Sacred Kingship

“In my lineage there is the majesty of kings, who excel in power among men, and the sacredness of the gods, who have the power of kings in their hands”.

-Julius Caesar

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.

All these archaic societies were ruled by a Sacred King – a living symbol of the Sky, of the Sun and of the metaphysical principle defined with the term Being – and a Sacred Queen – a living symbol of the Earth, of the Moon and of the metaphysical principle defined with the term Becoming. Related examples can be found, at the level of folklore, in the traditional European fairy tales and celebrations where a sleeping maiden is awakened by the kiss of a prince, an act that symbolizes the awakening of Nature in Spring, when the rays of the Sun kisses and fecundate the Earth.

Sleeping Beauty:
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Sacred King and Sacred Queen, together, represented a complementary duality, and during their symbolic wedding occurred the sacred union between the Sky God/Sun God and the Earth Goddess/Moon Goddess, i.e. the metaphysical conjunction of the opposites.

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The Sacred King was especially associated with the Sun and consequently he embodied the power of the celestial body that illuminates the world and gives life: an example of such an archetypal figure can be found in the Arthurian Cycle, where the strenght of the knight Gawain continues to increase from dawn to noon, to then gradually decrease until sunset: just like the strenght of the Sun in its various phases.

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That’s the reason why in the archaic societies was customary the prohibition to look the Sacred King in the face, in the same way as it isn’t possible to stare at the Sun without risking of becoming blind, and in his presence all had to kneel and stare at the ground.

The fact that the very existence of the Sacred King was identified with the annual path of the Sun in the Sky explains why he was subject to a ritual killing at the end of his annual function, on the day of the Winter Solstice, when the Sun dies and is reborn at the same time: only then his successor, previously selected, was crowned, raised to royal dignity and celebrated.

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Examples of ritual death of the Sacred King can be found in the myths about Achilles and Krishna: they both die after having been hit at the heel by an arrow (poisoned in the actual ritual), in their only vulnerable spot, the tendon of the foot, part of the body that has the same symbolic meaning of the femur, because the tendons allow the muscular movement of the body, i.e. they allow life. The death of Achilles and Krishna is concretely and symbolically associated with a part of the human body that was synonymous of life (but they will come back to life when their femur will be recovered by a divine child that will enter in their grave).

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Over the course of time every archaic society altered, for various reasons, 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, isolating himself in a symbolic grave, while a substitute obtained his divine role during that last day of reign, to then be ritually killed: at that point the real Sacred King returned to life from his symbolic grave; in other cases a totemic animal took the place of the Sacred King on the sacrificial altar; in other cases was torn down a wood effigy that represented the Sacred King; in these three scenarios the Sacred King in charge could confirm his role or give it up in the course of a selective competition. Eventually the Sacred King simply refused to be killed or replaced, and thanks to his authority, his power and the support of his faithful, managed to extend his divine mandate indefinitely, until his death, whether natural or not, and this particular deviation from the original procedure influenced and molded considerably the institution of kingship during Antiquity and the Middle Ages.

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In the most archaic societies both the Sacred King and the 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 assigned to those who proved to be superior in various annual competitions able to determine the strenght, beauty, health, wisdom, skills and, generally speaking, the male and female qualities and peculiarities of the candidates. In this context we can remember the Ancient Olympic Games, that consisted originally in religious ceremonies (over time degenerated into simple sport events without any higher meaning) having the purpose to annually select – through a footrace between young women – the one who would symbolically incarnate Hera (the Earth Goddess, i.e. the Sacred Queen) and – through a footrace between young men – the one who would symbolically incarnate Zeus (the Sky God, i.e. the Sacred King): every year the Sacred Queen and the Sacred King had to confirm their role or pass the baton to those who proved to be more worthy.

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Things changed with the subsequent distinction in matriarchal and patriarchal societies:

In the matriarchal societies the first daughter of the Queen was a Princess who inherited the title at birth, while her future groom (and future King, after spending some time as a Prince) was selected among men from other tribes or lands; in these societies the most ambitious sons of the King and the Queen will go to other lands in order to marry a Princess or a Queen and become themselves Kings (a recurring pattern in myths [some examples: the chariot race between Pelops and Oenomaus to win the hand of Hippodamia and the archery competition between Odysseus and the Proci to win the hand of Penelope] and fairy tales).

Odysseus during the archery competition against the Proci:
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In the patriarchal socities the first son of the King was a Prince who inherited the title at birth, while his future bride (and future Queen, after spending some time as a Princess) was chosen/selected among young girls from other tribes or lands (a recurring pattern in myths [an example: the judgement of Paris to decide which goddess was the most beautiful between Aphrodite, Hera and Athena] and fairy tales).

The Judgement of Paris:
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In these societies the King and the Queen will try to marry their daughters with Princes or Kings from other tribes or lands, in order to tie them to a royal bloodline but often also to stipulate alliances or to obtain advantages of other sort.

“The King is dead, long live the King!”

