Lacedaemon—Home of the Warrior Philosophers A Bitter/Sweet Journey
The moment was frozen in time as my hand obeyed the prayers of my mind. I tossed three coins in the air so they could catch the glint of Apollo’s sun before descending into the watery realm of Poseidon.
Yards out, I could see black heads bobbing in the waves. In another time they would have been Apollo’s dolphins answering my ceremonial gifting. Minutes passed as I prepared to submerge myself in the sparkling crystal clear sea. As I stood unclothed, an honoring to the Olympians of my human vulnerability, power and strength, I wondered what my actions must have seemed like to the swimming Greeks.Today, the Greek Orthodox Church has a strangle hold on Greece and my actions would speak of ‘pagan’ worship of the old Olympic Gods and Goddesses. In the realm of materialism, statues of the Olympians are OK to sell to the tourist, but my ‘god,’ offering, prayers, and three coins to the Olympians would smack of idol worship and unchristian like behavior. Heaven forbid, what next? Would this lead to philosophical discourse on street corners questioning current dogmatic beliefs? Or worse, lead to the practice of divination; a well known practice of ancient Lakedaemon, better known as Sparta? My honoring and prayers were not playful actions, but a philosophical/spiritual/religious practice that I have conducted for more than thirty years whenever I have traveled to foreign countries seeking the mysteries of heaven and earth and indigenous spiritual knowledge. This ritualistic ceremony is a blessing for the journey. It is asking permission to do spiritual work. My actions, words and thoughts were addressed to energetic forces that I know are still alive and conscious and will respond to heartfelt intent. I do not have faith, I do not believe. I have a knowing of this truth. The three coins symbolized myself plus my two martial/spiritual students who were traveling with me. We had spent the first night in Corinth and were now headed to Sparti (Sparta) with only a stopover at Nemea—the location of Herakles first Labour. In 1962 as a young 16 year-old, a visual tale literally changed my life—a vision and soul rite of passage, so to speak. It vibrated a deep soul memory within the core of my being that never left and only grew stronger. It opened the gateway for a birthing of a personal mythology of the heroic warrior and the sacrifice of heart that would eventually take me across the world seeking and searching for knowledge and power. The visual tale was the film The 300 Spartans. It was in 2004 when I had a knowing that I needed to be at Thermopylae on the day of my 60th birth in 2006. In August of 2006 twenty-one of our students and families, my wife and I and our two adult children journeyed to Greece. Our warrior pilgrimage took us from the sacred sites of Athens onward to Eleusis, location of the Sanctuary of Demeter and its ancient Mystery School and finally to the oracle sites of mountainous Delphi and the Temple of Apollo and Athena. On the day of my birth, we journeyed to the Hot Springs where I walked barefoot the sacred and hallowed grounds of Thermopylae. The sparsely treed ground was hard and scorching as if the memory of that time 2500 years ago was imbedded in the cracked earth beneath my feet. As well, the purified waters of the flowing volcanic sulphurous springs that I dipped my feet into were indescribably hot. The waters and the rocky ground mirrored to me their witness of that heroic battle. It was a day that was sweet and sour for me as I walked the sacred ground barefoot and watered and purified the soil with the tears of my soul. In 2006 I needed to be in Thermopylae not Sparta. Now in the fall of 2010 I needed to journey to Sparta. My two students, who had been with me in 2006, asked if we were going back to Thermopylae. An emphatic “NO” was my response. I completed what I needed to do in 2006 and I will never return to the Hot Gates.
