Of the divine Hellenic pairings, only Zeus and Hera are more well known than Aphrodite and Ares. The goddess of love and the god of war embraced in an illicit, passionate affair that soon came to be the subject of every temple.
Though in well-known mythology it is a small story, highlighting Aphrodite’s overly-sexual nature and Ares’s lack of impulse control, in Hellenic Polytheism this should be seen in a much different light. This is the key to understanding either of them in a meaningful and deep way.
As I’ve spoke about before, Aphrodite is more than just love, beauty, and sex. Both on her own merit and of Ares’s influence, she becomes passion and anger, violence, revenge, and so much unbelievable, overwhelming love. She becomes radical, beyond the realm of acceptability in polite society.
Ares, the god of bloodshed, rage, courage, and war. He’s violence incarnate in a traditional sense, enough to be banned from certain sects of this religion in modern times. Contact with Aphrodite brought love, kindness, temper to his rage.
The pairing brought out the best in both of them. They gave each other the best parts of them and moved and grew in harmony.
This symbolic pairing comes often in activist scenes. Radicals are needed for progress, but untempered anger can only do so much. Love and kindness is ideal, but it also is not a cure-all. Together, however, they do so much more than they could do alone.
Yuri Kochiyama, pictured left, was a Japanese-American activist, born in 1921. The government placed her in an internment camp as a teenager after Pearl Harbor, and there she saw parallels between her treatment and the treatment of black people in the Jim Crow South. There, she decided to become an activist.
She wrote letters to the soldiers in the war, and eventually fell in love with one, Bill Kochiyama of the 442nd Division. Soon they moved to New York City, in Harlem in 1946. She became a wife and a mother, she loved the community and the people. As the 40s moved into the 50s and 60s, she loved the activism. It was there she met Malcolm X, the famous activist and Black Panther.
Malcolm X was the Magneto to MLK Jr.’s Professor X. Radical, often painted as the villain, but out to claim what was stolen from him. Born in Georgia, he dropped out of school after being ridiculed for his aspirations. He lived in Boston for a while with his half sister and got involved deeply with the Nation of Islam, changing his surname from Little to X to show a rejection of slave names.
Through his own merit he ascended to found the Organization of Afro American Unity (OAAU) and became a huge name in the civil rights community. He was radical, demanded justice, long overdue. For this, he was killed on February 21st, 1965.
(My knowledge and insight of these important people is limited by my white privilege and the necessary brevity of the article. More links with information on Yuri and Malcolm can be found at the bottom)
Yuri and Malcolm X became fast friends during the 60s when Harlem became the bustling center of the Civil Rights movement. Yuri’s house was known to be a center of activity, her kids fondly remember having letters, activists, all around her small apartment. She wass brought deeper into the activism she had since dwindled down after living as a mom. She was back, speaking at rallies, marching in the streets, and fighting for herself and all like her (and those who weren’t). She famously was the only non-black member of the OAAU, and fought lovingly and passionately. Similarly, Malcolm was “tamed” so to speak by her. His radicalism became no less radical, but more compassionate around her. She softened him, helped cull the anger, sharpen in into pure passion and righteous vengeance. And when he died, shot mid-speech, she was there to hold him in his final hours.
Like Aphrodite and Ares, we must not attempt to change who we are, but find our best selves in other people. There vice and virtue in both love and war, and it is only together that a better world is built. Near-universal principles such as justice, fairness, truth, and equity demand we work towards equality. The Hellenic gods demand moderation and justice, the Kemetic gods Ma’at. Though one should strive to become balanced, this by no means means stand by and be idle, grey. It doesn’t mean screaming, rioting. It’s finding the people that make you more justice-loving, more passionate, more what your divinity would be proud of.