Sexuality, Spirituality, and Ecstacy               

By Abe van Luik,

The Challenge:

In my story "Personal Discoveries in the Land of Troubadours and
Cathars" (uploaded in the same Compuserve library this was uploaded into)
I spun a yarn about two lovers approaching
each other in the twilight with such an otherworldly charge of anticipation
building between them that at a critical moment they both stop, realizing this
charge that had built up between them would destroy both of them in the flesh
were they to come any closer or touch. As they instinctively mourned the
anticipated passing of this feeling they were both surprised: this intense
emotional state of anticipation did not ebb away as they stood there, but
instead transformed into an opening into timeless existence. Their combined
love opened a way into another world, a world where Love reigned. This
reflected my own experience and opinion about the close linkage of the
spiritual and the sexual (as known by anyone who has fallen in love, and who
has also experienced the nearness of the Divine, and noted the similarities of
the experience: the world looks like a marvel of a place and everything is new

But rather than place blame for this notion of the affinity between the
spiritual and sexual energies, I put a historical spin on it and suggested
this was the grand secret of the Troubadours, the apostles of the religion of
love who opened the way into the Divine dimensions through celebrations of
love taken "just so far." I received a polite reply to my story from a person
who knew something about the rules of Courtly Love, where the commandments of
the religion of love are published, who said I was wrong. He said Courtly
Love was a bawdy celebration and worship of Love of the Adulterous variety,
and was associated with magic and not Divinity except in the case of Dante's
use of the tools of the literature of Courtly Love to describe his
Earth-transcending love for his Beatrice. He said I should read C.S. Lewis'
"The Allegory of Love, A study of Medieval Tradition" for an overview, and
read some of the material cited in that book.

The Process:

So I did read the Lewis book (edition published as a Galaxy Book by the
New York division of Oxford University press, 1958). And I did read some
literature cited in that book and a few other books besides, and I consulted
the Internet.

The Findings (1) A negative Assessment:

I found a sobering, negative, four page overview of the subject in one of
my all-time favorite books, Barbara Tuchman's "A Distant Mirror, The
Calamitous 14th Century" ( Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 1978). Tuchman makes
the following assessment: "'Melancholy, amorous and barbaric,' these tales
exalted adulterous love as the only true kind, while in the real life of the
same society adultery was a crime, not to mention a sin. If found out, it
dishonored the lady and shamed the husband, a fellow knight. It was
understood he had the right to kill both unfaithful wife and lover.

"Nothing fits in this canon. The gay, the elevating, the ennobling
pursuit is founded upon sin and invites the dishonor it is supposed to avert.
Courtly love was a greater tangle of irreconcilables even than usury. It
remained artificial, a literary convention, a fantasy (like modern
pornography) more for purposes of discussion than for everyday practice.

"The realities were more normal." (P. 69) The normal society she then
describes is just "amorous and barbaric." Reality wasn't quite so

This sober assessment threw me into a discouraged phase for a short time
until I decided that Tuchman's observations should be kept in mind, we are
dealing with works of fiction, but we are also dealing with a new society,
very different from its dourer predecessor in terms of its ideals. A society
that was, again enigmatically, producing what Tuchman would liken to modern
pornographers, while at the same time it was producing giants in the field of
ecstatic mysticism. And the latter was as adept at stirring together sexual
imagery and spiritual imagery as the former, in my opinion.

The Findings (2), Evidences for Personal and Societal Transformations in the

So after that hurdle of temporary negativity, I reopened my search for
literature regarding the Courts of love. What did I learn? Lots of stuff.
Of course my critic was right in saying I over spiritualized the system of
Courtly Love as it was actually practiced. But the ideal of Courtly Love,
especially as it was expressed by Dante, is one big exception. Even in the
rather wordly literature of the period itself there are several instances of
exceptions where powerful and subtle religious imagery, touching the very
fundamentals of salvation and the questions of origins and destinies, recurs
in many of the love stories of the Troubadours.

The big exception, in terms of a spirituality embedded in this amorous
and magical milieu is one best described by Joseph Campbell, whose quote I
found on the Internet in material posted by Richard Shand, under the search
title "Troubadours and Eros." Shand cites Joseph Campbell's book "Creative
Mythology" as saying . . . "Whereas according to the Gnostic-Manichaean view
nature is corrupt and the lure of the senses is to be repudiated, in the
poetry of the troubadours, in the Tristan story, and in Gottfried's work above
all, nature in its noblest moment - the realization of love - is an end and
glory in itself and the senses, ennobled and refined by courtesy and art,
temperance, loyalty and courage, are the guides to this realization. Like a
flower potential in its seed, the blossom of the realization of love is
potential in every heart (or, at least, every noble heart) and requires only
proper cultivation to be fostered to maturity. Hence, if the courtly cult of
amor is to be cataloged according to its heresy, it should be indexed rather
as Pelagian than as Gnostic or Manichaean, for...Pelagius and his followers
absolutely rejected the doctrine of our inheritance of the sin of Adam and
Eve, and taught that we have finally no need of supernatural grace, since our
nature itself is full of grace no need for a miraculous redemption, but only
of awakening and maturation and that, though the Christian is advantaged by
the model and teaching of Christ every man is finally (and must be) the
author and means of his own fulfillment." (PS: several corrections were made
here in this citation, it appears it was brought in through an Optical
Character Reader that wrongly recognized a few words).

I think this quite clearly expresses the existence of a link, even a
fundamental link, between the amorous path of the Troubadours and personal
(spiritual and otherwise) transformation. With the acceptance of the ideals
of Courtly Love, an ideal was created within a very violent and brutal
society. In the ideal, purer love, greater nobility, cleanliness and
gentleness prevail. This latter point was described by A. Kleinbach under the
Internet title "The Perfection of Courtly Love," (which also happens to link
the Cathars and Troubadours): "The effects of this love were not purely
emotional and physical it improved a man in every way. By developing the idea
that a noble could not be a perfect knight unless he loved a woman the Cathar
troubadours laid the foundation of courtly chivalry. Women were bound to enjoy
a more elevated position in society. Although she could not fight herself, she
could make a man a better warrior. The women of Occitania were accorded a
great deal more respect than was common, and in this way did there exist an
ideological, courtly, and chivalric kind of feminism." A new, elevated
society was created at least as an ideal.

The Findings (3), What of the Church and Society's Views on Adultery?

