THE NEW LIGHTNING AND THE SUN
Continuing the Archetypes of Savitri Devi
Savitri Devi, the Greek-born convert to Hinduism, was one of the first people to convincingly consider the history of the world through the context of mythic archetypes. Drawing upon the kozmic principles of Hinduism, she saw the canvas of history as being punctuated from time to time by godlike figures, who embodied within themselves aspects of the gods from the Indian pantheon. History was cyclic, and into this recurring river of time would descend manifestations of the gods, represented by the kozmic symbols of the lightning and the sun. Each of these gods is an aspect of Brahma, as Devi states, "timeless existence, the essence of all that is. They are Brahma manifested in time (and automatically also against time) and yet timeless. These metaphysical themes are expressed in Hindu art in the figure of Hari-Hara (which shows the gods Vishnu and Shiva in one body), and also in the Trimurti (the three faced image of Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva).
Vishnu (wide-strider), the god of three-strides who sleeps in the kozmic ocean, was manifested in the Egyptian pharaoh Akhenaton, and was symbolised by the sun. The solar avatar relates to the tendency, as Devi put it, "to remain the same and to create- (and procreate) in its own likeness: the universal life force as opposed to change and thereby to disaggregation and death; the power that binds this time-bound universe to its timeless essence." The mirror image of Vishnu above time is Shiva (auspicious), the many-armed destroyer whose kozmic dance is the source of all movement in the kozmos. Shiva incarnated in the Mongol ruler Genghis Khan, whose empire stretched from China to the heart of Europe. Shiva as Genghis Khan is represented by the symbol of lightning, and signifies the man in time, one who brings the destruction of Shiva, and his attendant creation wrought by devastation.
The final deity form that incarnates in the stream of time is Kalki, the tenth avatar of Vishnu. Kalki will appear at the end of the current Kali Yuga, riding upon a white horse (in southern India, he is himself the horse), and carrying a huge sword with which he cleanses the earth, and initiates a new cycle of time. Kalki is the man against time, who lives in eternity while acting in time, and combines the symbols of both the lightning and the sun. This means that the man against time partakes of the essence of Vishnu and Shiva, being a combination of the detached timeless scholar and the involved time-held warrior.
According to Devi, writing from between 1948 and 1956 in The Lightning and the Sun, no hero has yet convincingly expressed the full characteristics of the Kalkian man against time, and that this: "last great individual -an absolutely harmonious blending of the sharpest of opposites; equally sun and lightning- is the one whom the faithful of all religions and the bearers of practically all cultures await." However, there are figures who presage the avatar of Kalki, being the avatars of the avatar, and Adolf Hitler is considered to be one such person. He himself stated in 1928: "I am not he; but while nobody comes forward to prepare the way for him, I do so."
The framework provided by Savitri Devi can be applied to other historical figures, and even to one who appears to be another avatar of the man against time, and one who realized his kozmic role even more fully than Hitler did.
THE MACEDONIAN SUN
Alexander the Great was born in 356 BCE, the son of Philip of Macedonia. He ascended his father's throne at the age of 20, whereupon he brought to fruition his father's dream of a coordinated Greek empire. Setting out to avenge the souls of past mainland and Asia Minor Greeks, who had for centuries been harassed by the Persians, Alexander never returned to his homeland, but continued onwards, creating the largest empire the world had ever known. At the battle of Issus, in 333 BCE, he defeated the Persian king Darius; in 331 BCE, he captured the city of Babylon, followed by the major cities of Susa and Persepolis, and became king of Persia. Searching for Ocean, at the edge of the world, as he had been taught by his tutor Aristotle, Alexander's campaign advanced eastward, conquering Afghanistan and the upper Indus. Finally, when his army refused to go any further, and when it was evident that the edge of the world was still no closer, Alexander agreed to turn around and head for home. He returned to the city of Babylon, and whilst organising his plans to invade Arabia, he died at the eternal age of thirty-three.
Employing Savitri Devi's definition of the Solar man above time as a force of continuity, rather than change, it would initially appear that Alexander was a poor choice; although her choice, Akhenaton, was as equally destructive on a local level as Alexander was. On the surface, Alexander appears to be more in the vein of Shiva, a destructive force that laid waste to much of the then known world. However, beneath this vicious veneer, Alexander did things vastly different from his predecessors, and in his own way, acted as a civilising solar force. Aristotle had taught him that small city-states were the only form of viable government, and Alexander took on this concept, but combined it with his ideas of empire, so that as he moved ever-onwards, he left new cities in his wake; sixteen named after himself. In sharp contrast to the attitudes of his teacher, and most Greeks, though, Alexander did not view the various cultures he encountered as inferior to Greek culture, but tolerated local traditions, religions, and customs, and saw his role as one who brought Hellenic culture to enhance what was already there. He even went so far as to adopt Persian dress, Persian forms of greeting (the proskynesis, a combined kiss and bow), and employed a native eunuch called Bagoas.
