9-Mirors-Rmce-art - 1/5/09
"The Nine Mirrors of Romance" by Charles Upton.
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Mark S. Harris...AKA:..Stefan li Rous
stefan at florilegium.org
The Nine Mirrors of Romance
by Charles Upton
Romantic love, in one of its aspects, is a powerful metaphor for the path the soul must take in its return to God, as well as valid method, or part of a method, for traveling this path. Romantic love has, let us say, eight limbs, which converge upon a ninth as their common center. Some were developed by the troubadours, some by the Sufis, some by the Islamic chivalric or futuwwah brotherhoods, some by the bhakti poets of India, some by the Fedeli d'Amore (the secret mystical order to which Dante Aligheri belonged), some by esoteric orders of knighthood like the Templars; but despite their uneven appearance in space and time, all are stars in the eternal constellation of Amor. The definitions I've given some of them, particularly those for Chivalry, Adultery and Gnosticism, are "sublimated," expressed in a symbolic manner that is certainly not true to all their social and historical manifestations. Together they make up a "kshatriya spirituality of the greater jihad," a love-and-war mysticism of the subtle realm. They are:
ONE: The Beloved Hard-to-Attain. A commonplace of Courtly Love is the Lady, aloof and severe, who imposes rigorous tests upon prospective lovers, whose beauty leads knights to risk their lives to win her, and sometimes drives them mad. Like the Grail, she is to be won only by those who combine courage, purity-of-heart and divine sanction. She grants her favors to the one who withstands her tests; all others forfeit their hearts, if not their lives. On the outer, psycho-social level, the Lady's aloofness represents a woman's right to take or reject whom she will – which, paradoxically, must, if it is to be legitimate, be based upon her understanding that the love within her is not hers to dispose of according to her whims, but represents a precious treasure – her "virginity", whether of body or of soul – that is hers only in trust. If no man can claim it without sincerity, sacrifice and mortal risk; neither can she presume to select, on the basis of vanity, lust or the desire for worldly security, who shall win it. Only Love within her can choose the human form who will mirror Him in her eyes.
On the inner, mystical level, the Aloof Beloved is precisely the Transcendence of God, which can only flower into Immanence through the mystical death of the lover in Love itself.
TWO: Courtesy. Courtesy is the virtue which prevents delicacy of feeling and emotional communication from being violated, through frigid indifference, vulgar familiarity, gross possessiveness or seductive manipulation. It forestalls conflict and halts the development of interpersonal injustice. Courtesy is respect for others' boundaries, and our own. It is the understanding that if we fail to give, and receive, the attention required by the shape of the moment, when we make the wrong gesture or omit the right one, we violate the unique humanity of that moment, which will never return to give us a second chance. Courtesy protects human relatedness from being destroyed by the collective egotism of "the World".
On the inner level, courtesy is the practice of contemplative objectivity, pure Witness, whereby my act of making a personal gesture, the other's act of receiving it, the other's act of making his or her gesture, and my act of receiving it are viewed from the same standpoint, which is neither in me, nor in the other, nor even in the space between us, but in the mysterious totality of the situation, in the Tao, in God's Will expressed in the shape of this particular moment. As it says in the Noble Qur'an (in the surah Fusilat, 53): We shall show them Our signs on the horizons and in their souls, until it is clear to them that it is the Truth. Doth it not suffice as to thy Lord, that he is Witness over everything? To apply contemplative objectivity to interpersonal relations prevents us from seeing other people through the obscuring veils of our own subjectivity, and also from being influenced to depart from the objective truth of the situation by other people's subjective reactions. Whoever reaches and unites with this standpoint has become pure mystical detachment.
THREE: Chivalry. Chivalry is the use of overt or implied warmaking power to defend what needs and deserves defending. It is based on the recognition that power is not a value in itself except to a barbarian, that only for the defense of values other than war does war have a right to exist – just as, in the traditional Hindu caste system, the kshatriya or warrior caste exists to protect the brahmin caste, the sacrosanct contemplatives. In terms of western spiritual chivalry, the ideal role of the armed knight is to protect Love from violation by the World, the Flesh and the Devil, and to defend womanhood as Love's symbolic fortress.
