Sacred Kingship

“In my ancestry 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 virgin 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 hierogamy (“sacred marriage”) occurred the symbolic 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 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 during 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 the reason 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.

The golden crown symbolized the Sun and the power of its rays:
Risultati immagini per king arthur charles ernest butler

Examples of ritual death of the Sacred King can be found in the myths concerning 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 point, the tendon of the foot, part of the body that had the same symbolic function 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, by isolating himself in a symbolic grave, whereas 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 hand it down at the end of a selective competition. In the long run the Sacred King 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, natural or not, and this particular deviation from the original procedure influenced and moulded 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 their superiority in various annual competitions held 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 and purpose) having the purpose to annually select – through a footrace between young women – the one who would have symbolically incarnated Hera (the Earth Goddess, i.e. the Sacred Queen) and – through a footrace between young men – the one who would have symbolically incarnated Zeus (the Sky God, i.e. the Sacred King, whose name preserves the Sanskrit root div- [“day, brightness”]): every year the Sacred Queen and the Sacred King had to confirm their role or bestow kingship to those who proved to be more worthy of it.

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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, whereas her future husband (and future King, after spending some time as a Prince) was chosen/selected among men from other tribes or lands; in these societies the most ambitious sons of the King and Queen will go to other lands in order to marry a Princess or a Queen and thus 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 race between Odysseus and the Proci to win the hand of Penelope] and fairy tales).

Odysseus during the archery race 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, whereas his future wife (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 both types of societies the King and Queen will seek to marry their daughters and sons with Princes and Princesses or Kings and Queens of other tribes or lands, in order to unify two royal bloodlines but often also to stipulate alliances and obtain advantages of other sort.

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

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The Harmony of Opposites in Taoism

Taoism is an ancient Chinese philosophical and religious tradition, whose doctrinal foundations can be found in three texts: the Daodejing, the Zhuangzi and the Liezi. I will quote some verses, chosen from these works, that reveal a doctrine of opposites comparable to that of Heraclitus, also in relation to the concept of “panta rei” (“everything flows”):

“When in the world everyone acknowledges beauty as such,
that’s when ugliness is already present.
When everyone acknowledges goodness as such,
that’s when badness is already present.

Therefore being and non-being generate each other,
difficult and easy complement each other,
long and short define each other,
tall and low lean one towards the other,
before and after follow each other”.

-Daodejing

“What you want to contract you must first expand,
what you want to weaken you must first strengthen,
what you want to refuse you must first exalt,
what you want to take you must first give”.

-Daodejing

“Between night and day there is no separation and I don’t know at what moment they end”.

-Zhuangzi

“Under the sky everything sinks and resurfaces without ever perishing”.

-Zhuangzi

“Everything disappears and reappears, full and empty alternate, every end is also a beginning”.

-Zhuangzi

“Growth and decline, fullness and emptiness, end and beginning, here is the cycle of the world. In this way must be understood the great task that looms to each one, and the universal order that presides over all beings”.

-Zhuangzi

“Life transforms into death, death is the beginning of life. Life and death transform each into the other: why then should we be upset about them?”.

-Zhuangzi

“For those who know the heavenly joy life is a motion according to nature, death a change of form”.

-Zhuangzi

“The ten thousand beings (a peculiar taoist expression that refers to the infinite multiplicity of living forms that exist in the universe) and I are one single thing”.

-Zhuangzi

“The ten thousand creatures are one single thing, but what they find beautiful is vitality and individuality, what they find ugly is stench and putrefaction. But stench and putrefaction transform into vitality and individuality, vitality and individuality transform into stench and putrefaction”.

-Zhuangzi

“The ten thousand things transform incessantly and we don’t know what presides over change. How can we know what is an end? How can we know what is a beginning?”.

-Zhuangzi

“The beginning is the end of something, the end is the beginning of something else”.

-Liezi

“What is born returns to the unborn, what has form returns to the formless. What lives must necessarily die and what dies cannot help but die, as well as what is born cannot help but be born. So the yin and the yang alternate, so the four seasons follow each other”.

-Liezi

Finally, I would like to talk about the Taijitu, a well known taoist symbol.

The Taijitu:
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In this symbol, Yin and Yang (the origin of this symbolic dualism [whose primal manifestation is identifiable in the “first couple” formed by Earth and Sky] is ascribed to the observation of the shadowed side and the sunny side of a mountain) are two necessary and complementary ways of being of the same reality (and in their maximum metaphysical dimension they represent the philosophical concepts of Being and Becoming, that, as a result of the coincidentia oppositorum [“coincidence of opposites”], appear as two ways of being of a single principle, two different manifestations of a same and single reality, the Tao [the word Tao is represented by an ideographic character that unites the signs of the head and of the foots, i.e. unites the complementary opposites in an undifferentiated totality], the Universal Totality, the definitive metaphysical reality where the opposites coincide), and their intrinsic interrelation is shown by the fact that at the culmination of each of the two there is a seed of the other. Light and darkness are two subsequent aspects of a unique reality, their apparent distinction and opposition supports the harmony of a cyclical process. When the light energy (Yang) reaches its culmination, then begins to grow the dark energy (Yin), and vice versa, they transform constantly one into the other. The opposites generate themselves reciprocally and each is the other’s shadow!