The literature of Courtly Love generally celebrated relationships clearly
adulterous. But in a famous and popular book on the subject there is some
evidence of how a practitioner of Courtly Love could deal with the obvious
tension between the Church's command to be chaste and the mores of Courtly
Love. This book is the definitive volume on the rules of Courtly Love, "The
Art of Courtly Love" by Andreas Capellanus (translation by John Jay Parry,
Columbia University Press, New York, 1960), a cleric who styles himself
chaplain to the court of Marie of Troyes, in the late twelfth century. The
demands of Courtly Love and Christian chastity may be balanced through the
invention of "pure" love:

"I want to explain to you something else that is in my mind, something which I
know many keep hidden in their hearts, but which I do not think you are
ignorant of, and that is that one kind of love is pure, and one is called
mixed. It is the pure love which binds together the hearts of two lovers with
every feeling of delight. This kind consists in the contemplation of the mind
and the affection of the heart it goes as far as the kiss and the embrace and
the modest contact with the nude lover, omitting the final solace, for that is
not permitted to those who wish to love purely. This is the kind that anyone
who is intent upon love ought to embrace with all his might, for this love
goes on increasing without end, and we know that no one ever regretted
practicing it, and the more of it one has the more one wants. This love is
distinguished by being of such virtue that from it arises all excellence of
character, and no injury comes from it, and God sees very little offense in
it. No maiden can ever be corrupted by such a love, nor can a widow or a wife
receive any harm or suffer any injury to her reputation. This is the love I
cherish, this I follow and ever adore and never cease urgently to demand of
you. But that is called mixed love which gets its effect from every delight of
the flesh and culminates in the final act of Venus. What sort of love this is
you may clearly see from what I have already said, for this kind quickly
fails, and lasts but a short time, and one often regrets having practiced it,
by it one's neighbor is injured, the Heavenly King is offended, and from it
come very grave dangers. But I do not say this as though I meant to condemn
mixed love, I merely wish to show which of the two is preferable. But mixed
love, too, is real love, and it is praiseworthy, and we say that it is the
source of all good things, although from it grave dangers threaten, too.
Therefore I approve of both pure love and mixed love, but I prefer to practice
pure love. You should therefore put aside all fear of deception and choose one
of the two kinds of love." (Pp. 122-123)

I believe the latter sentence calls for a person to decide firmly which
camp he is going to be in, and not practice the (self?) deception of asking
for non- intercourse closeness to celebrate love, and then attempting to
substitute a course set on intercourse. But how did this celibate love ideal
fare? Miserably.

Most of the practitioners of Courtly Love in the inspirational fiction of
the time were legal, even if not emotional, adulterers. And little wonder,
both Church and state expected marriages in the nobler classes to be
political, military or monetary alliances between families and their holdings.
Love was not expected between a husband and wife although there were, no
doubt, numerous instances. So romance, if it was to be, was in many instances
expected to come from outside of marriage.

Sex in a marriage was expected to be practiced for the production of
offspring, it was only a celebration of love outside of marriage. Lewis cites
some earlier Church fathers (pp. 16-17) on the general notion that sex is not
evil as long as it is practiced to produce offspring. Sex for pleasure only
is a sin.

I have had a hard time seeing why there might have been a close
association between Cathars, as suggested by some students of the times. For
example, in the previously cited "Troubadours and Eros" Internet page by
Richard Shand he cites a scholar also publishing on the Internet (under
"Searching For A Cathar Feminism, 1100-1300") as saying "The ideas of courtly
love first appeared in the lyric poetry composed by the troubadours of
Southern France. In Occitania, many of these wandering minstrels were also

To me, the celebration of sexuality and love that was the focus of
Troubadour life was diametrically opposed to the serious Cathari lifestyle
whose ideal was celibacy because procreation was active cooperation with the
evil god of this world. Humans are trapped in this world, an unnatural state
for these spirit beings, and if births could cease then the evil god who traps
and tortures people here would be thwarted.

A perfect fit can be made with Cathar and troubadour philosophy, however,
if there can be a separation of sex from procreation. Several writers have
indicated that marriage was not taken too serious among the Cathari because
they tended to be licentious and enjoy sex while guarding against conception.
I never paid much heed to this, greeting it with disbelief. But then it
struck me that if this would be so, then that would allow for this strong
affinity alleged to exist between the Cathar and Troubadour philosophies
(after all, Eleanor of Acquitaine was considered to be both). So my mental
ears perked up when I read in Lewis' book that: "If the Church says that the
sexual act can be 'excused' only by the desire for offspring, then it becomes
the mark of a true lover, like Chauntecleer, that he served Venus "More for
delyt than world to multiplye." This cleavage between Church and court, . . .
is the most striking feature of medieval sentiment." (P. 18) And of course by
"court" he means the noble practitioners of Courtly Love. Both Cathars and
Courtly Love practitioners were considered heretics, and now it is becoming
more clear to me that they were both, in fact, heretics of similar stripe.
(Most Courtly Love romance authors were genuinely Catholic, however, the point
here is that, in Occitania at least, there was significant overlap with the

The Findings (4), the Delicious but Heretical Religion of Love:

Just what is this Courtly Love? Lewis defines it, and at the same time
is critical of the allegorical love poetry of the Middle Ages that is the
symbol of the system of Courtly Love. He notes that it "appears quite
suddenly at the end of the eleventh century in Languedoc. The characteristics
of the troubadour poetry have been repeatedly described. With the form, which
is lyrical, and the style, which is sophisticated and often 'aureate' or
deliberately enigmatic, we need not concern ourselves. The sentiment, of
course, is love, but love of a highly specialized sort, whose characteristics
may be enumerated as Humility, Courtesy, Adultery, and the Religion of Love.
The lover is always abject. Obedience to his lady's lightest wish, however
whimsical, and silent acquiescence in her rebukes, however unjust, are the
only virtues he dares to claim. There is a service of love closely modeled on
the service which a feudal vassal owes to his lord. The lover is the lady's
'man'. He addresses her as midons, which etymologically represents not 'my
lady' but 'my lord'. The whole attitude has been rightly described as 'a
feudalisation of love'. This solemn amatory ritual is felt to be part and
parcel of the courtly life. It is possible only to those who are, in the old
sense of the word, polite. It thus becomes, from one point of view the flower,
from another the seed, of all those noble usages which distinguish the gentle
from the villein: only the courteous can love, but it is love that makes them
courteous. Yet this love, though neither playful nor licentious in its
expression, is always what the nineteenth century called 'dishonourable' love.
The poet normally addresses another man's wife, and the situation is so
carelessly accepted that he seldom concerns himself much with he husband: his
real enemy is the rival. But if he is ethically careless, he is no light-
hearted gallant: his love is represented as a despairing and tragical
emotion--or almost despairing, for he is saved from complete wanhope by his
faith in the God of Love who never betrays his faithful worshipers and who can
subjugate the cruellest of beauties." (Pp. 2-3)

Lewis' speaks of a religion of love. Because the spiritual aspect of
love is what I am particularly interested in, his description of Courtly Love
becomes still more interesting in his comparisons with religion. The "fourth
mark of courtly love," according to Lewis, is "its love religion of the god
Amor. This is partly . . . an inheritance from Ovid. In part it is that same
law of transference which determined that the emotion stored in the vassal's
relation to his seigneur should attach itself to the new kind of love: the
forms of religious emotion would naturally tend to get into the poetry, for
the same reason. But in part (and this perhaps, the most important reason of
the three) erotic religion arises as a rival or a parody of the real religion
and emphasizes the antagonism of the two ideals. The quasi- religious tone is
not necessarily strongest in the most serious love poetry." (P. 18)

Lewis cites a rather suggestive poem as a "close and impudent parody of
the practices of the Church in which Ovid becomes a doctor egregius and the
Ars Amatoria a gospel, erotic heterodoxy and orthodoxy are distinguished, and
the god of Love is equipped with cardinals and exercises the power of
excommunication. The Ovidian tradition, operated upon by the medieval taste
for humorous blasphemy, is apparently quite sufficient to produce a love
religion, and even in a sense a Christianized love religion, without any aid
from the new seriousness of romantic passion.