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About Zeus and Typhon

Varg Vikernes has made a video where he talks about the femur (for our ancestors a symbol of movement and thus of the life force) in relation to the prehistoric burial mounds and the initiatory ritual of rebirth that took place inside them. In this article I will try to unveil the symbolic relation between these archaeological finds and the myth of the battle between Zeus and Typhon.

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Typhon was a monstrous creature described in different ways by the various ancient sources, but generally speaking he was a gigantic winged monster with an at least partially serpentine shape.

Typhon:
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Without venturing into what would be a complicated analysis, I can simplify by saying that for me Typhon is a symbolic incarnation of Death. In the mythical tale Zeus figths with Typhon and tries to kill him, but the monster manages to sever the tendons of Zeus’s hands and feet, therefore immobilizing the god. The key in this context is to understand that the tendons fulfill the same symbolic function of the femur in relation to the ability to move and to the life force of an individual: the tendons perform in the myth the same role that the femur performs in the ritual. Zeus is immobilized, alive but at the same time symbolically dead, awaiting his rebirth (i.e. awaiting to regain the ability to move), exactly like the divine ancestor inside the burial mound.

It will not surprise the fact that at that point Typhon will bring Zeus inside a cave (i.e. the burial mound), where he will hide the tendons of the god inside a bear’s skin (an extremely archaic symbolism that comes directly from the primordial Bear Cult practiced by the Neanderthals long before the end of the last Ice Age). The cave (i.e. the womb of the earth) is the Korykion Antron (from korykos, “knapsack”) and is protected by the dragoness Delphyne (from delphys, “womb”).

The Korykion Antron:
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The korykos (“knapsack”):
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But finally Hermes (the Greek word hermaion defined both a fortunate man and a pile of stones [perhaps originally in reference to the dolmens, i.e. the burial mounds?]) manages to break into che cave (he is a psychopomp god with the privilege of being able to access and return freely from the realm of death) and to recover the precious tendons: in this way Zeus regains the ability to move (i.e. he returns to life after an apparent and symbolic death) and defeats Typhon (i.e. Death) once and for all; the divine child (i.e. Hermes/Odin) has found the femur of his ancestor inside the mound, and by means of an initiatory ritual has reached a superior and transcendent spiritual stage: he remembers and is aware of his previous existences and consciences, which now are, at the same time, distinct and unified realities in the shape of this reborn divine being.

Related post: He who makes the Sky tremble

Some Cases of Burial Mounds (Part 3 of 3)

Troy, also called Ilion, is both an ancient historical city and a mythical city, precisely the theater of the Trojan War in the Iliad. However, the Troy of the renowned epic poem is a symbolical city and it represents the burial mound, i.e. the realm of death.

Since ancient times the name “Troy” has been associated with labyrinths, and the prehistoric European symbol of the labyrinth is a figure that symbolizes the grave of the honourable ancestor. For example, several turf mazes (structures shaped like a labyrinth) in England were named “Troy”, “Troy Town”, “The City of Troy” or “The Walls of Troy”. Caerdroia (“City of Troy”) is the Welsh name for Troy and in medieval times a Caerdroia was a turf maze. Several similar turf mazes in Scandinavia have names such as Trojaborg, Trojaburg, Trojborg, Tröborg and Trojienborg, which can all be translated as “City of Troy”.

It follows that the mythological Troy is closely connected to the prehistoric labyrinth/burial mound/realm of death.

Comparison between the representation of a Troy Town and a typical burial mound seen from above:
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Therefoe the Iliad describes the entry in the burial mound/realm of death (i.e. Troy), and the Achaeans fail to breach the walls of the city until they hide themselves inside the Trojan Horse. The horse is a chthonic animal and the dead were often buried with their best horse: a horse would surely gained access inside the grave (i.e. Troy). So the Achaens can pass through the gates of Troy only if “accompanied” by the Trojan Horse (equivalently to the Argonauts that could reach Colchis only by means of the ship Argo, that in terms of symbolic function is identical to the Trojan Horse), similarly to Odin that can enter in Hel only if “accompanied” by Sleipnir, his steed. The ritual explained through these myths is the one of the child that enters the prehistoric cave to accomplish the initiation ritual, and walks inside it “accompanied” – among other animals – by the horses portrayed in the cave paintings.

Prehistoric cave paintings portraying horses:
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In the Iliad, the city of Troy represents the burial mound/cave in which took place the initiatory ritual of rebirth. Helen, Andromache and Hecuba are three aspects of the sorceress/priestess who welcomed the initiate in the deeper area of the burial mound, they are the three Moirai (“moira” means “phase”) who preside over destiny and should be seen – respectively as girl, wife and crone – as a tripartite manifestation of a unique figure, similarly to the waxing moon, full moon and waning moon: three aspects of the same entity. Together they symbolize the eternal cycles of death and rebirth that occur in all the powers of the Universe, as in heaven so on earth.

Helen of Troy:
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In the poem the weapons and armor are an essential part of the idenitity of a hero, and the fact that in the poem is recurrent the act of taking possession of the weapons and armor of the defeated enemy to gain honour – especially when they belong to a strong, glorious and honourable enemy – should be compared to the initiated child that inherits the weapons (along with other objects) of his honourable ancestor, at the conclusion of the initiation/rebirth ritual inside the burial mound.

