The subject tonight is love, and for tomorrow night as well. As a matter of fact, I know of no better topic for us to discuss until we die. (Hafiz)
The poets and singers of the Troubadour tradition envisioned love as inspiration to song.
As I immersed myself in study and research into the background of the Troubadour phenomenon of the High Middle Ages, what I thought was somewhat of a purely academic, even pedantic, fling turned out to be more engaging than I could have imagined, and I became fascinated and captivated with what I was discovering. Admittedly, in my initial investigation into the Troubadours, driven only by my intuitions of a profound connection to the Folk and Folk-Rock Music, had turned up formal and thematic connections with Sixties (and post-sixties) music that confirmed my hunches of a cultural inheritance, and I then understood that the label of “troubadour” given to singer-songwriters (like Bob Dylan) was not a just a willy-nilly designation; it was a recognition, however dim, of a special class of poet-musicians, whether called troubadours or bards, that had always emerged to voice the soul of the people. Thus in this research, I discovered the profound parallel between the original Troubadour “Twelfth-Century Renaissance” and the cultural rebirth that occurred in the nineteen-sixties. It is through our contemporary Troubadours that we connect back to those “wandering minstrels” who sang about something they called amor, which we know toady as “romantic love.”
Rather than the single discovery I assumed I’d made, it was only the beginning of a much greater revelation, one that lead beyond the aesthetics of poetry and music per se. Little did I know, up until recently, that my academic research, though passionate, was actually a quest of origins—a romantic quest. My heuristic research had become hermetic insearch. This is why I began my first essay with the significance of accident and coincidence on my intellectual endeavors (“Accident and coincidence play as prominent a role in directing and shaping one’s intellectual work as do research skills and discernment, perhaps a larger role.”), because by a series of fateful synchroncities, I felt I was being lead to what only could be called—what the French and Spanish Surrealists called such things—a trouvaille: “the lucky find or godsend.” Intriguingly enough, I could identify with a passage I later found by the depth-psychologist C. G. Jung, whose own subterranean discoveries bore an uncanny resemblance to my own. His idiosyncratic intuitions were actually affirmed in the ancient and esoteric tradition of alchemy:
. . . I actually discovered that line of thought that we might call subterranean, and from which there sprang, not only the alchemist's images, but also Poliphilo's dream. What first found expression in the poetry of courtly love and the early Christian religious lyrics can be heard in it as a faint echo, along with a premonition of the future.
This Essay-with-Soundtrack for our Valentine’s Day observance endeavors to help bring a new awareness of a relatively repressed and forgotten tradition in the West, at least to the masses—that of eros, amor, amore. However, given that we are well aware of the connection between Valentine’s Day and romantic love, it may seem odd that I have referred to this eros-tradition as repressed and forgotten. Surely, on a popular level, we all take “romantic love” for granted in our modern courtship rituals, our hearts-and-flowers Valentine’s Day observances, and even in our penchant for the “romantic comedies” that draw us to the cinema for romance by proxy. And, certainly, again, there are those who are so tired of all of this that they would like to forget about it entirely. In any case, this is not what I’m referring to when I use the terms eros, amor, and amore as a repressed and forgotten tradition (although, as we shall soon see, our Valentine’s Day celebration of romantic love still retains dim vestiges of this tradition). Thus, it is the purpose of this series of essays to bring this eros-tradition out from underneath bourgeois domesticity and sappy sentimentality and put it front and center, in order to remind today’s lovers—those who, in the eyes of religious authorities (and, lately, scientific), are only engaging in an inferior (or biochemical) form of love, “profane” love (or narcissistic fantasy)—that, on the contrary, they are in fact participating, albeit unconsciously, in a counter-tradition of love, or “amor,” that is every bit as sacred in its passion as is agape or caritas—and, at least, potentially as transformative. In other words, it would serve to remind listeners that this was so not only this way for pre-Christian lovers, i.e., pagans, but also for Christian (or heretical Christian) lovers, who identified with a quasi-religious movement in the South of France (the Occitan; Languedoc or Provence) known as Troubadours.
