“And in Lacedaemon and Crete not only men but also women have a pride in their high cultivation. And hereby you may know that I am right in attributing to the Lacedaemonians [Lacedaemonia was the name borne by the city of Sparta from Late Antiquity to the 19th century] this excellence in philosophy and speculation: If a man converses with the most ordinary Lacedaemonian, he will find him seldom good for much in general conversation, but at any point in the discourse he will be darting out some notable saying, terse and full of meaning, with unerring aim; and the person with whom he is talking seems to be like a child in his hands.”
Religion in Sparta played a major role, far above any other Greek state. Spartan supremacy was not only physical, but spiritual. This apparent contradiction is explained by the Hellenic religion, drinking directly from the original Indo-European religion: a religion of the strong—not a religion of self-pity and worship of the sick, the weak, the downtrodden and unhappy. In Sparta, also, that religion had been placed at the service of a shield specifically designed to withstand the rigors of the Iron Age.
Hellenic polytheism was something deeply natural and vital, and is inextricably woven to the memory of the blood, as “divinity consists precisely in that there are Gods and not one god.” Our ancestors made of their gods spiritual monuments containing all those qualities peculiar to them that had made them thrive and succeed. They deposited in them higher feelings with which they gave way and perfected together a being who existed before in fuzzy and dormant state. The creation of gods is something capital when valuing a people, for the gods are the personification of the highest ideals and values of that people. One can say that the gods created the race, and the race their gods. Through the gods we can know the people who worshiped them, the same way that through the people—ourselves, our ancestors, our history and our brothers—we meet the gods.
The peoples had their gods and the gods had their villages. Sparta worshiped typical Hellenic deities, although two among them acquired singularly relevant and important roles and became the most worshiped deities, even by the time of the Dorian invasion: Apollo and Artemis. They were twin brothers, reconfirming the cult of “sacred twins.” Their father was Zeus, the heavenly father; and their mother was Leto, daughter of Titans, who to escape the jealousy of Hera (Zeus’ heavenly wife) had to become a she-wolf and run away to the country of the hyperboreans. Note here the presence of an important symbolic constant, the heavenly principle (Zeus, eagle, lightning) together with the earthly principle (Leto, wolf, titan).
Apollo was the son of Zeus and brother of Artemis, god of beauty, of poetry (he was called “blond archpoet”), music, bow and arrow, youth, the sun, the day; of manhood, light and pride. He could predict the future and each year returned from Hyperborea in a chariot drawn by swans. (As Lohengrin, the king of the Grail, with his boat, and like other medieval myths about the “Swan Knight” as Helias—obviously a version of the Roman Helios in France.) Apollo presided over the chorus of the nine muses, deities that inspired artists, and lived on Mount Helicon. He was conceived as a young, blond and blue-eyed man, holding a lyre, harp or bow, and possessor of a manly, clean, youthful and pure beauty—“Apollonian” beauty. The mythology explained that in his childhood he killed the serpent Python (in other versions a dragon), setting in its place, with the help of the hyperboreans, the sanctuary of Delphi.
Heracles also killed a snake when he was a newborn. Such legends represent the struggle that initially led the Indo-European invaders against the telluric gods of the pre-Indo-European peoples. Apollo received several titles including Phoebus (“radiant”), Aegletes (“light of the sun”) and Lyceus (“born of wolf,” as in some way were Romulus and Remus). As equivalents gods of Apollo in other peoples we have Apollo Phoebus (Roman), Abellio or Belenus (Celtic ), Baldur (German), Byelobog (Slavs), Lucifer (medieval heretics), Baal (Phoenician), the Beelzebub demonized by the Church and Belial: another demon of Christianity.
Apollo was worshiped in the most important festival of Sparta, the Carnea. There they paid homage to the under-god in the figure of the ram. To carry out the rituals the priests chose five unmarried men who for four years should continue a vow of chastity.
Artemis was the sister of Apollo, daughter of Zeus, goddess of night, moon, bow and arrow; of forests, hunting and virginity, but also of labor and male fertility. Artemis was usually depicted armed with bow and silver arrows, wearing a short and light tunic or skins of wild animals, carrying her hair up and accompanied by a pack of hunting dogs. Her car was pulled by deer, the animal most associated with her, and in fact she is sometimes depicted with horns of deer, reminiscent of the most primitive paganism. She was chaste and virgin in perpetuity, and virgin were her priestesses, Melissa (“bees,” another symbol of Artemis). She was harsh, stern, proud, sharp, wild, silent and cold: the result of a patriarchal work, the only model of female divinity able to command respect and devotion to such an ascetic and leathery virility as the Spartan.