Chivalry also relates to the defense of the weak – the socially weak, a duty which has everything to do with romantic love, since the ability to regard, to truly see, those who are repressed and discounted by the World is essential if we are to love without vanity and worldly ambition, since if our choice of a love object is based on the standards of the World, of collective egotism, then our "love" is a mere ego-investment, a case of self-love in the person of another. This means that, in order to be faithful to true love, one must overcome in oneself the tyrant Vanity, sworn enemy of self-respect. And this inner warfare also has an outer reflection: the war against those social mores, and sometimes against their representatives, that relegate innocence, humility, sincerity and emotional courage to the backwaters of social marginalization.
Integral to chivalry is the virtue of noblesse oblige, the knowledge that aristocratic privilege is inseparable from duty, and that this duty involves the recognition and defense of values that occupy areas where the soul of the barbarian, with its worldly cynicism, sees only victims to be exploited, rivals to be defeated, or losers to be ignored. By "aristocracy" I am not referring to any present social class or bloodline, but to the ability to recognize and respect the inviolable uniqueness of each individual, as in Meister Eckhart's doctrine that "the soul is an aristocrat." The knight who possesses noblesse oblige knows that "whatever ye do to the least of these, my brethren, ye do unto Me." Chivalry entails the ability to walk what the Sufis call the Path of Blame (malamah), to die the death of one's social identity.
The tale known as "The Knight of the Cart", from the Launcelot Romance of Chretien de Troyes, is in some ways a western rendition of the Path of Blame as sometimes practiced in traditional Islamic Sufism; it goes like this:
Arthur's queen Guinevere has been kidnapped by an evil knight, and the Round Table knights have fanned out to rescue her. Hot on her trail, Sir Launcelot encounters a dwarf riding a cart, which "….in those days….served the same purpose as the pillory does now….Whoever was convicted of any crime was placed upon a cart and dragged through all the streets, and he lost henceforth all his legal rights, and was never afterwards heard, honored or welcomed in any court." The dwarf tells Launcelot to get in the cart if he wants news of the Queen. He hesitates for two steps, then jumps in. (Gawain, encountering the same dwarf, flatly refuses.) After a series of bloody trials, which include crossing a moat by crawling on his naked hands and feet across a bridge made of the upturned blade of a sword, he succeeds in rescuing Guinevere, whose reaction is: "You! You hesitated for two steps before getting into the cart. What, is your precious honor more important to you than my life?" He shame-facedly admits his fault before her, who, as a representative of the Deity (for who else has the right to be so exacting?) will not let him escape "until he has paid the last farthing." If Launcelot, like Gawain, had possessed "normal" worldly vanity, he would never have found a trace of her, since it would have been beneath his "honor" to listen to the advice of some nameless dwarf – and to the mounted and armed aristocrat, are not all other men necessarily "dwarves"?
In the inner world, the world of the greater jihad, the defense of womanhood is revealed as the struggle, by the spiritually-dedicated individual consciousness (the Good Knight) to protect the "virginity" of the soul (the Princess or Queen) from rape at the hands of the passions (the Dragon or Evil Knight), and so preserve her primordial receptivity to the Spirit.
FOUR: Adultery. It was a central tenet of Courtly Love that true romance is not possible in the married state, a belief that is now nothing but a cynical cliché. Aristocratic marriage in the 12th century was a political institution, a relationship of power and possession, as it often is today – one blessed, the courtly lovers must have thought, not by God Who is Love, but by the Prince of This World, who is naked power. The critics of Courtly Love who decry such idealized adultery, such as Denis de Rougement, have all Christian values and simple social prudence on their side. Nonetheless the Courtly Love tradition has greatly enriched the institution of marriage in the West. It has spiritualized marriage by humanizing it, by making it personal as well as economic, sexual and social.