The cultivation of passionate love began in Europe as a reaction to Christianity (and in particular to its doctrine of marriage) by people whose spirit, whether naturally or by inheritance, was still pagan. But this would be mere theory and highly disputable were it not that we are in a position to trace the historical ways and means to the rebirth of Eros. . . . Passionate love was then given a name which has since become familiar. It was called cortezia, or courtly love. Our language of passion comes down to us from the rhetoric of the troubadours. It was a supremely ambiguous rhetoric.
Therefore, at a broader level, this series essays concerns itself with what took place in the High Middle Ages, known to some historians of the period as the Twelfth-century Renaissance, with its creative epicenter in the South of France and its particular genius manifested first in the Troubadours and then in the poets of the medieval romances, of which the final flower was the Grail-Quest cycle. This manifestation, or rebirth, of eros in the High Middle Ages has come to be known as the Courtly Love Tradition, which became a pan-European phenomenon.
Obviously, its influence for Europe—what has been termed “love in the Western world”—was mainly in the sphere of the human heart, since it is not too much to say that the Troubadours (because of the inspiration from the Arab poets across the Pyrenees in Andalusia) invented what we commonly recognize as “romantic love.” Once more, in the process of making a high art out of falling in love, (this love called amor) this Courtly Love (cortezia) Tradition (thanks to educated women) also created a literature out of poetry/song that finally gave birth to modern European poetry. This singular legacy has, for some time now, been recognized by scholars. Be that as it may, I believe the recognition of this stunning achievement is incomplete if the deeper roots of the Troubadour/Courtly Love inspiration are overlooked in favor of a purely erotic, aesthetic, or literary contribution to Western culture. This, too, is not what I mean by the eros-tradition; not what I’ve termed as “The Religion of Love or the Cult of Eros-Rose.” When I say “forgotten tradition,” how many of us have ever heard of the religious heresy and mystery cult that lies behind the Troubadour/Courtly Love phenomenon—one that may point to a mystic/esoteric origin of what we commonly know as “romantic love”? Once more, how many of us observing an over-sentimentalized and commercialized Valentine’s Day seriously believe that erotic love can have higher ceiling than narcissistically beheld in our sex-and-the-city type romances or affairs—a spiritual dimension that goes to the heart of Western culture? (By the way, this must be the reason why the mythologist Joseph Campbell believed that the Arthurian Grail romances represented the potential of spiritual renewal for Western culture; that the realization of amor will be the gateway to spiritual understanding for future generations.)
Therefore this essay attempts to flesh out some of the leads I have discovered that point to a more profound manifestation of eros in the Twelfth-century Renaissance than accounted for by mainstream scholarship. Essentially, if my speculations on the origin and meaning of the Troubadour / Courtly Love tradition prove sound, this would give us a more revolutionary conception of eros in the Western world—to “love in the Western world”—and would thus have a greater role to play in helping to challenge the dominant patriarchal world view, with religious, philosophical, and even political implications for a new emerging paradigm. I believe this new paradigm on the Western horizon is essentially about the rebirth of the feminine principle in our patriarchal civilization. Feeling, relatedness, and soul-consciousness, and other “feminine” values have been virtually driven out of our culture by the reigning patriarchal mentality. So, generally speaking, this essay, while it certainly aims to entertain, intends to educate listeners on the deeper significance of those itinerant, or “wandering minstrels” we know as the Troubadours.
What does this all this have to do with the eros-tradition of the twelfth-century Troubadours? The answer would take me far afield from the topic of this essay—into literature, philosophy, psychology, sociology, and religion. However, since I have made the assertion, I feel obliged to at least present some evidence about the feminine principle and the Troubadours. (The culture of the Occitan was alien to that of northern France, which one scholar has described as “the feminine culture of the South and the ‘free spirit’ of the troubadours.”) Beginning with the 18th- and 19th-century Romantics, Western culture was perceived to be in desperate need of some kind of major renewal, and to compensate for an extreme imbalance of ego-consciousness, which was associated with masculinity and its values, a style of consciousness was sought that incorporated the traits and values which had for centuries been exiled and repressed. This restoration of balance between (symbolically) masculine and feminine, or ego-consciousness and the unconscious, we would today call “holistic” consciousness, and, of course, this major paradigm shift is still going on today.
