The War God: An Ever Emerging Archetype

Ramon Lopez-Reyes
Kailua, Hawaii, USA
Association of Graduate Analaytical Psychologists

1. Introduction

This paper is about war; more specifically, it is about the War-God Archetype. War cannot be explained away simply by calling it stupid, a masculine disease or morally wrong.1 The fact is that humans have conducted and continue to wage war. In face of this reality we may well ask, how does war serve humanity? In context of depth psychology, the question to ask becomes, what are the archetypal sources of war? We may even ask, what role does the War-God play in human existence?

The War-God Archetype from one perspective is a death force and focuses on destruction; from another it is a life force and focuses on overcoming. As true of any archetype, if not expressed properly the War-God Archetype experiences “archetypal frustration,” and if not made conscious, it can cast a dangerous pale on human behavior. But the War-God Archetype, if rightly employed, can assist individuals in the conduct of the Inner War, that is, the process of individuation. In this context, the War-God Archetype cannot be viewed solely in a negative light.

The War-God is cloaked in a guise of sacredness. When engaged in war, humans, whether from rationalization or some other defense mechanism, project a divine cause for the blood shedding that ensues. More often than not, the ride of the War-God is a holy war. I believe this holiness has something to do with the spilling of blood. Blood as life is sacred. Its offering is a sacred rite. Framed in this context, war is an orgy of sacrifice. Unless this connection between war and ritual sacrifice is better understood, the gifts of science, such as the use of nuclear energy, place in the War-God’s hands the means for total destruction which, in turn, renders any blood sacrifice meaningless.

What follows is a reflection not on violence and the sacred, 2 but on the nature of the War-God Archetype. Clearly the topic of the War- God Archetype is multifarious. Accordingly, my presentation is in no way exhaustive. In the following I shall briefly discuss the roots of war. Subsequently, I examine four aspects of the War-God Archetype, with each linked to a color that underscores the nature of that particular aspect: “defense” or White War-God, “offense” or Gray War-God, “overcoming” or Red War-God and “destruction” or Black War-God. Each of the four natures of the War-God Archetype will be examined in a mythic context: the mythology associated with Saint James, Killer of Moors, fits well with the structure of the White War-God; the Aztec War-God, Huitzilopochtli, who led his people to a promised land, represents the Gray War-God; Parsifal, the knight in quest of the Holy Grail corresponds to the Red War-God, and Ares, the Greek God of War, matches well with the Black War-God. (Saint James and Parsifal although more reflective of the hero archetype, at the same time, exhibit characteristics of the War-God Archetype: conduct war, spill blood and wield destruction.) Finally, I discuss the implications of placing nuclear weapons in the hands of the War-God.

2. Study of the War-God

In his important work, The Roots of War, Anthony Stevens brings attention to the “universality of war” and the “inevitability of conflict.” The prevalence of warfare caused Stevens to conclude that it is rooted in the archetypal structure of humanity. He wrote: “In maintaining that war is archetypally determined, I am not preaching biological fatalism. Archetypes are not blind instincts which blunder headlong towards their goal regardless of our conscious attitudes … Archetypes are always with us in potentia, however, as living dynamic possibilities which, given appropriate circumstances, can be called into action.”3

Although Stevens set the ground work for exploring the relationship between war and our archetypal psychic structure, he did not directly discuss the nature of the War-God Archetype itself. Stevens, however, proffered that in the substrata of the archetypal systems, three systems account for humanity’s war-making: mobilization of aggression for the purpose of defense; mobilization of aggression against an out-group; and enmity or activation of the enemy.4

As already mentioned, I identify four features of the War-God Archetype: defense, offense, overcoming, and destruction. My “defense” feature is similar to Stevens’ aggression for the purpose of defense. His second system, aggression against an out-group approximates the aspect that I call “offense,” taking what is needed for survival. His third feature, activation of the enemy, in a narrow sense, correlates to my fourth feature, “destruction” (one can totally annihilate an enemy).

My use of destruction or Thanatos relates to Freud’s conceptualization of the “death instinct.” In his reply to Einstein’s question of why war? Freud wrote: “you surmise that man has in him an active instinct for hatred and destruction. I believe in the existence of this instinct and have been recently at pains to study its manifestations.”5 In my opinion, the destructive feature is the most dangerous aspect of War-God Archetype largely because its intent is utter destruction.

Interestingly, Stevens did not include “overcoming” or competition (my third feature) as one of the archetypal systems that account for war-making. However, in his Evolutionary Psychiatry, Stevens placed great importance on the role of competition. He considered it to be central to psychological functioning and held that its dysfunctional expression may even account for several of the mental illnesses.6 While Stevens separates competition into two types: dominance through intimidation and dominance through attraction, I focus on competition’s more general overcoming or striving attribute. Competition is intimately linked with life force and is mostly about maximizing one’s advantage; about striving to further oneself; about overcoming that which impedes success. In context of war-making, competition between tribes or nations is likely to triggers conflict. For example, the arms race which occurred prior to World War I paved the road to war. This competitive overcoming archetypal substratum evokes wars that are associated with territorial aggrandizement or imperialism.