"As against any theory which derives medieval Frauendienst from
Christianity and worship of the Blessed Virgin, we must insist that the love
religion often begins as a parody of the real religion. This does not mean
that it may not soon become something more serious than a parody, nor even
that it may not, as in Dante, find a modus vivendi with Christianity and
produce a noble fusion of sexual and religious experience. But it does mean
that we must be prepared for a certain ambiguity in all those poems where the
attitude of the lover to his lady or to Love looks at first sight most like
the attitude of the worshiper to the Blessed Virgin or to God. The distance
between the 'lord of terrible aspect' in the Vita Nuova (Dante) and the god of
lovers in the Council of Remiremont is a measure of the tradition's width and
complexity. Dante is as serious as a man can be the French poet is not
serious at all. We must be prepared to find other authors dotted about in
every sort of intermediate position between these two extremes. And this is
not all. The variations are not only between jest and earnest for the love
religion can become more serious without becoming reconciled to the real
religion. Where it is not a parody of the Church it may be, in a sense, her
rival -a temporary escape, a truancy from the ardours of a religion that was
believed into the delights of a religion that was merely imagined.

"To describe it as the revenge of Paganism on her conqueror would be to
exaggerate but to think of it as a direct colouring of human passions by
religious emotion would be a far graver error. It is as if some lover's
metaphor when he said 'Here is my heaven' in a moment of passionate
abandonment were taken up and expanded into a system. Even while he speaks he
knows that 'here' is not his real heaven and yet it is a delightful audacity
to develop the idea a little further. If you go on to add to that lover's
'heaven' its natural accessories, a god and saints and a list of commandments,
and if you picture the lover praying, sinning, repenting, and finally admitted
to bliss, you will find yourself in the precarious dream-world of medieval
love poetry. An extension of religion, an escape from religion, a rival
Frauendienst may be any of these, or any combination of them. It may even be
the open enemy of religion-when Aucassin roundly declares that he would follow
all the sweet ladies and goodly knights to hell than go without them to
heaven. The ideal lady of the love poems is not what the earliest scholars
took her. The more religiously she is addressed, the more irreligious the
poem usually is." (Pp. 20-22)

The Findings (5), What the Lowest and Loftiest Share:

From this we learn that at least one book has achieved something
worthwhile, a fusion of love and religion. That book is by Dante and is
called the Vita Nuovo. A book at the opposite end of the spectrum,
apparently, is a book regarding which Lewis observes: "In every way, if we
have not outgrown, we have at least grown away from, the Romance of the Rose."
What is it that so turns Lewis off about this particular book? He spends a
whole chapter discussing it and its fatal flaws of the very author (the second
author who finished the work) not being interested in the main subject and
wandering far afield with such long excursions away from the story that there
are actual errors, internal inconsistencies, in the book when he does return
to the story line. Lewis does mention that a highlight of the book is its
comparison of the Garden of Love with the eternal garden of the presence of
God. And this interests us also.

But why the negativism regarding one of the most popular works of its
time? Because it has the faults ascribed to it by Lewis, yes, but also
because it is just plain raunchy as shown by the following cite from "The
Romance of the Rose" by Guillaume De Lorris and Jean De Meun (translated by
Charles Dahlberg, Third Edition, Princeton University Press, Princeton, New
Jersey, 1995):

21617 I had to assail it vigorously, throw myself against it often, fail.
If you had seen me jousting-and you would have had to take good care of
yourself- you would have been reminded of Hercules when he wanted to dismember
Cacus. He battered a door three times, three times he hurled himself, three
times back. His struggle and labor were so great that he had to sit down three
times in the valley, completely spent, to regain his breath. I had worked so
hard that I was covered with the sweat of anguish when I did not immediately
break the paling, and I was indeed, 21633 believe it, as worn out as
Hercules, or even more. Nevertheless, I attacked so much that I discovered a
narrow passage by which I thought I might pass beyond, but to do so I had to
break the paling. By this path, narrow and small, where I sought pass I broke
down the paling with my staff and gained a place in aperture. But I did not
enter halfway I was vexed at going farther, but I hadn't the power to go on.
But I would have relaxed for nothing until the entire staff had entered, so I
pressed it through with no delay. But the sack, with its pounding hammers,
remained hanging outside the passage was so narrow that I became greatly
21655 distressed, for I had not freed any wide space. Indeed, if I knew
the state of the passage, no one had ever passed there I was absolutely the
first. The place was still not common enough to collect tolls. . . .

21695 Cramped as I was there, I had approached so near to the rose-bush
that I could reach out my hands at will to take the bud from the branches.
Fair Welcoming Thought [the guardian of the rose, properly bribed] had begged
me for God's sake to commit no outrage, and, because he begged me often, I
promised him firmly that I would never do anything except his will and mine. I
seized the rosebush, fresher than any willow, by its branches, and when I
could attach myself to it with both hands, I began very softly, without
pricking myself, to shake the bud, since I had wanted it as undisturbed as
possible. However, I could not help making the branches stir and shake, but I
never destroyed any of them, for I wished to wound nothing, even though I had
to cut a little into the bark I did not know how otherwise to possess this
gift, for which my desire was so strong. 21719 Finally, I scattered a
little seed on the bud when I shook it, when I touched it within in order to
pore over the petals. For the rosebud seemed so fair to me that I wanted to
examine everything right down to the bottom. As a result, I so mixed the seeds
that they could hardly be separated and thus I made the whole tender rosebush
widen and lengthen. All this I should not have done. But then I was quite
certain that the sweet fellow who had no evil thought [the guardian] would
bear me no ill will for it, and that he would agree to it and allow me to do
whatever he knew might please me. He reminded me of the agreement and said
that I was doing him a great wrong, that I was too unbridled but he did not
forbid me to take, to reveal and pluck the rosebush and branches, the flower
and the leaf. . . .

21775 Before I stirred from that place where I should wish to remain
forever, I plucked, with great delight, the flower from the leaves of the
rosebush, and thus I have my red rose. Straightway it was day, and I awoke.

