|Thor vs. the Fire Trolls, Howard David Johnson|
Well, it produces some rather entertaining gods. Ares very kindly volunteered to be the butt monkey for the entire Greek pantheon. Thor's tempers are quite literally the stuff of legend. Durga, created to defend the world from a rampaging demon, trounces Mahishasura in what had to be the best show ever seen on the face of the earth. Nothing draws the eye quite like a war god out to make a point.
The really militant cultures understandably put the most thought into their war gods. Ares might get trapped in a jug and run screaming from the plain of Troy, but he does also have Terror and Fear pulling his chariot. And his affair with Aphrodite points up the seductive appeal of war in a culture based on fighting. Eighteen-armed Durga also represents the force of compassion; joined with fierce fighting energy, her very existence makes a fascinating argument for humanity in warfare. The Mithras cult, a favorite of Roman soldiers, provided a forum for sworn brotherhood; the god's very name might come from the Sanskrit word mitra, meaning friendship. Hachiman isn't just an ancient Japanese war god, he's the patron and teacher of warriors, as well as the particular god of an entire clan. These aren't just creatures of bloodlust - they're complicated deities with lots of responsibilities, both in their stories and symbolically.
|Inanna, Luis Royo|
In short, we're ambivalent about war. Even in cultures that glorify strife and battle, war gods come with a mitigating circumstance built into their worship. You can pray to Thor as a thunder god, not just as a death-dealer, and if it's glory you're after, you might be better off talking to Tyr or Odin anyway. Nobody is quite easy with letting a god represent only the savagery of the field.
So what creates this very real concern with war? We're not afraid of glorifying it; if we were, we wouldn't be the kind of life form that creates war gods. It could just be a storyteller's reluctance to let a perfectly good god be one-use-only. It's easy to make the leap from thunder god to war god, from sexually voracious to aggressively combative. If Inanna stories are popular, why not expand her mythos?
It could also be the up-close nature of these cultures' relation to war.
|The Battle on the Ice, Boris Olshansky|
Humans know it's easy to lose control when emotions are running high. But we want our gods to be better than us. We want there to be a reason to need their help. It makes sense, for whatever reason, that we'd create war gods with other things on their minds. If they can maintain control, maybe they can show us how. If they could devote themselves to other aspects of life, maybe ancient worshippers who didn't like the people that they became in war could hold out hope that there was still a better side to themselves. Either way, it shows us that even in highly war-based cultures, people still wanted their gods to have something to fight for.