When the focus is on the individual rather than on the collective, competitive overcoming suggests a force that propels an individual along a narcissistic path toward ego-aggrandizement; or along the path of individuation, that is, toward becoming all that one can be, seemingly, for the hell of it, but in reality, compelled by an innate programming to individuate. This competitive or overcoming tendency enables individuals to engage in external wars in order to advance the interests of the collective, and at the personal level, to engage in the Inner War in order to overcome the obstacles to individuation.

While the negative features of the War-God are rather apparent, less clear is how the War-God works, and has worked, in support of the life force particularly in assisting survival and in furthering human development. I submit that without the employment of the War-God Archetype humans cannot truly succeed with the Inner War. For this reason, it behooves us to study the War-God Archetype not only because there is need to reduce the occasions for war but also because we may understand better how to proceed in the process of individuation.

3. The White War-God: Defensive Nature

Perhaps the most elemental aspect of the War-God Archetype relates to defense and the biological or instinctual fight-flight predisposition in humans. The archetypal roots of defense are found in the human immune system. All humans host bacteria and viruses. For their own reasons, germs attempt to enlarge their area of co habitation. At such a time, my immune system activates its internal army (composed of macrophage, white blood T-Cells, B-Cells and antibodies) to “close with and destroy” the attacking viruses.7 If my forces are not successful, I will suffer illness and in some instances, death. The inner biological battle is ruthless. For the most part, few prisoners are taken. My immune system continuously stands on guard to defend. The “enemy” bacteria is also on alert to notice when the immune system is vulnerable. Here then is the archetypal basis for “just war:” a call to arms to destroy the invading party. Not to counterattack indicates a weakness in the immune system rather than a lack of willingness to fight. And the invading host will be sure to take advantage of such weakness. The immune system (good or “white”) is programmed to fight off disease (evil or “black”). At the collective level, humans have the predisposition to fight off the disease of “other rule.”

Just war is also linked to defense of territory. The mythic account of Saint James (Santiago) depicts this archetypal aspect of defensive war. The myth conveys how Saint James led Spain against the Moors who had invaded Spain in 711. Finally in 1492, after nearly eight centuries of war, Saint James led the Spanish to triumph over the Muslims.8 In the Christian account, Saint James was one of the original twelve apostles of Jesus Christ. Initially he had nothing to do with war and in no way was he viewed as a War-God. But a metamorphosis occurred after Iberia was invaded. Collectively, the body-politics of Iberia was in great need of a defensive force. Within a short period, Saint James, the preacher, became the Spanish War-God or White-Knight.

A century after the Moorish invasion, Pelagio, a religious hermit, reported in 813 C.E. that he had seen a big star burning low over a wooded hill. He and some shepherds “saw” a choir of angels singing before an altar. When they cleared the brush, they uncovered a small shrine that contained a sarcophagus. Bishop Theodomir was told of these events. His discovery of some parchment near the tomb convinced him that the tomb belonged to Saint James the Apostle. Once the “discovery” of Saint James’ tomb was heralded, a myth unfolded. It was believed thathis body had arrived in a stone boat near the Finisterre (End of the Earth) on the shores of Galicia in Northwestern Spain. It was said that the boat arrived shortly after Saint James was beheaded in Jerusalem, circa 44 C.E.

A few decades after the tomb was discovered in Compostela, it was said that Ramiro I of Asturia, in 844 C.E., had a dream in which Saint James announced that the king would be victorious in the coming battle at Clavijo. It was further reported that St. James appeared on the battlefield and killed numerous Moors. Several decades later, Alfonso III (866-910) declared Saint James the Patron Saint of all Spain. In due order, the fame of the church at Compostela grew, particularly as a site of pilgrimage. During Medieval Spain, it was accepted that Saint James fought with Spanish knights and led them to victories over Saracen forces. Such beliefs affirmed the Saint’s prowess and hallowed his tomb. The exact date when Saint James received the epithet of “Matamoros,” that is, Killer of Moors, is not known. But his warrior reputation was established by the 10th Century and shortly afterwards he emerged as the White War-God.

When Granada fell in 1492 there was great jubilation, but Saint James the White War-God was left without an enemy. Here then is the great danger in activating the War-God Archetype. During the war of reconquest, killing became a norm and evil was easily identified. The Spaniards learned that it was not a simple task to bottle the War- God. In the year that Islam was defeated, Saint James accompanied the Spaniards across the Atlantic Ocean to the Americas. Saint James, the Moors Slayer, had preached not the “turn of cheek” during the reconquest, but the sermon of trampling and slaughtering. In the Americas, Saint James received a new epithet, “Mataindios” (killer of Indians).9 In the Americas, Saint James’ conduct of war was not rooted in the defensive war of the White War-God, but in the archetypal root of overcoming (Red War-God) and genocide and destruction (Black War-God). As the Black War-God, Saint James brought to ashes the indigenous civilizations and enslaved the native population. As a Red War-God, St James led the Spaniards to build a mighty and glorious empire that eventually fell.