The Dorian Artemis equaled the Celtic Artio, the Roman Diana, and the Slavic Dievana; but she had nothing to do with the Artemis worshiped by eunuch priests in the temple of Ephesus (Asia Minor, now modern Turkey): a goddess of “fertility” often depicted with black skin, multiple breasts, whimsical hairstyles, a body adornment and other oriental distortions. (Dievana was conceived by the ancient Slavs as a virgin goddess associated with hunting and the moon. For the Poles, she was a young virgin who hunted in the forests. South Slavs imagined her running through the forests of the Carpathians, and other Slavic peoples imagined her accompanied by bears or a pack of dogs. All these configurations correspond clearly to the Greek Artemis or Roman Diana.) In Greek mythology Artemis was a mentor to the young Atalanta, who became the best runner of Hellas, and no one, not even a god, was closer to conquer her than the mortal hero Orion. Apollo and Artemis were, finally, the sacred twin couple; day and night, sun and moon, gold and silver. They were the juvenile archetypes of Spartan masculinity and femininity, respectively.
Sparta venerated the heroes of the Iliad, especially Achilles, but also Menelaus and Helen, kings of Sparta in Homer’s mythology. Heracles was practically a Spartan national hero (remember that, according to tradition, he was the patriarch that founded the royal lineages of Sparta), and his figure was hugely popular among young men.
The city of Sparta had forty-three temples dedicated to various gods and twenty-two temples dedicated to the heroes (including those of the Iliad), whose deeds inspired the flourishing generations; more than fifteen statues of gods, four altars and numerous funerary tombs. There was also a temple dedicated to Lycurgus, worshiped as a god. In a city the size of Sparta, the number of religious buildings was very noticeable.
In religious ceremonies, men and women—particularly those in age of dating—attended, entirely naked as they did during the processions, the tournaments, the beauty contests and the dances. This already implies that the Spartans were not ashamed of their bodies, but that proudly displayed them whenever they could because they were robust, well-formed and harmonious. These events were festivals of beauty, Dionysian ceremonies in which the body was worshiped and beautified by effort and sacrifice. According to Plato, a beautiful body promises a beautiful soul and “beauty is the splendor of truth.”
The athletic custom of shaving the body hair and smear oneself with oil before a competition was of Spartan origin, although the Celts were given to body shave before battles. They sought thereby to extol the body; give relief, volume, detail, brightness and “life” to the muscles, therefore proudly displaying the result of years and years of grueling physical training and strenuous efforts, probably with the aim of finding the best partner and/or gaining prestige.
The guilt and sense of sin that Christianity tried to impose in the field of body pride made man feel ashamed of the very things he was proudest. Judeo-Christian morality, by condemning hygiene, care, training and the preparation of the body as “sinful,” “sensual” and “pagan” gradually achieved that the European population—converted into an amorphous herd whose attitude to any hint of divine perfection was met with resentment and mistrust—forgot that their bodies also were a creation and a gift from God.
For young people of both sexes such festivals served to became familiar with each other, because we think that Sparta was a city with few inhabitants, where thanks to public ceremonies everyone knew everybody by sight and was integrated into the popular. It was at these events where you watched and chose your future spouse. The competition also served to establish hierarchies in beauty, courage, strength, agility, hardness, endurance, courage, skill and speed; and the best men would join the best women, as might be the case for the coronation of a king and a queen in a contest, or a champion and a championess in a competition. In his Republic Plato said that it is necessary that the best men join the best women most of the time, and that the worst men join the worst women; and that you have to raise the children of the first, not those of the second. Thanks to this, and to the facilities and even obligations of marriage, the young Spartans married men and women between twenty and twenty-five years.
Le us imagine all those pagan cults of sacrifice, struggle, union and that glorification of the collective existence of a great people. That’s pride and socialist joy or nationalism, a cult for effort and struggle through which the Spartans themselves nourished themselves, as the warriors’ deeds made that the youngest would want to match them and beat them, they longed for their opportunity to demonstrate their flowering qualities. Moreover, knowledge of the deeds of the society helped Spartans to know themselves; to be proud of their homeland, and to become aware of its grandeur and superiority. Everything was wisely designed for the burning of Spartan pride to last.
What would ritualism in such a “socialist” country be? It was simple and austere, and the Spartans took it with fanatical solemnity, for all rituals were perfect and the result flawless. The rites had to be carried out at whatever cost. It is known that before the battles the Spartans celebrated a sacrifice, usually a male goat: a fertility sign, and under no circumstances they fought before the ritual was consummated. There is the story of how this was practiced to an extreme once the enemy appeared during the ritual. The Spartans did not move from their positions until the ending of the ceremonial, even when the first enemy arrows started the killing and wounding others. When the ritual ended they fought and won the battle. Such kind of feelings, orbiting around rites in which they reproduced symbolic events, kept them in contact with the beyond: where the force of the fallen and the ancient fathers dwelt.