SpartiArriving in Sparti is visually unexciting. There are no signs acknowledging this land, this city, as the homeland of the Warrior Philosophers except for an awesome statue of King Leonidas by the stadium. With this being said, the most important aspect that is missing is any sense of the warrior spirit that was and still is Sparta’s historical birthright. Not that I would want to see workers of the Municipality of Sparta walking around dressed as ancient Spartan Knights, but I would love to see a shift in the consciousness. This would be a shift from the purely mundane materialistic to a sense of spirit, honor and pride in their warrior philosophical ancestral heritage and to the restoration of equality since the ancient Spartans referred to themselves as Equals. And we must not forget one of the most important ingredients—the equality of men and women. If you have never been to Sparti, you may question this statement about spirit, honor and pride. When historical ruins are left to linger as an afterthought or absence of thought of ‘glory days gone by,’ this act alone paints a vivid picture of an absolute rejection of one’s ancestral heritage. This is the case with Sparti/Sparta. We arrived in Sparti late in the afternoon and checked into the Menelaion Hotel, named after the site of the sanctuary of Menelaus and Helen, the deified heroes of Sparta. The next day, a Sunday, was to be a martial and spiritual training day. I wanted to first meditate and train at the Sanctuary of Artemis Orthia. We would then finish the day with a session at the hilltop site of the step-pyramid structure and hero shrine of the Menelaion in honor of Menelaus, Helen (of Troy) and the Dioscuri, the twin heroic brothers of Helen—Castor and Polydeuces. Castor, the mortal one of the twins, was a martial artist and a teacher of swordsmanship to Herakles. Both were Spartan heroes, Polydeuces being an unbeatable boxer, while Castor was the fearless warrior. How appropriate for us to train on the sacred ground of the Dioscuri and to honor them and Herakles with prayers, meditation and martial activity. It was due to this myth of the Dioscuri that the ancient Spartans had two kings. The Dioscuri were Spartan’s patrons and protectors. Additionally, the Spartan kings were the priests of the Dioscuri. After breakfast we headed to the Sanctuary of Artemis Orthia (the Upright). I chose the Sanctuary of Artemis Orthia as our first training and meditation site as it was the most sacred place and religious gathering site within ancient Sparta I have an excellent sense of direction but attempting to discover the location of her sanctuary was to say the least, difficult. Finally, we saw a small sign pointing down a side road. What we discovered brought both anger and sadness. Artemis’s sacred ground, the religious navel of Sparta, appeared extremely unkempt, desecrated by lack of attention. A locked gate and fence circled the site and prevented us from entering. I was extremely upset at this turn of events but hoped the sacred site of the Dioscuri would be different. We headed out of town in search of the mythical, but real, ridge-top site of the Dioscuri, who symbolized the spiritual and physical in humans. We found the turnoff and proceeded up a narrow road that seemingly ended at a small chapel. But there was an even narrower road, better described as a path that still continued up the mountainside. It appeared as if it had not been used often as the foliage was encroaching on the road in certain places. Not to be deterred and in the spirit of Artemis, whose domain is the dangerous and exciting moments of life, we continued up the mountain in our four-door BMW, dubbed the ‘black chariot.’ After a slightly harrowing ride up the curvy mountain trail, we finally arrived at the sacred site of the Dioscuri. And what a beautiful scene awaited our arrival—the Valley of Lacedaemon, the name Homer attached to it. We could see the entire fertile and lush valley with the River Eurotas running through it. The beauty of the valley was magnificently and magically framed by Mt. Taygetus, the mythical haunt of Artemis. It was a crystal clear day with an azure sky holding within it a radiant sun ruled by none other than Hades. It was boiling hot. Taking a deep breath of the energetic splendor, I could almost hear Zeus, Hera, Poseidon, Athena, Hades and the other Olympians shouting their approval. Finally humans were going to bless and honor this sacred ground of the Age of Heroes and the Dioscuri—sacred stones and soil that for so long had been neglected. It was my desire to honor this holy ground, not only spiritually, but martially, in tribute and reverence to the Age of Heroes and the spirit of the Spartan warriors. Perchance; could this simple and heartfelt act be the beginning of another Age of Heroes? As I exited our chariot, a surreal sight met my eyes. There seemed to be an abandoned vehicle by the farthest corner of the ruins from where we were parked. The passenger’s side door was open and its car seat was missing. As I walked closer, I realized; we were not alone. It seemed that a local had taken this opportunity on a Sunday to drive up here and work on his car. Our new friend, and soon-to-be spectator, looked up from his work and smiled. I returned the smile while thinking, “What a story he’s going to be able to tell his friends over ouzo.” Talk about the ironies of life. There was only one Greek here on this sacred site on a Sunday. And he was working on his car no less. This is hallowed ground—the sacred site and birth place of one of the most recognizable Western myths and legends—the beautiful Helen and the tale of Troy, which to the ancient Greeks was considered one of the greatest and most important events in the Age of Heroes. With the fall of Troy, the Age of Heroes ended. It seems to me that the modern citizens of Sparti don’t cherish their Spartan heritage. And an even larger irony is that the ancient Spartans were the most spiritual, religious and philosophical of all the Greeks at that time in history. One only needs to visit the museum in town to verify this truth (more about this later). We changed into our black, and