Under this point of view, the Achaens are the descendants/new generations while the Trojans are their ancestors.

At a certain point of the poem, Achilles reveals the prophecy that hangs over him:

“My mother, Thetis with silver feet, speaks to me about two destinies which lead me to death: if I remain here to fight around the walls of Troy, I will no longer return but eternal will be my glory; if instead I return home, in the fatherland, for me there will be no glory, but I will have long life, it will not reach me soon the destiny of death”.

-Achilles to Odisseus in the Iliad

The meaning of this sort of omen is this: if Achilles (as previously understood, the heroes of the mythologies should be seen, in certain cases, as children/young boys) will not go inside the burial mound/reign of the dead to face the initiation ritual, his current self will remain as it is, incomplete, formless and without a definite identity, until his natural death, and he will live without honour and glory, excluded from the cycle of rebirths inside the ancestry. If instead Achilles will face the initiation ritual, then his current self will die soon after (when he enters the burial mound, since only the dead can access it), only to be reborn later as one of his ancestors (through the emergence of the memory of the blood, i.e. the memory of his previous lives), in this way obtaining the eternal honour and glory of the ancestry.

The Trojan War lasts nine years and ends during the tenth: nine months of pregnancy and finally the birth (i.e. rebirth/reincarnation at the end of the initiation ritual)…

The triumph of Achilles after defeating Hector:
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***

Perseus is one of the greatest Greek heroes, famous for having beheaded the Gorgon Medusa: to accomplish this feat he first sought out the three Graeae, old sisters who shared only one eye and one tooth among them, lived in a cave from which neither the Sun nor the Moon could be seen (i.e. the burial mound) and were described as “virgins similar to swans” (i.e. dressed in white).

The Graeae and the Moirai of the Greeks are equivalent figures, as well as the Parcae of the Romans and the Norns of the Nordics: they are the Sorceresses who welcomed, inside the burial mound, the candidate to the initiation, and are all groups of three woman who preside over destiny, in the sense that they decide what will be, on the metaphysical plane, the destiny of an individual.

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They are related with the color white and therefore with the swan: in addition to what we have already learned, in this context, about the Graeae, we know that the Moirai are described as “dressed in white”, while the Norns live near Urðarbrunnr (“Well [i.e. the burial mound] of Urðr”, i.e. “Well of Destiny”), where they establish the fate of men; near this well live two swans from which descended the race of birds who bear this name. The Sirens of the Greek mythology are another group of three women with the same characteristics: they are Parthenope (“the virgin”), Leucosia (“the white”) and Ligeia (“the singing”). Again in the Norse mythology we find the valkyries (“the ones who chose the fallen”) Svanhvit (“white as a swan”), who offers a sword to Ragnarr and urges him to accomplish great deeds, and Alvitr (“omniscient”), her sister, which spin the linen after having laid their “shape of swan”; another relevant valkyrie in this context is Alruna (from Proto Germanic *aliruna, composed by runa [“secret”] and the prefix -ali): omniscience and runes (i.e. secret metaphysical knowledge), spinning and the color white are always specific attributes of these figures that we find in the European mythologies. The color white was related with the dead, because they were buried with white clothes, their dead bodies became quickly very pale, and they were purified by death (white being also the color of purity and purification): to get access and remain inside the burial mound the Graeae/Moirai/Parcae/Norns had to be dressed in white, as well as the dead and to be symbolically dead. The swan was seen as a chtonic and psychopomp animal, because it is completely white and lives in the waters (purifying and regenerator element that symbolizes the amniotic fluid), at times indicated in the European mythologies as portals or passages to reach the realm of death, and it is also a migratory bird, the migration being a periodic and regular movement linked to the alternation of the seasons and associated with the cycles of death and rebirth.

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Now let’s go back to Perseus: he steals the eye of the Graeae and, in exchange for it, forces them to reveal the way to kill Medusa and thus the whereabouts of the objects needed for that purpose: the winged sandals (because Perseus is – exactly like Hermes – the divine child/bee who enters the burial mound/beehive), the helm of invisibility (another object that allows access to the burial mound, since invisibility is synonymous with death), the harpe sword, the mirrored shield and the knapsack to safely contain Medusa’s head (i.e. the valuables with which was buried the honourable ancestor).

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We find a similar situation in the Norse mythology, when Odinn is forced to leave one of his eyes as a pledge in Mímisbrunnr (“well [a symbol of the burial mound] of memory”), in exchange for the possibility to drink the sacred water in it contained. We can better understand these mythological episodes when we know that the candidates for the initiation could access to the relam of death (the burial mound) exclusively if they brought with them the body of a dead, because only the dead had the right to enter that sacred place; the children had to possess and show a mistletoe (an evergreen plant, thus symbol of immortality) the dead Sun (i.e. Apollo/Baldr) at the time of the cold season: the gates opened…

The eye of Odinn and the eye of the Graeae stolen by Perseus hide precisely this symbolism, because the Sun is the eye of the Sky (Homer describes the Sun as “the all-seeing eye of Zeus”, in the Egyptian mythology the Sun is the eye of Ra, in the Hindu mythology Surya [“the supreme light”] is the eye of Varuna, in the Persian mythology the Sun is the eye of Ahura Mazda, in the Japanese mythology Amaterasu – the goddess of the Sun – is born from the eye of Izanagi, the Sun is the eye of the Indo-Iranian god Mitra). Both Odinn and Perseus use the mistletoe bough to obtain a metaphysical wisdom through the remembrance of their previous lives: one by means of the vision of the valuables he possessed in a previous life, the other by means of the sacred liquid of memory.

