What is chivalry? It is the vital code by which we strive to live our lives, so it is essential that we understand it, what it is, where it came from and how it should guide us in all we do.
The term chivalry usually implies a historical phenomenon that had emerged and lasted during the feudal era in Europe. If this phenomenon is analyzed in a narrow sense, and only from the historical point of view, this is true.
However, taken in a broader sense, the phenomenon of chivalry represents a certain perception and understanding of reality, as well as acting in this reality, with all the auspice of the integrated ideological system.
Taken this way, the phenomenon of chivalry represents a universal category, which is applicable in all circumstances, at all times and in all situations. Chivalry as a way of perceiving and affecting, both on the individual and social level, is more than necessary in the time we live in. In this sad time when all the civilization’s achievements are crumbling, in the time of great atomization of society and in the time of loss of meaning of any social or individual action.
Chivalry was founded between the eighth and ninth century in Europe, which were the politically and economically turbulent centuries after the fall of the Western Roman Empire. It was a time of strengthening of the caste of armed men, who had been increasing their possessions and social impact by providing their services as professional warriors to the rulers and to the church.
Over time, the chivalry caste was gradually incorporated into the nobility, thus separating itself from the ordinary soldiers. The code of conduct, thought and action of this caste, as well as the caste of military aristocracy itself, define the term chivalry. Chivalry had reached its full bloom between the eleventh and thirteenth century, when the church made a decisive influence, by interweaving it with the spiritual, Christian contents. Chivalry experienced a gradual decline in the late medieval and early modern time, due to the development of new social and especially economic circumstances.
However, the precious echo of chivalry can still be felt in various segments of the modern life – in certain political and ideological postulates, in theoretical systems with traditionalist denomination, in armies, in few surviving authentic orders of knights and others.
The circumstance that had largely dealt the final blow to chivalry is the creation and development of the new socio-economic conditions, that have gradually replaced the feudal social structure, which was one of the main pillars of the chivalry caste. In economic terms, it was the development of capitalist economic relations and the strengthening of the bearers of these relations – the class of merchants. The principle of quality, as a social paradigm, was replaced by the principle of quantity. The concept of truth was replaced by the concept of wealth. All the aspects of society have become just a decor for the flow of capital.
In brief, next are defined the basic starting points and the most common denominators of chivalry.
The most significant and basic element of chivalry is the willingness to self-sacrifice. It is this element that is the fundamental demarcation line between the bourgeois, mercantilist view of the world and the chivalrous view of the world. The merchant always has, in the first place, on his mind an interest, a profit or a comfort. The knight always has, in the first place, on his mind the willingness to sacrifice. For the faith, for the crown, for an idea, for the state, for the master, for the weak… Never for any vulgar, profane or earthly goal. But instead, for an ideal, that to those with a mercantilist view seems very abstract and incomprehensible.
The willingness to sacrifice, places a knight in the realm of pure spirituality, as someone who has transcended the secular sphere of materialistic, cause and effect relationships. In addition, the willingness to sacrifice shows a knight’s willingness to overcome pride, which represents the greatest obstacle on the spiritual path. Also, what is especially important in our world, where materialism and hedonism are prevailing, is to overcome the temptation of material goods, which tend to hinder him. A knight always looks upon interest and benefit, the two sad achievements of the modern society, with contempt and indifference.
A perfect example of sacrifice is the act of Prince Lazar Velikomucenik (Great Martyr) and his nobles, on the eve of the most significant event in the Serbian history – the Battle of Kosovo. This battle, which took place on Vidovdan (St. Vitus Day), June 28th, 1389, between the Serbian and Ottoman armies, and despite the fact that both rulers died – Lazar and Murat, was a defeat for Serbia. After Prince Lazar, with the exception of a brief period under the rule of Despot Stefan Lazarevic, Serbia fell into the darkness of Turkish imposed rule, that will last until the early nineteenth century.
