Rex Quondam Rexque Futurus

Only by setting the Sun can rise, only by becoming dry, as if they were dead, the majority of seeds can germinate: death is a mill that grinds life. Similarly, in archaic times, the children had to undergo a temporary initiatory death before being able to be reborn to a renewed and more mature form of existence.

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In this article I will focus on a series of themes and symbols that can be found within the so-called Arthurian cycle:

King Arthur (from Welsh arth, Celtic *arto-, Proto-Celtic arthos*, from the PIE root *rtko, always with the meaning of “bear”) is the “Bear King” (the constellation of Ursa Major in Gaelic was called Cerbyd Arthur, “Arthur’s Wagon” [the symbolic function of the wagon is exactly equivalent to that of the horse and the ship, it is the cornerstone that sustains and gives shape to life understood in a higher meaning]), son of Uther Pendragon (from Celtic -penn, “mount” [a symbolic image always referring to the burial mound understood as matrix of rebirth] and “dragon”, maybe with the meaning of “mount of the dragon”): both the bear and the serpent (in Greek “dràkon” means both “dragon” and “serpent”) are archaic symbols of initiation and eternal rebirth, the first in relation to its cyclical apparent death and rebirth during the period of hibernation inside the den, the second in relation to the cyclical renewal of its existence when it hides inside a narrow natural cavity to do the molt; in myths and folklore the gaze of the dragon has the power to petrify, immobilize or paralyse its victim, characteristic attributable to the etymology itself of the word “dragon” (stemming from Greek “dérkomai”, “to gaze intensely”) and comparable to the petrifying power of Medusa’s head: it’s the calcification process to which may incur both the placenta and the child inside the maternal womb, therefore the power of the gaze is synonymous with death.

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Arthur and Uther are therefore two initiates that have accomplished in their youth a ritual process of reincarnation within the ancestry, but their kinship suggests that they may actually be the same identical figure; the medieval sources at our disposal indicate the 26th of November as date of Uther’s death, fifteen days after the anniversary of Saint Martin: Uther dies in the period of the year when the bear begins its hibernation, and simbolically reincarnates in his son Arthur (“bear”), who, as his father, will come into possession of the sword Excalibur (forged in Avalon, the burial mound, and obtained by the legitimate descendant or by extracting it from a stone [i.e. the burial mound] or by taking it from the arm of the Lady of the Lake that comes out from the water wielding it [the symbolism of the water is substantially equivalent to that of the burial mound, it fulfills at the same time a function of grave and matrix and is, especially in reference to the amniotc fluid, a generator and life-giving element), the object with which was buried the divine ancestor and in which his identity is poured and materialized, solemn guarantee of a regal destiny: only the legitimate and predestined descendant can take possession of it and make sure that his own immature and fragmented identity reintegrates with that of the deceased reborn in him, he himself in a previous life.

For what concerns Melin, master of initiation and prophet, it will suffice to remember that according to the tradition he was conceived by a daimon and a mortal woman, his second name was Ambrosius (“he who possesses ambrosia”) and used to prophesy while sitting under an apple tree.

It can be said that, by means of the initiatory process of reincarnation, our ancestors took the responsibility of altering the regular flow and at the same time the intrinsic nature and self-awareness of children; the reincarnation of the spirit, identity, memory and knowledge of a divine ancestor was accomplished in the short period of time in which the initiate resided in the telluric depths of the burial mound. The intuition, realisation and inner possession of the metaphysical truth that allows us to integrate our individual identity within the totality of time is the fundamental purpose of the initiatory process: the eternal flow of time consists in the eternal restoration and reintegration of the same identical living matter, for which reason we have always been and we’ll always be, we are made of the substance itself of eternity and immortality, yet yoked to a temporal and mortal perspective, being no longer able to attain and innerly possess this metaphysical truth.

In relation to sacred kingship is relevant the theme of the “painful blow” that wounds and weakens the Sacred King, called Fisher King, whose indecipherable infirmity is described in terms of a disability in the legs, more specifically in the thigh, with consequent lameness and difficulty of movement (in the Mabinogion, similarly, Brân the Blessed is wounded in the thigh by a spear, wound that results incurable and an inscrutable obstacle to the fulfillment of the regal function; also the hero Celtchar undergoes a very similar destiny): this refers to the recurring symbolism of the femur as a synonymous of movement and life; therefore this enigmatic weakness and infirmity, from which the Sacred King awaits to heal (on the symbolic level “healing” always equals to “rebirth”) while residing in his castle (i.e. the burial mound, the place where the deceased reigns supreme) in a state of symbolic “sleep” (state of being that I will examine further down), consists precisely in a symbolic and temporary apparent death, which has as immediate consequence the sterility of both kingdom and nature, manifesting itself in the symbolism of the “Terre Gaste” (“Wasteland”) and the “Arbre Sec” (“Dry Tree”); the Sacred King is therefore arrived at the conclusion of his annual function, in correspondence of the temporary death of the Sun during Winter, and exclusively the Graal will be able to heal him, the search of which, in this interpretative context, can be understood in terms of a selective competition aimed at restoring and pass down the sacred kingship.

