The Troubadour “Religion of Love”



The twelfth-century Andalusian Sufi, Ibn Arabi, is one of those mystical poets who blur the difference between sacred and profane love; “one of those poets that know the difference between those loves that institutions have called sacred and those loves that are called sacred by maddened lovers of beloveds; delighting in and throwing in the reader’s face the great muddle where our teachers had told us was perfect clarity and unambiguous meaning.”  


Ibn Arabi recorded that his vocation as a mystic poet started with vision of his “Lady” (significantly, for the Tower of Song program) in “the Night of Power.” It was a vision of, as he puts it, “the Soul's union with the Beloved, a communion with Absolute Being.” Thus Arabi shares with Dante the initiating vision, for his poetic vocation, of a beautiful young woman. (Both belonged to the poet cult known as the Fedeli d' amore.) His philosophical-mystical love poem, the Diwan, is inspired and dedicated to the “Beloved.” In its prologue, entitled “Interpreter of Ardent Desires,” he relates how he first met her during his pilgrimage to Mecca.


Arabi describes, in alchemical metaphors, how he transmuted his desire into a flame; a “Fire which neither consumes itself nor consumes him, for its flame feeds on his nostalgia and his quest, which can no more be destroyed by fire than can the salamander.” Thus, because of his “Lady,” he declares himself a devotee of what he calls the “Religion of Love”: O marvel! a garden among the flames . . . / My heart has become capable of all forms. . .  / I profess the religion of Love, and whatever direction / Its steed may take, Love is my religion and my faith.”  


[Go back to first two song files on webpage.]


The poet-mystic-lover has apparently now compromised the strictly sacred form of love (agape) to which his religious life should be exclusively dedicated to (and for the breach of which he will be accused of heresy) and opened himself up to profane love (eros). He describes in vivid terms how this visionary encounter with the “Beloved,” now the object of his “Quest,” caused him to take Nizam as a model for the inspiration of the poetry that sings her praises—both of mind and body—in the Diwan:


Her name was Nizam [Harmonia] and her surname 'Eye of the Sun and of Beauty'. Learned and pious, with an experience of spiritual and mystic life, she personified the venerable antiquity of the entire Holy Land and the candid youth of the great city faithful to the Prophet. The magic of her glance, the grace of her conversation were such an enchantment that when, on occasion, she was prolix, her words flowed from the source; when she spoke concisely, she was a marvel of eloquence; when she expounded an argument, she was clear and transparent. . . If it were not for the paltry souls who are ever ready for scandal and predisposed to malice, I should comment here on the beauties of her body as well as her soul, which was a garden of generosity. . . And I took her as a model for the inspiration of the poems contained in the present book, which are love poems, composed in suave, elegant phrases, although I was unable to express so much as a part of the emotion which my soul experienced and which the company of this young girl awakened in my heart, or of the generous love I felt, or of the memory which her unwavering friendship left in my memory, or of the grace of her mind or the modesty of her bearing, since she is the object of my Quest and my hope . . . Nevertheless, I succeeded in putting into verse some of the thoughts connected with my yearning, as precious gifts and objects which I here offer . . . Whatever name I may mention in this work, it is to her that I am alluding. Whatever the house whose elegy I sing, it is of her house that I am thinking. But that is not all. In the verses I have composed for the present book, I never cease to allude to the divine inspirations, the spiritual visitations, the correspondences (of our world) with the world of the angelic Intelligences; in this I conformed to my usual manner of thinking in symbols . . . because this young girl knew perfectly what I was alluding to (that is, the esoteric sense of my verses).


Arabi goes on to tell his readers that it all started “One Night” (a mystical trope from the Koran). As he was performing ritual circumambulations of the Ka'aba, he was filled with a profound peace of mind, which caused him to step out of the pressing crowd of worshipers and circulate by himself.  “Suddenly,” says Arabi, 


a few lines came to my mind; I recited them loudly . . . No sooner had I recited these verses than I felt on my shoulder the touch of a hand softer than silk. I turned around and found myself in the presence of a young girl, a princess from among the daughters of the Greeks. Never had I seen a woman more beautiful of face, softer of speech, more tender of heart, more spiritual in her ideas, more subtle in her symbolic allusions. . . She surpassed all the people of her time in refinement of mind and cultivation, in beauty and in knowledge.


Arabi’s “Beloved” comes in a vision to this Andalusian troubadour-mystic both as lover and teacher, “a divine initiatrix,” for she “divulges the entire secret of the sophianic religion of love.” (This “daughter of the Greeks” is an allusion to the Greek “Sophia,” or “Wisdom.”) It is pointed out that the verses that provoke her philosophical lesson are enigmatic, reminding of the “arcane language of our troubadours.” The Beloved was, in the words of Arabi, “a sublime and divine, essential and sacrosanct Wisdom, which manifested itself visibly to the author of these poems with such sweetness as to provoke in him joy and happiness, emotion and delight.” Hence the entire sophianic poem, the Diwan, can be read as a celebration of his meeting with the mystic Sophia.