Veneration of Saint James as War-God, to some degree, depleted Spain of its humanity. After his deployment to the Americas as Red War-God, Spain began to rot. Centuries of spilling blood left its scars and Spaniards lost a part of their compassion and sensitivity toward life. Not surprising, the Holy Office of the Inquisition in Spain became an abomination of insensitivity, narrowness, and denial. Also not surprising, the devotees of the War-God, on the eve of their final triumph over Islam, expelled unconverted Jews from Spain and a century later, forced out unconverted Moors. With victory over the external enemy, the War-God went into an internal frenzy of ridding the nation of the alleged unclean. This frantic cleansing eventually turned Spain into a sterile world.

Spain’s experience demonstrates how a collective need to defend against an attack can activate the War-God Archetype. This collective necessity for salvation gave rise to a mythic story which transformed Saint James, Jesus’ peace-loving apostle, into a White War-God. And once mythically transformed, the Spaniards were convinced that their struggle was just and under God’s mandate.

4. The Gray War-God: Just Offensive Nature

If defense is good because it sustains health/life, taking territory and resources that are needed for survival is also good. Here then is the basis for a “just offensive war.”In order to survive, humans assume the right, if only as a last resort, to acquire or seize needed resources even when others hold such resources and refuse to share. Simply put, such taking is the instinctual base from which the Gray War-God emerges.

In terms of Jewish mythic truth, Yahweh gave his chosen people a pledge to provide them a “promised land.”Under Yahweh’s protection, the Jewish tribes took the land that they needed for survival from the people who occupied it.10 The same may be said of the Aztecs. Their chief god, Huitzilopochtli, led his people to a promised land. According to their mythological accounts, the Aztecs left their home in Aztlan in search of a new land to the south.11 The Aztecs considered themselves a be a chosen people with a special mission. They believed that they were given a sacred mandate to keep the Sun in motion. The Aztecs later came to believe that in order to keep the Sun alive it had to be fed special food: the bloody hearts of the most valiant humans, namely, warriors.

Huitzilopochtli (humming bird of the south), guided the Aztecs southward until they finally reached the Valley of Mexico in the Thirteenth Century. There they saw the sign that would identify the promised land: an eagle atop a cactus. The tribes already in the Valley considered the Aztecs to be Chichimexs or barbarians with little civilization. Accordingly, the ruling tribes allocated very poor land to the Aztecs. For decades the Aztecs eked out minimum survival but gradually enlarged their military prowess. By the late 13th Century, the Aztecs began to take the land that they needed. The Aztecs’ military capability caused a few tribes to join with the Aztecs to form a Triple Alliance which soon dominated much of Central Mexico.

The manner in which the Fifth Sun (current era) was born is instructive regarding the Aztec’s special mission to sustain the Sun. It was believed that after the Fourth Sun had died, the Gods gathered for the purpose of raising the Fifth Sun. Two Gods jumped into the sacred fire in order to give life to the new Sun. But the Fifth Sun barely moved. Finally, all the Gods decided to jump into the Sacred Fire so that the Sun would have sufficient energy to rise. And the Sun did rise after feasting on the Gods. Because their mythic accounts recorded the death of four prior Suns, 12 the peoples of Mezo-America lived in fear that the Fifth Sun would one day die. It was believed that the Fifth Sun might die whenever their calender marked fifty-two years.

Since warriors reflected some of the characteristics of the Gods who sacrificed themselves in order to give motion to the Fifth Sun, the hearts of warriors were thought to be the very sacrifice necessary to keep the Fifth Sun in motion. Accordingly, the Aztecs, to accomplish their cosmic mission, created a militaristic society which remained constantly at war. The Aztecs waged a “flowery war” against some tribes not to gain victory but to capture warrior prisoners whose hearts would be sacrificed.

Compared to Saint James, who was transformed from mendicant or pilgrim into a War-God, Huitzilopochtli’s war-god nature was very evident from his birth. His was a virgin birth and similar to Athena, he too was born fully armed. Whereas Athena’s best known military paraphernalia was her aegis or shield, Huitzilopochtli’s prime object was a fire-serpent weapon. While still in his mother’s womb he learned that his siblings, the Moon and Five-Hundred Stars, planned to kill his mother for the dishonor and shame that her impregnation caused them. At the moment of their attack, Huitzilopochtli was born and he killed his sister, the moon, and brothers, the stars, with his fire-serpent. This motif of killing his sister and brothers reflects the daily heroic struggle that the Sun undergoes every night.13

In summary, the Aztecs under their War-God’s tutelage acquired what was needed to survive and fulfill their special mission. However as they expanded they went from impoverished tribe to dominant power; the goal changed from survival to imperial status. The Gray War-God similar to the White War-God is likely to pursue imperialism or put differently, to transform itself into a Red-War-God.