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Note: archaically the states of sleep and death were placed in reciprocal equivalence (Hypnos [the personification of sleep] and Thanatos [the personification of death] are twin brothers in the Greek mythology), indeed a sleeping man and a dead man are outwardly very similar, and both the bed and the grave have always served as a place of rest; these associations led to believe that as well as sleep and night are inevitably followed by awakening and day, death would have been fatally followed by rebirth, that’s why our ancestors often placed the dead in fetal position (position that, significantly, we tend to assume, intentionally or not, during sleep) inside the burial mounds, so that they would become, simbolically, embryos waiting to be reborn from the womb of the earth, source of life.

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At the end of the Battle of Camlann (during which Arthur is mortally wounded by Mordred) occurs an ambiguous episode, the one in which Arthur embraces Lucan, one of his last knights still alive, and by doing so suffocates him causing his death; it has been hypothesized that Lucan may be a figure equivalent to the god Lugh, which was christianized by the Church in Luke the Evangelist: their names would share the same etymological meaning, “bright, shining”, from the PIE root *leuk-, “light, brightness, shininess”, from which also come the Latin lux and the Greek leukos, both with the same meaning; one of the epithets of Lugh is indeed “lámfada”, “of the long arm”, in reference to the solar rays, which arrive everywhere despite coming from the immeasurable celestial heights. The legendary Battle of Camlann took place in coincidence with the festivity of Samhain, celebrated between October 31st and November 1st and today known as Halloween, which from the initiatory side marked the beginning of the ritual of rebirth, whereas from the merely seasonal side marked the beginning of Winter: therefore Lucan, the Sun, must necessarily die, and Arthur, the bear that hibernates, renounces possession of Excalibur and allows himself to be taken to Avalon.

ARTHDEAT

Avalon (etymologically “isle of apples”, from Welsh afal [pronounced “aval”], Breton aval, Celtic *abal-, Proto-Celtic *aballo-, always with the meaning of “apple”; in the Vita Merlini of Geoffrey of Monmouth, Arhtur is taken in the Insula Pomorum), is a legendary isle simbolically located in the west, where the Sun sets: it is the land of the dead, i.e. the burial mound.

Beetween Gavrinis (a small isle – situated in the Gulf of Morbihan in Brittany – where there is a prehistoric burial mound) and Avalon there is no difference:
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Avalon is therefore related to the apples of immortality or eternal youth, as in the case of the red apple picked by Eve from the Tree of Life and given to Adam, solemn promise of future rebirth and symbolism that refers to the placenta, which looks like a tree and sustains the life and development of the fetus thanks to the nutrients present in the noble blood that flows in it. In certain versions of the legend Arthur goes to Avalon escorted by three ladies (tripartite manifestation [past, present and future: time] of a single figure symbolizing the circularity of existence), and there nine fairy sisters (personifications of the nine months that make up the symbolic pregnancy) take care of him, so that he can “rest” and “heal”, waiting for the propitious time to return, i.e. to be reborn, and assume kingship.

“Some say, in many places of England, that king Arthur is not dead, but by will of Our Lord carried elsewhere. They also say that he will return…I don’t affirm this, but rather that somewhere in this world his life has undergone a transformation. But many say that in his grave is written this verse: HIC IACET ARTHURUS, REX QUONDAM REXQUE FUTURUS”.

-Thomas Malory

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Delphi and the Dragon

“Know thyself”.

-Delphic Maxim

We know that “delph” means “womb”, and this is the reason why the dolphin (“delphi” in Greek), sea creature (the waters were associated with the amniotic fluid) provided with a womb, was considered by the Greeks as a symbol of the female principle and the womb from which life is generated. Poseidon, if seen as the god of the “watery abyss of the sky”, the Universe, has the dolphin among his sacred animals, because the Universe is the eternal and infinite womb that contains all the forms of life that have been, that are and that will be, the womb from which new life is unceasingly and eternally generated.

Minoan Art:
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Delphi (“Delphoi” in Greek), the Greek city in antiquity known as “navel of the world”, was mostly famous for the presence of the oracle of the god Apollo (that had among his epithets the one of “Delphinius” since in certain occasions he acquired the form of that animal sacred to him), the Oracle of Delphi, the most important of the archaic Greek religion.

Ruins of the Oracle of Delphi:
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Under the floor of the oracular temple was located the Omphalos (“navel”), the sacred stone that had the function of center of the world.

The Omphalos, with its net of bee shaped symbols, resembles a beehive (both the child that went inside the burial mound/beehive – bringing honey with him to face the initiation – and the sorceress or priestess that was already inside it were symbolically compared to bees):

Example of nuraghe, a bronze age megalithic building typical of Sardinia:
Risultati immagini per nuraghe goni

So “delphi”, the name of the city, means “womb”, and the city was defined “navel of the world”; the navel was archaically a symbol of the labyrinth, i.e. of the cave or burial mound that in turn represented the womb of the earth: there is therefore a symbolic connection between the name of the city and its epithet.