However, this eroto-mystical encounter with the Divine Sophia incarnate wasn’t seen with earthly eyes, for we are informed that “From the very first the figure of the young girl was apprehended by the Imagination on a visionary plane, in which it was manifested as an 'apparitional Figure' of Sophia aeterna.” This important piece of information takes us back—”way, way back”—to primordial Sophia, Divine Wisdom, whom Arabi associated with “sophianic gnosis.” We are also informed that “The young woman in turn is the typification of an Angel in human form . . .” It is, then, by the authority of the Divine Sophia Aeterna—”The Great Goddess of the Eternal Wisdom” (V.M.)—in her Angel-form that the poet-mystic-lover will be instructed in the secrets of the “Religion of Love.” Thus Arabi can declare: “I have drunk the potion of love, goblet after goblet. It is not exhausted and my thirst has not been slaked'.” Sophia initiates him “with a lofty and at the same time passionate rigor.” Here, it is said that Arabi “invests the concrete form of the beloved being with an 'angelic function' and, in the midst of his mediations, discerns this form on the plane of theophanic vision.” 


This organ of theophanic vision is none other than what has come to be known as the “Active Imagination” (Cf. the Romantic “Creative Imagination”), which makes possible “the spiritual vision of the sensible or sensible vision of the spiritual, a vision of the invisible in a concrete form . . .” This leads to the encounter with the vision of the theophany par excellence, the archetype of Sophia Aeterna, “which, however, is perceptible only through the sympathy (the ‘sympathetic passion’) between the celestial and the terrestrial . . . An Imaginative sympathy is a prerequisite for the reunion of spiritual and earthly love: A sympathy must be restored between the spiritual and the physical if love is to flower.”  Without this “imaginative power” there is no marriage of the two loves—the spiritual and the erotic: “That is why the quality and the fidelity of the mystic lover are contingent on his 'imaginative power,” for as Arabi says: “The divine Lover is spirit without a body; the purely physical lover is body without spirit; the spiritual over (that is, the mystic lover) possesses spirit and body.’” 


Again and again, the poets of the Fedeli d' amore, whether in Italy or Andalusia or Iran, insist that both aspects of love be present. The only kind of “love” that they reject in the realm of earthly love is what they called “natural love,” which is a “desire to possess and seeks the satisfaction of its own desires without concern for the satisfaction of the Beloved.” Unfortunately, as one famous member of this cult lamented, “And that, alas . . . is how most people understand love today.”  This must be why it is said: “The cult's analysis of love, in which they carried on a very personal dialectic, eminently suited to revealing the source of the total devotion professed by the Fedeli d' amore.” This “dialectic” proceeded by the asking of questions, from “When is it true love?” to the ultimate question: “Who is the real Beloved, but also who in reality is the Lover?” This path or method to “Love” came to be known the “Dialectic of Love” of the Fedeli d' amore, which came through the Sophia as Imaginatrix: “It is through this Imaginatrix that the dialectic of love attains its culminating phase when, after finding out who the real Lover is, it opens the way to the transcendent dimension in order to discover who the real Beloved is.”


It is the argument of this musical essay on The Troubadours and the Beloved that we are still very much caught up in these questions about “Love” and the identity of the “Beloved,” given the fact that the same ideas and sentiments are echoed in the lyrics of contemporary popular song. Thus, this musical essay plays with the question: So just who or what is the Beloved anyway? Is she divine or human?  Is she mistress or muse? The alchemical partner of a spiritual order, the soror mystica, or sore mistress of the sexual embrace? It is the Gypsy Scholar’s contention that the answer is found in the poetry/song of the twelfth-century troubadours (whether of Occitania or Andalusia), who honor the Imagination and carry inside the image of the mysterious Beloved. She is everything that is ultimately meaningful in their lives and the shinning object of their quest.


Thus, if you’ve ever wondered who our contemporary troubadours are singing about, you must remember that for those in the Troubadour tradition of the “Religion of Love” a great ambiguity is present about the true ontological identity of the “Beloved”: “a situation arises in which we are never sure whether the yearning is addressed to a real human being or to the phantom of an anima.” So to the question of “who” the mysterious Beloved is, for the poet-mystic lovers of the Troubadour cult of the “Religion of Love” she is ultimately some kind of knowledge-bestowing angel of high degree in human form. In other words (or lyrics), “She’s an angel” (“The young girl in turn is the typification of an Angel in human form.”). “She’s an angel” who appears with “such sweetness” as to carry her lover away in mystic rapture.  “She’s an angel.”


Therefore, to come to the sweet burden of my argument in song—just in case there are those who still don’t know perfectly well my symbolic allusions and the esoteric sense of my musical essay.  


[Go back to the third song file on the webpage.]



(From the Orphic Essay-with-Soundtrack series, “The Troubadours & The Beloved: The Religion of Love & The Fedeli d’Amore”)