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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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 Harmony of Opposites in Taoism

Taoism is an ancient Chinese philosophical/religious tradition, whose doctrinal foundations can be found in three texts: the Tao Te Ching, the Zhuangzi and the Liezi. I will quote some verses, taken from these works, that expose 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 uglyness is already present.
When everyone acknowledges goodness as such,
that’s when badness is already present.

Therefore being and non-being are generated at each other,
difficult and easy complement each other,
long and short define each other,
tall and low hang down one towards the other,
before and after follow each other.”

-Tao Te Ching

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

-Tao Te Ching

“The growing and the decreasing, the full and the empty, when one comes to an end the other has its beginning”.

-Zhuangzi

“Increase and decrease, become full and become empty, finish and start again, here is the cycle of the world. So must be understood the grat task that looms to each one, the universal order presiding over all the beings”.

-Zhuangzi

“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 perish”.

-Zhuangzi

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

-Zhuangzi

“This unity, dividing itself, forms the beings, and, forming the beings, it destroys itself. So every being has no completion nor destruction, because is reabsorbed in the original unity”.

-Zhuangzi

“The ten thousand creatures (a peculiar taoist expression that refers to the infinite multiplicity of forms that exists in the universe) are a single thing, but what they find beautiful is the vitality and the individuality, what they find ugly is the stench and the putrefaction. But the stench and the putrefaction turn into vitality and individuality, the vitality and the individuality turn into stench and putrefaction”.

-Zhuangzi

“The ten thousand creatures and I are one”.

-Zhuangzi

“The great wisdom embraces everything, the little wisdom distinguishes”.

-Zhuangzi

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

-Liezi

“You have fun because things are never the same, without knowing that we also are never the same”.

-Liezi

“What lives can’t not live, what is transformed can’t not be transformed. Eternal life and eternal transformation means to always live and always be transformed, like the yin and the yang, like the four seasons”.

-Liezi

Finally, I would like to talk a bit 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 dark 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), 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 are transformed constantly one into the other. The opposites are generated reciprocally and each is the other’s shadow!

The Harmony of Opposites

Heraclitus was an enigmatic Greek philosopher, defined because of this as “the obscure”. During his last years of life he became a hermit of the mountains, being an aristocratic spirit that disdained the multitudes: not bad for one who lived in Ancient Greece! He should have seen the world as it is today…

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Anyway, one thing that is clear from the fragments at our disposal is his doctrine concerning the harmony of opposites:

“The opposites concordant, and from the discordant comes beautiful harmony, and everything happens according to contention”.

“The same thing are the living and the dead, the awake and the sleeping, the young and the old: these indeed changing are those and those again changing are these”.

“What is cold becomes hot, what is hot becomes cold, what is moist becomes dry, what is dry becomes moist”.

“Immortal mortals, mortal immortals, living their death and dying their life”.

“One and the same is the path that goes upward and the path that goes down”.

“The same is in fact the beginning and the end in the circumference of the circle”.

“God is day-night, winter-summer, war-peace, satiety-hunger”.

“Junctions are entire-not entire, concordant-discordant, harmonic-disharmonic, and from all things the one and from the one all things”.

Listening not to me, but to the lógos, it is wise to agree that all things are one“.

Heraclitus understood that the Law of the Universe, the Logos (intended as “relation” or “connection”, in reference to the infinite series of relations/connections generated by Nature and operating in it, through the mediation of opposites that alternate), is the relation of contraposition, complementarity, interdependency and alternation between two opposite concepts (being-becoming, one-many, eternity-time, infinite-finite, life-death, past-future, inhalation-exhalation, peace-war, hot-cold, etc.) that are apparently in constant conflict with each other, but in reality, at the same time, they need each other because everything originates from its opposite: the opposites can indeed be defined only for opposition, and they can never be independently determined: nothing would exist if there were not, at the same time, also its opposite.

Note: here lies the meaning of the figure of the Androgynous (from Greek androgynos, composed by andros,”male”, and gyne, “woman”), the complete and undivided being best known for its description given by Plato in the Symposium. The symbolism that lies in this figure refers to the coexistence of opposites and their interdependence, the underlying unity hidden by their apparent separation and opposition: in biological terms it refers to the restoration of the absolute and primordial unity of the being. The coincidentia oppositorum (a Latin phrase meaning “coincidence of opposites”) is the state of being in which the opposites coincide: for example, at the climax of sexual love there is a coincidence between man and woman, a momentary emersion of the androgynous state of being, the erotic impulse having its deepest meaning in the reintegration and reunification of the two divided parts of the human being; this biological coincidence, in specific cases and conditions, allows to momentarily experience a purely spiritual and trascendental state, what in philosophy would consist in the culmination of the metaphysical speculation, namely the inner realization of the coincidence between the concepts of Being and Becoming (therefore two ways of appearing of a single reality), union that results in a single principle, a metaphisical reality that is beyond the opposition between contraries, that in it instead coincide: the Universal Reality.

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If there was no night, what would give us the opportunity to define the day as such? If there was no winter, what would give us the opportunity to define summer as such? If there was no war, what would give us the opportunity to define peace as such? If there was no death, what would give us the opportunity to define life as such? The same on the contrary and for all the opposites that exist. They are two faces of the same coin, bound in the same way as an upward path seems a path that goes down if seen from above.

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As it’s evident from the fragments cited above, Heraclitus thought that everything is destined to pass eternally from one state to another: what is cold and becomes hot will cool, what is slow and becomes fast will slow down, what is alive and dies will return to life. I’m alive (again) because I died, and I am destined to die (again) and then to return to life (again), in the same way as I’m awake (again) because I fell asleep, only to be destined to fell asleep (again) and then to return to be awake (again). The end of the circle coincides exactly with its beginning. There is no immobility, only an eternal and unceasing metamorphosis, a current with no beginning and no end, a constant change and transformation: panta rei (“everything flows”). As Heraclitus said: “No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river (in its perennial flow) and he’s not the same man (in his perennial becoming)“.

We can affirm that Heraclitus believed in the immortality and eternal rebirth of the individual spirit: if it is possible to be reborn then it is necessary that the spirit exists (from what we would return to life if not from it that is eternal and immortal, while the body is temporary and mortal?) and that it doesn’t disappear after death, but that it continues to exist even outside the body.

Anyway, we need both the opposites and there will always be both: their result is harmony and equilibrium: war will come after peace but at a certain point there will be peace again, winter will come after summer but at a certain point there will be summer again, etc. In this Heraclitus saw the Logos, the Universal Law of Nature!

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