Alexander was also recognized, within his own lifetime, as an avatar of the divine. The Macedonian family of Alexander had long claimed descent from the demigod Heracles, whilst it was said that Alexander's mother, Olympia, had taken part in the local rustic mystery cults (involvement which angered the more practical King Philip). This occult association led to a rumour that Alexander's real father was not Philip, but Zeus. From the beginning, then, he was recognized as a demigod, and it was this touch of divinity that encouraged his unprecedented conquest. In addition to his descent from Zeus and Heracles, Alexander identified himself with the Achaean hero Achilles. He carried a copy of the Iliad throughout his campaigns, and viewed himself as a second Achilles, with his lover Hephaistion being Proculus to his Achilles.
Such was Alexander's devotion to the gods from whom he was said to descend that whilst in Egypt in 332 BCE, he made the long trek to the oasis at Siwa, a sacred place dedicated to the oracle of Amun; a god who was recognized as the Egyptian equivalent of Zeus. The respect that Alexander had of native culture, meant that he could easily identify himself as the son of Amun, and a temple carving shows him conversing with Amun, with an inscription which reads: "Alexander is king of the south and north, chosen of Amun, and beloved of the sun-god Ra, son of the sun, lord of rising". At Siwa, Alexander was taken privately into the temple by the priests of Amun, and was told something he never revealed, not even on his deathbed. We can conject, though, that it was final confirmation that he was indeed the son of Zeus-Amun.
As a final note to the divinity of Alexander, it has been recently argued that his precedent, of the divine incarnated in human form, provided the template, not only for the Roman emperors who would later claim divinity, but for the idea of messiah who is god-incarnate. This idea was, and is, an anathema to Judaism, where a messiah is merely a human king with an important human role. This theory also extends to the religions of Buddhism and Hinduism, where in the case of the former, it is said that the more divine nature of the Buddha was emphasised in the wake of Alexander's excursions into Asia and India.
THE PRUSSIAN LIGHTNING
An example of the lightning man existing in time comes from more recent history, in the figure of Frederick the Great of Prussia (1712-1786). The young Frederick grew up under the hand of a tyrannical father, the king, who tried vain to break his son's will, and renounce his right of succession. The king's antagonism came from his son's intelligence, and his interest in the arts, philosophy, and other pursuits the king regarded as female occupations; echoing the differences between the political Philip of Macedon and the magickally-minded Olympia and Alexander. In 1740, Frederick inherited the throne of Prussia, and with it a state that was wealthy and efficiently organised. From this solar base he created a country whose power was a force to be reckoned with, making his mark immediately by claiming the Austrian territory of Silesia. To do this, he implemented a new form of military strategy that would come to typify Prussian war, and had an echo in the Second World War. This technique was the lightning war, and the unpredictability of the lightning strikes and the war of attrition became the envy of Europe, where war had previously been a ponderous, mechanical process.
Under Frederick, Prussia became a truly modem state, and in tandem with military advancement, he revolutionized the land's industrial and agricultural systems: introducing the English idea of crop rotation, encouraging migration within Prussia, and immigration from skilled neighbours. He also reformed the judicial system, initiated widespread education and encouraged religious tolerance, stating: "everyone must seek salvation after his own way of thinking."
In his creation of a truly modem state, and his lightning wars, Frederick's rule hints at a combination of Lightning and Sun. This is no better revealed than in the man himself, and the military Emperor continued to pursue those pursuits his father had persecuted him for. In his life, he composed over 100 sonatas and concertos for flute; he wrote poetry, sponsored theatre, and embraced the products of the French Enlightenment. A loyal Francophile, he invited the philosopher Voltaire (with whom he enjoyed a correspondence of 42 years) to stay in residence at the Potsdam palace of Sans Souci; which Frederick designed himself. The court became a centre of art, philosophy, and science, and was described by Voltaire as "Sparta in the morning Athens in the afternoon"
THE LIGHTNING AND THE SUN/THE SWORD AND THE CHRYSANTHEMUM
We would be wise to be wary in identifying any individual as the man against time, the fill combining of the lightning and the sun, but one man who approaches such status is Yukio Mishima (1925-1970). Mishima was born Kimitake Hiraoka to an upper middle class Tokyo family, and became the "Leonardo da Vinci of modem Japan." From the beginning, his life was set in a slip of myth (just like Alexander the Great before him) being raised by his grandmother, who indulged his whims for fancy clothes and a way of life beyond the masks of the outside world. He pledged as a youth "I want to make a poem of my life," but he would later acknowledge his near archetypal role as the man who lives in eternity while acting in time, by saying "I slip through life as if I were a ghost, neither dead nor alive, making things up as I go along"
This fantastical life became the basis for Mishima's first book, Confessions of a Mask, which was published in 1949, on the urging of his patron, Yasunari Kawabata, Japan's premier novelist at the time. It was proclaimed a work of genius and Mishima followed it over the years with a number of skilfully-crafted novels (Thirst for Love, The Sound of Waves, Forbidden Colours, and The Temple of the Golden Pavilion). the four volume novel Sea of Fertility, and plays in both a modern style, as well as the traditional No and Kabuki forms. He infused his work with his knowledge of traditional Japan, which rivalled only that of scholars, but also drew on the literary heritage of the West. He read Swinburne, Wilde, D'Annunzio, Thomas Mann, Cocteau, and Proust. The European style (but not the American style) would later come to wield great influence on his writing.
