Updated: Jul 10, 2019
This is Part II of a series. You can find Part I here. Hope you enjoy!
Warrior gods and goddesses represent the highest qualities of the Warrior: they are disciplined and courageous, fierce fighters and protectors, and they can make powerful allies to have on your side. But, while popular choices as patron deities among many modern Pagans, the Warrior deities are, in short, not for the faint of heart. When approaching a relationship with a Warrior deity, they’ll expect as much out of you as they are willing to give you in return. Warrior gods tend to help those who help themselves. They present opportunities to those who are seeking opportunities; they’ll give you an extra push when you are already pulling yourself up.
There are many gods and goddesses of War, and some fit the Warrior Archetype better than others. By and large, every pantheon, every hearth culture, has a Warrior god or goddess among its ranks. And while humanity has largely viewed the realm of war to be a primarily masculine function in recent millennia, we can infer from the sheer number of warrior goddesses that was not always the case; from my own research, the Warrior deities seem to be split pretty 50/50 across the primary genders.
So who exactly are these Warrior gods and goddesses? Some of their names will likely be familiar to many of you, but hopefully I’ll at least tell you a little something new. And of course, keep in mind that being a God of War does not necessarily equate to being a Warrior God. The two do usually overlap, but some War Gods do not possess the qualities, or the character, of the Warrior Archetype, and so I have not included them on this list. For example, I’m not going to talk about Ares, and that’s probably going to upset the Hellenic Pagans in our midst…for while he is the Greek god of war, Ares does not live up to the high standards of the true warrior. Ares, as he appears in Greek mythology, is capricious, vain, petty, even cowardly. He fights a battle not because it’s for a worthy cause or because he wants to overcome an obstacle, no—he fights a battle only when he knows he will win. Such qualities are in direct contrast with the nature of Warrior deities as an Archetype.
Without further ado, let’s delve into some of those deities who do possess the qualities of the Warrior: Mars, Minerva, Tyr, Freya, Svyatovit, Andraste, and Macha. This is not by any means an all-inclusive list, but I hope it will provide you a solid overview and increase your understanding of the Warrior archetype. Furthermore, while I have also found that when dealing with Deity, the Warrior and the Hunter/Huntress Archetypes tend to overlap in terms of their qualities and characteristics, it is beyond the scope of today’s talk to get so deep into that particular set of weeds, so I unfortunately will not be talking about Diana today either, much as I love her.
So. We’ll begin with Mars.
Now, many of you are probably wondering why I would choose to omit Ares from my list but still discuss his Roman counterpart. Please allow me to explain. Many modern people—not just Pagans!—tend to think of the Greek and Roman deities as largely interchangeable, as equivalent deities; however, this is not really the case. Bear with me—I could talk about the Classical Romans for days, but I’ll try to keep this brief—the difference derives largely from the manner in which the Ancient Greeks and Romans viewed their gods. The Romans wanted their gods to be, well, god-like. They viewed their gods and goddesses as noble beings, not only immortal and powerful but also actually deserving of their worship. Considering the Romans had such high opinions of themselves as a culture, this was high praise.
The Greeks, on the other hand, imbued their deities with the whole spectrum of possible flaws. They wanted their gods and goddesses to possess every weakness of character imaginable, so that in turn, the Greek people could feel better about their own flaws and weaknesses. But what about the many tales of Zeus’s various affairs? Weren’t those stories told in Rome, too? Sure, they were…but they were told about Zeus, not about Jupiter. Where Hera tended to be a jealous shrew, Juno was a stoic matriarch. Where Zeus was, well…Zeus…Jupiter (or Jove, as he’s sometimes called) was faithful to Juno.
Thus, while Ares was a cowardly bully, Mars was a wise protector and guardian. Mars was a Warrior.
To the Ancient Romans, Mars was viewed second in importance and worship only to Jupiter, their supreme sky-god. The month of March is even named in his honor, and most of the festivals held to worship Mars likewise occurred either in March or in October, which for the Romans marked the beginning of the season for military campaigning. While in later years, once Rome came under a heavier Greek influence, Mars did eventually become equated somewhat with Ares, Mars still remains fundamentally distinct.
Mars, along with Jupiter and Quirinus, was originally part of a triple-god in early-Roman myth known as the Archaic Triad, back when Mars was associated not only with war, but also as a guardian of agriculture. Furthermore, while Ares was the son of Zeus and Hera, Mars was the son solely of Juno. Just as Minerva sprung full-formed from her father’s brow, Juno—with the help of a magic flower—became pregnant and gave birth to Mars without Jupiter’s, ahem, input. I find it quite curious that the god who represented the “ideal man” (from the Roman understanding, anyway) was born totally and completely of a woman, no man involved.
To the Ancient Romans, Mars represented the ultimate Virtue (with a capital ‘V’). Now, the Romans have a very different understanding of the term than we do today; in classical Rome, Virtue was often equated with not only right action and upstanding character, but with virility—virtue was a kind of life force in and of itself, and so “virtue” (from the Latin virtus) meant quite literally, that nebulous quality which made a man, well, manly. Mars thus not only represents the Warrior, but the drive to win a war in order to create peace. Remember, Mars began primarily as a guardian of agriculture; his Warrior status developed out of the need to protect the crops.
While our minds are still in Rome, let’s now talk a little bit about Minerva. Like Mars, Minerva had but one parent, only hers was Jupiter. Minerva came forth from Jupiter’s skull, already fully grown (and armed with weapons). She was one of the virgin goddesses in the original sense of the term, for “virgin” simply meant a woman who was unaligned, who belonged to no man; she was complete in and of herself. Minerva was associated not only with war, but with music, poetry, medicine, commerce, weaving, crafts, magic…and, of course, wisdom. And, like Mars and Jupiter and Juno and Diana, Minerva’s worship predates Rome itself. The Etruscans worshiped Minerva as a moon goddess of wisdom and war and art and education, and in yet another similarity with Mars, Minerva was once part of a divine triad: along with her father Jupiter and his consort-wife-queen Juno, Minerva was the final piece of the Capitoline Triad, which came to replace the older Archaic triad as the “top three” in Roman divinity.
Interestingly enough, Minerva also compares quite well to the Celtic god Lugh—in that she was a goddess of many works. In fact, Ovid once described her as the “goddess of a thousand works” because of her many talents and skills. As a Warrior goddess, she was brave and just and wise; but in contrast with many other deities of war, Minerva was often portrayed with her weapons lowered. This was not because she did not use them; rather, it was because as a goddess of wisdom as much as war, she knew well of war’s terrible cost, and so she would stand with her sword and spear pointed down in sympathy and respect for those Warriors recently lost.