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Finally, Perseus finds and beheads Medusa, avoiding her gaze that turned people to stone, by looking at her reflection on the mirrored shield. Medusa’s head, with snakes instead of hairs and whose eyes had the power to petrify every living creature (an equivalent figure is the Basilisk, a medieval legendary snake with the ability to petrify what meets its gaze), symbolizes the placenta, which calcify after a certain time, causing the death and calcification of the child, who literally becomes stone if he stays too long in the womb.

Medusa’s head and the placenta:
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The beheading of Medusa symbolizes the sharp and violent severing of the bond between the reborn divine child and the maternal phase of existence, i.e. the severing of the placenta. At that point the initiate must get out as soon as possible from the burial mound (the womb of the earth), without looking back, fatal action that would compromise the entire metaphysical and initiatory process!

“Perseus with the head of Medusa”, masterpiece of Benvenuto Cellini:
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Part 1: Some Cases of Burial Mounds (Part 1 of 3)
Part 2: Some Cases of Burial Mounds (Part 2 of 3)

Thirst for Immortality

Previously we have clarified that the concept of “Tree of Life” (as well as any other axis mundi) is a metaphoric image that refers to the placenta. Starting from this premise it is easy to understand how the “drink of immortality” that, in various mythologies, is obtained from the aforementioned tree is nothing but the liquid nourishment (a real “liquid of life”) that from the placenta reaches the fetus by means of the umbilical cord: let’s see some examples.

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In the Vedas and in the Upanishads the Soma/Amrita is a juice that drips from the Tree of Life (remaining in the Indian context I can add that the Buddha achieved the metaphysical awakening [of the memories of his previous lives] under the Tree of Life) that is believed to grow in the mountains or in the “navel of the earth” (the concepts of “sacred/cosmic moutain” and “navel of the earth/world” are metaphors that refer to the burial mound, i.e. the realm of the dead), juice capable of conferring immortality to those who drink it: the etymology of the name is similar to that of the Ambrosia and means “immortality”. In the ancient Persian mythology we find the Haoma, another drink that bestows immortality, provided in this case too by a Tree of Life that grows in the mountains.

Note: when we talk about immortality, we are not referring to the indefinite extension in time of an individual biological existence, without the occurence of changes in the state of the being. We refer instead to the possibility that, through a strong emotional shock in the context of an initiatory ritual of rebirth and through an induced awakening of the memory of the blood, the achievement of a transcendental state could bring out into the consciousness of a young man the memory and awareness of his previous existences.

In the Greek mythology the Ambrosia and the Nectar are both sometimes the food or the drink that enable the gods to be immortals and perennially young: many have suggested that these mythical foods may be identified with honey or mead (i.e. fermented honey), due to the fact that ancient sources define honey as the first and primordial nourishment of the gods, while mead was known in antiquity as the beverage of the gods. In my opinion this connection makes sense, even more so when we know that the child who went inside the burial mound (thus becoming a fetus inside the womb of the earth) to accomplish the rebirth ritual carried with him some honey to appease the sorceress/priestess (primordially the she-bear) inside the grave, and he himself had to eat some of that honey: the (symbolical) nourishment of the fetus inside the womb…

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To reinforce what we have just stated we can refer to the Norse mythology, where the dew that covers the leaves of the yew Yggdrasill (yes, some ancient sources use the term barr [“needle-shaped leaf”] in relation to its leaves, furthermore the yew is the tree that more than any other can symbolize the placenta, because in it grow red berries that recall the placenta’s red bubbles full of nutritious blood), in poetic language called “mead tree”, has the taste of honey and is compared to mead. Bees are nourished by Yggdrasill’s leaves and, as suggested in a previous article, the child who faced the initiatory ritual was symbolically seen as a bee.

The leaves and berries of the yew:
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In the Völsunga Saga is told that in the hall of Völsung’s house there was a big apple tree (the apples hide the same symbolism described above in relation to the red berries of the yew, they are the source of the “drink of immortality”), whose branches protruded from the roof: this tree was called Barnstokkr (“children’s trunk”, i.e. the placenta).

Barnstokkr and an apple tree:
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The Indo-Iranian god Mitra was born from a rock (“petra genitrix“, originally the burial mound and during classical antiquity the underground temple/cave called Mithraeum: both symbols of the womb) surrounded by the serpent Ouroboros (i.e. the umbilical cord), near a sacred spring (i.e. the amniotic fluid and/or the liquid nourishment of the placenta) and under a sacred tree (i.e. the placenta).

