After the conclusion of the last glaciation, about 12.000 years ago, our ancestors gradually became sedentary and formed throughout Europe tribal societies based on the concept of blood and soil.
“It was customary of our ancestors that the king should also be pontiff and priest”.
All these archaic societies were ruled by a Sacred King – a symbolic incarnation of the Sky, of the Sun and of the metaphysical principle defined with the term Being – and a Sacred Queen – a symbolic incarnation of the Earth, of the Moon and of the metaphysical principle defined with the term Becoming.
“I am that, you are this, this is you, that is me – I am the sky, you the earth”.
Similar examples can be found, at the level of folklore, in the traditional European fairy tales and celebrations where a sleeping virgin is awakened by the kiss of a prince, act that symbolizes the awakening of Nature in Spring when the rays of the Sun kiss and fecundate the Earth.
Sacred King and Sacred Queen, together, represented a complementary duality and during their hierogamy (“sacred marriage”) occurred the symbolic conjunction between the Sky God or Sun God and the Earth Goddess or Moon Goddess, i.e. the metaphysical coincidence of opposites.
The Sacred King (in relation to its sacredness we can remember that in archaic Rome the function of pontifex maximus was still a prerogative of kings) was especially associated with the Sun (the monarchical title “Highness” referred to the sovereigns until recent times was a precise reference to the height of the Sun in the celestial vault) and consequently he embodied the power of the celestial body that illuminates the world and enables all life on our planet: an example of this symbolic function can be found in the knight Gawain of the Arthurian cycle, whose strength continues to increase from dawn to noon to then gradually decrease until sunset: just like the strength of the Sun during its various daily phases.
That’s why in the archaic societies was customary the prohibition to look the Sacred King in the face and in his presence all had to kneel and stare at the ground: it is not possible to stare at the Sun without risking of becoming blind.
The fact that the very existence of the Sacred King was identified with the annual apparent path of the Sun in the celestial vault explains the reason why he was subject to a ritual killing, real or symbolic, at the end of his annual function, on the day of the Winter Solstice, when the Sun temporarily dies: only after three days his successor, previously selected, was crowned, raised to royal dignity and celebrated.
The golden crown symbolizes the power of the solar rays:
Examples of ritual death of the Sacred King can be found in the myths concerning Achilles and Krishna: they both die after having been simbolically hit at the heel by an arrow, in their only vulnerable point, the tendon of the foot, part of the body that had the same symbolic function of the femur since the tendons allow the muscular movement of the body, synonymous with life.
Over time every archaic society altered the conclusion of the Sacred King’s annual function and the ancestral tradition manifested itself in new forms: in some cases the Sacred King staged an apparent death and isolated himself in a symbolic grave from which he would rise again following the ritual death of a substitute that had obtained the divine role during that last day of kingship; in other cases a symbolic animal was killed in place of the Sacred King; in other cases a wooden effigy that represented the Sacred King was torn down. In these scenarios the Sacred King in charge could confirm his role or hand it down at the end of a selective competition, but in the long run he refused to be killed or replaced and thanks to his authority and the support of his faithful managed to extend his divine mandate indefinitely, until death, and this particular deviation from the original procedure influenced and shaped considerably the institution of kingship during Antiquity and the Middle Ages.
In the most archaic societies both the Sacred King and Sacred Queen were annually selected (a tradition whose vestiges could still be found at the times of the Roman Republic, when two Consuls were elected together each year): these divine roles were embodied by those who proved their superiority in various annual competitions held to determine the qualities and peculiarities, male and female, of the candidates. In this regard we can remember the ancient Olympic Games, that consisted originally in religious ceremonies – over time degenerated into simple sport events without any higher meaning and purpose – having the purpose to annually select, by means of a footrace between young women, the one who would have symbolically incarnated Hera, the Earth Goddess, and, by means of a footrace between young men, the one who would have symbolically incarnated Zeus (whose name preserves the Sanskrit root div- [“day, brightness”]), the Sky God.
Every year the Sacred Queen and Sacred King had to confirm their role or bestow kingship to those who proved to be, inevitably over time, more worthy of it: hence the immortality and eternal youth of the deities.
“The King is dead, long live the King!”