We could also call him a usurper, a vice of kings who will be sacrificed at the end of the games. But the ordeal concerns only the true king.
The King’s Choice and Sacrifice
Whether we inconvenience a colorless Santa Claus to distribute gifts to our children or instead inconvenience a surly “Knecht Rupprecht”, or St. Nicholas, or “Pelznickel”, behind all these figures, there is always the wintry Saturn.
On December 6, the day of Saint Nicholas, the young students of the convent schools used to choose one of their own and make him bishop. But bishop or king, it makes no difference. Not everything ended with this election: in fact, there were also some other splendid jokes, so much so that already in the 9th century, the Church was forced to cut short this kind of entertainment.
If, even today, our children place a shoe, a plate, or some other object in front of the door, so that the Saint will furtively bring them apples and nuts, they constitute the childhood image of good luck. The offering of gold and money is only a more elaborate form of the original legend.
It is also said that on his night, Saint Nicholas, the messenger of fortune, stealthily throws three balls at the window of three girls, with which they procure three kits, one after the other, and avoid the risk of shame. It is easy to connect these three balls with the tools with which Larentia manages to get to the wedding. The close connection with the day of Saint Nicholas clearly shows, once again, that the story of Larentia and all other similar stories cannot be separated from Saturn.
Luck in the form of equipment still occupies an essential position in the late medieval novel of Fortunatus. The goddess gives him the inexhaustible bag of money, but only on condition that he uses it to make up a virgin’s trousseau every year. So here we are back in Larentia.
Roman Fortune is the expression of a divine will and not of the whim of chance; the guarantee of a predetermined and continuously reconfirmed virtue in the course of existence. But of all this, the Greek Lucian, who had before him only the excesses of the Saturnian carnival, now knew very little; nor did he know that the true meaning of the Saturnalia was to test the king designated by destiny and accepted by the community. One is deceived if one thinks that the king in the Saturnalia is a simple superintendent of Lucianus, says as long as he conserves the Mana, that is, as long as he ensures prosperity for himself and the people. However, when, for any reason, due to age or fault, the Mana abandons him, his place is taken by a substitute. He has no mana, and he is never more than an interregnum. When the legitimate ruler regains his Mana or when a banquet. He is in power; a successor takes over, and the substitute loses power.
The mythical king of the Irish saga, Nuada, lost a hand in combat. He could, therefore, no longer be king, and an insignificant figure took his place. But when a skilled doctor made him, in place of the lost one, a silver hand with the same mobility and strength as the real one, he regained the kingdom!
The substitute king is the man sacrificed for the king abandoned by the Mana so that he can get him back precisely by this sacrifice, which, however, must be equivalent. Therefore the man chosen for this purpose must himself be king. For a specific time, he can enjoy all the prerogatives that derive from this state without naturally having an obligation. “All this greatness lasts no more than seven days,” Kronos says in Lucianus, “but even in these days, I’m not allowed to do anything serious or important.”
On 20 November 303, the soldier Dasius, who converted to Christianity, was executed by the legate Basso at Durostorium in the province of Moesia. He had refused to play the part of the king during the Saturnalia since he doubted this was reconciled with his faith. He had been elected king a month earlier and had since reluctantly donned the royal robes. Now all he had to do was pierce himself in front of the altar of Saturn. From this fact, it can be deduced that in the fourth century AD. C., in military environments, the sacrifice of the king during the Saturnalia is still in use.
On the occasion of the consecration of the king (“rayasuya”) in India, a sacrifice was made, which could only be consumed by one who had the qualities of the ruler of the world and great conqueror, and only once in a family. In this sacrifice, the disappearance and reappearance of the king’s mana occupy a very important place. A whole series of complicated ceremonies had to, in a certain sense, evoke this misfortune to then drive it out of the world. At one time, a human sacrifice was probably also necessary. Later this was no longer understood or no longer wanted to be understood. To keep the fact in itself, it was, therefore, necessary to find a new reason to justify it.
At the center of the ceremony is the dice game. In connection with this, even if the link is not easy to grasp, the story of Schunachschepa is told, which reveals a surprising connection with the Saturnalia.
Haristschtschandra, a king of a very ancient lineage of astral origin – one of his ancestors is the grandson of the sun and in-law of the moon – despite having 100 wives, he was childless. One day he met a sacred couple of seers, Parvata and Narata, and asked what he had to do to get one. They advised him to turn to Varuna, promising him any child as a sacrifice. So it happened. Varuna agreed. The son was born and given the name Rohita. At this point, however, he regretted the promise made – a promise which, however, taken, remains completely incomprehensible – and year after year, the king stalled with the god, raising the pretext that his son was not yet old enough. However, when he had reached manhood, he finally decided to sacrifice him; but Rohita fled into the woods, where he wandered for years. Varuna, feeling cheated, struck Harischtschandra with dropsy. When he found out about it, Rohita decided several times to go back: but each time, he met Indra, who always praised him for his wandering life.
After six years, Rohita met the seer Ajigasti, who also roamed the woods under hunger and misery. He had three sons: Schenachputscha, Schunachschepa and
Schunulangula, whose names all ultimately meant the same thing: dog’s tail in the sense of dog’s member. Rohita offered him a hundred cows in exchange for one of his sons and obtained his middle son, not wanting to separate the father from the elder and the mother from the younger. Varuna stated that he was satisfied with the alternative victim, deeming him “a brahmin of even higher value than a warrior”. Schunachschepa was to be killed in the sacrifice made on the occasion of the king’s consecration in place of the designated victim.
Everything is, therefore, ready for the sacrifice: but no one is found willing to bind the victim. Finally, the father himself, Ajigasti, declares himself willing to do so in exchange for another hundred cows. Schunachschepa is therefore tied, not to one, but to three posts. The greedy father is willing to kill his son for a hundred more cows.
Schunachschepa begs all the gods one by one to come to his aid. Lastly, he invokes Usas, the dawn, to which he raises a song of praise in three verses. After each stanza one of the three bonds falls to the ground, and each time Haristschtschandra’s belly, swollen with liquid, becomes a little smaller until, by the third stanza, the king is healed and the victim is free. Following this, the priests let the young man into their sacrificial meeting, and he witnesses a particular type of sacrifice to Soma.
Dog and Wolf
The three posts to which Schunachschepa is linked with three ties are certainly to be connected with the three brothers endowed with the same name (“dog member”). On the contrary, all the others originate from this trinomial, including the one connected to the distorted father. After all, once the precise reference to the chaining of Loki to the three sharp stones has been underlined, it does not seem to us that the link between the chaining and the three poles (that is, three phalluses) requires further clarification. Prometheus, the creator of men, is also impaled or chained to a pillar, a significant variant of being chained to a rock.
Only the name of the three brothers perhaps needs an explanation. “Such an organ,” rightly asks Dumézil, referring to the “dog member”, “could it perhaps appear in similar rites, even if only as a word, for no reason?”. In reality, it recalls the emasculation of Ouranus and connects it with the mimic staged in the Indian ritual of the king’s consecration. However, it is worth noting that in every part of the world, the worst roll in the game of dice is indicated with the term “cane”: “canis” in the Roman world, “kyon” in the Greek; in the Indian one, on the other hand, the term “tachagnim” (“dog killer”) designates the highest pitch.