This is amusing allegory, to be sure, but not particularly uplifting.
Its violence is apparent just in the treatment of the object of desire, and
leaves out the fact that in the story guards are bribed and even killed, and
because the resistance is so effective, the God of Love burns the place down
with only the cage with the Rose remaining, guarded by one person who accepts
a gift in exchange for a promise to be gentle, which is not kept. But Lewis
observes that even in this vicious love poem there is a transcendental moment
when the garden of love is compared with the true eternal Garden. "From the
lips of Genius we learn for the first time that the garden of Love and Delight
is, after all, only the imitation of a different garden and not only a copy,
but that misleading kind of copy which the philosophers call Schein rather
than Erscheinung. . . . When we have seen the true garden we look back and
realize that the garden of courtly love is an impostor. The well in Love's
garden with its two crystal springs is but a parody of the triune well that
rises in the 'park of good pasture'." (P. 150) This more inspiring allegory is
the contrast between the Garden of Love and the eternal garden of God's

20335 "Now let us go back to the garden and speak of the things inside.
The Lover said that he saw Diversion leading his farandole on the fresh grass,
and his people with him, caroling on the sweet-smelling flowers. The young man
said too that he saw plants, trees, animals, birds, brooks and springs
babbling and singing over the gravel, and the fountain under the pine and he
boasts that since the time of Pepin there was not such a pine, and that the
fountain was also filled with very great beauty.

The eternal garden of God's presence is now contrasted with the Garden of

20349 "For God's sake, my lords, take care. If anyone looks at the truth,
the things contained here are trifles and bagatelles. There is nothing here
that can be stable whatever he saw is corruptible. He saw carols that will
pass away all those who dance them will disappear, and so will all the things
that he saw enclosed therein. . . . 20369 "But now let us talk of the
beautiful things that are enclosed in this lovely park. I shall speak of them
in general, for I want to stop soon. If anyone wants a correct account, I
cannot speak properly of it, since no heart could conceive nor mouth of man
tell the great beauty and worth of the things that are contained in that
place, the lovely games, the great joys, eternal and true, the carolers who
dwell in that enclosure experience. All who divert themselves therein possess
all things that are delightful, true, and eternal. It is indeed right that it
should be so, for all good things well forth from the same fountain, one that
waters the entire enclosure from its streams drink the animals who wish and
deserve to enter there after they are separated from the black sheep. The
fountain is so precious and health- giving, so beautiful and clear, clean and
pure, that after they have drunk from it, they can never be thirsty, and they
will live as they wish without sickness or death. They will enter the gates
in good time, in good time they will see the lamb that they followed along the
narrow path under protection of the wise shepherd who wanted to harbor them
with him. No man who could drink once of that fountain would die. . . . 20465
"The fountain that I have spoken of, with its beauty and its usefulness as a
cure for all tired-out animals, always rolls its delicious waters, sweet,
clear, and lively, from three fine springs. Each is so close to the other that
they all form one, so that when you see them all, if you want to take the time
to count them, you will find both one and three in them. You will never find
four there, but always three and always one. Such is their common charac-
teristic. . . . 20627 "My lords, know for certain that if you
act wisely and do what you should, you will drink from this fountain. And in
order that you may retain all my instruction more easily--for a lesson given
in a few words is more easily remembered--I want to go briefly over everything
that you should do. 20637 "Think how to do honor to Nature serve her by
working well. If you get anything from someone else, give it back, if you
know how, and if you cannot give back the good things that are spent or played
away, have the good will to do so when you have benefits in plenty. Avoid
killing keep both hands and mouth clean. Be loyal and compassionate, and then
you will go by the delectable fields, following the path of the lamb, living
eternally to drink from the beautiful fountain that is so sweet and bright and
healthful that as soon as you drink its water you will never die but go in
gladness, forever singing motets, conductuses, and chansonettes on the flowers
among the green grass, as you carol beneath the olive tree.

Several scholars, according to Mark Musa, translator of Dante's Vita
Nuova (Indiana University Press, Bloomington 1973, see note 29, pp. 208-209)
believe that this lofty series of passages serve as a stage setting upon which
the hero of the story, the bloody conqueror of the Rose, is indicted in a very
cruel fashion. It is obvious from the last passage cited above, for example,
that the hero will never see this garden of eternal life and love with its
triune fountain of living waters. Enigmatically, according to Musa, this
makes the "baffling literary phenomenon which is the Roman de la Rose" the
only parallel in all the rich literature of Courtly Love (p. 171) to the very
book that Lewis indicated to be almost its opposite, Dante's Vita Nuova!
Dante's book, according to Musa, is a merciless indictment of the
self-centered and self-indulgent excesses of a young and foolish lover (young
Dante) by a spiritually mature lover (older Dante) (pp. 170-171).

As Lewis noted, and as the book "The Art of Courtly Love" also shows as
the author recants in his last chapter, there may have been a bridge built
into some of these books onto which the author could climb when brought in for
a hearing to determine possible heresy. Yes they may have written something
that amuses the adulterous among men, but they did it to get the reader's
attention so that the warning in the book would be more effectively
distributed: the readers were plainly warned that this sort of behavior
displeases God and damns men!

The Findings (6), Gardens of Delight and Other Insights from the Literature of
Courtly Love:

We will revisit Dante's story in a while, but first there are a few other
delights and insights to be savored in the literature of the rather
interesting, I think, times and places of Courtly Love.

One of the foremost authors of the genre of Courtly love was the poet
Chretien of Troyes, who was apparently told by Marie of Troyes, his benefactor
or sponsor as an artist, to write stories with flagrant adultery such as
Tristan and Iseult or Lancelot and Guinevere. They seem to have exceeded his
own notions of propriety, and a few poems were written by Chretien that were,
perhaps, more reflective of his own moral taste. One of these is Cliges and
Fenice, which has characters that actually refer to Tristan and Iseult in a
derogatory way because of their obvious moral failings. The two have very
much in common in terms of plot, and one suspects Chretien retold Tristan and
Iseult more to his own liking in Cliges and Fenice.

In the book "Chretien De Troyes' Arthurian Romances" (translated by W. W.
Comfort, Everyman's Library, Dutton: New York, 1967), Comfort's introduction
explains that: "The passionate love of Tristan for Iseult, of Lancelot for
Guinevere, of Cliges for Fenice, fascinate the conventional Christian society
of the twelfth century and of the twentieth century alike, but there is only
one name among men for such relations as theirs, and neither righteousness nor
reason lie that way. Even Tennyson, in spite of all he has done to
spiritualise this material, was compelled to portray the inevitable
dissolution and ruin of Arthur's court. Chretien well knew the difference
between right and wrong, between reason and passion, as the reader of "Cliges"
may learn for himself. Fenice was not Iseult, and she would not have her
Cliges to be a Tristan. Infidelity, if you will, but not a menage a trois.
Both "Erec" and "Yvain" present a conventional morality. But "Lancelot" is
flagrantly immoral, and the poet is careful to state that for this particular
romance he is indebted to his patroness Marie de Champagne. He says it was
she who furnished him with both the matiere and the san, the material of the
story and its method of treatment."

