The Art of Mars

If hate can be elevated into ecstasy, if the breaking of bones and the rending of flesh can be considered a form of art, who could turn such miseries into their vocation?

Named for the grim consistency of its vision and, pun unintended, its execution, The Art of Mars is the title given to a series of baroque, brutal and charnel tableaus staged all throughout recorded history. Sometimes considered the work of a murderous cult, especially where more mundane investigations are able to link up multiple instances across spans of years longer than human lifetimes, no such organisation has been discovered. Indeed, no such organisation could ever be discovered, since all the victims tortured, torn and posed in these tableaus were killed by men possessed by an ageless and apparently immortal consciousness that may or may not once have been human. Absent a single person on whom to lay the blame for these murders, this entity has come to be known only as Mars, though there is no proof to say whether this Mars is the inspiration behind the lineage of the ancient gods of war (from Nergal through to Ares then eventually, somewhat softened, as Mars) or something older that came by the association later.

If it is the latter, it seems likely that it was not an accident; the palette of flesh tones and the sanguine splash of violent bloodletting offering obviously ample opportunities to reference the red planet, and the iconography of wolves often features prominently within Mars’ work. Though many aspects of The Art of Mars have changed as cultural and historical circumstances have demanded, both his canvas and signatures have remained constant and consistent; even in his favouring a spear as a brush. The tableaus themselves range in size and complexity, a single victim in supplication beside a magic circle marked out in their own intestines or a dozen eyeless children with bloodied maws baying silently around the partially eaten remains of an old woman, others too grim to recount… The endless invention in the varieties of grotesquery that Mars has created - I have read perhaps a few hundred of the tens of thousands that exist in legend through to coroners’ reports - speak of a gleeful appetite to explore every possible permutation of violence, of the violation of flesh.

In so far as we can see The Art of Mars standing as a testament to the wars to which Mars himself is a patron, the lie of a just or honourable war is made tangible in his choice of victims: There is no equity in the power between those who wage war and those who bear the brunt of its costs, it preys on those whom societies have already marked out as expendable, as expedient scapegoats on whom to lay the blame for its own failings. It is not for nothing that those who fall to Mars’ spear are culled disproportionately from minority and marginalised communities, that the cowardly and craven pushbacks against the march towards a fairer future find a fellow in the ugliness of an immortal violence that finds it easier or more convenient to possess those already full of hate. One known former host, who went on to carry out several more murders under his own auspices, even said that the only thing worse than being forced to carry out Mars’ atrocities was discovering how much he enjoyed it.

Somewhat unique in consciously remembering his time in Mars’ thrall, or at least in speaking of it, he talked about missing the spear and how, as Mars, it was always there when he reached for it - conjured into his hand for the killing. Most hosts only retain echoes of the things they have done, a deep and lasting sickness and guilt as their conscious mind walls off the gory memories in an attempt to protect itself. This defence is far from certain though, most will live with nightmares and night terrors as everything they have seen and done claws to break through those walls. The best-case scenario is a life plagued with bad dreams and depressive episodes, and the incidences of drug and alcohol dependency are disproportionately high (even for those who have experienced the most extreme traumas). One way or another, no-one walks away unscathed from their encounter with Mars and his work.

Whatever need drives Mars to possess a host in order to carry out his work, it is not as a disguise. Whether it is a product of his absolute and unbridled confidence, or simply that a mortal form cannot contain whatever energies or forces comprise his true essence, Mars has worn a thousand faces - a million faces - through which he has remained entirely and instantly recognisable by the livid fires of hatred that burn inside him. Once one has laid eyes on his great and terrible workings, or even once one has heard tell of them, Mars’ nature cuts through whichever visage he wears even as he flits from one potential host to another. Mars, it seems, is drawn to moments of moral weakness, of untempered rage, wherein he can cleave to a soul and fan the embers of hate into an inferno. More often he is there and gone in the slightest fractions of a second, an all-too-human inhumanity that presents in a dead-eyed sneer as features twist to show the underlying cruelty and contempt for life.

Many who have studied The Art of Mars, perhaps haunted by what they know, even claim to have seen his features on their own faces; mirrors reflecting a demonic version of the self they recognise in the moment just before the lights go out. Others argue that just the knowledge of Mars’ being is somehow sympathetic, that when we recognise his existence he becomes aware of ours. They say that the likelihood of seeing his aspect within ourselves is a taunt, a reminder of our own frailty and fallibility, a threat to return to us at our lowest ebb and to take control of us. There exists in almost every person who has lived the potential for terrible horrors and, while The Art of Mars accounts for an infinitesimal drop in the ocean of the evil that men do, the chance that he could use our hands and teeth to rend flesh - to use our eyes to survey his works - is something we must guard against, constantly.

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