To "adulterate" something is to mix it with something foreign to it, intrinsically incompatible with it. To idealize adultery is not necessarily always to worship sexual chaos; it is also to remind us that, in the area of interpersonal relations, things are not always what they seem. To the degree that society is alienated from God, it will sanction relationships that perpetuate this alienation. In the commandment of Christ, "whom God has joined together let not man put asunder" is hidden the question: Who exactly has been joined together by God, and who merely by man, by the idolatry of social convention? In these latter days, emotionally and spiritually fertile relationships must be madce over the dead body of the prevailing social mores; the one (or several) destined by society to be our mate, the husband or wife of our pride, our greed, our lust, our violence and our stagnation, is not the one destined by God to share in, and help us deepen, our love and knowledge of Him.
In the inner imaginal world, where symbols are living beings, the drama of adultery – in terms of the male psyche, that of the beloved woman married to another man who must be outwitted, discredited or killed – will represent either the struggle of the Spirit to free the center of the soul (in Sufi terminology, the Heart) from the nafs al-ammara, the "soul commanding to evil", the possessive dragon of the passions, or the violation of the holy marriage of Spirit and soul by that very dragon. Whether this inner adultery, the struggle to free the soul from the principle that presently rules it, whatever that principle might be, will serve or violate true love depends entirely upon who presently commands that soul: the Spirit, or the passional self.
Adultery, as well as illicit love between unmarried people (where the cuckolded party will be the parent, not the spouse) is related to secrecy, for obvious reasons. The inner meaning of this secrecy is expressed by Jennifer Doane Upton in these terms:
The love of God is always secret. For most of us it is so secret that we are not even aware of it. All manifestations that appear around this love are false in a sense, and tend to mis-direct us. To look for the love of God itself within manifest conditions is always to go astray. We spend our time in the world being attracted to this and repulsed by that, and all the while we are blind to this one secret love.
All stories about secret loves begin to reveal to us the love of God, even though in another sense they may be remote from this love.
The voyeur this secret love must be hidden from is the World, the power of collective egotism as expressed not merely in society, but also (or especially!) in one's own psyche. Inner "spiritual" adultery is in reality the struggle to overturn an intrinsically "adulterous" union sanctioned by the social ego, and establish a true marriage, which the social ego will then immediately slander as adultery; and in this struggle, even more than in the practice of charity, we must not "let our right hand (the outer man, the ego) know what our left hand (the inner man) is doing", but keep the secret bedchamber hermetically sealed. Adultery, being a triangle, is based on the number Three, the dynamic number of breaking down and building up – which means that we must accept the struggle to establish the true inner marriage, which is only adultery in the eyes of the world, as a dance, and be willing to move through all the steps of that dance with no guarantees, and when the end is nowhere in sight. Such a dance requires great patience and endurance in the face of excruciating moral and spiritual ambiguities. If we try to rectify (literally "square off") the situation too soon with the rational intellect, we will only wound the process, and give aid and comfort to the Enemy; the one thing that will bring us through is faith in, and submission to, the secret will of God operating in the situation, by means of that faith which is "the presence of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen." Only through this kind of faith and endurance will we ultimately be able to "cuckold the World" and win the true Bride.
FIVE: Youth. The relationship between youth and romance is obvious, since we are normally initiated into romantic love during adolescence. But "youth" has a much greater potential range of symbolic meanings. The term for chivalry in the Islamic world is futuwwah in Arabic and javanmardi in Persian, both of which means something like "mystical or eternal youth", similar in meaning to the Latin puer aeternus. Our word "knight" comes from the Old
English cniht which means "youth". "Eternal youth" can, of course, refer to the young military heroes who come up in each generation, but it can also indicate the quality of freshness or eternal renewal based on the breakthrough of Eternity into passing time. In this it is related to the Islamic doctrine of "occasionalism", God's continuous instant-by-instant recreation of the universe, according to which one sees every event not as a product of secondary antecedent causes, but as a present act of God. In terms of western chivalry, this is related to the concept of aventiure (the French word from which we get our word "adventure"), which means something like "casting one's fate to the winds and heroically taking whatever comes as a message from God, a divinely-ordained challenge"; aventiure might be called "the Tao of chivalry."