This Introduction to my series of essays is not the place to review the various writers who can be considered pioneers in this paradigm shift. But I will refer to a couple examples that stand out as familiar to most of us: Friedrich Nietzsche in the 19th century and D. H. Lawrence in the 20th. Born some forty years apart, they each in their own way were reviving a sensibility that began with the Troubadours. (In fact, the “death-of-God” prophet, Nietzsche, might have greatly influenced Lawrence, since he mentions Nietzsche in the manuscript of “A Modern Lover” in 1909.)
I will take up Lawrence’s ideas first. When we think of D. H. Lawrence, we usually think of just erotic scenes of hot sex. While this stereotype sells novels, it sells the novelist short. In fact, Lawrence (novelist, critic, poet, playwright, and painter) wanted to communicate more than just sexual liberation for an erotically repressed audience. The author of Lady Chatterley’s Lover and Women In Love also wrote The Man Who Died and Apocalypse, which dealt with larger issues of repression—issues of a philosophical and religious nature. Thus, he considered Lady Chatterley’s Lover a very serious endeavor he believed that because “sex will bring us at last where we want to get, to our . . . real completeness.” And commenting on his banned novel, he wrote: “Obscenity only comes in when the mind despises and fears the body, and the body hates and resists the mind.” This is the point of the paradigm shift to which I refer, the one that I’m claiming begins properly with the Troubadours. And here he is one with Nietzsche, who had many years before this written: “Every expression of contempt for the sexual life, every befouling of it through the concept impure, is the crime against life—is the intrinsic sin against the holy spirit of life.” And, like the Dionysian death-of-God prophet, Lawrence takes his erotic revolution to another level. In a letter, Lawrence writes of his novella, The Man who Died, that he has written a “story of the Resurrection” where Jesus gets up from death and cuts out on his former life and apostles. “. . . as he heals up, he begins to find what an astonishing place the phenomenal world is, far more marvellous than any salvation or heaven—and thanks his stars he needn’t have a ‘mission’ any more.” This Nietzschean metaphysical perversity is even more evident in his book, Apocalypse: “For two thousand years man has been living in a dead or dying cosmos, hoping for a heaven hereafter.”
Both Nietzsche and Lawrence thought that the world needed changing—and both cast their thoughts back, like poet Ezra Pound, after them, to the Troubadours. The key concept they discovered was “Le Gai Saber,” which was Provençal language for the art of the Troubadours. It was no mere coincidence that Nietzsche entitled his major work on philosophy and music The Gay Science (one, significantly enough, that contained his own songs). Nietzsche, in his wanderings, visited the South of France. He writes in a letter: “I thought only of the gaya scienza of the troubadours—hence also the little verses.” Lawrence must have been familiar with the book, since he wrote to Bertrand Russell in 1915: “I feel very profound about my book The Signal—Le Gai Saver—or whatever it is. It is my revolutionary utterance.” And it is significant that novelist E. M. Forster described Lawrence as the only modern novelist “in whom song predominates, who has the rapt bardic quality.”
This revolution was in the name of the body (and everything associated with it) against the instinctual repression from a Christianized culture. Of men of his day Lawrence thinks, “all that happens to them, all their reactions, all their experiences, happen only in the head. . . . We are afraid of the intuition within us. We suppress the instincts and we cut off our intuitional awareness from one another and the world.” Keeping in mind what I previously said about the Romantic displacement of ego consciousness, Lawrence also wrote: “You say ‘I’ and are proud of this word. But greater than this—although you will not believe it—is your body and its great intelligence which does not say ‘I’ but performs ‘I’ . . . . There is more reason in your body than in your best wisdom.” I mentioned the Romantic quest for psychic wholeness. Compare Lawrence: “Sanity means the wholeness of the consciousness. And our society is only part conscious, like an idiot.”
Lawrence and Nietzsche felt that their thoughts and writing came from this deep intuitive awareness. And Lawrence’s prose has a becomes poetic in its imagery; for he writes in 1913):
I conceive a man's body as a kind of flame forever upright and yet flowing: and the intellect is just the light that is shed into the things around us. And I am not so much concerned with things around—which is really mind—but with the mystery of the flame forever flowing … and being itself.
