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:
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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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Bhagavadgītā (Part 2 of 2)

In this second part I quote verses that reveal the notion of “asuric” human being, the concept of the three guṇa and the hierarchy (“rule of the sacred”) of the Hindu caste system.

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 Sixteenth Chant:

4.”Hypocrisy, arrogance, vanity, anger, hardness of soul and ignorance: all this, Pārtha, belongs to him who is born for an āsura condition”.

6.”In this world there are two categories of beings: daiva and āsura, the daiva one has been widely described; now listen from me, Pārtha, the āsura one”.

Krishna is going to reveal the hallmarks of the “asuric” human being, a condition associated with disharmony and obscurity, while the daiva is a condition associated with harmony and rhythm.

Pārtha and, lower, Paramtāpa are Arjuna’s epithets.

8.”They affirm that the universe is without truth, without foundation [or moral basis], without a Lord, devoid of regular causal connection and originated from passion”.

9.”Firm in their way of seeing [things], these unhappy, devoid of understanding and full of violence, come into the world to destroy it”.

10.”Abandoning themselves to an insatiable passionate desire, full of pride, hypocrisy and arrogance, professing, because of ignorance, bad inclinations, they move with impure motives”.

11.”Dedicated to endeavors without measure which terminate [only] with death, they pursue the goal in the satisfaction of passions, convinced that this is everything”.

12.”Kept in slavery by the thousand bonds of desire, devoted to pleasure and anger, they seek wealth with unfair means, just to satisfy their lusts“.

13.”<<Today I obtained this, this other I will have tomorrow; this good belongs to me and also this other, over time, will be mine;”

14.”I killed this enemy and others I will kill; I am the ruler, I benefit of the enjoyment, I am perfect, powerful, happy,”.

15.”I’m rich, of noble birth, who else can be similar to me? I will make offerings, gifts and I will rejoice>>, so [speak] those who are deluded by ignorance”.

16.”Agitated by the most disparate thoughts, enmeshed in the net of illusion, committed to satisfy their desires, they fall in an unclean abyss”.

21.”Triple is the door of the abyss in which the identified soul finds the ruin: passion, anger and possess. Therefore man must abandon these three qualities”.

The verses 8.-16. and 21. are a merciless criticism of the materialist and atheist man that sees the order inherent in the Universe as the result of a mere coincidence, perhaps of an accident. This kind of men sees the world exclusively from an anthropocentric and selfish point of view, and as a consequence have no qualms to exploit and destroy it in order to satisfy their degenerated passions and desires, in order to reach every sort of wealth and pleasure: this is the only meaning and purpose of their existences. The good and honourable man should instead abandon these inclinations.

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Eighteenth Chant:

30.”Pārtha, that intellect which knows the action and the non-action, what must be done and what must not be done, what must and must not fear, what binds and what frees, is said [pervaded] of sattva”.

31.”That intellect, Pārtha, which erroneously intends the just and the unjust, what must be or must not be accomplished, is said [pervaded] of rajas”.

32.”That intellect, Pārtha, which, enmeshed in darkness, intends the unjust as just and consider what must be done for what must not be done and vice versa, is said [pervaded] of tamas”.

The verses 30./31./32. distinguish the three guṇa (“constitutive quality”, “attribute”), that are called sattva, rajas and tamas. Sattva is the guṇa corresponding to equilibrium, harmony, light, knowledge and purity. Rajas is the guṇa corresponding to activity, energy, desire and passion. Tamas is the guṇa corresponding to obscurity, inertia, ignorance and passivity.

41.”The duties of the brāhmaṇas, of the kṣatriyas, of the vaiśyas and of the śūdras, Paramtāpa, are distinct according to the qualities (guna) originated by their very nature”.

Each guṇa is associated with a varṇa (“colour” but also “type” and “order”), i.e. the castes of the Hindu traditional society, characterized by a symbolic color and by the different skin color of their members: clearer among brāhmaṇas (guṇa sattva, color white) and kṣatriyas (guṇa rajas, color red), darker among vaiśyas (guṇa tamas, color yellow) and śūdras (guṇa tamas, color black). In relation to its own guṇa, an individual has a more or less deep innate intuition about the nature of the Universe and the place that our existence and our actions occupy in it.

42.”Tranquility, self-control, austerity, tolerance and rectitude, wisdom (jñāna), distinctive knowledge (vijñāṇa), compassion are qualities inherent to the action of the brāhmaṇa and stem from his own nature”.

43.”Heroism, vigor, firmness, ability and not to flee in battle, generosity, leadership skills are attributes inherent to the action of the kṣatriya and are born from the essential characteristics that are proper to him”.

44.”Agriculture, the caring of livestock, commerce are the qualities inherent to the action of the vaiśya and are born from his own nature. The work of the śūdra, inherent to his nature, consists in [giving] services”.

45.”Who finds himself to have pleasure in his own duty reaches perfection. Listen, therefore, in what way he who accomplishes his own duty reaches perfection”.

47.”Better is one’s own duty [inherent to one’s own nature], however imperfectly fulfilled, than the duty of another well practiced. One who performs the duty inherent to his own nature makes no mistake”.

The verses 41.-45. and 47. reveal the different characteristics of the Hindu castes. Brāhmaṇa is the name of the first caste of the traditional Hindu society, the priestly one. Kṣatriya is the name of the second traditional caste, to which belong warriors, rulers and legislators. Vaiśya is the name of the third traditional caste, to which belong the producers of wealth (farmers, artisans and merchants). Śūdra is the name of the fourth traditional caste, to which belong laborers and service providers. In the Hindu vision of life every human being is born with an innate nature, not hereditary and corresponding to a specific way of being and acting. The recognition of the specific nature of an individual allowed to determine his function and his belonging to the corresponding caste, only within which he could bring harmoniously to completion his own existence.

