Over at the Hellenismos.us, forum where I post actively (Yes, yes, I know. But it really is a thoughtful, dedicated, and well-meaning group of folks), a teenage girl was venting her frustration about having a poor opinion of Aphrodite and Zeus. Because of this, she is struggling with honoring the entire Dodecatheon. I answered her struggle as follows.
I've had this problem also with Poseidon and Ares. I solved it by making a special effort to learn as much as I could about each of them and by honoring them for a month each as if they were my "favorites". This meant really looking at their myths, their epitaphs, and their spheres of influence, and making daily offerings to them.I'm reposting this information here as, despite my rationalizations to the contrary, I'm still having personal internal conflict with Ares. There are many who would state that as long as I'm following proper piety and orthopraxy it doesn't matter if I dislike Ares. I myself rationalized that "it is not important to have excellent relationships with all of the Gods. It is only necessary to not disrespect them or neglect honoring them." But in truth I am too much of a mystic to really believe that. Personal relationships with the Gods is what brought me to Hellenismos in the first place. To have a lack of respect for one of the major Gods of the pantheon bothers me. I find myself even looking to Zeus's example for permission to dislike Ares so. Zeus himself claimed that he hated Ares.
Eventually I found things about them both that I respected and eventually even loved. For example, Poseidon is the Lord of the Sea and I visit St. Augustine, FL every year -- I love it there and plan to live there someday -- to enjoy the ocean. Now when I think of Poseidon I think of how much joy I get from watching the waves break along the coast.
In cases like Aphrodite and Zeus you are dealing with two entities that each have A LOT of things attributed to them beyond just the immediate interpretation that you'd get from most myths. To quote Laurelei, Aphrodite is not a "bimbo". In addition to being the personification of love, beauty, grace, and sensuality she was also a war goddess, (Aphrodite Area) the Lady of the tombs (Aphrodite Epitymbria), the star Goddess (Aphrodite Asteria), the dove of peace (Aphrodite Eirene), the dark Goddess (Aphrodite Melaina/Skotia), the averter of unlawful desires (Aphrodite Apostrophia), and the lover of laughter (Aphrodite Philomedes). She is thought to be an imported variant of the mighty Sumerian queen of heaven, Inanna. Those who reduce her to a simpering maid with no head for battle *cough* Homer *cough* do her a great disservice.
I'm waxing rather long on Aphrodite. I'll admit that I'm partial to her. My lovely Laurelei literally wrote the book on the revival of her worship: http://www.asteriabooks.com/catalog/aphrodites-priestess.html
I know that Zeus is painted in the myths as a philander at best and a rapist at worst. To those raised in an Abrahamic faith he can seem like little more than a judgmental sky-father. But he is more, also. He is the God of freedom (Zeus Elutherios) the great councilor (Zeus Euboulos), the divine child (Zeus Hersos) who saved his siblings and fathered the Gods you hold most dear, the God of rejoicing (Zeus Kharmon), the God of the people (Zeus Laoites), the God who was fufilled (Teleios) by his marriage to Hera (Zeus Heraios). Rather than solely the distant airy Lord of storms, He was an earthly God (Zeus Khthonios) who roamed groves of white poplar (Zeus Leucaeus) and forests of dark oak (Zeus Scotitas). He could be raging (Zeus Labrandeus) and wolfish (Zeus Lykaios) or gentle (Zeus Meilichios) and friendly (Zeus Philios). Zeus is the Theos Agathus, literally the Good God.
My advice to you is to learn all that you can of these Gods and then, with a humble heart and an open mind, ask them how they can best fit into your life. You are not courting them to gain the acceptance of the "in crowd". You are asking them to share their many blessings with you in your life. These blessings extend far beyond simply "love" from Aphrodite or "rulership" from Zeus. Open your mind and heart to the Olympians and they will receive you gladly.
Mind you, this is still an ongoing process, learning about the Gods, honoring them, and developing good relationships with each of them. I still struggle with Ares from time to time. I am a non-confrontational creature by nature. I see little good in war or conflict. It is hard for me to honor the "Destroyer of Men", the "Bloody", "Violent", "Terrible" "Skin-piercing" "Murderer". So, my personal understanding of Ares has come through other means. He is called "the one who the women feast", "the bountiful" and "the one who rallies". Ares (his name is literally war) can never be completely separated from the concept of battle, but I have come to accept that the conflict he brings is useful. I see him as a Kali sort of figure, one who destroys that creation may happen. He is also someone who it is useful to have on my side, as I am no warrior.
Also remember, it is not important to have excellent relationships with all of the Gods. It is only necessary to not disrespect them or neglect honoring them.
'To me you are the most hateful of all the gods who hold Olympus. Forever quarreling is dear to your heart, wars and battles." - Homer, Iliad 5.699I addition of murder, savagery, cowardice, war, strife, blood, and mutilation, Ares is also associated with human sacrifice. He is the rival of Hephaestus, who I hold very dear, and is openly despised by my dearest Athena. Were it not for Aphrodite's relationship with him I believe I would cut my losses and discount him altogether. Yet, she loves the war-hungry God for reasons I don't completely understand.
I would not speak ill of Ares, mind you. I have a grudging respect for him as a God, if nothing else, and I am not one to be impious. But he vexes me. How should I cultivate a relationship with a God who is so alien to my own spirit?