We can compare this with Nietzsche’s manifesto in The Gay Science, a verse which reads:
Yes, I know from where I came!
Ever hungry like a flame,
I consume myself and glow.
Light grows all that I conceive,
Ashes everywhere I leave:
Flame I am assuredly.
Life—that means for us constantly transforming all that we are into light and flame.
(And, in anticipation of an upcoming essay on the Troubadours, I add to these modern poetic utterances that of Ibn Arabi (1165-1240), the Andalusian troubadour of the “Religion of Love,” who transmuted his desire into a flame which neither consumes itself nor consumes him: “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.”)
Lawrence and Nietzsche were both looking for a new future for mankind, and were both prophetic in their thinking. Today we witness a philosophical and metaphysical revolution in the age-old Western split of the body and mind, as epitomized by Christian metaphysics. We hear of “embodied philosophy,” “healing the body/mind split,” and “the religion of immanence” as opposed to transcendence. There is afoot in our world strong movement to affirm the earth and the body in postmodern thought, which had its first wave in the revolutionary 1960s and its intellectual spokesman—“The Party of Eros”—whose manifestoes sought to overcome bodily repression with “Love’s Body.” As Beat poet Allen Ginsberg put it: “that a new kind of man has come to his bliss /to end the cold war he has borne /against his own flesh.”
A recent study on Nietzsche qualifies him as “one of the most powerful ecological thinkers of the modern world,” because he had an “intimate personal relationship to the natural world.” His Zarathustra lives with nature and wants to give “meaning to the earth.” The thrust of Nietzsche’s philosophy is the recognition of humanity as being part of nature. “Stay loyal to the earth,” says Zarathustra. Nietzsche used the symbol of the rainbow bridge that was to lead to “the great noontide” the coming of new values and ideals. For his part, Lawrence wrote in a letter about the message of his novel, The Rainbow: “There must be a new world.” For Lawrence, the rainbow is “a pledge of the unbroken faith, between the universe and the innermost.” Both Lawrence and Nietzsche used the sun, moon, stars and high mountains to represent the emotions of their characters and to give feelings of awe and reverence. Both men were prophets of a new future for humankind. Both drew inspiration from the Troubadours and their eros/amor tradition.
Another way of identifying that counter-tradition to both the earlier Christian and the later rationalist one is, as I have previously alluded, the revival of the feminine principle in Western culture. This means that the suppression of “the feminine” stands for a categorical repression of the earth, the body, sexuality, emotion, the unconscious mind, intuition, imagination, etc. In more religious terms, the Troubadour/Courtly Love tradition of the “Twelfth-Century Renaissance” represented (albeit to a limited extent) the rebirth of the Great Mother-Goddess and her matriarchal order, a revival that had both religious and sociological ramifications.
There have been feminist and feminist-oriented studies published on various aspects of the Troubadour phenomenon, including the social empowerment of women in those times (while not avoiding certain patriarchal limitations). However, I am not aware of any studies particularly focusing on the religious aspect of the Great Goddess tradition surviving in the ethos of the Troubadour/Courtly Love phenomenon. (Although this is touched upon in rare studies of the heretical Cathar cult—some say “love-cult”—that was connected with the Troubadours in the South of France.) There is, however, one study, though not devoted to the Troubadours, that contains part of a chapter connecting the Troubadours with the Goddess and sexual politics, and in the same terms of the lifting of erotic repression that I have been arguing, is Riane Eisler’s Sacred Pleasure: Sex, Myth, and the Politics of the Body (1995).