All these elements contributed to form a highly spiritual feeling: the Spartan felt himself as the summit of creation, the favorite of the gods, a privileged, magnificent, splendid, arrogant and godlike creature; a member of a holy seed, a holy race and lucky “link in the eternal racial chain,” a protagonist of an unparalleled feat of an extremely profound mystical experience that he was convinced would end up leading him directly to the immortality of Olympus, as the semi-divine heroes he worshiped. He was proud of being a Spartiate because precisely the fact that to become one of them it was necessary to overcome the hardest ordeals made him feel a holder of a privilege.
Nietzsche said, “For a tree to reach Heaven with its branches, it must first touch Hell with its roots,” and it is said that Odin went down to the huts before ascending to the palaces. This implies that only after passing the most terrible tests the warrior has earned the right to access to higher states, on pain of suffering the degradation to which it leads the drunken arrogance of the one who has not hardened in suffering and is not able to take the pleasure, power and luxury with respect, care, gentleness, veneration, humility and an almost apprehensive appreciation. The Spartans had reached the bottom, sinking into the whole tragedy of their atrocious instruction, and also had passed through all the manly sensations of fullness, health, vigor, strength, power, force, dominion, glory, victory, joy, camaraderie, reward and triumph. Having covered the whole emotional range that goes from pain to pleasure made them possessors of a wisdom exclusive for the heroes and the fallen, and surely no one could appreciate more the significance and importance of pleasures than the Spartans.
It existed in Sparta, as in other places, an initiating circle of priests and priestesses. Little is known about them except that they were selected men and women, initiated at specific sites in secret ceremonies called “mysteries,” which made them the repositories of ancient wisdom and esoteric mystical orientation. In Greece, the mysteries represented what could not be explained rationally with words, but that was necessary to see and live it. The mysteries (of Delphi, Eleusis, Delos, Samothrace, Orpheus, etc.) became prestigious initiation schools, with important people attending from all Hellas with intent of awakening the spirit. Much of what we know of them is related to a decadent age which had betrayed the secret, so the ritual was monstrously disfigured and the true mysteries gone.
Mount Taygetos, symbol of pride and elitism of Sparta, was also called Mount Dionysius because it was there where the Spartans worshiped this god in a mystery of elaborate ritual ceremonies, the mysteries of Dionysus. Dionysus is a kind of Hellenic Shiva (in Hinduism, Shiva is said to meditate on the top of Mount Meru): a divine, destructive and dancing archetype. Much confusion has arisen around Dionysus, so we will try to clean up the image of this god.
The mythology explained that Dionysus was the son of Zeus (a masculine and heavenly principle) and of some earthly goddess (an earthly, feminine principle) that, according to some versions, is Demeter, Persephone and Semele. Dionysius had been torn (like the Egyptian Osiris and the Vedic Purusha) and eaten by the Titans (chthonic entities) but, as the Titans ended up breeding men, all men have within them a spark of Dionysus. Zeus could save the heart of Dionysus and, planting it in the womb of his mother (in other versions, in Zeus’ thigh), Dionysus was reborn and rose to the rank of “twice born.”
Dionysus was the god of the strong instincts, of the fullness of life, spiritual abundance, the joy of life, transparent pleasure, gratitude; the joyful and furious frenzy of happiness that, wanting earthly eternity, needs the children. It was par excellence the god of the healthy and strong: of that popular pagan joy that overflows and creates in its abundant happiness—or destroys in its unbridled rage—; the god of the instincts that make one feel alive and rise the race above its material limitations or from everyday pettiness.
Over time, however, as Hellas was losing its purity, the cult of Dionysus was easily perverted (being a god of bodily, material and “dark” impulses) and became a fat god of orgies: a noisy god of amusements, alcohol, promiscuity and insane hysteria. The Romans adopted this deformed god as Bacchus, and his followers (mostly cowardly, decadent, perverted, morbid and boring women of good families) made the cult degenerate into orgies including blood sacrifices, promiscuous sex and alcohol poisoning. It was such a scandal formed around the Bacchanalia that the senate of Rome in 186 BCE forbade it and exterminated its followers in a great slaughter.
The supremacy over Athens
At this point, we must address the issue that will certainly be around the heads of many readers: the comparison Sparta-Athens. What city was “better”?
Often we are told that Athens represented the artistic and spiritual summit of Greece and Sparta the physical and warrior evolution. It’s not as easy as that. We must start from the basis that it is a great mistake to judge the development of a society for its commercial or material advancement. This would lead us to conclude that the illiterate Charlemagne was lower than anybody else present, or Dubai the home of the world’s most exalted civilization.