The key to understanding the Battle of Kosovo and its symbolism is not the battle itself, but the situation that had preceded it. In fact, King Lazar Hrebeljanovic had full awareness and insight into the superiority of the former Ottoman Empire and the crisis of the medieval Serbian state. He also had an alternative, in relation to the battle with the Turks. He could have accepted the vassal status of Serbia and avoided the war and defeat. Together with his nobles, Prince Lazar did not do this, but instead he chose self-sacrifice.
The reasons for this decision are in the spiritual sphere. Before him, Lazar had not only the political or ethical dilemma, but rather a spiritual and metaphysical one, embodied in the choice between approaching God or Devil (synonyms: freedom or slavery, honor or dishonor, one’s own perception of truth or accepting the imposed). He had a choice between preserving integrity of the earthly existence, that is his own life, or preserving the spiritual integrity. He faced a temptation. His choice was the Lord.
Lazar’s godliness manifests itself in the conscious sacrifice, which created a symbol for the whole forthcoming history. This was a symbol which created the model for choices and actions of the Serbian nation through all subsequent centuries. Lazar’s sacrifice, in a sense, was similar to the sacrifice of the Christ himself.
On the eve of the battle, he addressed his knights with the following words: “Death in the feat is better than the life with shame. It is better to die by the sword in the battle, than to kneel to the enemy. We lived enough for the people, so let us bear the feat of sacrifice, so that we may live forever in the heavens.” To this, they replied to him: “Let us die, so we may live forever. We put ourselves on the altar of sacrifice… Let us not spare our lives, so that we may become a bright example to the others.”
The definition that best describes chivalry is harmony or synergy between the spiritual perfection and secular power. It follows that the spiritual sphere is the most important determinant of chivalry.
From the historical point of view, it is the influence of the Christian church on the class of military aristocracy on the eve of the First Crusade that encapsulated chivalry as an integral system of understandings, ideas and actions of this class. Spirituality is one ennobling factor that rises the knight above the ordinary soldier. The first orders of knights in the Holy Land, were structured as monastic orders and the brother who would enter, apart from the constant practice of military skills, was imposed with a strict monastic way of life, in the spirit of Christianity.
In the broader sense, a way of life whose main fore-token is the spiritual ladder, raises the individual above the plebeian and mercantilist system of values. Spiritual development and discipline provide a knight the only safe ground, where he is safe from the temptations and hindering factors such as pride, materialism, doubt, fear and others.
Traditionalism, as a theoretical system, is a way of perceiving and thinking peculiar to the military aristocracy. Traditionalism means respecting all the elements that traditionally make up the organic model of civilization and its heritage.
The organic model of civilization indicates something that was being created for some considerable period of time and is based on certain precise archetypes, that are constantly repeated throughout the ages. This may be a nation, a group of nations under the umbrella of a particular empire, or a group of nations under the umbrella of a common spiritual and cultural identity.
Traditionalism, as an ideological form, is contrary to the myth of progress that is typical of the society formed after the first bourgeois revolution in 1789. The myth of progress implies that things are constantly changing and improving from a less perfect state to a more perfect one.
Traditionalism, on the other hand assumes that, although formally dynamic and seemingly changing, circumstances remain always based on the same essences or archetypes. Also, traditionalism does not exclude the possibility of anti-progress or counter-initiation.
A powerful illustration of this are the majority of relevant manuscripts that deal with spirituality and eschatology. From the Vedas to the Holy Scriptures, there is always a similar epilogue at the end of time – a gradual regression from a perfect to a less perfect form, until the final “endkampf” and the end of time.
REVERENCE FOR ANCESTORS
The cult of ancestors, or respecting those who were here before us, is an element of traditionalism. The cult of ancestor veneration is an expression of our confrontation with our own egoism and pride, which are suggesting that everything before or after us does not matter.