5. The Red War-God: The Overcoming/Competitive Nature

A third aspect of the War-God Archetype is not directly linked to a sense of righteousness, as are the defensive or offensive natures of the War-God, but to an innate human tendency to compete and overcome. However, in the case of overcoming injustice or evil, the Red War-God takes on the attribute of righteousness. The archetype of the Red War-God is rooted in the biological life force to exist and prosper. Humans compete to maximize their potential. Such competition is an essential element for survival and prosperity. The Red War-God operates not solely to overcome but more so, to assist the community or individuals to be all that they can be. The Red War-God is at its worse when it competes to aggrandize narcissistically the collective or the immature ego. This produces a bully at the individual level and imperialism at the inter-state level (even though lofty reasons may be given for waging imperial war, such as “white man’s burden”).

From a depth psychology perspective, it may be said that the process of individuation is driven by the “archetype of overcoming” or the Red War-God. Metaphorically, individuation suggests a war between the hero-ego and the ego’s defense mechanisms as well as the regressive features of the collective unconscious (dragon) that thwarts consciousness. In this regard, each ego, each child, embarks upon the hero path. This is the theme of the Parsifal myth.14 He competes to become the best knight in the realm and by doing so places himself in the best position to find the Holy Grail.

The story of Parsifal generally falls under the hero archetype rather than the War-God Archetype.15 But the hero archetype does have several characteristics in common with the Red War-God particularly in the aspect of overcoming injustice and the enemy. Perhaps Mars, the Roman God of War, would be a better example of the Red War-God. In this context, James Hillman would have us contact the Mars War- God and give full expression to his nature, not through violent warfare but through ritualistic martial imagination. The task is to employ the Mars War-God in the individuation process. But to do so we have to love Red Mars, that is, appreciate the special qualities reflected in Mars and distinguish the archetypal features that render him a beloved God. In this sense, Mars becomes Parsifal, and war-making becomes the Grail quest.

Unless we come to appreciate the constructive aspects of Red Mars, we address only his destructiveness. “If in the arms is the God,” wrote Hillman, “then arms control requires at least partly if not ultimately a religious approach.”16 He further wrote: “The repression of Mars rather than ritualization of Mars leaves us exposed to the return of the repressed, as rude eruptive violence, as anxiety about armaments and military expenditures, as rigid reaction formations disguised as peace negotiations and as paranoid defenses against delusional enemies.”17

This competitive nature surfaced naturally when Parsifal, still a child, saw a group of knights pass by. He wanted to be one of them. He inquired how to become a knight. Later, Parsifal challenged a Red Knight not only because the Red Knight had insulted the king but also because he coveted the knight’s armor and horse. He killed the Red Knight and put on the defeated knight’s red armor. Who is this Red-Knight, what does he symbolize?

Emma Jung and M-L von Franz in their work, The Grail Legend, view the Red Knight “as the sum of emotion and barbaric thoughtlessness which Parsifal must overcome before he can become a Christian knight.”18 They further wrote: “from the two-fold meaning [love/life and war/death] of the colour [red] it may be perceived that this shadow figure is consequently not only destructive but that it is also able to work in the interests of life when it has been integrated into consciousness.”19

Subsequently Parsifal enters a year long apprenticeship in order to learn how to be a Christian knight. Without such tempered training, Parsifal would remain at the level of the Red Knight from whom he took the red armor. The battle between the old Red Knight and Parsifal, the new Red Knight, suggests that the primitive and bully side (war/death) of the Red Knight must be overcome first if the Red Knight is to advance his heroic just (love/ life) side.

In the ensuing years, Parsifal defeats many knights in the pursuit of justice. But his knightly overcoming does not bring contentment (inner peace) mainly because he could not find the Grail Castle, that is, approach the Higher Self. Such is the case in personal individuation when we get stuck, although we seem to do all that needs to be done, yet something is missing. Part of what was missing occurred on the day when the king lauded Parsifal for his knightly achievements, and proclaimed him “number one” of realm. Then an Ugly Damsel shamed Parsifal publicly for his failures. Troubled and humbled, Parsifal, still in red armor, set off again but with no certainty on how to find the Grail Castle. On a Good Friday, Parsifal met the other part that was missing. He joined pilgrims who were traveling to visit a hermit. At that moment, after he discarded the red armor and sword (his primitive/ impulsive/aggressive side), the hermit told Parsifal how to find the Castle.

Individuals, similar to Parsifal spend a life-time competing but usually without achieving meaningful satisfaction. This may be so because the rewards that are received belong to the external secular world of the heroic or bully Red Knight. The tale of Parsifal clarifies that the urge to overcome (putting on the Red Armor) is the initial step of individuation. If our struggle is earnest there is a good possibility that we may also meet an Ugly Damsel who will blast our inflated ego and set us on a course to integrate the hermit archetype so that external competitiveness may give way to an inner process that overcomes ego striving for fame, power, fortune and even knowledge.