The Hindu caste system is an order based on a true hierarchy (“rule of the sacred”), which sees on top the Brāhmaṇas. A similar order is proposed in Plato’s Republic – where the Philosophers have a role/position equivalent to that of the Brāhmaṇas – or can be found in Europe during the Middle Ages, although in a degenerated and disharmonious form.

Krishna displays his vishvarupa (“universal form”) to Arjuna:
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Part 1: Bhagavadgītā (Part 1 of 2)

Bhagavadgītā (Part 1 of 2)

The Bhagavadgītā is a Hindu sacred text, a part of the Mahābhārata, the Hindu epic poem. It is a dialogue between the prince of the Pandava, Arjuna, a hero son of the god Indra, and his charioteer Krishna, an incarnation of the divine principle.

The war between the Pandavas and the Kauravas is imminent and the dialogue takes place in the centre of the battlefield, right before the beginning of the Kurukshetra’s battle: Arjuna is confused and torn by moral dilemmas after noticing that among the enemy army there are his relatives, teachers and friends: he seeks advice from Krishna, which reminds him his duties as a kshatriya (i.e. as a warrior) through the exposition of philosophical and religious concepts.

Krishna assists Arjuna:
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In this first part I quote verses that reveal mainly the doctrine concerning the immortality of the spirit, but also concepts in relation with Stoicism and the thught of Parmenides.

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 Second Chant:

12.”In truth, there has never been a time when I was not, nor you, nor these chiefs of peoples; and, in the future, will not come that in which we will not be”.

13.”The soul incarnated in the body experiments childhood, youth and the old age; then it takes another body. The man that knows this doesn’t suffer [any] bewilderment”.

The verses 12./13. begin to expose the doctrine concerning the immortality of the individual spirit and its eternal rebirth (governed by karma, an automatic and inescapable metaphysical law according to which what we are today on one side is the direct result of what we have been in our previous existences, on the other will contribute to determine what we will be in our future existences) through the piṭryāna (“way of the fathers”).

14.”Son of Kunti, the impressions of the senses [born] from contact with material things produces hot and cold, pain and pleasure, they come and go and are impermanent. Endure them, Bhārata”.

Krishna calls Arjuna with many epithets in the Bhagavadgītā: Bhārata, Mahabahu, Pārtha, Kaunteya and Paramtāpa in the verses that I quote here.

15.”Best of men, one who from them [impressions] is not disturbed, [that remains] equanimous and firm in pleasure and pain is worthy of immortality”.

The verses 14./15. express a concept that we find in Stoicism: men must understand that the things that doesn’t depend on us (like the sensations of hot and cold, pain and pleasure) must be endured firmly/indifferently, without being disturbed or fascinated by them.

16.”What doesn’t exist can’t come into being, of the being there is no cessation of existence. This ultimate truth has been unveiled by those who have seen the essence of things”.

This verse expresses a knowledge identical to that of Parmenides: nothing is created from nothing and nothing can be destroyed into nothing.

18.”These bodies of the eternal ātman, indestructible, immeasurable, are called perishable. Fight, then, Bhārata”.

The ātman is the intimate essence of every being, the principle of life (i.e. the individual spirit).

19.”The one who believes to be killed and the one who thinks of killing are both in error. That one [the ātman] can’t kill nor be killed”.

20.”It is never born and never dies. Having always been, it can’t cease to be. Unborn, permanent, imperishable, ancient, it is not killed even when the body is killed”.

22.”Like a man deposing the old clothes takes new ones, so the embodied soul (dehi) deposes the worn-out bodies and enters in other new”.

23.”The weapons doesn’t pierce [the ātman], nor fire burns it, nor is bathed by waters, nor wind dries it”.

26.”If you believe that it is born and dies continuously, likewise, Mahabahu, you must not afflict yourself,”

27.”because, in truth, sure is death for he that is born and sure is rebirth for he that is dead. Therefore, for an inescapable fact, you should not feel pity”.

The verses 19./20./22./23./26./27. continue to expose the doctrine concerning the immortality of the individual spirit and its eternal rebirth, in very explicit terms.

38.”Equally impartial in pleasure and pain, in gain and loss, in victory and defeat, prepare therefore to fight; in this way you will not be able to commit error”.

55.”When, Pārtha, a man eradicates from his mind all desires and finds his satisfaction in the ātman and for the ātman, he is said to have a stable intelligence”.

57.”The one who has given up all attachment, that is not flattered by praises nor offended by reprimand: that person owns a stable intelligence”.

The verses 38./55./57. continue to praise the man who treats the things that doesn’t depend on him as they must be treated: in a detached way and without subjective reactions.

Third Chant:

34.”The attraction and the repulsion for the objects are inherent to the corresponding sense: nobody should submit to these two for they represent the two enemies”.

39.”Knowledge is [so] wrapped by this constant enemy, Kaunteya, insatiable fire that takes the form of desire”.

The verses 34./39. express an explicit critique of materialism, seen as opposed to the pursuit of knowledge.

Fourth Chant:

5.”Numerous are my past lives and yours too, Arjuna. Just that I know them all, while you don’t know them, Paramtāpa”.

Also this verse refers to the eternal rebirth of the individual spirit.

Sixth Chant:

40.”Pārtha, nor in this nor in the other world such a man is lost, because there is no author of beautiful and good deeds that incurs in a bad destiny”.

The content of this verse can be compared to that expressed by this maxim: “there is no death for the honourable, only an eternal rebirth”.

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