Representation of an archaic labyrinth:
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The Oracle of Delphi was originally a cave (i.e. the cave of the she-bear later replaced by the burial mound), a stomion or stoma (word that designated in particular the mouth, the uterine orifice and the opening of a cave [i.e. an opening], moreover it was often used in reference to the realm of the dead) guarded by the dragon or serpent (in Greek “dràkon” means both “dragon” and “serpent”) Python, or by the dragoness Delphyne (again a name that contains “delph”, “womb”), as it seems from the most archaic version of the myth: the dragon often symbolizes the umbilical cord, therefore, in the case of Delphyne, we have a symbolism that includes both the womb and the umbilical cord. Python or Delphyne is killed by Apollo (the divine child that accomplishes the initiatory ritual of rebirth: in the mythologies the killing of the dragon symbolizes the resolute and violent conclusion of the maternal phase of existence, by means of the “killing” [i.e. severing] of the umbilical cord that unites the mother to the child), who later creates in place of the cave the Oracle of Delphi presided by the Pythia, the priestess identified as “delphic bee”.

The Omphalos (“navel”), that according to the Greeks would have been Python’s grave, could therefore symbolize the matrix of life intended as womb of rebirth in a higher sense, in a transcendent context of initiatory reincarnation within a noble ancestry.

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The serpent or dragon is the obstacle that the heroes of the mythologies encounter during their search for the source of immortality, and it is always the guardian of trees, graves – like the Miðgarðsormr (Miðgarðr [“middle earth”, the burial mound] serpent”]) that lies deep in the ocean (i.e. the amniotic liquid) – and treasures (like that of the Nibelungs [“people of the mists”, i.e. the ancestors], hidden in the bottom of a lake).

The Cup of Hygieia and the Caduceus of Hermes: both symbolize the Tree of Life intertwined by one or more serpents, i.e. a placenta with the umbilical cord, which has an intertwined shape:
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Immortality, intended as rebirth or more precisely reincarnation, is hard to obtain and a necessary condition is always the reaching of an almost inaccessible place that symbolizes the realm of death, i.e. the cave or burial mound, where a serpent or dragon guards a tree whose fruits, or an object hanging to it, will grant immortality if obtained: the heroes of the mythologies have to fight the monster – and prevail – to gain access to the tree. This fight should be realised inwardly in the sense of an initiatory ritual of rebirth: we can find a similar pattern in numerous myths, like in the one of Jason and the Golden Fleece, in the one of Heracles and the Golden Apples of the Hesperides, in the one of Sigurd and Fafnir (in this case the dragon guards a treasure [i.e. the goods with which has been buried the divine ancestor] functional to trigger the metaphysical intuition of the child, and the hero becomes omniscient [thanks to the awakening of the memories of his previous lives] after killing his nemesis), in the one of Indra and Vritra (in this case the dragon confiscates all waters and keeps them inside a mountain) and in the one of Adam and Eve in Paradise.

Heracles fights against Ladon, the serpent that guards the Golden Apples of the Hesperides:
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The fight of the hero with the serpent or dragon isn’t always of the physical type and sometimes the latter prevails, like in the cases of Gilgamesh and Adam.

Gilgamesh, after the death of Enkidu, decided he wanted to obtain immortality and headed towards the dwelling of Utnapishtim, a man to which the gods conferred the gift of immortality; the hero overcomes every preliminary obstacle and meets the wise old man, but fails the tests that the latter imposes on him, thus proving to be unworthy of the immortality of the gods. At that point appeared the wife of Utnapishtim, which convinced her husband to reveal the existence, in the bottom of the ocean, i.e. the amniotic fluid, of a plant full of thorns and difficult to access, which had the power to extend indefinitely the youth and life of those who would have eaten it. Gilgamesh manages to obtain it but during the return home he stops near a water source: meanwhile a serpent approaches and grabs the plant, renewing its skin immediately after eating it.

A Greek myth in some ways similar is the one of Glaucus son of Minos, which as a child fell inside a jar full of honey and died; he was found by the seer Polyidus to which Minos ordered to bring back to life the child, and both were locked up inside a grave together with a sword. A serpent tried to get closer to the child’s body and Polyidus killed it with the weapon, but promptly a second serpent placed a herb on the body of the other, that immediately came back to life: Polyidus, having observed the scene, took the same herb and applied it on Glaucus’s body, which in no time at all came back to life.

Note: an important symbolism related to the serpent is that of the Ouroboros, i.e. the figure of the serpent that bites its own tail: it expresses the concept of cyclical eternity, infinite time, circularity without beginning or end and eternal rebirth.

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Therefore both Gilgamesh and Adam lost immortality due to their naivety and the astuteness of a serpent: the accomplishment of the initiation ritual ended in failure.