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Now, why not throw into the fray a brief insight into the symbolism of the horn, which in certain cases represents the umbilical cord? First, the Cornucopia (“horn of plenty”), that has a very explicit symbolism in relation to the nourishment (of the fetus in the womb).

The cornucopia:
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Then the Sigrdrífumál, where Sigrdrífa after being awakened offers to Sigurðr the minnisveig, the “drink of memory” (i.e. the memory of previous lives), a horn (i.e. the umbilical cord) full of mead (whose symbolism, in this context, we have already examined earlier). Lastly, the figure of Mímir (“memory” [of the previous lives]), the possessor of Mímisbrunnr (“well [a symbol of the womb] of memory”, located beneath one of the three roots of Yggdrasill): every morning, using the horn Gjallarhorn, he drinks the precious and sacred liquid (mead, according to the Völuspá) contained in the well of wisdom (i.e. of memory). Even Odin managed to get the chance to drink a sip of that liquid.

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I conclude my dissertation with the Grail (or Holy Grail if you prefer), traditionally known as a cup/chalice whose content has vivifying and healing virtues: are you thinking what I am thinking? The cup/chalice and the tree have a very similar shape and, taking into consideration the virtues of the Grail, we can assume that this important subject of the Arthurian literature symbolizes the placenta and its life-giving liquid nourishment.

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It should also be noted that in certain late medieval sources the Grail is called Sangréal: in Old French, san graal or san gréal means “holy grail” and sang réal means “royal blood”; surely the blood full of nutrients contained in the placenta (on which it feeds the fetus) is “royal” and “divine”, not an ordinary one. In this context will be good to remember that for our ancestors wine was a symbol of blood, specifically in reference to what we have just explained about the function of the blood contained in the placenta: that’s the reason why Odin, the symbolical fetus, only needs wine to feed himself.

Now you will be able to see with different eyes the Christian rite of the Eucharist, during which a mass of crazy fanatics drinks Christ’s blood from a chalice full of wine…

What the fuck I’m doing?!”:
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The Spear of Life

In its most archaic sacred symbolism, in the context of an inititory ritual of rebirth, the spear is a representation of the umbilical cord: in this journey into the past I will try to unveil this image, through a brief examination of three episodes from the Arthurian cycle, the Irish mythology and the Norse mythology.

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In the Arthurian myths the Bleeding Lance is a sacred object that bled from its tip (just like the Lúin of Celtchar, an enchanted spear described in the Celtic mythology) and that could also give rise to a bloody stream: this is the nourishment in the form of blood that from the placenta (i.e. the Grail, with its vivifying and life-giving liquid nourishment, and the Cauldron of the Dagda, full of blood in which the Lúin of Celtchar had to be quenched in order to render it safe to handle) arrives to the fetus, passing through the umbilical cord. The King feeds on the blood of the Bleeding Lance, in order to heal from his mysterious infirmity (i.e. to be reborn).

The Bleeding Lance:
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The Gáe Bulg (often known as Gáe Bulga) is the spear of Cúchulainn, a hero of the Irish mythology. The name of this particular weapon may mean “belly spear” (the umbilical cord is a “spear” inside the belly/womb) or “notched spear” (the umbilical cord is the intermediary thanks to which the nourishment of the placenta reaches the fetus, allowing him to grow, so in a sense it is the “mouth” and the “teeth” of the fetus). The word “bulga” seems to derive from the Proto-Celtic compound *balu-gaisos meaning “spear of mortal pain/death spear”, maybe in reference to the potential death of the mother after the childbirth. Note that the use of the Gáe Bulg requires a preparation that can be made exclusively along a water current, holding it between the toes: the water current is the amniotic fluid while the strange position is a reference to the position of the child in the womb before birth, upside down with the feet near the umbilical cord.

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In the Hávamál there is a section where Odin describes his initiatory sacrifice:

“I trow I hung
on that windy tree
nine whole days and nights,
stabbed with a spear, offered to Odin,
myself given to myself,
high on that tree of which none hath heard
from what roots it rises to heaven”.

-Hávamál

In this case I will try to unveil also the other symbols: Odin (one of his epithets is “lord of the spear”) is symbolically a fetus and is hanged on Yggdrasill (the tree of life [i.e. the placenta] whose branches are said to be wet by the Norns with water [i.e. the amniotic fluid]), and at the same time is stabbed by Gungnir, his own spear (the umbilical cord). The nine days and nights are the nine months of the pregnancy, and the same is the case for the “nine worlds” sustained by Yggdrasill (the function of the placenta sustains the development of the child during the nine months inside the womb), every “month” being a “world”, in the sense of a definite and complete cycle. Moreover, as you may know, our ancestors used to let grow a tree (i.e. the placenta) above the burial mounds (i.e. the womb of the earth). The time will come when Yggdrasill will fall, in other words the time of the birth, the event that decrees the end of the life-giving function of the placenta, its “death” and “fall”. Odin sacrifices himself to himself, because his symbolical death is a prelude to his own rebirth, after which, will emerge in his consciousness the memories of his previous lives.