Eisler confirms my linking the 12th century Troubadour/Courtly Love counter-culture with the archaic cult of the Great Goddess. She sees the rite of the “sacred marriage” (hieros gamos) of the feminine and masculine principles as the legacy of the primordial Great Goddess and suggests that this deity and her sexual union ritual survived in diluted form into the Middle Ages with the Troubadours. She observes that “the seeds of the old forms of worship were too embedded in the deepest layer of European culture to be completely eradicated,” and thus during the Middle Ages, when the Church was erecting its great cathedrals, each dedicated to Our Lady, the Holy Mother, it was possible for people to at least “openly retain the ancient worship of the Goddess.” She goes on to describe the importance of the Troubadour phenomenon to the revival of the “old religion” and, consequently, the liberation of the feminine:
Also during the Middle Ages in the same south of France where woman’s sexual power was once venerated in the Paleolithic cave sanctuaries, there flourished the poets known as troubadours and trobaritzes [female singers], whose songs of courtly love honored woman as man’s spiritual inspiration and celebrated erotic love between woman and man.
In their love songs, the troubadours and trobaritzes celebrated a love between woman and man that was out of wedlock—and thus not controlled by the Church, with its by-then rigid rules on marriage and its prohibition of divorce. In some lyrics, particularly the later ones, this romantic love was a chaste love—that is, a love without sexual consummation. But in many of the songs, particularly those written before the Church-launched Crusades against the Albigensians of the south of France (the only Crusades by Christians against Christians), the lyrics of troubadour and trobaritz poetry are clearly sexual, without the obligatory proclamation of the chasteness of later poets. . . .
. . . . But their main import is the celebration of women and of romance—and the ritualistic courtship between a noble lady and her chosen love.
In terms of the old religion, this was certainly a toned-down version of earlier myths of the sacred union of the Goddess and her divine sexual partner. But in terms of medieval life it was a radical challenge to prevailing norms.
Indeed, the troubadour ideal of a more gentle manhood, from which our term gentleman derives, was in itself a violation of prevailing norms. And it is for this ideal of gentleness, even reverence, toward women—and of a romantic and highly ritualized love between woman and man that has both a strong erotic and a strong spiritual element—that the troubadours are today remembered.
It is a powerful legacy, this legacy of romance and ritual that the medieval troubadours and trobaritzes left us despite the condemnation of the pleasures of sex by the Church. And it is a legacy that, as we have seen, stems from more ancient roots: from a time when sexuality was associated with the sacred rather than the profane and the obscene.
Eisler summarizes the conflict of the Troubadours and their “Black Virgins” with the Church:
[St. Bernard] De Clairvaux wrote at a time when in the south of France and other parts of Europe troubadours and other “heretics” were again reinstating the worship of the Goddess in the form historians call Mariology. During the next two centuries, the great cathedrals of Europe (every one dedicated to Our Lady or Queen of heaven, as she is explicitly described in the splendid cathedral at Chartres) were still being built on sites where the Goddess had formerly been revered (not coincidentally in vaulted shapes reminiscent of the ancient cave as a womb sanctuary). And images of a Black Virgin or Madonna (black because she represents the fertile black earth or because she traces her roots to the Great Mother Goddess Isis of Egypt) still attracted pilgrims from all over the Christian world, sometimes in shrines dedicated to Mary Magdalene (who according to some legends fled Palestine with a holy child, her son by Jesus, to the south of France).
But at the same time that such vestiges of the worship of the Goddess continued to persist . . . the Church also mercilessly persecuted “heretic” sects still clinging to the sacred marriage as the union of the female principle (the Great Goddess) and the male principle (the Bull God). As late as the eighteenth century, women were still being killed as witches for sexually “consorting with the devil”—that is, with a now-demonized hoofed and horned deity.
Yet even with all this, the ancient sacred marriage as the union of the feminine and masculine erotic and spiritual energies could not be completely stamped out. All through the Middle Ages, and even later, people (including monks and nuns in medieval monasteries) continued to cling to this ancient tradition, albeit in the most strangely altered forms.
For in the context of medieval Christianity, the sacred marriage was now undergoing still another radical transformation. Now—instead of a celebration of life and love—it was increasingly becoming a celebration of pain and death.
In other words, the Troubadour’s religion of eros or amor was destroyed in favor of the Church of Roma’s religion of thanatos, death. (It is no accident that the Church of Amor is the inverse of the Church of Roma. Nor is it a surprise that the Church was so threatened by this heretical religion that it launched the first known crusade against fellow Europeans, the Albigensian, 1209-1244.) Eisler goes on to trace the history the resulting separation of Christianity’s equation of men with mind and spirituality and women with body and sensuality to the medieval Church’s dualistic thinking, primarily with the spirit versus nature, sacred versus profane formulation of existence.