At the opposite pole from occasionalism and aventiure is the European "Enlightenment" doctrine of deism – the theological basis for scientism -- which is the idea that once having created the universe, God ignored it, letting it run ahead on its own momentum, according to pre-established natural law, like a wound-up watch – and there is nothing less romantic than deism. In its denial of Divine Providence and God's love for the world it is the theological expression of all that is hidebound, bigoted, cruel, stupid and mechanistic, of dead matter orbiting through space without love, without intelligence, without God, and of political systems and established moral and social orders just as dead – the whole dreary constellation symbolized by Blake's tyrant god Urizen, symbol of the rational intellect cut off from Divine Truth. Urizen is the senex, the Old King, the "tyrant Holdfast" who sees all change as a threat to his power. "Eternal youth" in Blake's symbology would then be Orc, the revolutionary breakthrough of Eternity into time, though one that is destined to decay until it becomes Urizen again – unless, via Los or the Prophetic Imagination, it rises to the level of Urthona ("earth owner") who is not Eternity breaking through into time, but earthly reality fully realized in Eternity, beyond the reach of time. If human love falls under the power of "Urizen" it becomes a struggle to prevent the beloved from changing, a hatred of any expression of new love or new life on his or her part, and so ultimately a kind of murder, whereas "young" love is capable of seeing the beloved sub specie aeternitatis, as totally free to change because, in his or her realized essence, that one is in Eternity already. As Blake says in his famous quatrain:
He who binds to himself a joy
Does the winged life destroy
But he who kisses a joy as it flies
Lives in eternity's sun rise
SIX: Faerie. The atmosphere of western chivalric romance is impregnated with a subtle otherworldliness, inherited from the Celts. This otherworld is neither celestial nor infernal; it is terrestrial, but subtler than the domain of the outer senses: the realm of Faerie. This Celtic "Land of the Ever-Young" is, in its primordial form, the Terrestrial Paradise as pictured in the final cantos of Dante's Purgatorio (though in its fallen aspect it sometimes suggests the Limbo of Dante's Inferno). It is what the Muslims call "the Earth of Hurqalya" or "the Eighth Clime"; it is Earth as it appears (objectively, though subtly) on the imaginal plane, not the material one. It is peopled by the Sidhe of the Irish, the Jinn of the Arabs. In its Celtic form it is a land of shimmering beauty and heartrending nostalgia, but one which, even before the advent of
Christianity, had begun to be cut off from the plane of the spiritual archetypes, as evidenced by the fact that it was ruled not by a feminine principle like the Buddhist PrajĖaparamita or the Judeo-Christian Holy Wisdom, the principle of the clear contemplation of archetypal realities, but often by a Queen of Faerie who was, to one degree or another, a Goddess of Fate. This Goddess appears in the Grail Romances as the witch Morgan LeFay, a later rendition of Morrigan or Morrigú, the Gaelic goddess of war. The words fay and faerie are both related to the Latin word for "fate", fatum; thus Morgan LeFay is both "Morrigan the Fairy" and "Morrigan the Fate." When the eternal archetypes are hidden, we can no longer witness the dawning of the Will of God in the eternal present, consequently the forgotten past becomes the seed of the inexorable and mysterious future; Providence, veiled, becomes Fate.
In the romances, the faerie realm, whether directly encountered or simply there in the background like an elusive fragrance, is neutral. It is not Christian; nonetheless it can act as a site-of-manifestation for the Christian revelation – a spiritual possibility most fully developed, perhaps, by the Celtic Christian monks. In response to the grace of the hidden Christ – and to his harrowing of Hades, the realm of the Ancestors -- maidens, hermits and armed warriors mysteriously appear to the knight questing through the primeval forest, exactly as the queens and heroes of the Sidhe did to his pagan grandfathers, bringing him challenges, messages, tests, appeals, commands: the imaginal forms of God's secret guidance uncloaking themselves, via aventiure, on the extreme borders of terrestrial existence.