For example, Fenice speaks these words as she plots to stay untouched by
the one who has legally claimed her for marriage, who is the uncle of her real
love interest. She wants to stay untouched for the one she loves, a very
similar problem faced by Tristan and Iseult. Tristan and Iseult, however,
solved the same problem with a frank acceptance of what was possible, in my
opinion. Fenice says they will not speak of her and Cliges "'as they speak of
the loves of Iseult and Tristan, of whom so many unseemly stories are told
that I should be ashamed to mention them. I could never bring myself to lead
the life that Iseult led. Such love as hers was far too base for her body
belonged to two, whereas her heart was possessed by one. Thus all her life was
spent, refusing her favours to neither one. But mine is fixed on one object,
and under no circumstances will there he any sharing of my body and heart.
Never will my body be portioned out between two shareholders. Who has the
heart has the body, too, and may bid all others stand aside.

"But I cannot clearly see how he whom I love can have my body when my
father gives me to another, and his will I do not dare resist. And when this
other is lord of my body, and does something which displeases me, it is not
right for me to summon another to my aid. Nor can this man marry a wife
without breaking his plighted word for, unless injustice be done, Cliges is
to have the empire after his uncle's death. But I should be well served by
you, if you were so skillful as to prevent him, to whom I am pledged and
engaged, from having any claim upon me. O nurse, exert yourself to the end
that he may not break the pledge which he gave to the father of Cliges, when
he promised him solemnly never to take a wife in marriage. For now, if he
should marry me his promise would be broken. But Cliges is so dear to me that
I would rather be underground than that he should ever lose through me a penny
of the fortune which should be his. May never a child be born to me to cause
his disinheritance! Nurse, now do your best, and I will always be your

"Then the nurse tells her and assures her that she will cast so many
charms, and prepare so many potions and enchantments that she need never have
any worry or fear concerning the emperor after he shall have drunk of the
potion which she will give him even when they shall lie together and she be
at his side, she may be as secure as if there were a wall between them. 'But
do not be alarmed, if, in his sleep, he sports with you, for when he is
plunged in sleep he will have his sport with you, and he will be convinced
that he has had you when wide awake, nor will he think it is all a dream, a
fiction, and illusion. Thus he will have his sport with you: when asleep, he
will think he is awake.'" (P. 132)

True to the rules of Courtly Love, the two do not reveal their love for
each other to each other until after the dreaded marriage has taken place.
After the two pledge their mutual love they hatch a scheme for Fenice's escape
from Cliges' uncle. Her nurse fixes up a potion to make her lie so still as
to be dead to all appearances. The plan goes awry when doctors insist on
examining her, which was not part of the plan. The doctors stab and cut and
pierce and sample and almost kill her for real. Her battered and broken body
is prepared for burial and an empty casket is solemnly lowered into the
ground. The body is stealthily delivered to Cliges who mourns her deeply, but
then an eye flutters and she slowly comes to, and after a very long
recuperation she regains her health. In the meantime Cliges' friends have
built the lovers a fortified tower and garden, and one fine day Fenice is
finally strong enough to come outside, and here we again meet the mythical
garden which, just like the Biblical Garden of Eden, is the place of pleasures
found, the place where special types of trees reside, and the place from
whence expulsion is inevitable:

"When Fenice saw the door open, and the sun come streaming in, as she had
not seen it for many a day, her heart beat high with joy she said that now
there was nothing lacking, since she could leave her dungeon-tower, and that
she wished for no other lodging-place. She passed out through the door into
the garden, with its pleasures and delights. In the middle of the garden stood
a grafted tree loaded with blooming flowers and leaves, and with a
wide-spreading top. The branches of it were so trained that they all hung
downwards until they almost touched the ground the main trunk, however, from
which they sprang, rose straight into the air. Fenice desires no other place.
Beneath the tree the turf is very pleasant and fine, and at noon, when it is
hot, the sun will never be high enough for its rays to penetrate there. John
had shown his skill in arranging and training the branches thus. There Fenice
goes to enjoy herself, where they set up a bed for her by day. There they
taste of joy and delight. And the garden is enclosed about with a high wall
connected with the tower, so that nothing can enter there without first
passing through the tower.

"Fenice now is very happy: there is nothing to cause her displeasure, and
nothing is lacking which she desires, when her lover is at liberty to embrace
her beneath the blossoms and the leaves. At the season when people take the
sparrow- hawk and setter and hunt the lark and brown-thrush or stalk the quail
and partridge, it chanced that a knight of Thrace, who was young and alert and
inclined to knightly sport, came one day close by the tower in his search for
game. The hawk of Bertrand (for such was his name) having missed a lark, had
flown away, and Bertrand thought how great his loss would be if he should lose
his hunting- bird. When he saw it come down and light in a garden beneath the
tower he was glad, for he thought he could not lose it now. At once he goes
and clambers up the wall until he succeeds in getting over it, when beneath
the tree he sees Fenice and Cliges lying asleep and naked in close embrace.
"God!" said he, "what has happened to me now? What marvel is this I see? Is
that not Cliges? It surely is. Is not that the empress with him there? Nay,
but it looks like her." (Pp. 174-175)

To shorten a not too long story, they are expelled from their paradise
and hide from the uncle who is understandably upset and sets his knights in
motion to find the deceivers. Cliges goes in search of King Arthur and
explains how his uncle attempted to disinherit him by marrying so as to
produce offspring with a claim to the throne, after having pledged to his
brother the king to not marry so that the king's son, Cliges, would have the
throne. Arthur makes an enormous fleet available and the stage is set for a
veritable world war with land after land coming to pledge their armies and
loyalties to Cliges. As he approaches the court of his uncle, however, he
finds his uncle died of frustration and the gates are opened wide to receive
the rightful heir to the throne. A final observation is that Fenice's
deceptions are the reason that to this day empresses of Constantinople are
kept as virtual prisoners, under lock and key.

Tristan and Iseult play out a duplicate drama in most particulars, but
Iseult has sexual relations with the uncle of Tristan that fate has her marry,
until they can by stealth get Iseult away from Tristan's uncle. A difference
from the story of Cliges and Fenice is that in this story the potion is
prepared to make sure that the uncle will love his intended bride Iseult, and
that Iseult will love the uncle. Iseult has been obtained for the uncle by
Tristan through force of arms and deceit, and Iseult hates Tristan for killing
her kinsman the king and taking her as booty from what is now a vassal state.
On board ship an unaware servant fixes the two a drink, using the potion, and
they are magically placed in the untenable situation of being crazy in love
with each other while the marriage goes forward as scheduled. The two plot
escape whilst meeting in a garden, another Garden of Eden allegory, where they
find ecstacy in each other's embrace.