So it turns out that both Eisler and I are on the same page, since we’re both recognizing the return of the Goddess with the same cultural phenomenon—the Troubadours of southern France—and we both see their movement as an attempt to heal the sacred and profane split in the Western psyche. Indeed, I would venture to suggest that her radical inversion of Christianity’s profane and sinful “pleasure” to “sacred pleasure” (the title of her book) is in keeping with my own radical inversion of Christianity’s condemnation of “profane love” to the sacred love inspired by the Troubadours.
The conception of Romantic Love I have in mind adds a higher, or spiritual, dimension of what we know today as “romantic love.” For the Troubadours of Courtly Love and the later poets of the medieval Romance tradition this “love” ranged from a pure sexual desire to a selfless ideal worth even the sacrificing one’s life. (As I have pointed out in a previous essay, the amor of the Troubadours has always caused controversy among scholars, dividing them into opposing camps of interpretation; those who claim that it was sublimated, chaste love versus those who claimed was nothing else but base sensuality. This either/or approach misses the complex nature of amor: it encompassed both eroticism and spiritual aspiration. As one modern authority puts it, it was “a love at once illicit and morally elevating, passionate and self-disciplined, humiliating and exalting, human and transcendent.” However, Joseph Campbell understands amor as a third form of love in between eros and agape. While this is a good theoretical ordering, it may not exclude aspects of both extremes. My view is that amor was more of a bridge between the two—eros and agape—, a reuniting of profane and sacred love. I think, in the final analysis, it is not a matter of which expression of love that the Troubadours engaged in, but more the attitude with which they practiced love, especially sensual love.) Whatever it was, it was a transformative power and psychological fulfillment. Largely because of the heretical Cathars of the Provence, the Troubadours boldly stated that they were seeking transformation through or fin’amors (“refined,” or “sublime” love). Central to the thesis of these essays is that the Troubadour “cult of love” is still inspirational today as a vehicle for self-transformation.
Therefore, as I hope my listeners will ascertain, this Orphic Essay-with-Soundtrack isn’t only an exploration of “love in the Western world” —though this is certainly worthy topic in its own right—but, more importantly, in rediscovering “Religion of Love” this Orphic Essay-with-Soundtrack attempts to re-vision the spiritual cosmos, offering the suggestion of a new paradigm that reunites sacred, “heavenly” love, on one hand, with profane, “earthly” love, on the other; overcoming the dichotomy of agape/caritas and eros/amor. In other words, the heretical “Religion of Love” is nothing less than an eroto-metaphysical revolution, one that turns the Christianized cosmos upside down; inverting its values. (Interestingly enough, this eroto-metaphysical inversion can be recognized in the very title of the new “Religion of Love” that challenged the Church of Rome. In the twelfth century, the heretical Cathar/Troubadour movement was known as the Church of Amor, which is actually an inversion of the Church of Roma.)
So let me attempt to make clear what is at stake in this re-visioning of the Christian religion and its “heavenly” love, on one hand, and “earthly” love, on the other: it’s not about what is “spiritual” and what is not—about what is “holy ground” and what is not. In other words, the Troubadour “Religion of Love” (what I’m calling “the Secret Cult of Eros-Rose”) is a Romantic Reversal with the Yeatsian motto: “There is more mystery in the dirt and the dung than in all the heavens.” This goes against the grain of both traditional religion (Christianity) and new-age religion, which changes the former’s content but secretly maintains its dualistic structure—the antagonism between sacred and profane love. (How many times do we hear from this or that disciple that romantic love is vastly inferior to the spiritual love their new-age master or guru teaches?) However, as we shall see in an upcoming essay, Dante—that Italian inheritor of the Troubadour tradition—tried to remedy this (to a certain extent) through his membership in the love-cult of the Fedeli d' amore. This, I submit, is meaning of the white “celestial rose” transplanted in the soil of this earth, this life, becoming the red “rose of high romance” [Leonard Cohen] (in the same way of the ideal in Grail-Quest romance).