let me not forget to mention, heavy training uniform or ‘gi’ and proceeded to climb to the highest and hottest part of the ruins. As we made our way across the broken stones and dirt of the once glorious, but now all but forgotten, temple and shrine, I could sense the latent power beneath my feet. With Apollo’s darts beaming into my back, I stepped through the fabric of time and felt the joy and sorrow of this place. In the next moment, I was kneeling offering prayers to the land and the ancestors. After further prayers and meditation, we began our physical training utilizing various areas of the ruins. The sharp stones and uneven ground provided an excellent stage for the realization of hand-to-hand martial training. The sun, energizing but not debilitating, and the awakened earth flowed together within me and brought a heightened spirit and memory to every cell of my body and mind. My body was happy. My mind was happy. And my spirit was happy. After a period of time, I taught my students the war cry of the Spartans—Eleleleu. There is a certain manner to verbalize this battle chant to achieve the full power of its vibration. As we chanted this out over the valley, the winds responded acknowledging the ancientness of its power. How long has it been and when was the last time that this cry had echoed throughout Lakonia? Next, I taught my students the strategic use of terrain through positioning, distancing, timing and most importantly feeling (intuition). This was an exercise in mind power, or what I call a strong mind, as a misstep could cause a loss of footing and stability that could propel one down on the edge of a jagged, and many times, unforgiving rock. Moreover, this exercise allowed my students to learn more about themselves under these non-dojo (training hall) conditions. Physical training is important in the martial arts, but what is mostly overlooked, and what is even more important is knowing ourselves and the training of our mind. The importance of strategy and knowing ourselves has its roots here in Lacedaemon. “Know thyself” is essential for all people’s evolution of self[i] and higher self. This central Delphic maxim was attributed to Chilon—Spartan Philosopher and one of the Seven Ancient Sages of Greece. In our training, it was more than appropriate to honor not only the Lacedaemonian Chilon but furthermore, Athena—goddess of the heroic, martial ideal, who personified excellence in close combat and strategy. I completed our training session with a meditative journey of martial power and then we ended with further meditation and prayers and bid farewell to our new Sparti friend. However, our day was not as yet complete as we were headed for the ruins of ancient Sparta—the Acropolis. Once again the lack of attention and caring was maddening. Ironically, this uncaring attitude of the Sparti government and citizens was beneficial for our training. There is always a gifting in a wounding. And our gift was the freedom to explore and train with nothing restricting our ability to be one with the sacredness of the ancient site. There were no crowds, no guards or roped off areas like most other sacred sites around the world. We were not going to train here today, but I needed to get a feel for the Acropolis of Sparta and the Sanctuary of Athena Poliouchos (Athena Guardian of the City) before our training session the next morning. We only spent a short time walking among the existing ruins of Acropolis. But there was no indication of the location of the Sanctuary of Athena (intelligent courage). Historically it was located on the slope above the Acropolis. Even though the sanctuary was one of the most important cult locations in ancient Sparta, there were no ruins left or even a sign honoring and explaining the importance of Athena’s cult. As we were returning to the car, I spied an awesome gifting from the Spartan ancestors. But to my dismay, one of my students had seen it first on the walk into the Acropolis. Thus, it was a gifting for him and not for me. This made it even more powerful for him as my ‘owl eyes’ didn’t see it on the way in and I usually miss nothing. The gifting was a pristine luculent luminous or translucent serpent’s skin that was ascending up a rock face. It was the most perfect serpent’s skin that I had ever seen. It was perfectly positioned on the stone and mirrored the ascending serpents that are on the insignia of the Dioscuri. This was a magical gift and an acknowledgement of our purpose and the training that we had just completed and would conduct the following morning. Back at the hotel, I lectured on divination and the ‘god in chains.’ There is a commonly accepted truth that in Sparta there was a statue of Ares—the Greek War God. Ares represented violence, war-like frenzy and slaughter. This statue was wrapped in chains and supposedly symbolized that the spirit of Ares (blind violence) was never to leave the environs of the Spartan lands. This meaning was the conclusion of a Greek travel writer—the Second Century CE travel writer, Pausanias. People take as truth Pausanias’ assumption and conclusion that “in Lakonia they think the god of war will never desert them if they keep him in chains….”[ii] However, as a spiritual/religious philosopher and martial artist, this explanation and symbolism doesn’t make sense. One of Ares’ principle attributes was bloodlust. But this was not a feature of the Spartans. In fact, bloodlust was the antithesis of the Spartan mind and heart. So what is the truth? The Spartans recognized the totality of human emotion always striving to achieve harmony within oneself and within the Spartan community. They intimately followed the maxim, ‘know thyself.’ The importance to the Spartan mind of understanding fear and the detachment to it and the ‘pressing down’[iii] of it is revealed by the chained statue of Ares. The chains did not symbolize that the spirit of war should never exit the city of Sparta. They symbolized the detachment and pressing down of fear and the resultant bloodlust, which was not acceptable in their philosophical culture of perfected minds and hearts. Surely, the Athenians, and others would want you to think otherwise.