This transformation from violent striving to nonviolent overcoming is a major evolutionary development currently taking place within the Red War-God Archetype. This shift is reflected in the life-stories of the Gotama Buddha, Jesus Christ and more recently, in the nonviolent battles waged by Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. The change that is evolving is not a refusal to fight against injustice, but refusal to fight violently. In brief, the evolutionary task to become more human and expand human consciousness outlines the nature of the Great Inner War. This is the war the Red War-God is programmed to wage. But until an Ugly Damsel appears (to correct ego’s inflation) and one integrates the hermit archetype (to renounce violence), the Red War-God tends to steer us to wage external aggression in order to overcome those we happen to call “enemy” and if successful, such overcoming gives us a false elation that we are “number one” or that our cause is just when in fact we might be nothing more than a bully or promoting an unworthy or false venture.

6. The Black War-God: Thanatos or Destructive Nature

A fourth archetypal source for the War-God Archetype is found in the biology of death. Above all, the War-God is about death and destruction. Whereas the White, Gray and Red features of the War-God are often associated with noble and heroic deeds of the life force, Thanatos is rooted in the death force and produces little noble or heroic. In the War-God’s black nature, killing is primary and devoid of any principle, necessity or glory. The Black War-God is a butcher who is enraptured with bloodletting. His goal is ashes (utter destruction).

The instinctual roots of the Black War-God are found in the biological reality that all humans die and that each day thousands of our cells die. “… more than 200 million [cells] are created in your body every minute. … Old, damaged cells self-destruct by releasing a powerful enzyme that digests the cell from within …”20 We exist in a biological cycle of death and rebirth. The Black War-God flows from the death segment of this cycle. Clearly here is the most dangerous aspect of the War-God Archetype: to bring an end to all. At the same time, it may be said that the Black War-God, in creating ashes, provides opportunity for something new to begin. But what occurs after the ashes does not flow from the Black War-God.

In the decades preceding his death, Freud formulated the rudiments of a theory on Thanatos or “death instinct” Freud positioned Thanatos in opposition to a life force. I fear that Freud lost the thread by linking the death instinct to the Nirvana Principle or passive state of non- excitation. He under stressed the sheer destructiveness of the death instinct to undo the life force. Norman O Brown, in his Life Against Death, explored an issue that Freud overlooked: “… our modification of Freud’s ontology entails the hypothesis that Life and Death coexist in some undifferentiated unity at the animal level and that they could be reunified into some higher harmony in man.”21 Brown saw the unity in the resurrection of the body freed from repression.22 I submit that this unity is experienced biologically as life giving way to death and matter or energy giving way to something new; all is ever in the process of changing.

Before reviewing the characteristics of the Black War-God as projected by Ares, the Greek God of War, it may be of value to contrast the Red War-God with the Black War-God. In this matter, the tale of Parsifal is instructive. In one encounter, Parsifal, the Red Knight-cum-Red War-God fights against a Black Knight-cum-Black War-God. Emma Jung and M-L. von Franz view the Black Knight as the polar opposite to Parsifal. In the story, Parsifal is asked by Red Star Woman to retrieve a white hind. To do so, Parsifal must ask a question: “Vasall, what doest thou here?”23 When the question is voiced, a Black Knight rides out from his tomb and attacks Parsifal who, in turn, counterattacks and drives the Black Knight back to his own tomb. It turns out that the Black Knight had lived with his beloved in a state of complete enchantment.24

Clearly, the Black Knight represents death, or in psychological terms, a stagnant relationship of life force that enchantment attempts to sustain. Parsifal, the champion of life force, threatens to end this enchanted stagnation. The Black Knight attacks to thwart a renewal of Eros. The Black War-God is a regressive force which ever seeks to destroy the emergence of new consciousness and therefore defends the existing stagnation. Parsifal, on the contrary, seeks to establish a new relationship (Eros) and advance the soul’s code or individuation.

Although the Black Knight exhibits many features of the Black War-God, it is now critical to examine the Black War-God himself in order to understand his full nature. Ares, the Greek God of War is described by Robert Graves as follows: “Thracian Ares loves battle for its own sake, and his sister, Eris, is always stirring up occasions for war by the spread of rumor and the inculcation of jealousy. Like her, he never favors one city or party more than another, but fights on this side or that, as inclination prompts him, delighting in the slaughter of men and the sacking of towns. All his fellow-immortals hate him, from Zeus and Hera, downwards, except Eris, and Aphrodite who nurses a perverse passion for him, and greedy Hades who welcomes the bold young fighting men slain in cruel wars.”25

Ares also personifies the power of fertility. Mythically, the War- God kills to spill blood and fertilize the earth which engenders new life. This destructive urge seems to be rooted in the life-death cycle of the dark feminine, the Kali aspect of the Great Mother, that takes life to produce new life. In this regard, Ernest Neumann wrote: “for to wage war meant to take prisoners, whose blood was essential to the fertility both of the gods and the world.”26 Above all, war functions in the service of the Great Mother’s negative elementary character. The terrible female is the hungry earth who devours life and once satiated brings forth new life, devouring it over and over again. But Ares is not concerned with new life but with the spilling of the blood that impregnates Mother Earth.