Odin and Yggdrasill:
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The Universe in Flames

Giordano Bruno was an Italian philosopher, burned at the stake in 1600 after being declared guilty of heresy by the Roman Inquisition, in consequence of his criticism of Christianity and the cosmological conclusions he had reached in his search for truth through philosophy. Bruno considered Christianity as a degenerative process that reached its climax during the Counter-Reformation, however what actually interests me is to expose briefly his cosmology, because it makes sense and is very similar to the vision of the cosmos that the Europeans had during Prehistory and Classical Antiquity.

According to Bruno the Universe is eternal (indeed for something to begin there must already be a space in which such a beginning can manifest itself) and infinitely extended (if it was spatially finite, in what would be contained? Remember that all that is spatially finite is inevitably contained in a larger space), whereby motionless and without a center. It is a unitary and vast living organism, animated and endowed with intellect, a homogeneous and indivisible whole governed by the interdependence of all its parts, which are in relation to the organism in its unity (i.e. an organism made up of organisms), unity that coincides with the concept of divinity: consequently the divine resides in the multiplicity that exists in the Universe, throughout Nature and, therefore, also in ourselves. For Bruno everything is matter, that is life, and the Universe consists in infinite matter that changes perennially, able to transform itself continuously in an incessant becoming, passing from one extreme to the other, from an opposite to the other. The universal matter is infinite energy provided with intellect, unity in which lies a multiplicity, multiplicity in which lies a unity!

“Perhaps you pronounce this sentence against me with greater fear than I receive it”.

-Giordano Bruno

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Related posts: Words of Wisdom #51Eternal Regret (Part 1 of 2)Eternal Regret (Part 2 of 2)The Harmony of Opposites

The Book of Coming Forth by Day

The Book of the Dead is an Egyptian funerary text, consisting in a numerous series of chapters intended to reveal the initatory process through which a deceased person could come back to life.

The Weighing of the Heart:
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In this context, I will try to interpret some brief quotes that have caught my attention.

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“I am the Today.
I am the Yesterday.
I am the Tomorrow.
Through my numerous Births
I subsist young and vigorous”.

-Chapter LXIV

Through his numerous rebirths the honourable dead has lived in the past, is living in the present and will live in the future, returning periodically to be young and strong.

“He aspires to eternal life
As it is the Sky, without end and without limits.
Because, in truth, to the Sky belongs your Soul,
But the Earth possesses its bodily form”.

-Chapter CLXIII

The honourable dead aspires to live for all eternity, through endless rebirths. The soul (i.e. the spirit) is associated with the Sky since they are both eternal and immutable entities, while the body is associated with the Earth since they are both temporary and mutable entities.

“May my Soul dwell in my Body,
My Body unite with my Soul!”.

-Chapter CLXIII

The deceased aspires to rebirth (i.e. reincarnation), that takes place necessarily through the reconciliation of the soul (i.e. the spirit) with the body.

“Know this, your head will be saved!
It will not be kidnapped from you, for all eternity!”.

-Chapter CLXVI

For our ancestors the head was the emblem of the mind and memory, and therefore of the identity of a person. The skull of the deceased had an essential role during the initiatory ritual of rebirth (i.e. reincarnation) and the text assures to the deceased that his head will be preserved and that his identity will belong to him by means of future incarnations.

“In truth, you are the same Horus
shining in the center of your Cosmic Egg”.

-Chapter CLXX

Horus is the child that attempts to fulfill the rebirth/reincarnation ritual, the descendant of the noble ancestor inside the grave: they are the same person. The deceased inside the burial mound is like a fetus inside the womb: both are waiting to be born from their cosmic egg.

The cosmic egg wrapped by a snake symbolizes the womb during pregnancy and the umbilical cord:
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“Horus himself puts you erect
Like many times has already done, with the sanctified”.

-Chapter CLXX

The child puts in the upright position (a prerogative of those who are alive) the skeleton/mummy of the deceased, like many times his previous incarnations have done in the past. The vertical position is synonymous with life and return to life.

“Behold, I arise from the Bowels of the Universe,
And for the second time I come to the world…
I return little child, without father, a new-born…
Nobody can stop me, when the time will come,
From answering to the questions that I will be asked…”.

-Chapter CLXX

The deceased in the grave is reborn, in the body of his young descendant who has completed the initiatory ritual of reincarnation. The noble ancestor is back in the world of the living and he will be able to answer to all the questions concerning his previous existence.

“Your navel is the Reign of the Dead.
Where Light and Darkness are balanced”.

-Chapter CLXXII

The concept of “navel” (as well as the “navel of the earth/world”, the “center of the earth/world”, the “center of the cosmos” or the “cosmic mountain”) symbolized the realm of the dead, namely the burial mound. Life and death are in equilibrium inside the grave, the deceased is not alive but not even quite dead: he is in an intermediate state between these two, awaiting for his rebirth.

“In truth, at the moment when I was born in the world of the Afterlife,
Was born a new deity: and it was me!
Now, with my own eyes, I can see…
I look around me; I exist.
My vision is clear and piercing.
Erect, I resume the broken thread of my existence…”.

