Mars, the God of War, was born out of Hera’s rage. This was the phrase that kept going through my head as I watched American Sniper today, holding my husband’s hand in a dark movie theatre. I know it is Hollywood and it somewhat one-sided and while fairly graphic, the reality of war is actually way worse than what I was seeing. People’s lives are destroyed, families are devastated – sometimes for generations. To what end? Is Hera’s rage ever vanquished? And how many wars are actually fought for a different master, or mistress, as the case may be?
Hera is the Queen of the Gods and wife to Zeus who is the King. When Hera birthed Mars, in her rage, it was through parthenogenesis. She was in enraged because Zeus had dared to birth a child without a woman. Athena came out of his head, fully armed and ready to do battle. Athena is the Goddess of War among other things. Hera was appalled by Zeus daring to birth a woman from his won body, and probably angry at him for all his infidelities as well. She said, “Watch this”, and gave birth to Mars… without a man. So the Goddess and God of War were born each in their own unnatural way. Unlike Mars, who is the berserker, the savage pillager and rapist, Athena represents the strategic aspect of war and war as a civilizing force and the laws that control our primal urges. Although we may see her as the sane one, and indeed, she does prefer diplomacy, she can also be cold and calculating when standing behind an idea or a principle. Athena looks down in disdain on Mars and yet, she could not win the battles she stands behind without him. Mars, on the other hand, has no desire to look civil or cover up his acts in the mantle of morality. In the most primal of ways, he is coming from the heart.
I see this play out in the way we look at and treat our soldiers when they come back from war. They experience the ravages of Mars both in body and mind and yet, when they come home, the Athena in us is disgusted by what they have done, even as we romantically support it with holidays like Veterans Day and Memorial Day. It makes for psychosis within us. Mars is the baser cause, Athena is the higher cause, yet the polarity and collusion between them results in so much pain and numbness that whitewashing is often the easiest thing to do. Taking sides, you are either with us or against us. Is life precious or is life expendable?
As Hera and Mars are intertwined, so are Zeus and Athena. Hera and Mars are the feminine & the body and Zeus and Athena are the masculine & the mind. In argument, Athena is the cool logical one who can look past the personal and Mars is the one who fights passionately and is selfish and very personal in his reaction. The two diads exist as a dichotomy only when we see them as disconnected. However, when we are dealing with our selves, it is easy to see that they actually are ONE and that when we separate them, when we polarize them, when we choose to call one bad and the other good, we create a rift within us that can only be resolved with violence.
Life is so much messier than myths. While I sense the symbols within myself, I wonder if there is a way to embrace both the brutishness of Mars and the loftiness of Athena? Can I love the part of me that is emotionally savage and the part of me the part of me that is purely logical… at the same time? No separation. Just as an experiment, I am wondering, and maybe it is naive, if I can make peace on the inside, will it actually reflect in the outer life too? And would the outcome actually be peace or some kind of truce. I am longing to know.