The four children of Ares by Aphrodite, Demos (Fear/Terror), Eros, Harmonia and Phobos (Panic/Dread), provide an important insight regarding the death-rebirth cycle. Two children, Demos and Phobos attend to their father on the killing battlefield. It may be said that Eros and Harmonia attend to him in the fertile bed chamber. That Eros and Harmonia are his children suggests that death, while an end in itself, is intimately connected with rebirth-life. If there is no death then no rebirth; no crucifixion then no resurrection; no ashes then no rising Phoenix.

The War-God maintained a prominent position in the Olympian pantheon because he played such a crucial role in bringing things to an end. As War-God, he simply destroys what is. He is a butcher of men, sacker of towns, drenched in blood and howling joyfully in the din of mayhem. But as bringer of death he spawns the opportunity for change. From the battlefield he goes to Aphrodite’s bed and there, blood becomes the vehicle for new life.27 However the greatest threat to humanity comes from the “delight in destruction”28 that the Black War-God incites. In the past this delight made war unpredictable and today, makes modern warfare apocalyptic.

7. The Black Mushroom Cloud: Modern Logo of the Black War-God

In Greek mythology, Zeus had withheld fire from humanity. Prometheus decided to steal from the sun a glowing charcoal in order to give humanity fire. For his theft Prometheus paid a heavy price. He was chained to a pillar where a “greedy vulture tore at his liver all day, year in, year out, and there was no end to the pain, because every night (during which Prometheus was exposed to cruel frost and cold) his liver grew whole again.”29

In 1945, humans came to understand that Prometheus had given humanity the nuclear fire of the sun itself. After millenniums of increased consciousness, humanity finally understood the consequences of Prometheus’s gift. Now that we have assumed ownership of nuclear fire, are we willing to experience Prometheus’ fate? Is our seat of the human soul to be perpetually gnawed similar to Prometheus?30 This gnawing was very much in evidence during the Cold War when the Western World learned to live anxiously with a balance of terror created by MAD (Mutually Assured Destruction). With the demise of the Soviet Empire, a reprieve was in the air. Humanity had survived Zeus’s curse, humanity would keep its soul. But after the events of “September 11” we in the West again experienced a vulture gnawing at our soul. Although the United States may possess the greatest arsenal of solar fire, its people feel themselves less secure and exposed as never before. What has happened? Science to a large extent had sacked the beloved Red Mars, discarded Parsifal’s Red-Knight quest and handed the Black War-God nuclear arms. As such, the Black War-God becomes further removed from the rebirth process natural to cyclical change. In a manner of speaking, nuclear weapons, now that they may find their way into the hands of terrorists, have eliminated the purpose for the Defensive, Offensive and Overcoming War-Gods and given the Black War-God supreme power. And in doing so, the evil heart of the Dark God may destroy humanity as he once did before. We fear deep in our souls that even copious blood sacrifice will not appease the Black War-God. We are left rudderless in a spinning world where violence to prevent violence becomes the norm.

The United States dropped two weapons of mass destruction even though it was winning the war. Some military chiefs felt that a naval blockage would have caused Japan to surrender.31 Perhaps the use of the atomic bombs against Japan saved a million lives, but in the long-term, humanity now has to live with the fact that a weapon of mass destruction was used primarily to kill non-combatants and create utter terror. Now, sixty years after Hiroshima, the events of “9/11” forces upon humanity, or at least on North Americans, the long-term consequences of the atomic attacks, namely, waiting in fear for a “returned” nuclear attack. The tragedy is that we in the United States cannot even try to appease the Angry God because as a nation, we do not view our deed as evil. We have not apologized for dropping “Little Boy” and “Fat Man.” And so we proceed unforgiven awaiting retribution. So long as the United States continues to suppress the truth that it used a weapon of mass destruction as a means of terror, it will project a terroristic intent on others. Also, so long as the United States does not apologize for its use of weapons of mass destruction it will be ever ready to accuse others of using weapons of mass destruction. Regretfully, perhaps even causing conditions for the use of such weapons in order to condemn the other (rather than itself).

Meanwhile the Black War-God accepts the fruits of science and goes about its intent to create ashes; perhaps one ash too many will prevent the rise of the proverbial Phoenix. We live with apprehension that this mushroom cloud war-god, in fulfilling its archetypal intent to bring things to an end, in fact, will bring only a Big End because nothing will be left for a new beginning.

8. Conclusion

The Red and Black War-Gods are ever ready to manifest themselves: the former to advance the goals of the life force and the latter to further the designs of the death force. The White and Gray War- Gods, who are aligned with the life force, emerge only in response to certain conditions. Given the destructiveness of modern weapons can we continue to concretize the War-God Archetype as we have done in the past? It is clear that regardless of what may trigger the activation of the War-God Archetype, the destruction that it causes is difficult to contain. Here then is the great danger that nuclear weapons pose. But can humanity free itself of war-making, of its “terrible love for war,” or of the exhilarating meaning that war gives us, and prevent the War-God from discharging the weapons placed in his hands? James Hillman questions whether humanity can contain the War- God. In his A Terrible Love of War, he concluded that: “Wars will go on; they will not cease and they will not change.”32 But he also holds that, “Only a contrite awakening to Christianity’s hypocrisy in regard to peace and war could release a new dispensation, a new reformation to rid monotheistic religion of its roots in war and the roots of war in monotheistic religion.”33 (The theme of religion’s hypocrisy, preaching love but supporting blood shedding wars, is interwoven with the theme of violence and the sacred34 which falls outside the limited scope of this paper.) If there is a beyond war, or at least a way to constrain war-making, Hillman finds it in an aesthetic intensity to serve as an equivalent of war: If war is beyond reason as religious faith is beyond reason, so too, stresses Hillman, there should be the aesthetic parallel to war.