Therefore this amateur essay, though admittedly tentative and speculative in its exposition, is not just another take on the controversial topic of “love in the Western world,” but in fact is an argument for a new religious sensibility and, thus, a critique Western monotheistic/patriarchal religion, which, in its Christoid dichotomy of divine/earthly, sacred/profane, spiritual/sexual “love,” has violently divided asunder our souls and our cosmos, and turned the pre-Christian “Garden of Love” and its “symbolic rose” into a Wasteland, one which is not only mirrored in the episodes of Medieval Romances and the Grail-Quest cycle, but also in our “sacred [broken] heart.” (“Take one last look at this Sacred Heart / Before it blows / And everybody knows.” [Leonard Cohen].) But it doesn't stop there; the Christian war on eros—in the name of spirit vs. flesh—is mirrored in the physical destruction of the natural environment—an environment in which, as the song goes, “Everybody Knows that the naked man and woman/are just the shinning artifacts of the past” [Leonard Cohen].
In order to forestall this future, the full implications of this heretical tradition of eros/amor must be grasped, for they undo the reversal of pagan values carried out by Christianism. As I hope to show in my upcoming essays on the “Troubadours & the Beloved,” the Troubadour phenomenon represented return of the feminine in the South of France in the twelfth century (the “Twelfth-century Renaissance”) and, thus a revival of the repressed pagan world-view. Here, one thinks of Lawrence again: “I want very much to put into the world again the big old pagan vision . . . .” (In this, I will be introducing Ezra Pound’s neglected theory concerning what was behind the Troubadours in my upcoming essays.)
In making the Earthly Paradise the temporal image of the Heavenly Paradise, it could be said that the Troubadours (including Dante) put “sacred-” or “spiritual” love in terms of “profane-” or “romantic” love, not the other way around (the Garden), paving a rose-strewn way for romantic love’s further elaboration and apotheosis with the “ideal love”—simultaneously sexual and spiritual—of the Romantic Movement. Thus, the “Religion of Love” from the poet Ibn Arabi to the poet John Keats:
I have been astonished that men could die martyrs for their religion—I have shudder’d at it.
I shudder no more. I could be martyr’d for my religion. Love is my religion. And I could die for that. I could die for you. (John Keats)
Thus this eventual romanticization of heavenly love means that earthly love does not just serve (in the Garden of Love) as a transcendent stepping stone for a qualitatively different and greater love, to be left behind at the point where the heavenly paradise is attained (as in Dante), but rather “earthly” love finds not its negation but its fulfillment in kind with “heavenly” love—a love that belongs once again to the half-human and half-divine daemon, Eros, and not to the eros-denying Christ. This deification of “earthly” human love, which simultaneously brings “earthly” love up and “heavenly” love down to meet each other (in the Garden of Love), can be seen as implied when the poet of the Romance of the Rose attributes to this earthly love the “transcendent emotions of mystic rapture.” Thus within the Garden of Love’s parameters, this eroticization of heavenly love initiated by the poets and singers of Medieval Romance, the Troubadours, was completed by their heirs, the Romantic poets, in the reunion of earthly with heavenly love.
In conclusion, let me anticipate the sweet burden of my radical mythopoetic argument in song. In terms of a new religious sensibility (toward the establishment of a new paradigm), it’s not about the transcendence of new-age Ascended Masters, but of Descended Lovers (i.e., “embodied spirituality”), whose song of songs can be heard to say: “. . . Amid flesh so full of God will not be faulted. / And hearts below will sing with hearts above. / And life so precious will not be assaulted. . . .” So when today’s Romantic Questers finally reach Dante’s celestial white rose, it will be tinged red with “high romance,” and they will not hear black robed priests droning boring canticles about the saints who repented from the carnal (embodied) life (Augustine), but “relentless lovers singing endless love.” No, not the interminable torture of dogmatic priestly religion and its relentless moralisms, but “relentless lovers” singing the rosy praises of “endless love.” [B. Franke, ‘On Holy Ground’]