Romantic love is born and grows up in the Land of the Ever-Young. It is itself the seed of that land (not the other way around) because, as faith in the unseen God is the source of the vision of God in all things ("blessed are they who have not seen, yet have believed"), so the ability to see God manifest in a beloved human form is the source of the vision of the Divine/Human face of the natural world: and this is Eden. The realm of Faerie is therefore nothing less than the Immanence of God as a human spiritual potential – though not as an already-given realization, because the realm of Faerie can also, too easily, become transformed from the Terrestrial Paradise into Limbo; it can become a dim pantheistic dream that denies the Transcendence of God, and thus also the centrality of Man: and this, precisely is its fall – a fall into a glamourized materialism. But when God is remembered – when, in Celtic Christian terms, Christ redeems the kingdom of Faerie as part of his harrowing of hell – then the subtle realms of material nature respond to that Bridegroom as Shakti and Bride. They arise and unite as Holy Wisdom (whose Celtic Christian incarnation is St. Bridget, also known as St. Bride) and regain their human face. The entire natural world responds to the saving reappearance the human form of God's remembrance, Who is Christ, the new Adam, and of Whom each human individual, in the full remembrance of God, is a living example. Human love manifests Divine Love, and all nature reflects it.
So the love of nature is a natural part of the matrix of Romance, because an openness to the subtle energies of nature, when initiated and directed by God's grace rather than the sorcerer-ego, refines Eros. (When initiated by the sorcerer-ego, the power complex, it leads to sterility, a state represented Wolfram's Parzival by the castrated magician Clingschor, the enemy of true love, and in the Perlesvaus romance, written as a continuation of the unfinished Perceval of
Chretien, by the barren Waste Land.) The refinement and sublimation of these psycho-physical energies is a necessary part of the alchemy of romance; this is the meaning of the Islamic teaching that God gave the Prophet Solomon power over the Jinn. According to Henry Corbin's reading of the doctrine of Ibn al-'Arabi,
For our shaikh, King Solomon is….the prophet in whom is typified the gift of "Compassionate Wisdom" (hikmat rahmaniya, cf. Fusus, ch. XVI), that is, the religion of the Fedeli a'amore. Hence the appearance, from the very beginning of the poem [Ibn al-'Arabi's The Interpreter of Ardent Desires] with its Koranic reminiscences, of Bilqis, Queen of Saba [Sheba]….by virtue of her birth, Bilqis is both angel and earthly woman. Thus she is of the same race as Christ….not the Christ of conciliar orthodoxy, but that of the Angel Christology of, or related to, docetic Gnosticism….
In western terms, we would say that Bilqis is a woman of Faerie married to an earthly-yet-divine king, exactly as that king is married to his realm: she is his Shakti. Solomon and Bilqis: Arthur and Guinevere. Thus the realm of Faerie, via the submission of the subtle erotic energies – the Fairies, the Jinn – to the guidance of Spirit, as part of the tantra of Romance, a tantra whereby the path to the Transpersonal passes not through the realm of impersonal sexual energies, but directly through the unique Personhood of the beloved, placed under the sign of Amor, to whom the energies of Eros (impersonal attraction) make obeisance. This is one of the many meanings of Christ's saying, "None come to the Father but through Me."