As a writer, Mishima is most commonly linked with Cocteau and D'Annunzio, and the link extends beyond literary style. All three were poets, and all three knew how to devise their own publicity, while Mishima mirrored D'Annunzio's passion for sport in his own passion for bodybuilding. A natural exhibitionist, Mishima became as famous for his body as he was for his words. The versatility of Cocteau is shared with Mishima, but as Marguerite Yourcenar writes "Cocteau's art is the art of the sorcerer and Mishima's that of the visionary"
With such solid solar credentials, it would seem unlikely for Mishima to play any lightning role, but that is exactly what happened. He formed a private army, the Tatenokai, made up of a handpicked host of young men, with the aim of revitalizing the spirit of the samurai. Mishima saw the army as a way of reviving the "soul of the Samurai within myself," while the oath of the Tatenokai spoke to the larger national soul of Japan itself: "We hereby swear to be the foundation of Kakoku Nippon (Imperial Japan)." Mishima convinced high-ranking members of the Japanese army (some with right-wing leanings) to sponsor the Tatenokai, a decision which enabled Mishima to make his final flourish in the poem that was his life.
A characteristic common, and indeed vital, to all three of these mythic figures is that of Thanateros: the fundamental relationship between sex and death. Alexander the Great was accompanied from Macedonia to Babylon by his childhood lover Hephaistion. But in 324 BCE, Hephaistion became ill and died suddenly, leaving Alexander grief-stricken. From that time, the spirit of Thanateros hung over everything Alexander and his army did. Soothsayers read omens which said the youthful god-king would soon join Hephaistion, and one year later he did. A similar loss was pivotal to the life of Frederick the Great, when as an 18-year old Prussian crown prince he tried to escape to England with his lover, Lieutenant Hans Von Katte. They were captured, tried for desertion, and although their nobility should have spared both of them from capital punishment, Frederick's father ordered Katte killed as part of his continuing torment of his son. Rather than having an adverse effect on the prince's aspirations for the throne, the death of Katte seems to have hardened his resolve.
It is in Yukio Mishima, though, that the interplay between love and death is at its most evident. The formative moment for Mishima was the famous incident in which, as a young man, he was aroused for the first time by Guido Reni's image of the martyrdom of Saint Sebastian, where the saint's body is pierced with arrows in the perfect symbol of the union of eros and death. The theme of the saint himself would recur in Mishima's life: He translated D'Annunzio's The Martyrdom of St Sebastian, and supervised its Tokyo performance, and replicated the image in a photograph with himself as model. The theme of Thanateros though, was with Mishima constantly, and came into even greater focus in his later years. In his work it found its way into the four-volume Sea of Fertility (the first three volumes being Spring Snow, Runaway Horses, and The Temple of Dawn), which explicated the link between violence and sensuality, and the contrast of self-indulgence with self-sacrifice. Philosophically, the spirit of Thanateros was inherent in the code of the samurai, where a glorious death is hoped for, and death is not feared as one imagines oneself dying every morning.
On 25 November 1970, Mishima embraced Thanateros for the last time. He completed the final book in his tetrology, The Decay of the Angel, left it with a note stating "Human life is limited, but I would like to live forever," and made his way, with four members of the Tatenokai, to the Ichigya army base in Tokyo. Using only the weapons of samurai tradition, they took a general hostage, allowing Mishima to address the resulting assembly of troops, decrying the loss of Japan's national spirit in the wake of American occupation, and the need to restore traditional worship of the emperor. Mishima then committed hara-kiri, plunging a dagger into his stomach and his 21-year old lieutenant and lover, Masakatsu Morita, after three attempts, decapitated him. Morita, now lacking the physical strength to follow Mishima, ordered one of the other Tatenokai to decapitate him. The three remaining men placed the two heads upright together, cried and prayed, and even the captured general murmured the Buddhist prayer for the dead: "Namu Amida Butsu."
Mishima's final act of theatre may seem unfathomable to an average person, but it has all the marks of the man against time whose actions, touched by the spirit of Thanateros, are expressions of the kozmos. As Mishima's mother said of her son's death: "Don't grieve for him. For the first time in his life, he did what he wanted to do."
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