Although we have written about caste in Caste and Social Order, it will be helpful to address it more broadly. Georges Dumezil , whose research into the social order of Indo-European peoples came too late to have any influence on either Guenon or Evola, extends our understanding through common historical, philological and mythological patterns. We intend to focus here on the ancient Roman system.
There is often a confusion over the nature of “hierarchy”, particularly for those who can only think in terms of rigid structures of command and control. Instead, we think to think in terms of functions and dialectical relationships. Dumezil recognized three fundamental principles, or functions, which correspond to the inner nature of three different types of men. These are:
- The maintenance of cosmic and juridical order
- The exercise of physical prowess
- The promotion of physical well-being
Clearly these functions correspond to the three higher castes: Brahman, Kshatriya, Vaishya. In one sense, they are in opposition, but that is resolved in a higher understanding. For example, the “spiritual authority” of the Brahman and the “temporal power” of the Kshatriya can be united in a higher principle, viz, the will to maintain the cosmic order in the physical realm. Then, the three castes are united in the principle of initiation, the “twice-born”, as opposed to the Sudra who are not initiated. One could even go further: the four castes from the entire social body and, as such, in opposition to the outcastes.
The social order on earth is a reflection of the order of the gods. For the Romans, Jupiter, Mars, and Quirinus are the gods for the respective three functional castes. Note how this mirrors the functional caste structure. Jupiter represents the highest, or Brahman, caste, then Mars the Kshatriya and finally Quirinus, the Vaishya. Furthermore, since the function of the Brahmin caste has two aspects — one facing the cosmic order and the other facing the juridical order of the city — it is represented by two gods. In the case of the Romans, these are Jupiter and Dius Fidius. These, then, would correspond to the Royal function and the properly priestly function.
Nature of Authority
It is easy to forget, in our day, that life for the ancients was totally dominated by religious conceptions, down to the smallest detail. Every important action was accompanied by a rite; even the home had its sacred hearth and daily rituals, with the paterfamilias acting as priest. There was no notion of positive law; every law of the city was considered to be of divine origin. We see in the example of the Spartan battle at Plataea, that their action is utterly irrational from the secular perspective: while their kinsmen are dying from the attack of the Persian archers, the Spartans passively hold their ground until the diviner determines the proper moment to initiate the battle just from “reading” the entrails of a sacrificed animal.
Priest and King
Just as the father was both head of the family and priest at home, so also, in the ancient traditions, the chief priest of the city religion was also its king (also called prytanes or archon). This shows that there was no separation between the royal initiation and the priestly initiation. The king would maintain the public sacred hearth, offer sacrifices, lead the prayers, and preside over religious ceremonies. Fustel de Coulanges describes the inauguration of a Roman king:
These king-priests were inaugurated with a religious ceremonial. The new king, being conducted to the summit of the Capitoline Hill, was seated upon a stone seat, his face turned towards the south. On his left was seated an augur, his head covered with sacred fillets, and holding in his hand the augur’s staff. He marked off certain lines in the heavens, pronounced a prayer, and, placing his hand upon the king’s head, supplicated the gods to show, by a visible sign, that this chief was agreeable to them. Then, as soon as a flash of lightning or a flight of birds had manifested the will of the gods the new king took possession of his charges. … There was a reason for such a custom; as the king was to be supreme chief of the religion, and the safety of the city was to depend upon his prayers and sacrifices, it was important to make sure, in the first place, that this king was accepted by the gods.
Here, if nothing else, we see the notion of the divine right of kings and the role of lightning as a sign from God, even to this day.
Since the Traditional man depended on the gods in all aspects of his life, he certainly depended on the priest who was the intermediary between himself and the gods. His power of prayer, sacrifice and augury made him the clear leader of the city. Thus, the chief priest was also the magistrate, judge and military chief.
Romulus and Numa
Romulus, the first king of Rome, knew the science of augury and founded the city in accordance with religious rites. He created the cult of Jupiter and build the first temple to the god. Romulus was a warrior king and urged the Romans to cultivate the art of war.
While Romulus aggrandized Rome through war, the next king, Numa, aggrandized her through peace. Numa reformed and codified the Roman cult, with its three branches devoted to Jupiter, Mars, and Quirinus. For the bloody sacrifice of his predecessor, he substituted the unbloody sacrifice of bread and wine. He also founded a shrine dedicated to Fides Publica and taught the Romans the oath of Fides, which refers to faith. Dumezil writes on this topic:
When Christianity gave the substantive noun “faith” and the verb “believe” the overtones they still have today, it was at the very least rediscovering and revivifying very ancient usages.
We hope that this will clear up some questions, while raising even more serious ones. First of all, it establishes the rationale for the caste hierarchy. The ruler is not subservient to the priest because, in fact, the ruler is the chief priest. This understanding persisted into the Hermetic Tradition as we saw in Thomas Campanella’s City of the Sun, in which the metaphysician is also the ruler. Furthermore, unlike the priest of today, the priest had real power (spiritual, not temporal): his prayers and sacrifices are efficacious, his auguries insightful.
In Romulus and Numa, we see the beginning of the dialectic that persists to our day: the warrior-priest vs the mystical priest; the terrible vs the ordered; Dionysus vs Apollo. Numa’s successor, Tullus Hostilius, mocked Numa and his institutions, as well as piety to the gods, on the grounds that it made men cowardly and effeminate.
For the ancients, the both the laws of Romulus and those of Numa were divinely inspired, so they lived with the contradictions. For the Hermetist, every apparent opposition is a polarity that is resolved in a higher synthesis.
The Ancient City, Numa Denis Fustel de Coulanges
Mitra-Varuna, Georges Dumezil
Gods of the Ancient Northmen, Georges Dumezil
Archaic Roman Religion (2 vols), Georges Dumezil