Holy Spring! We’re almost there. It’s the Roman God Mars, who gives us the English words, “march” and “martial”. Transformed from the Greek’s brutal and murderous God Ares, he is re-named and re-imagined by the Romans into a new kind of warrior; an agricultural guardian and a father figure, representing military power as a peace-securing force.
His story, like all stories, reflects our very human, ever-changing needs and values. His is an archetypal journey, through a deeper story, one that has had many names and faces and is still in motion.
In the early stories of Mars, he is second only to his father Jupiter in the Roman pantheon and shows up as Mars Silvanus. This reveals his agricultural roots, as a Silvanus was a Latin deity of fields, forests and husbandry. In Ovid’s version of the Mars story he is the son of Juno and “a magic flower”, further promoting his vegetal affiliations. (It’s amazing how deeply insightful mythologies are regarding human character. I’m sure we all know a few “agricultural/warriors”, or “musical/healers”).
For the next 500 years, as Rome’s sole focus becomes military expansion, Mars is increasingly depicted as the consummate warrior who “turned battles” for the ever-expanding Empire. By 380 AD though, Mars’ fate, closely tied to the story of Rome, foreshadows the approaching end of an Empire as he becomes increasingly meaning and power less in a new monotheistic world dominated by Christianity.
Although Mars, like the Roman Empire, temporarily recedes, it is impossible to not see The Warrior archetype resurrecting with new faces and new names all over the world in the centuries that follow. In the 20th century I see Mars resurrected and further evolved in the life of Morihei Ueshiba.
This epic story, like any great Myth, takes us on a hero’s journey, tracing our own potential for exploration, growth and transformation. In Morihei’s life (similar to the Buddha) we have a mortal, regular man, who transcends his “self” and achieves not only Enlightenment but, because where we are heading, models a new warrior’s path; not leading to “better”, “stronger”, “more effective” ways of fighting but away from violence and conflict altogether – towards a radical new consciousness that doesn’t even perceive separation.
Lending credence to the theory that evolution and cycles of time are accelerating, in Morihei’s story we have 1000 years of The Warrior’s evolution condensed into a single lifetime. In Morihei’s story we have the template for our modern, individual and collective journey; our own wounding and our own healing. Ares, the avenging warrior, becomes Mars, a more refined warrior, who through trial and experience becomes a yet more refined warrior and finally, deeply sickened by his participation in conflict and violence becomes, The Enlightened Wounded Warrior/Healer.
It is after his retreat to Iwama, The Wounded Warrior returning to his agricultural roots, that Morihei Ueshiba focuses solely on exploring and cultivating his spiritual and healing art; (and for Morihei) the final evolutionary stages of Aikido’s development.
Morihei Ueshiba left us a valuable story, full of clues, sign-posts and techniques for our own insight and liberation. Crucial in this time of great transition, he’s shown us how mandatory it is to stay connected with Life and each other; to involve our bodies. Like many great teachers, his life was his message; his art, a reflection of his own unique Being in time.
I see the irony of The Warrior sending us in search of peace, but if we look to his fertile, life-cultivating, vegetal roots we feel his whole Being, the full circle, two sides of one coin. Life and death are the stock-in-trade of warriors… and farmers. It’s March and in my own practices I’m honouring Mars and his heroic evolutions and revolutions, which have slowly been moving the two poles closer together until, in a radical, enlightened moment, somewhere in my own life, they can be embodied as one.