifies ‘guest-loving girls’, i.e. courtesans and prostitutes, as ‘servants of Peitho in wealthy Korinthos.’

In combination with Bia–the goddess of force, might, strength and compulsion–Peitho, also, is the, or rather a, goddess of rape. One could say that Peitho is the goddess of rape victims, and Bia the goddess of rapists; this is somewhat confirmed by the depiction of Peitho as fleeing rape scenes in Greek art. Ibycus expands on this idea of a softer, maternal Peitho in his Fragment 288: ‘Euryalos, offshoot of the blue-eyed Kharites, darling of the lovely-haired Horai, Kypris and soft-lidded Peitho nursed you among rose-blossoms.’ Nonnus, in Dionysiaca 3.84, calls Peitho ‘the friend of marriage’ and the ‘nurse of the baby Erotes’.

One can identify Peitho as a goddess of wisdom – in the wisdom of marriage, the knowledge of the human body, and the understanding of pleasure and love. Pindar, in Pythian Ode 9.40, states that, ‘Secret, great Phoibos, are the keys of wise Peitho to love’s true sanctities.’ This somewhat blurs the idea of Peitho as a mindless creature who cares only for sexual gratification–a stereotype linked also to her mother and/or mistress, Aphrodite–and adds to her nature as a goddess of marriage. Nonnus, in his Dionysiaca 25.150, notes that ‘Peitho shook a brazen spear and turned into Pallas Athena to stand by Minos in the fray.’ Athene, of course, is the Olympian goddess of wisdom, strategy and rationality (among other things) – and combining these two quotes, by Pindar and Nonnus, gives the revealing identification of Peitho as a goddess of the wisdom of marriage, sex, pleasure, love and so on; she holds ‘the keys’ to true love, and she is unafraid of deferring gratification in becoming ‘Pallas Athena’ in order to fight for her mistress/mother.

In conclusion for this exploration, Peitho is, like all of the Theoi, an extremely complex and multi-layered divinity. She is not a mere ‘daimona’, or a goddess, of just persuasion, seduction and charming speech, but of all of the pleasures (and, inversely, the pains) that affect the human body (and soul) – the love, marriage, sex, war-for-love, wisdom, and so on. She is, I hope I’ve proved, a goddess worthy of honour and praise, and a goddess not to be taken lightly.

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Ares: the Lover of Love

October 13, 2009

As both the god of war and the ‘counterpart’ and companion to Aphrodite, it is easy to identify Ares as a god of pain. He is the pain of bullets tearing into bodies, of losing limbs in explosions – and the pain, whether momentary or drawn-out, of death. But he is also, as the father of Anteros, god of unrequited love, and the lover of Aphrodite, goddess of beauty and love, the god of the pain of love. The concepts of war and love have been tightly interwoven for hundreds, if not thousands, of years. Aphrodite and Ares’ own love affair is testament to this: that love and war belong together, and that you cannot truly have one without the other.

If one considers Ares as a god of pain, he becomes more than the stereotype that many have of him. He becomes god of receiving pain, god of giving pain, and even god of mastering that pain. The giving and receiving of pain is clear in his roles as god of war and god of the pain of love—the heartbreak and heartache that is so oft thought of when speaking of love—but it is only when one thinks deeply on Ares that they can draw closer to a conclusion of who, exactly, he is.

He is the god of war, as is well-known among even the average person. He is the god of the fever of war, of the blood-lust of war – the singing need to battle that thrums through the veins of warriors. He is, of course, the god of warriors, soldiers, heroes, champions – and under this aspect, he becomes, also, the god of sports and sportsmanship. He becomes, too, the god of challenge, of fighting to get what you want (or need) – the god of rivalry, of stubbornness, and of courage. Homer, in the Iliad (such as 5.454, 5.506 and 17.210) concentrates on this latter aspect of Ares, as a god who leads men into battle and encourages them when they would falter. As the father of Deimos and Phobos—the gods of dread and panic respectively—and as the god of courage, Ares becomes the god of the inversion of courage: he becomes the god of cowardice, whether it is retreating in war, running from a love that demands one too many risks, or turning tail in the face of the unknown. Ares himself boldly strives forward to meet all these things, and yet this aspect is often hard to find in the words of the classic authors and the views of the modern world.

In Ancient Greece, Ares was a god that was feared and—often—outright hatred. He represented many of the ills of the world, especially when one considered him as the brother, lover, companion or so on of Eris, mother of the kakodaimones, the spirits that plague mankind.

But, interestingly, Ares’ Roman “counterpart”, Mars, was much less disliked. Mars was initially a Roman god of fertility, vegetation, fields, boundaries and farmers; it was only when the Roman Empire began to expand that he became identified with Ares and, perhaps as a result, gained associations with war. However, it is my opinion that Ares and Mars are, at the core, the same god. Ares could easily be seen as a fertility god, when one takes into account his relationship with Aphrodite. Aphrodite and her husband Hephaistos had no children together—though they were married and, by several accounts, seemed to have had sex several times—and yet Aphrodite and Ares brought forth, by several different accounts, gods such as Eros, Anteros, Deimos, Phobos and Harmonia, suggesting of fertility and, therefore, the fertile earth (including the fertility of vegetation). Also, interestingly, Priapos, the rustic god of vegetation, fertility and garden produce (who is often considered a son of Aphrodite, though not by Ares), taught Ares to dance, therefore further increasing the link between Ares and fertility and vegetation. As the god of war, the pain of love and courage, cowardliness and sportsmanship—and so on—Ares would naturally be a god of boundaries: the boundaries between life and death, between warring armies, between the human body and the world beyond it, and so on. Ares’ links to farmers and fields are more tenuous—as not many Greek authors, it seemed, explored his links to fertility and the farming men and women who so relied on the fertility of the earth—but the links are there. As a god of warriors, he would also be the god of returning soldiers and warriors, and of the family of those people: who would likely be farmers. He is known as a god of the battlefield, but also, as a god of farming and fertility, he would be a god of the fertile earth and areas that can be cultivated for food – namely fields, farms, and so on.

Ares-Mars, then, is perhaps one of the most irrationally disliked gods. As a god of courage, bravery and stubbornness, he is the patron of those who stand up for what they believe in, or who step in to protect those who cannot protect themselves – the innocent; the young and the old. He is the patron of soldiers, both in war and returning home, and he is the guide of those who die on the battlefield. He is a god who does not hide his true nature behind sweet poetry and gentle smiles – he is the harsh truth of the world, the reality that bites. He is the cruelty in being kind; he is not cruel for the sake thereof, but for the greater good of the individual or community. He is the lover of love, and therefore of life – he protects the next generation, and yet he is constantly demonised, reduced to merely one aspect of who he truly is. He is a god of many more things than just war, or the lust for such; and a person could do much worse than having his guidance and protection as one’s patron or friend.