SEVEN: Gnosticism. Taken literally, Gnosticism is based on the belief that the universe is a cosmic mistake, created and maintained by tyrannical and deluded false gods: the archons, who appear in St. Paul's Gospel to the Ephesians [6:12] as the rulers of the darkness of this world: "We wrestle not against flesh and blood but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places." As such it is a heresy, a false belief – and one that, since it denies God's Immanence in creation, might be expected to be even more inimical to Romantic Love than orthodox Christianity was. And some of its many manifestations undoubtedly were; certain Gnostic sects practiced such an extreme form of world-denying asceticism that some of their members literally starved themselves to death in hopes of being released forever from the concentric walls (the "crystalline spheres") of the cosmic prison. One of the enigmas of history, however, is that the most successful Gnostic church of medieval Western Europe, that of the Cathars or Albigenses, who were indeed extreme in their rejection of the world, shared a common culture, centered in southern France, with the more "worldly" and aristocratic ethos of Courtly Love; nor did these two extremes necessarily and in all respects represent opposing camps. (The idea may have been that a culture that openly allows and even celebrates worldly dissipation must also provide more radical avenues for withdrawal from the world than a culture where a moderate asceticism is more universally enforced -- not to mention the fact that no one is attracted to extreme asceticism like the repentant libertine.) And certain Gnostic sects, in their myth of the fallen Sophia redeemed by the Gnostic Savior (often identified with Christ), were closer to a mysticism of Romantic Love than orthodox Christianity; the Gnostic Gospel of Philip, for example, identifies the Sophia with Mary Magdalene, and portrays Mary and Jesus as lovers, calling her His "companion" whom he kissed so often that his other disciples became jealous.
Gnosticism may be a false belief, but to the degree that false beliefs are believed they produce real effects, not only on the psychic plane, but on the physiological, social and environmental ones as well, just as if they were real "principalities and powers." In this sense the archons are objectively real; they are real errors, and the Gnostic heresy itself is one of them. But if we understand the doctrines of Gnosticism not as a literal cosmology but as a mythic phenomenology of error, then we are no longer dealing with heresy but with the science of heresy: how it develops, how it manifests, how it is overcome. Gnosticism, in this "sublimated" sense, is precisely the identification and overthrow of idols. Defined in this way – which is certainly not the way most of the original Gnostics seem to have defined it, and may ultimately be no more than my own particular "spin" on that tradition -- Gnosticism might be called "the intelligence wing of the greater jihad." Through its methods we can gain insights into the most common stratagems of the commanding nafs, or passional soul, as they express themselves both in the individual psyche and in the collective psyche of society. But just as wars are ultimately won by warriors, not spies, so a one-sided development of this kind of "Gnostic" insight into the shadowlands of spiritual error can paralyze us, and ultimately lead us astray. The greater jihad is not won by a Kafkaesque exploration of oppression and illusion, but by the intuition of Divine Reality through collective revelation and individual intellection, and by a deepening submission of the mind, the will and the affections to the Absolute Truth this intuition unveils.
In terms of both Divine Love and human Amor (personal love between the sexes), the war-aim of the greater jihad is the triumph of intelligent love over an idolatry of power that is loveless and therefore stupid. On the mythic level this is represented by in the Gnostic tradition by the rescue of the fallen Sophia by the Redeemer from the power of the evil Demiurge, the chief and original archon, a mythologem close enough to the chivalric motif of the rescue of the Princess from the Dragon by the Good Knight to reveal a common understanding, if not a common origin. Not for nothing is our only Gnostic holiday, St. Valentine's day ("Valentine" being in all likelihood the Christian Gnostic teacher Valentinus, who almost became Pope) dedicated to Amor. Confronted with the established corruption of the social mores in these latter days, the "spy of the heart" must ask: Which unconscious beliefs stand as enemies to intelligent love? What are their names and how can they be exposed? And which of these enemies do I actually confront in my own life? Which represent mere theoretical distractions, and which stand directly in my Path, such that I simply cannot avoid them, and cannot proceed on my outer or inner Path unless I overcome them? Which of these enemies of love are actually incarnate in outer situations, real situations that I ignore only at my peril, and which of them actually originate in my psyche, such that the true strategy of the greater jihad requires that I withdraw these "projections" from the screen of outer circumstances, and go to battle with them within my own Heart? And how can they be rooted out? It is foolish to believe that all the evil that one sees in the world is actually all in oneself, but it is nonetheless true that the particular objective evils one encounters have a great deal to do with one's actions and character; one is "tuned" to receive them, as it were. And even if a certain evil is the result of one's own conscious or unconscious actions or attitudes, by the time it appears in outer reality it must be dealt with as an objective factor. Repentance prevents new sins from being committed and new false beliefs from being accepted, but it does not automatically negate the consequences of old ones.