Hillman’s aesthetic parallel suggests Freudian sublimation and William James’ moral equivalent to war.35 But cannot we overcome war directly? If we ever succeed in overcoming war, it is because the archetypal substrata can be projected mythically thus making them assessable to consciousness. Thus if Hillman’s dispensation is to evolve, it will come about not from the elimination of the War-God Archetype but from how we allow the archetypal force to manifest itself among ourselves. In the diploma thesis written at the Jung Institut-Zurich, I wrote on the death of Ares, and of his replacement in Olympus by Heracles, a less unconscious psychical projection.36 I am of the opinion that the reformation of the War-God can occur only with the raising of collective consciousness and more importantly, with individuals who assume responsibility to translate this consciousness into ethical behaviors. Although the Gods do not have to act ethically, humans do. This task is not easy given that the death force is ever working against the rise of consciousness.

We need to keep in mind that the White, Gray and Red aspects of the War-God, even when acting in noble causes, can easily fall under the sway of the Black War-God. Although the War-God Archetype expresses itself in various forms, all forms share one common characteristic, namely, killing. In this context, the aggressive Red War-God, as well as the White and Gray War-Gods, at bottom, become instrumentalities of the death force and are susceptible to being drawn into the Black War-God. According to Chris Hedges, war breeds a deadly attraction that destroys individuals and societies and therefore, should be considered a disease.37 Indeed, the attraction is the powerful awe but poisonous allure of the Black War-God. The life force, when it calls on the killing War-God Archetype to resolve communal affairs, actually calls upon the death force for help. When invoked, the death force may well place a yoke on the life force. Thus, as so often occurs, defense turns into massacre, offense into oppression, and overcoming becomes aggression. But we humans may yet learn to call solely upon the life force and resist calling upon the death force during the short period of our personal life.

Were we to employ the Red War-God Archetype to assist in the struggle to decipher the soul’s code, 38 or to progress along the path of individuation, 39 humans might be able to image a nonviolent God who assists in overcoming the obstacles to pyscho-spiritual growth. The Christ and Buddha nonviolent fight models (which are still in the making and yet to take root) trace the image of a Nonviolent War-God. If such models were to take root, humans might be able to externalize a nonviolent War-God to resolve conflict and wage the struggle against injustice. Such behavior would not mean the end of the War-God but rather, that humans no longer would externalize the death force to bring about violent closures which, in the past, paved the way for new beginnings. Rather, new beginnings would come about by a nonviolent overcoming process and thus allow the death force to follow its own natural path as occurs among animals and plants.

Since we can not eliminate the manifestation of the War-God Archetype even if we wished to do so, and since we need the Red War-God to overcome life’s conflicting paths, humans may come to engage the War-God in the so called Inner War and in so doing, enter into a exhilarating creative process and fashion a nonviolent War-God who, nonetheless, remains very much a War-God. In the final analysis, the raising of consciousness that would accompany the emergence of a nonkilling War-God, 40 rather than the fear of nuclear weapons, may give humanity the wherewithal to resolve conflict nonviolently. Such nonviolent expression of the life force may well keep in check the deadly pull of the death force and thereby, perhaps preclude humanity from unleashing a nuclear laden Black War-God and thereby destroying itself.