During one of their sessions the uncle hides in a tree in the center of
the garden to spy on the two. They detect him and have a non-damaging
conversation, but decide it is high time to leave. Iseult leaps off a high
wall to what could easily have been her death, and a waiting Tristan carts her
off into the wilderness. Here is a second garden scene of magical proportion:
"The summer passed and the winter came: the two lovers Lived, all hidden in
the hollow of a rock, and on the frozen earth the cold crisped their couch
with dead leaves. In the strength of their love neither one nor the other felt
these mortal things. But when the open skies had come back with the
springtime, they built a hut of green branches under the great trees. Tristan
had known, ever since his childhood, that art by which a man may sing the song
of birds in the woods, and at his fancy, he would call as call the thrush, the
blackbird and the nightingale, and all winged things and sometimes in reply
very many birds would come on to the branches of his hut and sing their song
full-throated in the new light." (P. 80 of "The Romance of Tristan and
Iseult," Joseph Bidier, translated by Hilaire Belloc and Paul Rosenfeld,
introduced by Padraic Colum, illustrated by Serge Ivanoff, The Heritage Press,
New York, 1960).

Tristan and Iseult are eventually discovered, and Iseult is taken back to
her husband. The story has a complex but tragic ending including Tristan
marrying another woman called Iseult of the White hands who, when she hears
that the rival Iseult's ship is within sight, and knows she is coming to bid
Tristan farewell, lies to Tristan about Iseult being close and he dies
disappointed and brokenhearted just before his real love Iseult reaches him.

This is all very good storytelling. The noteworthy point, however, in
terms of the rather unfocused focus of this discussion, is the imagery of the
ecstatic lovers in gardens, with Tristan and Iseult's winter garden being like
the Garden of Eden even more than the first garden. The second garden, like
the Biblical one, is surrounded by a lone and even hostile world, and is
insulated from it by either love-magic or Divine magic. Yet tragedy is always
just around the corner. This constellation of symbols suggests, to me, the
magically transcendental state of lovers induced by true love, which always
has disaster and tragedy lurking just around the next corner. This recalls
the words of Andreas Capellanus when he says of sexual love that it is also
(as is pure love -- see above) "real love, and it is praiseworthy, and we say
that it is the source of all good things, although from it grave dangers
threaten, too."

The Findings (7), Transcendental Love -- Dante and Beatrice:

So now we have explored a good deal of territory under the guise of
looking for a direct connection between spirituality and sexuality, a
connection between revelation and love. Lewis said the connection is hard to
make in Courtly Love's literature except in the story of Dante's new life as
inspired by his Beatrice. Love, whether "pure" or "mixed" in Capellanus'
scheme, may be "real" love, but the love of Dante for Beatrice is definitely
in the "pure" category. Had it not been for Beatrice turning young Dante
away, and later dying, the story might have become one of "mixed" love and
then it would not have, perhaps, become the only book in the genre, according
to Lewis, to truly make the transition from the carnal to the spiritual.

As Lewis F. Mott explains in great detail in his "The System of Courtly
Love, Studied as an Introduction to the Vita Nuova of Dante" (Haskell House,
New York, 1965), Dante used all the standard articles of the code of Courtly
Love in his Vita Nuova. But he modified these articles "when he transfigured
them into the expression of his feeling for Beatrice." (P. 1).

Like Musa (cited above as a translator of the Vita Nuova), Mott sees the
development of Dante in this book from an imperfect lover to a perfect lover
entering a new life. Mott notes, however, that we do not see his new life in
the Vita Nuova, which really is the Incipit Vita Nuova, the beginning of a new
life. His new life is to be found in his famous Divine Comedy trilogy where he
is guided through the structures of the afterlife by the heavenly Beatrice.
(Mott, pp. 151- 152).

Both Mott and Musa make much of the enigmatic lament of the personified
God of Love, simply called Love, to Dante that the latter "is not as the
center of a circle." (Mott, p. 150 Musa, pp. 115-116) Mott makes a
psychological observation of this lament by Love over Dante lacking personal
centeredness. "The man who is at the center of a circle, or, in other words,
the self-centered man, finds the whole world harmoniously grouped around him.
Every desire of his soul carries with it its own fulfillment. His happiness
does not depend on what any other being can do or say, for he is his own
happiness. He has a serenity of soul which cannot be moved, while he works
out his higher destiny" . . . . Dante hears and records Love's lament, but
does not yet understand because he is too busy being self-indulgently
miserable with grief because Beatrice has rejected him. He is still quite
young here.

But his misery doesn't last because he finds himself finally as if at the
center of a circle. To get to this mature phase he has to live through
Beatrice's death and his own infidelity to his pure love for her. But mature
he does, he finally "gained a new conception, and Beatrice in Heaven guided
his life. Then, indeed, his love was perfected and the New life was fully
opened." (Mott, p. 151)

Musa puts a slightly different spin on this center of a circle business.
He sees the character Love as being split into a Greater Aspect (of Love), who
makes statements such as this one critical of Dante's immaturity, and a Lesser
Aspect that feels sorry for the dejected boy and proceeds to give him
practical advice on how to try again to win Beatrice's heart. (Pp. 115-124)
Musa traces these Greater and Lesser Aspect concepts through the entire story
and makes a pretty good case that these muses represent the immature and
mature sides of Dante's own ability to love, and they trade off frequently and
cause him turmoil. As time goes on and he is given a revelatory premonition of
Beatrice's death, it is only the Greater Aspect that visits him and informs
him. Towards the end Dante completely understands and is one with this aspect
of God (Musa notes that "in defining himself {Love}he uses a common Patristic
definition of God" p. 116). In the final chapters Dante sees Beatrice as a
Divine Being, and is so at one with the Greater Aspect that he never falls
again into his immature ways. But, tragically for us, his final vision is not
recorded, and had such an impact on him that he stopped writing of Beatrice
because his language was not worthy of her glorious state. (Pp. 115-127) The
next time we hear from Beatrice is when she is Dante's celestial guide in his
great journey through the afterlife called the Divine Comedy.

Several nuggets of Dante's love poetry are worthy of repeating here
because they fit the context of this effort so well. For example, Dante is
convinced that Beatrice is so pure, beautiful and gentle that her influence on
good men is this:

Miraculously gracious to behold, her sweetness reaches, through the eyes, the
heart (who has not felt this cannot understand), and from her lips it seems
there moves a gracious spirit so deeply loving that it glides into the souls
of men, whispering: "Sigh!" (Ch. XXVI.)

This "sigh" is a cosmic sigh. Beatrice has cosmic import. Saints and
angels saw her glory on Earth and implored God to bring her into their
heavenly presence:

The mind of God receives an angel's prayer" "My Lord, there appears to be
upon your earth a living miracle, proceeding from a radiant soul whose light
reaches us here." Heaven, that lacks full perfection only in lacking her,
pleads for her to the Lord. And every saint is begging for this favor.
Compassion for His creatures still remains, for God, who knows they are
speaking of my lady, says: "Chosen ones, now suffer happily that she, your
hope, live her appointed time for the sake of one down there who fears her
loss, and who shall say unto the damned in Hell: "I have beheld the hope of
Heaven blest.'" (Ch. XIX.)