EIGHT: Alchemy. Alchemy is the inner spiritual work that prepares the soul for union with God, both in the purely transcendent dimension, and as reflected in the person of one's human beloved. Integral to the alchemical Great Work is the union of Sulfur and Mercury, the masculine and feminine powers of the soul. Sulfur is the reflection of the active Spirit within the soul, and Mercury the potential receptivity of the soul to that Spirit. This synthesis produces the Androgyne, the restoration of the primordial Adam before Eve was separated. The polar union of masculine and feminine within the soul makes possible the spiritually fertile union of man and woman in the outer world – which means that the man or woman who has realized the Androgyne does not have what we usually think of as an "androgynous" personality – or a "macho" or superfeminine one either, for that matter – but rather an integrated masculine personality open to the feminine, or a complete feminine personality open to the masculine. In Jungian language, when the archetype of the Androgyne fails to be realized on its proper level -- that of the inner "Syzygy", the vestibule of the Self archetype – it is displaced into the Ego and the Persona, where it produces a formless gender-ambiguity that is not essentially andro-gynous, but – to use Blake's terminology – "hermaphroditic". The Androgyne is the polar or tantric synthesis of masculine and feminine powers, positing the transcendence of these opposites on a higher, spiritual level; the Hermaphrodite is a chaotic crushing together of masculine and feminine, ultimately leading to a spiritual state that is lower than sexual polarity, not higher. According to the Qur'an, surah 2:187, where the law allowing if not encouraging intercourse between husband and wife on the nights of the Ramadan fast is laid down, They [the wives] are raiment for you and ye [the husbands] are raiment for them, which is another way of saying that the inner essence of the man is feminine, and of the woman, masculine – a traditional source, albeit veiled and allusive, for what we know from Carl Jung as "anima/animus" psychology. And the fact that this polar sexual quaternity is placed in the context of the "night" and prohibited during the "day" shows that it is properly an inner alchemical reality, not an outer psycho-social one.
The inner alchemical work prepares the soul for the romantic encounter, just as true love between a man and a woman, itself a mode of alchemy, empowers and deepens the inner transmutation. This quaternity of inner synthesis coupled without outer relatedness was consciously practiced in some alchemical schools, which held that the transmutation of "base metal" (the chaotic, hermaphroditic amalgam of Spirit-potential and soul-potential) into "gold" (the androgynous union of Spirit and soul, forma and materia, leading to the spiritualization of the body and the embodiment of the Spirit) can only be accomplished through a collaboration between the alchemist and his soror mystica, his female assistant or "mystical sister". And the greatest literary expression of this "Christian Tantra" in which inner spiritual development and outer romance, combat and courtesy challenge, purify and complete each other, is Wolfram's Parzival. (Parzival is revealed as an alchemical romance by the fact that it pictures the Grail not as a cup but as a stone – clearly the Philosopher's Stone – and by an episode near the beginning in which a dwarf named Antenor is thrown into the fire. "Antenor" is a character from the Illiad, but this name also suggests "athenor", the alchemical vessel in which is synthesized the homunculus, a tiny man, partly through the application of fire.)
Romance, which could be defined as Eros alchemically transmuted into Amor, is mysteriously capable of being "passionate, not passional". In genuine romantic love the fire of emotional and sexual passion is contained, therefore alchemical, rather than dissipative or concupiscent. It burns away the dross of attachment and egotism and synthesizes the Holy Grail, the Philosopher's Stone, which is the power of Divine Grace working in the vessel of the spiritual Heart, and thereby transmuting and purifying the field of human relations.