Likewise, the respect for ancestors on a collective level represents affiliation with a particular tradition (a nation, an organic model of civilization…), which is a guarantee of movement in the same or similar direction, so that the continuity of this tradition will be extended and even more built upon. Also, on a collective level, the respect for ancestors, which is not merely a fossilized form, is an expression of our responsibility towards our own tradition, or the awareness that we must responsibly dispose with our ancestors’ legacy.
In mystical terms, the cult of ancestors is a form of synergy outside the real time of all the members of our tradition – those who are no longer here, ourselves and those that will come after us. It is us who are in the real time, that are the messengers within this dialogue, and therefore our responsibility is great.
“US” AND”WE” BEFORE “I” AND “ME”
Collectivism is a category opposite to the prevailing individualism of today. Individualism, as the legacy of bourgeois society, is nothing more than a hypertrophied egotism, which stems from pride.
Individualistic emphasis on ego and self-sufficiency has led to the fact that the individual in the contemporary social context is alienated – from others and from himself. Individualism, in addition to one’s alienation from the modern society, has led to a complete atomization of the society, in which it has lost all its meaning. All the paradigms of traditional society are reduced to the level of simulacrum, that is, to the level of a pale image of its original meaning.
A return to the position of collectivism seems necessary. The only alternative to the absurdity of modern atomized society is organizing, in which an individual stands in organic and constructive relationship with the group, which he is a part of. Thus, he ceases to be discarded, unneeded wheel of a dehumanized social machinery that tolerates only absolute subordination to the production of capital.
An individual within the collective ceases to be proud, self-sufficient and exclusively occupied with his own gain and pleasure, but approaches the collective, with a desire to give something and not just take. He no longer takes himself first and foremost, but wants to sacrifice his own interests for the collective to which he belongs. He wants to obey the authority within the hierarchy as a natural state.
In such a situation, giving becomes two-way – the collective returns in the same way. In this way, an organic unity of the individual and collective is created. A situation is created in which the interest of oneself and of the collective to which one belongs, are not opposed. Thus, an organic society is created. It is important to understand that the readiness to sacrifice is embodied in the will of the individual to submit to the collective interests and to serve them, and is a prerequisite for the collective to begin to respond by serving to the individual. Collectivism is a form of social organization that does not tolerate pride in the slightest. Collectivism is based on the basic paradigm of chivalry – the sacrifice.
Self-discipline is a method that brings an individual out of his initially imperfect inner state to a better state.
The starting point is that every individual is imperfect at the beginning, in the spiritual, intellectual and physical sense. The process of working on oneself, or self-discipline to which one willingly subjects oneself, leads to a better state of being.
This cultivation of one’s being embodied through the process of self-discipline applies to all three main spheres of propagation of the human being: the spirit, the intellect and the body. Historically, it may be in the concept of chivalry, as an integral system of life and action, in which for the first time in European civilization, that we meet the synergy of simultaneous development of one’s own spirit, body and intellect.
A knight had to strictly adhere to the Christian liturgical process by living as a monk, he had to constantly improve his body by practicing military skills and he had to expand his knowledge by studying the concepts of strategy, military science and history.
This method is not confined only to the period of feudalism. On the contrary, it is applicable in all situations and in all epochs. It is only important to understand that man is not perfect and that he can always reach a better state, if he undergoes a process of strict and uncompromising self-discipline.
One of the important elements of chivalry is compassion. Compassion indicates a relationship that a knight has with others, on the basis of his own spiritual perfection and the willingness to sacrifice. Especially for those who need assistance or are under a threat.
A knight does not treat them with contempt, so typical for the relationship with the weak in the modern mercantilist society, but with love. The main expression of that love is compassion. The practical articulation of compassion is to protect and to serve. A knight always protects the one who is in danger, in distress or weak, and in this way, he serves them.
With thanks to our friends and brothers in Serbia in the Sovereign Military Order of the Knights Dragon http://www.redzmaja.org/o-redu-zmaja/