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.

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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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Sacred Kingship

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.

“It was customary of our ancestors that the king should also be pontiff and priest”.

-Servius

All these archaic societies were ruled by a Sacred King – a symbolic incarnation of the Sky, of the Sun and of the metaphysical principle defined with the term Being – and a Sacred Queen – a symbolic incarnation of the Earth, of the Moon and of the metaphysical principle defined with the term Becoming.

“I am that, you are this, this is you, that is me – I am the sky, you the earth”.

-Bṛhadāraṇyaka Upaniṣad

Similar 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, 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 conjunction between the Sky God or Sun God and the Earth Goddess or Moon Goddess, i.e. the metaphysical coincidence of opposites.

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The Sacred King (in relation to its sacredness we can remember that in archaic Rome the function of pontifex maximus was still a prerogative of kings) was especially associated with the Sun (the monarchical title “Highness” referred to the sovereigns until recent times was a precise reference to the height of the Sun in the celestial vault) and consequently he embodied the power of the celestial body that illuminates the world and enables all life on our planet: an example of this symbolic function can be found in the knight Gawain of the Arthurian cycle, whose strength continues to increase from dawn to noon to then gradually decrease until sunset: just like the strength of the Sun during its various daily phases.

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That’s why in the archaic societies was customary the prohibition to look the Sacred King in the face and in his presence all had to kneel and stare at the ground: it is not possible to stare at the Sun without risking of becoming blind.

“Like the sun, (the king) burns the eyes and hearts and nobody on the earth can stare his face”.

-Mānavadharmaśāstra

The fact that the very existence of the Sacred King was identified with the annual apparent path of the Sun in the celestial vault explains the reason why he was subject to a ritual killing, real or symbolic, at the end of his annual function, on the day of the Winter Solstice, when the Sun temporarily dies: only after three days his successor, previously selected, was crowned, raised to royal dignity and celebrated.

The golden crown symbolizes the power of the solar 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 simbolically hit at the heel by an arrow, in their only vulnerable point, the tendon of the foot, part of the body that had the same symbolic function of the femur since the tendons allow the muscular movement of the body, synonymous with life.

Over time every archaic society altered 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 and isolated himself in a symbolic grave from which he would rise again following the ritual death of a substitute that had obtained the divine role during that last day of kingship; in other cases a symbolic animal was killed in place of the Sacred King; in other cases a wooden effigy that represented the Sacred King was torn down. In these scenarios the Sacred King in charge could confirm his role or hand it down at the end of a selective competition, but in the long run he refused to be killed or replaced and thanks to his authority and the support of his faithful managed to extend his divine mandate indefinitely, until death, and this particular deviation from the original procedure influenced and shaped 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 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 embodied by those who proved their superiority in various annual competitions held to determine the qualities and peculiarities, male and female, of the candidates. In this regard 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, by means of a footrace between young women, the one who would have symbolically incarnated Hera, the Earth Goddess, and, by means of a footrace between young men, the one who would have symbolically incarnated Zeus (whose name preserves the Sanskrit root div- [“day, brightness”]), the Sky God.

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Every year the Sacred Queen and Sacred King had to confirm their role or bestow kingship to those who proved to be, inevitably over time, more worthy of it: hence the immortality and eternal youth of the deities.

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