-Chapter CLXXIV

The deceased is reborn as a deity, inside the burial mound. He returns to see with his own eyes and becomes aware of his renewed existence. Alive again, he takes up the thread of his existence, interrupted only by a temporary death.

“The Yesterday has generated me.
Behold, Today
I create the Tomorrow”.

-Chapter CLXXIX

He who becomes aware of his own cycle of rebirths owns the past, the present and the future!

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The Mystery of the Labyrinth

The concepts of “labyrinth”, “grave” and “realm of the dead” had the same meaning/symbolism for our ancestors, both referring to the burial mound whose entrance and main channel represented the vaginal channel while the last and deepest zone/chamber symbolized the womb. This sort of “womb of the earth” was the place where was accomplished the initiation ritual that allowed the rebirth inside the ancestry.

Representation of an archaic labyrinth:
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In Greek the verb “muein”, from which derives the noun “mysterion”, referred originally to the reaching of a center: the mysteric initiations that took place in Ancient Greece had their primordial origin in the reaching of the center (the symbolism of the “center” always refers to an initiatory process) inside the labyrinth/burial mound, where lies its “mystery”.

This relation between the labyrinth and the cave/burial mound is clearly revealed by the decorative motif – common in ancient Greek and Roman art – known as “meander” (but also “greek”) and defined brilliantly by Károly Kerényi with these words: “the meander is the figure of a labyrinth in linear form”. My opinion is that the name “meander” originally a reference to the meanders of natural caves (the prototypes of the burial mounds) and not to the meandering path of rivers.

An example of decorative motif called “meander”:
rhodes_meander_hg

The figure of the labyrinth was in ancient times also used in relation to ritual plays and dances: according to Livy, during a festivity dedicated to Proserpina (the Roman equivalent of Persephone, the Queen of the Underworld) virgins danced the “Chorus Proserpinae” following a figure and holding in their hands a rope (the Greeks too used ropes during certain ritual dances), necessary in a spiral dance.

What symbolized the rope? Are we sure that the figure followed by the virgins as they danced was that of an archaic labyrinth? We can answer to these questions examining a known myth: the one about Theseus, Ariadne and the Labyrinth.

Homer in the Iliad talks about a place for dance that Daedalus built for Ariadne: it is not appointed but can only be a reference to the Labyrinth built by Daedalus, the one where the Minotaur was kept. Fourteen young boys and girls were periodically sended inside the Labyrinth to be devoured by the Minotaur but Theseus joined the third sacrificial group, killed the Minotaur and returned dancing the path of the Labyrinth together with the hostages he saved. The children sent inside the Labyrinth are those who had to face the rebirth/initiation ritual and Theseus is the one who accomplishes it and slays the Minotaur, another proof that the heroes of the mythologies should be seen, in certain cases, as children/young boys.

Theseus kills the Minotaur:
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The name “ariadne” on the other hand derives from the Cretan-Greek “ari-hagne” that means “utterly pure”, purity being for the Greeks an attribute of Persephone, since death purifies us. Ariadne is nothing else than Persephone, the Queen of the Underworld, and was also called “Lady of the Labyrinth” according to an inscription found at Knossos dating back to the Mycenaean Bronze Age: she is the sorceress/priestess inside the burial mound. According to the same inscription the “Lady of the Labyrinth” received as a gift honey, that as we know was brought by the child who had to face the initiation ritual, to appease the sorceress/priestess (originally to appease and nourish the she-bear). I want to remember that the very first nourishment of the gods was not ambrosia but honey, that not casually the Greek word with the meaning of “appease the gods” derives from the word “honey”, and again not casually that particularly the underworld deities were regarded by the Greeks as “honeyed” and “sweet as honey”.

Originally the structure of the labyrinth was unicursal, with a single path leading to the center: there was no way of getting lost. Then what symbolizes the ball of thread that Ariadne gives to Theseus, so that he will be able to find the way out? Ariadne’s thread symbolizes the umbilical cord that binds the mother to her son, who is in a state between death and birth (or rather, rebirth). Theseus enters the womb of the earth/burial mound (i.e. the labyrinth), symbolically becoming a fetus with the umbilical cord (Ariadne’s thread), that will be necessary to him until the moment when he will come out from the womb/burial mound/labyrinth (i.e. until he will accomplish the initiation ritual), reborn: by that time it will not serve anymore.

Theseus takes Ariadne’s thread:
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Returning to the “Chorus Proserpinae”, we can now clearly understand the meaning of the rope they held as they danced following a spiral in honour of Proserpina/Persephone, the Lady of the Labyrinth!

Arkteia

Arkteia is the name of a little known initiation ritual for young girls that took place in Attica, at Brauron, where Artemis was worshipped: it seems that the temple structure was present at least from the times of Mycenaean Greece.

Ruins of the Temple of Artemis at Brauron:
temple-artemis

The initiation consisted in a rite of passage between pre-puberty/childhood and puberty/adolescence, when the young girls experience a physical development and the appearance of the first menstrual cycle, that is the ability to procreate: the necessary condition to become wives and mothers. Not casually the Arkteia’s ceremony (later called “Brauronalia”, from the name of the location of Artemis’s Temple) took place around the Spring Equinox: as Nature returned to generate after the sterility of Winter, so the young girls celebrated their ability to give birth (i.e. puberty) after the “sterility” of childhood.