The Museum in SpartiI believe that the ancient Spartans were first and foremost Warrior Philosophers. To many people they were just the opposite; unintelligent warriors bent on war. This has been a viewpoint put forth by historians and scholars who base their theories, premises and assumptions on information or knowledge that is secondhand. They may also base their theories on their life experiences as an observer and not as a participant in martial/spiritual studies. There is another glaring problem with discovering the truth of the past. It is written by the victors not the vanquished. Thus, the majority of the written history of the Spartans has been viewed through the prejudicial prism of the Athenians—archenemies of the Spartans. What then is the truth? Are we going to believe historians and a travel writer? Or is there some type of proof that would contradict them? There is no doubt that the Spartans were the most religiously pious of all the Greeks. In addition, there is my esoteric theory on the chained statue of Ares. Interestingly enough, the statue of Ares was not the only statue that was wrapped in chains in Sparta. A statue of Aphrodite, the wife of Ares, was similarly fettered. Why, we may ask. In Greek mythology, there is a concept called “Harmonia, which is usually translated as ‘harmony,’ but means any union in which the parts form a seamless whole while retaining their distinct identities. Harmonia is the daughter of sea-born Aphrodite and fiery Ares, whom Empedocles[iv] identified with Love and Strife, the two primary cosmic forces, which bring about all change in the universe. Pythagoras[v] likewise said that cosmic Harmonia is born of the union of Love and Strife. She reconciles all oppositions.”[vi] In other words, the chains on both statues symbolized the concept of control or ‘pressing down the energy’ of both the blind violence and bloodlust of Ares and the desire of Aphrodite. This is the desire, the worldly lust (voluptas mundi), which may lead to illicit love. This is the type of love that causes dysfunctional behavior and actions. It is interesting to note that the Spartans didn’t cover up their women or make them second-class citizens as cultures and societies since the time of the Spartans have done to control the worldly lust of their people. But is there still more proof outside of my theory on the reason for the chains? What else is there to verify that the Spartans were Warrior Philosophers? Ascending serpents symbolize the awakening of the serpent energy within ourselves. Philosophically, awakening our serpent power allows the energy of the earth, the angels of the earth mother, to ascend and marry the energy of the stars, angels of the heavenly father, into a union of opposites. Philosophy aside, this actually occurs physiologically within our bodies. Once awakened our serpent energy begins ascending up our spinal column activating each chakra or energy center until union is completed at the pineal gland (enlightenment) within the skull (symbolized sometimes as a cup). At this point our serpent is no longer just of the earth but is now of the earth and heavens. This awakening, this inner fire of spiritual awakening, occurs within our body and mind (heart). This divine solar force arouses the serpent energy in our first energy center or chakra.[vii] This is the water serpent that is aroused by the fire of our spirit—a supreme interpenetration of heavenly and earthly elements: fire and water. This is a union of opposites, a baptism of fire and water that leads to healing and enlightenment and the resurrection of the androgynous life-force. This was the knowledge and the wisdom utilized by the ancient Spartans—an enlightened culture of Warrior Philosophers. I am amazed, but then again, I am not surprised that no one has ever connected the serpent knowledge utilized by the Spartan culture and society as a foundation of truth to their enlightened culture. Instead people have accepted the word of a travel writer projecting his own preconceived notions about the Spartans as gospel. I understand that this may be partially due to the fact that the primary focus has been on Thermopylae and not on Sparta. Please understand the Hot Gates are closer to my heart than anyone could ever know, but Thermopylae was just one moment in time that exemplified sacrifice, honor, courage, perseverance, loyalty, tears and freedom. The desire to be free people and to live in peace. It was a victory in defeat that presented a noble but sober image of life and death. But the divine and human qualities embodied at Thermopylae were not birthed there; they were birthed someplace else. Quite simply they were born out of the soil of the land and the vibrant mountains of Lacedaemon all framed by the wide-open skies. But primarily, they were birthed within the heart and the mind of a people—the brothers and sisters of Sparta. The next day after training in the Acropolis we bid farewell to Sparti and headed to Olympia and then on to our final destination—Delphi. As we left town, I mused on our time here. The memories, experiences and training had been awesome. We had met and talked to some of the locals and made some friends, enjoyed good food and drink. However, with all that we had discovered, experienced and felt it was still a bitter/sweet time for me in Sparti. But then again; isn’t that life? Rev. Dr. JC Husfelt