In unmistakable terms, Beatrice is, if not directly deified, identified with a
messenger of a new covenant such as was the Christ:

. . . God has graced her with an even greater gift: whoever speaks with her
shall speak with Him. (Ch. XIX.)

Dante also combines the Divine and the Natural in Beatrice which, as has
been noted by Joseph Campbell (cited above), makes him a friend, at least, of
the Pelagian heresy:

. . . God does have something new in mind for earth. . . . . . . She is the
best that Nature can achieve . . . . . . . her eyes, wherever she may choose
to look, send forth their spirits radiant with love to strike the eyes of
anyone they meet, and penetrate until they find the heart. You will see Love
depicted on her face, there where no one dares hold his gaze too long. (Ch.

The comparison of Beatrice with Christ is even more overt in Chapter
XXIV's prose introduction where a vision of Love shows him his heavenly lady
preceded by another beautiful lady who, it is explained, is a forerunner to
Beatrice as John the Baptist was a forerunner to Christ. After he beholds his
"miraculous Beatrice, Love said to Dante that "Anyone of subtle discernment
would call Beatrice Love, because she so greatly resembles me."

Dante's last chapter (XLII) says simply that "there came to me a
miraculous vision in which I saw things that made me resolve to say no more
about this blessed one until I would be capable of writing about her in a
nobler way. . . . I hope to write of her that which has never been written of
any other woman. And then may it please the One who is the lord of
graciousness that my soul ascend to behold the glory of its lady, that is, of
that blessed Beatrice, who in glory contemplates the countenance of the One
'who is through all ages blessed.'"

Conclusions: What Does it All mean?

Once back in the early seventies I was to give a little talk at the
occasion of a ceremony where a number of young people, some teen-aged, had
chosen to be baptized into my faith. I was to give a talk on the "gift of the
Holy Ghost." The talk on that topic was to serve the purpose of showing the
baptismal candidates that they were being immersed and thereafter blessed as
it was done in the church of the time of Christ, and I was supposed to prove
this to them from the scriptures.

I looked over these young faces showing anticipation and was moved to say
something altogether different. I never used any scriptural citation, but
began to explain to them that they would know that they had the gift of the
Holy Ghost whenever they saw new and deeper color in flowers, heard birds sing
like never before, and felt love for the bumblebees buzzily bumbling from
flower to flower. I told them that with the in-spiration, this indwelling
Spirit, the world would be a place of wonder and joy to them. It is just like
being in love!

The older gentleman in charge of the meeting took up his book of
scripture after I was done and droned off, one by one, the nearly
two-thousand-year-old words that proved the Holy Ghost had been imparted in
conjunction with baptism even back then. I was stunned and thought to myself:
this man lacks inspiration! Shame on me for judging a very sincere man that
way, but I was rather peeved at his taking the last word away from me. Kids
were smiling at me when I spoke. Kids were fidgeting and looking around the
room when he spoke. At least the kids were inspired. But that was my first
realization that love and inspiration had something in common at their very

When I heard of the Chakras or energy centers of the human body, first
mentioned in the lore of the Hindus, and a staple insights of the New Age, I
was pleased to see that in these ancient and modern traditions there was
definite awareness of the link between sexuality and spirituality. For
example, in the book "Chakra Therapy for Personal Growth and Healing" by Keith
Sherwood (Llewellyn Publications. St. Paul, 1995) it tells of the difference
between simple intercourse for its own sake (or for the sake of procreation
only as between a nobleman and his politically appointed lady-wife in the
1200's?) and transcendental love (perhaps between that same lady or nobleman
and the object of their true love under the reign of Courtly Love?):

. . . "in Tantra, human sexuality is elevated beyond the mere act of coitus.
It becomes a vehicle for achieving wholeness. In Tantra, it is recognized that
through sexual union two individuals can break down the barriers which make
them feel separate, and can go beyond separation to the experience of union
with each other and union with the universal field. . . .

"In a purely genital ejaculation, energy is actually wasted because the
second chakra draws energy from the nearby chakras, pulling it into the second
chakra where it is transmuted into sexual energy. Rather than bringing the
partners closer together, this form of orgasm actually has the tendency to
push them apart. It does this by preventing energy from radiating outwardly
from all seven chakras simultaneously. The normal radiation of the third and
fourth chakras are particularly disrupted when this happens. By disrupting the
free radiation of energy through the third and fourth chakra, tenderness, love
and the normal closeness partners feel for each other is disrupted. Usually,
after a purely genital ejaculation, the partners have a desire to quickly part
because they feel separate and this causes them pain.

"On the other hand, in a healthy orgasm it is the energy of the second
chakra which is transmuted. The excitement of the partners increases the
energy at the second chakra, and because this increased energy is not stopped
by block-ages in the energy system or tension in the musculature, it is
transmuted into the complete spectrum of human energy, being stepped down to
the first chakra and stepped up all the way through the seventh. This
increased Prana radiates through the nadis, exciting the entire nervous
system. This directly affects the entire body, especially the skin which
becomes flushed and more sensitive. The excess energy fills the auras and as
the fields intersect, the partners experience total union with one another
which is synonymous with complete orgasm. At the moment of climax the seven
chakras of each partner explode simultaneously, uniting them on all levels.
Because of the full orgasm they experience, not only do they experience more
energy but they experience deep intimacy and transcendental love." (Pp.

The details of the workings of tantra and chakras do not interest me as
much, in the present context, as the fact that the same exuberance, the same
transcendental tone, exists in the poetry of Dante concerning his Beatrice.
And elements of my own version of the meeting place of sexuality and
spirituality, the enhanced clarity of vision, hearing and thought, and the
closer love for and unity with Nature, are sprinkled throughout the literature
of the century of Courtly Love.

So, for me, this journey has been satisfying even if it has not led to
anything definitive and mechanistic. It has suggested a constellation of
related human hopes, observations and experiences that all suggest a profound
relationship between love grounded in the sexual nature of the human being,
and Love grounded in the spiritual nature of the Divine, as reflected in human
beings. To precisely define this relationship would be to take away a sorely
needed mystery. A mystery that serves to spur each new generation of humans to
explore and define for themselves their own nature.