Note: the arrival of the first menstruation/biological puberty varies from population to population and also from individual to individual inside the same group, even with years of differences. That’s why the young girls were between the ages of 5 and 10 (ideally around 10 and they could not exceed the 10-11 years), to have the absolute cetainty that the first menarche occured after the rite of passage, through which they reached the social puberty while the biological puberty would have manifested even after some years.

These young girls who served Artemis at Brauron were called “arktoi”, “she-bears” (from Greek “arktos”, “bear”), and Artemis herself (the Greek verb “arktéuo” means “I consacrate myself to Artemis”) was originally considered a she-bear, as her name suggests (from the root arkt-/*arto-, “bear”, and the PIE root *rktos/*rtko, again “bear”): indeed in the cult of Artemis at Brauron the goddess was worshipped as the “Great She-Bear” and her young priestesses originally wore bear skins along with bear masks during the rituals. Eventually the bear skins were substituted with saffron/honey-colored dresses, from which the young girls undressed (previously they took off the bear masks and skins) at the end of the Arkteia’s ceremony, act that coincided with the symbolic death of the young girls as they were during childhood, death followed by their rebirth as women.

Statuette representing an Artemis’s she-bear:
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The relation with the bear lies in the Bear Cult originated in the Stone Age and the period of lethargy/hibernation that this animal faces every year: when Spring comes then the bear returns to life after an apparent/symbolic death, and so did the arktoi. According to the sources, the arktoi of Brauron had to appease and ingratiate Artemis or they risked to incur in her rage (like the child that primordially had to bring honey in the cave of the she-bear to placate her). We know also that these young girls became (by means of sympathetic sorcery) little she-bears during the rite of passage, and they represented the virgin handmaidens that in the Greek mythology follow Artemis in the wilderness: Artemis was originally a she-bear and her handmaidens were nothing else than her cubs, i.e. the little girls who followed the she-bear in her cave to face the initiation ritual and that because of this were seen as cubs who followed her mother in the lair.

Artemis and her handmaidens:
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The role of mother and wife was sacred and honoured by our ancestors, it was of the utmost importance! Through it the eternal rebirth within the ancestry was safeguarded and certain!

Some Cases of Burial Mounds (Part 2 of 3)

After being imprisoned in the cave of Polyphemus, Odysseus states that his name is “Nobody”: this or because the children that faced the initiation/rebirth ritual didn’t had a real, defined identity, didn’t had a real name and were not yet seen as true human beings, or because his previous self/identity was dead after the entry in the burial mound (Polyphemus’s cave); or for both reasons. The wine offering to the Cyclops – with the intention to soothe him, calm him down – can be compared both with the mistletoe given to the priestess inside the mound and the honey brought to the she-bear in its cave, all having a similar function.

Some of the companions of Odysseus are killed by Polyphemus while others managed to escape from the cave: those who survived are the embryos that the she-bear decided to develop and give birth to, i.e. the children who have passed the initiation. After the escape from the cave Odysseus feels the need to affirm and make known to the Cyclops his true identity and name, that is the new identity that he has obtained after the initiation ritual, reborn in one of his honourable ancestors: he is no longer “Nobody” but Odysseus son of Laertes.

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One of the various tales about the birth of Zeus tells that he was brought up by Melissa (“bee”) and Amalthea, inside a cave. Amalthea had hung the cradle of Zeus (in a way, the clothes [in this case life-force] of an infant are his cradle) up a tree (the sacrificial tree) so that it was neither in heaven, nor on earth, nor in the sea (that is among the dead, as the child inside the burial mound).

With time the sorceress/priestess took the place of the she-bear inside the cave/burial mound, however the child continued to have the task of bringing honey as a gift and this is the reason why the child who faced the initiation was seen as a bee: that’s why the sorceress/priestess inside the burial mound was also considered a bee, and it makes sense when we know that according to another tale the suckler of Zeus were sacred bees. The Homeric Hymn to Apollo describes the three prophetess that teached the art of divination to Apollo as if they were bees and the Pythia – the priestess of the Temple of Apollo at Delphi – was called “Delphic Bee”.

Maybe (I make a guess) our ancestors identified the sorceress/priestess as a bee because they no longer understood or remembered the symbolism/role of the she-bear (the child brought honey to the she-bear to feed her and be chosen, being symbolically one of her embryos: as such he also had to eat some of that honey, similarly to the embryos that are nourished by what the she-bear eats; he is like a fetus inside the womb/cave/burial mound and he must be reborn): at that point, who else could have been the recipient of that sweet gift if not adult bees? And if this was the case, maybe they saw the burial mound as a sort of symbolic beehive where the child/bee had to go with his honey?  Melissa (“bee”) nourished Zeus with honey, that is the same honey that the child who faced the initiation brought as a gift to her.

Cave of Zeus, Mount Ida (Crete):
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Part 1: Some Cases of Burial Mounds (Part 1 of 3)
Part 3: Some Cases of Burial Mounds (Part 3 of 3)