Saturday, December 18, 2004

Spirit Warriors

Possibly next to their role as messengers, the angels were seen as soldiers in the camps of God (Hebrew mahanaim). The apocalyptic literaure in particular stresses the military role of the angels.

The fish-men sages who came from Dilmun were also locked in the battles of the Igigi and the Annunaki. Their leader Enki becomes the prototype of the "Fisher King" motif that propagates throughout the Middle East and into Europe.

In Austronesia, warfare is often a way of maintaining balance and equilibrium between clans. We see this especially in the cult of the head. Among head-hunting groups it is common to keep not only the heads of enemies but also those of one's revered ancestors.

A Neolithic plastered skull, Levant, with cowrie eyes as in New Guinea ancestor masks

Plastered skulls from 'Ain Ghazal

The martial art lineages today preserve aspects of spiritual warfare that have survived the influence of Islam and Chrisitianity. Just as the indigenous warrior prepares for battle in trance dances, the martial artist uses meditation.

In many cases those who preserve the indigenous martial arts are the same who keep ancient healing traditions. This indeed may echo the customs of the martial orders of the past. Both martial and healing traditions are passed on through lineages of noted founding guros (teachers).

The classic Filipino and Indonesian warrior utilizes special amulets sometimes worn as pendants and sometimes placed under skin through traditional "surgery." These amulets provide invincibility or some special power in the belief of the possessor. The warrior's weapons in traditional practice must go through repeated rituals to acquire magical power. The kris is one example of this kind of weapon.

One of the most misunderstood practices is that of amuq (amok). While in the West this is often thought of as a loss of control or a mental breakdown, in the indigenous view, amuq is a state of spirit possession or trance. In the state of amuq one becomes an instrument of divine justice.

You might be surprised that the Southeast Asian warrior who made drinking cups of their enemy's skull had something in common with the medieval Templars. Both practiced the cult of the head.

The Templars unusual worship of the preserved head known as Baphomet was one of the reasons used by the inquisitioners and the King of France to destroy the order. The practice of the cult of the head here though is no coincidence.

I suggest that the idea of religious knights came as a result of medieval contacts between the Nusantao and Christian Europe. Yes, the Nusantao were still active during this period. Solheim sees evidence to suggest Nusantao trade continued "strongly" until about 1,000 years ago and to a lesser extent until the recent past (500 BP?).

The composer Richard Wagner wrote in reference to his project on the life of Barbarossa: "Wondrous legends had he heard of a lordly country deep in Asia, in farthest India, of an ur-divine Priest-King who governed there a pure and happy people, immortal through the nurture of a wonder-working relic called the Holy Grail."

The term "farthest India" usually meant the East Indies but whatever the case Wagner is referring to Prester John as King of the Indies. Wagner who was fascinated with Buddhism probably thought of Prester John as a Buddhist king or a king of a nation of syncretic religionists.

That he would have thought this is completely logical. At the same time that news of a great King of the Indies permeated Europe, mostly around the period from the 10th-13th centuries, we hear in India and Tibet also of a great Buddhist king of mysterious Shambhala.

The Kingdom of Prester John

In the medieval romances that chronicle, however obliquely, the rise of the religious knightly orders, the name of Prester John is prominent. Wolfram von Eschenbach's Parzival is one such literary work.

The founding of the first order -- the Templars -- occurs not long after the conquest of Jerusalem something covertly alluded to in the Parzival cycle (Montsalvat).

The Templars had all sorts of strange "Oriental" practices not seen among earlier secular orders of knights. In addition to the cult of the head, we hear in the romances of the mysterious Holy Grail. Although often thought of as a chalice, von Eschenbach suggests instead that the grail is a stone that has fallen from Heaven -- a tektite.

This is an exact parallel to the Chintamani "the fire pearl" of Shambhala, also a tektite, that in Hindu-Buddhist lore fulfills all wishes.

Southeast Asia is home to what is by far the largest tektite source in the world known as the Australasian Strewn Field. These dark stones often called "star dung" in local languages have been prized as magical amulets by kings, sultans and commoners alike. Former Philippine First Lady Imelda Marcos and Queen Elizabeth II are among those who reportedly received exceptional tektites from this region.

The Nusantao warrior like those of insular Southeast Asia in present times was almost certainly a spirit warrior who relied highly on magic. To prove their belief in spirits, warriors today will allow themselves to be attacked with swords and other weapons while in a trance state as in the ngurek ritual of Bali.

The spiritual link would of course stem from the great cosmic war -- the battle of the good and bad angels rooted long ago in the dual volcanic eruptions.

Paul Kekai Manansala