And the secret, the mystery of Love touched on by Dante, is safe. Even
though there have been those who, in beautific vision, experienced the sexual
and the spiritual melding into one and perfectly comprehended the Unity with
the Divine that followed, none of them has been able to put the experience
into words that clarify and explain and take away the mystery. The mystery is

For example, during the same time that Troubadours were plying their
poetic trade, the celibate religious woman Mechthild of Magdeburg, described
her experience of becoming one with Christ as an intimate encounter between
the soul ("the best loved") and Christ ("the handsomest he . . . God and man")
in "the secret chamber of the pure Godhead . . . the bed of love and the
alcove of love." Her protestations against the Divine demand to get undressed
were answered in these words: "'Dame Soul, you are so natured in me, that
nothing must come between us. . . . Therefore you shall put fear and shame
from you and all outward virtues. You should wish to find in eternity only
the virtue that you bear within yourself by nature, that is, your noble
longing and your unfathomable desire. These I will fill eternally with my
infinite riches.'" Then Mechthild discreetly observes: "And now his will and
her will both are blissfully fulfilled, He gives himself to her and she gives
himself to him. What happens to her then she knows and I am content with
that. But it cannot last long. Where two lovers are together secretly, all
too often they must swiftly part." (Cited in Martin Buber's "Ecstatic
Confessions," translated Esther Cameron, notes by Paul Mendes-Flohr, Harper &
Rowe, San Francisco, 1985, p. 57)

There are numerous citations of this sort available, all from this same
general time. Perhaps Mechthild and Dante and the Troubadours of Courtly Love
all had the same root inspiration in common, but reacted to that inspiration
in quite different ways. The ecstatic mystics, and Dante eventually, sought
salvation outside human relationships and experience transcendental Love. The
Troubadours sought salvation through human love relationships, and their ideal
was to also find transcendental love. This requires some further analysis.

The Troubadours at first blush seem to have adopted what Ernest Becker
called the "romantic solution." Ernest Becker wrote the Pulitzer Prize winning
"The Denial of Death," wherein he suggests that transcending creatureliness,
denying our biological nature, is a motivational mainspring of human action.
(The Free Press, New York, 1973, Part II) Interpreting Becker, it is this
need for transcendence of our mortal, biological limits that motivates mankind
to seek identification with causes and persons outside of and greater than
themselves. The ultimate and highest form of this reach for transcendence is
religious faith, or faith in a transcendent Being. Religion is, therefore,
the most appropriate outlet for this apparently nagging need to overcome the
overwhelming realization that we are but masticating, defecating, reproducing,
temporary entities made of the foul stuff of biological life.

A lower, less satisfying way of addressing this need is what Becker calls
the "romantic solution", where one's lover is the other or higher cause in
which one both loses oneself and finds one's own identity and definition.
Becker describes this type of relationship as one that burdens one person in a
relationship with the necessity of being a god-like everything to the other.
This other will inevitably be disillusioned by the imperfections of the being
in whose transcendence lies the definition of this dependent person's
self-worth. If the stronger person has the shadows of imperfection fall, the
dependent person is threatened with a loss also, and reminded of the impotence
of any one human being to save another. (P. 166)

Bitterness and strife ensue in these types of relationships because of
the inevitability of failings. "No human relationship can bear the burden of
godhood, and the attempt has to take its toll in some way on both parties."
As human failings are discovered: "We see that our Gods have clay feet, and so
we must hack away at them in order to save ourselves . . . . But not
everybody can do this because many of us need the lie in order to live. We
may have no other God and we may prefer to deflate ourselves in order to keep
the relationship, even though we glimpse the impossibility of it and the
slavishness to which it reduces us. This is one direct explanation . . . of
the phenomenon of depression."

Becker continues: ". . . what is it that we want when we elevate the love
partner to the position of God? We want redemption . . . . We want to be rid
of our faults or our feelings of nothingness . . . . We want to be justified
. . . . We turn . . . for perfect validation . . . . Needless to say, human
partners can't do this . . . . The reason is that as a finite being he too is
doomed, and we read that doom in his own fallibilities, in his very
deterioration. Redemption can only come from outside the individual. (Pp.

This is very thoughtful stuff but Becker did not count on there being
such a thing as rules of Courtly Love. Courtly Love, as if one step ahead of
Becker, agrees that your primary day to day relationship with your wife or
husband is not the right place to expect exaltation through love. This may
have been largely because of the non-romantic nature of marriage at that time
as defined by both Church and society. Thus they invented a new type of love
relationship with love akin to worship of an unreachable love-object upon whom
one projected inhuman perfections and virtues. This effectively works around
Becker's objection to the "romantic solution."

However, as noted by Tuchman and some others, the whole Courtly Love
thing was all just a playful ideal, a high-class pornographic fantasy. In
reality there was not an epidemic of extramarital love-relationships, and
where there were, they were as sexual and predatory as any modern adulterous
encounter is more than likely to be. If so, the system of Courtly Love was
not a historical example of salvation through the "romantic solution," and
Becker stands uncorrected.

In fact, in the ideal state the Courtly lovers found saving ecstacy, an
ecstacy that altered and pacified Nature, in the case of Tristan and Iseult.
But, it was also found to be a temporary state, and like the first parents'
sojourn in the Garden of Eden, the seeds of ecstacy's demise were growing in
the midst of the Garden of Delight prepared by the God of Love. So, is Becker
is still right? Is it rue that we humans can't save one another from our
foibles and imperfections? Troubadours sang songs that claimed exactly that.

I personally believe Becker is wrong at a very fundamental level. As the
psychoanalyst Carl G. Jung once observed, "What one could almost call a
systematic blindness is simply the effect of the prejudice that God is outside
man." (From Jung's "The Illness That We Are" as cited on p. 19 of Sherwood's
"Chakra Therapy.") Becker says salvation lies outside humans because God lies
outside the human. Many mystics have gained the insight that this is not so,
that the Divine lies within, and is our origin and our destiny. If the
mystics are right, the tales of the Troubadours become a bit richer yet again.
Their allegories become even more deeply allegorical.

Finding the Divine inside oneself or inside others is, after all,
conceptually possible if the human connection to the Divine lies within each
human being. Romantic love, of the ennobling variety, and without our use of
another in a way that violates the harmony of our or their chakras, may well
be just as genuine a path to spiritual enlightenment and revelation of the
Divine as any devised by mystics, priests, shamans or prophets.

The Final Score: Critic- 7 Defender- 3:

So, was I wrong? Was my critic right to challenge me about ascribing
deep spiritual motives to the Troubadours and not seeing them as just
fun-loving adulterers? It isn't and wasn't that simple either way. There are
examples of both ribald adultery and spiritual insight in the literature of
the Troubadours. In "The Art of Courtly Love" the same Capellanus who
promoted "pure" love, without intercourse, for its wondrous emotional and
eternally expanding benefits (p. 122) also allowed that it was alright for a
man to force lower class women to satisfy his desires (p. 150).

These were strange, cruel, and violent times. My critic was probably
more right than I was so I'll give him a score of 7 out of 10. But the 3 out
of 10 that I generously assign myself reflects exceptions that are quite
delicious. To me these exceptions suggest that people of all places and times
have been actively searching for Love in all sorts of ways, and some appear to
have moved reasonably close to obtaining that exalted prize!

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