  1. Regarding the study of war, the reader is referred to: Eibe-Eibesfeldt, Irenaus, The Biology of Peace and War, New York: Holt, Reinhart and Winston, 1973; Fornari, Franco, The Psychoanalysis of War, Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1975; Freud, Sigmund, Civilization, War and Death, London: Hogarth Press, 1953; Fromm, Erich, Anatomy of Human Destructiveness, New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston; Jung, Carl, “Wotan,” in Essays on Contemporary Events: The Psychology of Nazism, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1989; Kelly, Raymond, Warless Societies and the Origin of War, Ann Arbor: University of Michigan, 2000; Lasswell, H., Psychopathology and Politics, New York: Viking Press, 1960; LeBlanc, Steven, Constant Battles: The Myth of the Peaceful, Noble Savage, New York: St Martin’s Press, 2003; Lopez-Reyes, Ramon, Power and Immortality: Essays in Strategy, War Psychology and War Control, New York: Exposition Press, 1972; Wright, Quincy. A Study of War, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1965.
  2. Girard, Renee. Violence and the Sacred, Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press, 1979; and Young, Dudley, Origins of the Sacred: The Ecstasies of Love and War, New York: St. Martin’s Press; 1991.
  3. Stevens, Antony, Roots of War, New York: Paragon House, 1989. pp. 56-57.
  4. Ibid., p. 56.
  5. Freud, Sigmund, “Why War?” Standard Edition of Complete Works, vol 22.
  6. Stevens, Anthony and John Price, Evolutionary Psychiatry: A New Beginning, London: Routledge, 1996.
  7. Poole, Robert, The Incredible Machine, Washington, D.C.: National Geographic Society, 1986; pp. 169-219; Schindler, Lydia. Understanding the Immune System, National Institutes of Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
  8. For a general works on Saint James see: Starkie, Walter, The Road to Santiago, New York: Dutton, 1957; Mullins, Edwin. The Pilgrimage to Santiago, New York: Taplinger Co., 1974; and Gonzalez-Lopez, Emilio, “The Myth of Saint James and Its Functional Reality,” in Americo Castro and the Meaning of Spanish Civilization, Ed. Jose Barcia. Berkeley: University. Of California Press; and Dunn, Mary and Linda Kay Davidson, eds., The Pilgrim’s Guide to Santiago de Compostela, New York: Italica Press, 1993.
  9. Leon-Portilla, Miguel, The Broken Spears: The Aztec Account of the Conquest of Mexico, Boston: Beacon Press, 1962; p. 45-48.
  10. The Holy Bible (King James Version), Genesis 15:18.
  11. See: Duverger, Christian, El Origen de los Aztecas, Mexico, D.C.: Editorial Grijalbo, 1987; Carrasco, David, City of Sacrifice: The Aztec Empire and the Role of Violence in Civilization, Boston: Beacon Press, 1999.
  12. Caso, Alfonso, El Pueblo Del Sol, Mexico, D.C.: Fondo de Cultura Economica, 1992; pp. 25-33.
  13. Fernandez, Adela, Dioses Prehispanicos de Mexico, Mexico, D.C.: Panorama Editorial, 1992; pp. 95-104.
  14. There are three main sources for the Parsifal myth: Chretien de Troyes (French); Wolfram von Eschenbach (German), and Thomas Malory (English).
  15. Johnson, Robert, He: Understanding Masculine Psychology, New York: Harper & Row, 1989.
  16. Hillman, James. “Mars, Arms, Rams, War: On the Love of War,” in Nuclear Strategy and the Code of the Warrior, Eds: R. Grossinger and L. Hough. Berkeley, California: North Atlantic Books, 1984; p. 255.
  17. Ibid., p. 256.
  18. Jung, Emma, and Marie-Louise von Franz, The Grail Legend, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1970; p. 56.
  19. Ibid., p. 57.
  20. Poole, op cit., p. 222.
  21. Brown, Norman O., Life Against Death: The Psychoanalytic Meaning of History, New York: Vintage Books, 1959; p. 87.
  22. Ibid., p. 307.
  23. Jung, E. op. cit., p. 255.
  24. Ibid., p. 262.
  25. Graves, Robert, The Greek Myths, London: Penguin Books, 1977; p. 73.
  26. Neumann, Erich, The Great Mother, New York: Pantheon Books, 1955; p. 199.
  27. In this context, the masculine urge to destroy is associated with an urge to spill blood as a way of giving birth in imitation of the feminine birthing mystique. See Bettelheim, Bruno, Symbolic Wounds, Glencoe, Il: Free Press, 1954.
  28. Gray, Glenn, The Warriors: Reflections on Men in Battle, New York: Harcourt Brace, 1959; pp. 51-58.
  29. Graves, op. cit., p. 145.
  30. The ancient Babylonians thought the liver was the seat of the soul. Poole, op. cit., p. 83.
  31. Lifton, Robert Jay and Greg Mitchell, Hiroshima in America: Fifty Years of Denial, New York: Grosset/Putnam Book, 1995; p. 141.
  32. Hillman, James, A Terrible Love of War, New York: Penguin Press, 2004; p. 217.
  33. Ibid., p. 216.
  34. See Lopez-Reyes, Ramon, “Violence and the Sacred-Revisited.” Paper presented at the 3rd Festival on Myth and Psyche, Colorado College, July 2003.
  35. James, William, The Will to Believe and Other Essays on Popular Philosophy and Human Immortality, New York: Dover, 1956.
  36. Lopez-Reyes, Ramon, “Ares, the Greek God of War: Ares’ Final Dance.” Unpublished Diploma Thesis, Carl Jung Institut-Zurich, 1980.
  37. Hedges, Chris, War Is A Force That Gives Us Meaning, New York: Public Affairs, 2002.
  38. Hillman, James, The Soul’s Code: In Search of Character and Calling, New York: Warner Books, 1997.
  39. Franz, M.-L. von. “The Process of Individuation,” in Man and His Symbols, Ed. Carl Jung. New York: Dell Books, 1976.
  40. Regarding a non-killing society, see Paige, Glenn, Nonkilling Global Political Science, Xlibris Corporation, 2002.