NINE: The Visionary Beloved. The eight limbs of spiritual romance converge upon a common center, that of the visionary or imaginal beloved (alluded to in Plato's Symposium), as in the Courtly Love convention that love is born in the sight, or enters the heart through the eyes. To have a vision of one's beloved, either in the mind's eye or in the flesh, is to see her or him as a living symbol of the Divinity as well as a human individual, and to know that one's individual humanity as a direct emanation of that symbol, which in a mysterious way is both more transcendent and more personal than the psycho-physical personality. And it is to know the beloved, somehow, as the very image of one's own soul, while at the same time granting that one his or her own inviolable uniqueness and spiritual solitude. Alchemy encounters the Beloved in the subtle world of inner images and energies, the imaginal or astral plane, just as faerie-perception (or etheric sight) encounters her in another district of essentially the same world, surrounded by that enchanted Land that only appears when the inner eye turns and looks through the outer one. The same order of experiences is encountered as part of the Gnostic espionage, whether this take the form of psycho-social criticism or examination-of-conscience. Courtesy, since it is based on respect, which means "to look again", is the power that allows one to witness the beloved not as an aspect of oneself, through ego-identification, but as Wholly Other, through spiritual objectification. That which I unconsciously take as part of myself is thereby alienated from me, exiled; that which, by the power of respect, I see as wholly and inviolably Other, is revealed thereby as the image of my very Self. Courtesy allows me to know my beloved as a vision, an object not of some dull, half-conscious stare, but of conscious regard. When the "first look", that of the unconsciously possessive ego, is mortified, then the "second look", that of the contemplative intellect, is born.
Youth, adultery and chivalrous combat also know this imaginal theophany, since these are the circumstances in which the beloved is most likely to be experienced as a vision: in the case of adultery, because of the difficulty the pair have in meeting and the dangers involved; in the case of combat, because the every-present possibility of violent death can, like no other human experience, raise the image of one's beloved to the height of Vision: Facing death, my hunger for life becomes a burning fire, and that fire is She: Dedicated to death, I go to meet it, like a raging ocean with cool peace in its depths – and the roar of those waves is She. When the medieval knight carried an article of his Lady's clothing into battle – just as a modern soldier may carry a picture of his sweetheart – he was courting this very Vision.
And finally, true romantic passion must have at its object "The Beloved Hard-to-Attain", since this passion is derived from that Name of God in which, like the rose and its thorn, attractive Beauty and inaccessible Majesty unite; and the unattainable beloved is necessarily the imaginal one. In light of this we can see how the inaccessibility of the Lady in the Courtly Love tradition – which did not always preclude the sexual consummation of the relationship, once the conditions (the knight's "tasks") were fulfilled – had everything to do with the mortification of possessive self-will and the opening of contemplative vision, and acted as a powerful symbolic reflection of the truth that God's grace can never be merited (though if we love Him we will do all we can to merit it), but can only come as a free gift. Only that which is incapable of being possessed by the receiver can be freely and completely given: the aloofness of the beloved is her mercy and generosity; the Transcendence of God is His Immanence in all things.
To witness the imaginal beloved in the state of dream or waking vision is a call to enter the path of spiritual romance, or the sign that a way-station on that path has been reached, or a challenge and command to leave the station where one has been resting and seek a deeper one, through spiritual labor and struggle. But such a vision is never the culmination of this path. The final end of spiritual romance is "the spiritualization of the body and the embodiment of the Spirit", whereby we witness our own human beloved, in all her physical glory and bodily lowliness, in all her suffering impermanence and eternal recollection in the mind of God, as the presence of Love Itself.
This article is excerpted from
Shadow of the Rose: The Esoterism of the Romantic Tradition:
by Charles Upton and Jennifer Doane Upton
RESELLERS: This book is distributed through Ingram, Baker & Taylor, Bertrams and Gardners; query jameswetmore at mac.com for further information.
Copyright 2008 by Charles Upton. <cupton at qx.net>. Permission is granted for republication in SCA-related publications, provided the author is credited. Addresses change, but a reasonable attempt should be made to ensure that the author is notified of the publication and if possible receives a copy.
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