It is necessary to better assess the spirituality, health, individual quality and the genetic background of which a society is depository. This could ground us in unusual lands, for instance, that the Cro-Magnon culture was highest that has stepped on the planet. As already mentioned, not without reason it has been said that the whole Spartan state was an order, a union of warrior-monks, as the Spartans zealously cultivated a discipline and ancient wisdom that most Greek states had lost. Many have noticed that the harsh Spartan discipline practices have a distinctively touch of a warrior yoga, meaning that any ascetic yoga practice would help the physical, mental and spiritual improvement. In Sparta everything worked within the mystique and the uttermost devotion of the people of Greece, and it is a huge mistake to believe that the only polished Spartan instruction was the body.
Thus we come to the important subject of art. It usually happens that it is a common argument to vilify Sparta. The Spartans used to say that they carved monuments in the flesh, which implied that their art was a living one: literally them, and the individuals that composed their homeland.
But Sparta also had conventional art as understood in the present. It was famous throughout Greece for its music and dance (of which nothing has survived), as well as its highly-prized poetry that has come to us fragmented. Its architects and sculptors were employed in such prestigious places as Delphi and Olympia, and imposed a stamp of straight simplicity and crystal clarity in their works. The best example of this is the sober Doric style, direct heritage of Sparta that became a model not only for countless temples throughout Greece, as the Parthenon in Athens itself, but also for the classic taste of later Europe that has endeavored to continue the legacy of Greece and Rome.
Example of Doric architectural style, considered the paradigm of the classic in the West.
The Greeks, and particularly the Spartans, studied “physiognomy” to interpret the character, personality, and ultimately the soul of an individual based on physical features, especially of the face to the point that ugliness in certain Greek states was practically a curse. It was also believed that beauty and a willingness of the features should be an expression of noble qualities necessary for a beautiful body bearer, if only dormant. The creators of the Greek statues made them with that knowledge of the human face and of the perfect proportions in mind, and therefore represented not only a beautiful body but also a beautiful body carrying a beautiful soul. The blind rage with which the Christians destroyed most Greek statues indicates that they greatly feared what they represented, because in them the Hellenes fixed and settled, once and for all, as a goal and template and ideal: the human type that Christianity would never be able to produce.
Many other states, on the other hand, suffered from a taste for the exotic and the cosmopolitan in which all empires fall when they neglect their attention, authenticity and identity. Gobineau called Athens the most Phoenician of the Greek cities (Essay on the Inequality of Human Races, Book IV, Chapter IV). Athens, with the plutocracy of Piraeus; with its mob of merchants, charlatans, noisy slaves, acrobats, pseudo-intellectuals, pundits, soothsayers and false Egyptian magicians; sumptuous clothes, rich food, spices, incense, colors, flavors, perfumes, obscene riches, deformed mystery cults, orgiastic ceremonies, prostitution, alcoholism, dirt, disease, and finally rampant decay in demagoguery including cosmopolitanism, hedonism, homosexuality, multiculturalism and miscegenation, was farther from the European ideal than Sparta, which did not embrace this filth (only when it was not Sparta anymore). Spartiates remained essentially rustic, rough and authentic.
In Athens there emerged countless philosophical schools (some of them, as the sophists and cynics, reflecting a clearly decadent spirit) which attests the chaos and contradictions within the Athenian citizens and the Athenian national body itself. Demagoguery and the sagacity of the slave, the shopkeeper, the merchant, the Phoenician dealer, and the nomad of the desert began to leave a mark. And this is acclaimed by historians of philosophy that teach today (Julius Evola pointed out the pleasure with which modern civilization sees in Athens the origin of democracy). In Sparta people did not ramble or speculated because its inhabitants knew the laws of the land, the sky and the species; and lived in agreement with them with no hustle, speculation, or absurd discussions.
The Athenians despised them because they considered the Spartans brutal and simple. The Spartans despised Athenians because they considered them soft and effeminate even though the Athenians, as Greeks, were also great athletes—though never to the level of the Spartans. It is said that a Spartan who contemplated a painting depicting victorious Athenians was asked “Are those Athenians brave?” He replied “Yes, in painting.”
There was a latent rivalry between the Ionian people of an Athens influenced by Asia Minor, and the Dorian people of Sparta directly influenced by their own Nordic heritage, who never stopped being governed by anything but their ancestral tradition and their own popular consciousness. With the exception of Athens, which saw herself as the best, all other Hellenic states reserved their admiration for Sparta, seeing it as a shrine of wisdom and justice: the true repository of primitive Hellenic tradition. Sparta was always the most famous and respected city among the Greeks. They always resorted to it to arbitrate interstate disputes, and most of the times they not even had to resort to force: Sparta sent an ambassador to which everyone would voluntarily submit, like a divine envoy.