In this respect the greater holy war belongs to the spiritual order. The lesser holy war, in contrast, is the physical struggle, the material war, fought in the outer world. The greater holy war is the struggle of man against the enemies he bears in himself. More precisely, it is the fight of the supernatural element, innate in man, against everything which is instinctual, passionate, chaotic and subject to the forces of nature. This is also the idea that reveals itself in a text of the ancient Aryan warrior wisdom, the Bhagavad-Gita: ‘"Thus knowing oneself to be transcendental to the material senses, mind and intelligence, O mighty-armed Arjuna, one should steady the mind by deliberate spiritual intelligence and thus – by spiritual strength – conquer this insatiable enemy known as lust."
The necessary condition for the inner work of liberation is that this enemy is destroyed once and for all. In the context of a heroic tradition the lesser holy war – that is, external combat – serves only as something by means of which the greater holy war is achieved. For this reason ‘holy war’ and ‘Path of God’ are often treated as synonymous in the texts. Thus we read in the Qur’an: "So let those who sell the life of this world for the Next World fight in the Way of Allah. If someone fights in the Way of Allah, whether he is killed or is victorious, We will pay him an immense reward". And further: "As for those who fight in the Way of Allah, He will not let their actions go astray. He will guide them and better their condition and He will admit them into the Garden which He has made known to them."
This is an allusion to physical death in war, which corresponds perfectly to the so-called mors triumphalis – ‘triumphant death’ – of the Classical traditions. However, the same doctrine can also be interpreted in a symbolic sense. The one who, in the ‘lesser holy war’, has been able to live a ‘greater holy war’ has created within himself a force which puts him in a position to overcome the crisis of death. Even without getting killed physically, through the asceticism of action and combat, one can experience death, one can win inwardly and realise ‘more-than-life’. In the esoteric respect, as a matter of fact, ‘paradise’, ‘the celestial realm’ and analogous expressions are nothing but symbolic representations – concocted for the people – of transcendent states of consciousness on a higher plane than life and death.
These considerations should allow us to discern the same contents and meanings, under the outer garment of Christianity, which the Nordic-Western heroic tradition was forced to wear during the Crusades in order to be able to manifest itself in the external world. In the ideology of the Crusade the liberation of the Temple and the conquest of the ‘Holy Land’ had points of contact – much more numerous than one is generally inclined to believe – with the Nordic-Aryan tradition, which refers to the mystical Asgard, the remote land of the Aesir and heroes, where death does not reign and the inhabitants enjoy immortal life and supernatural peace. Holy war appeared as an integrally spiritual war, so much so that it could be compared literally by preachers to ‘a bathing which is almost like the fire of purgatory, but before death’.
Saint Bernard declared to the Templars, "It is a glory for you never to leave the battle [unless] covered with laurels. But it is an even greater glory to earn on the battlefield an immortal crown ..." The ‘absolute glory’ – attributed to the Lord who is above, in the skies – in excelsis Deo – is ordained also for the Crusader. Against this background Jerusalem, the coveted goal of the ‘lesser holy war’, could be seen in the twofold aspect of terrestrial city and celestial city and the Crusade proved to be the prelude to a true fulfilment of immortality.
The oscillating military vicissitudes of the Crusades provoked bafflement, initial confusion and even a wavering of faith. But later their sole effect was to purify the idea of holy war from every residue of materiality. The ill-fated outcome of a Crusade came to be compared to virtue persecuted by misfortune, a virtue whose value can be judged and rewarded only in the light of a supraterrestrial life. Beyond victory or defeat the judgement of value focused on the spiritual dimension of action. Thus, the holy war was worthwhile for its own sake, irrespective of its visible results, as a means to reach a supra-personal realisation through the active sacrifice of the human element.
~ Julius Evola, Metaphysics of War.