Enjoy Valentine’s Day. And this little e-card from the CDC, I guess, intended to ruin it for you. The timing is opportunistic without being opportune.
No lunar pizza here; your eyes are safe.
Amor is a venerable word for the kind of love that we celebrate today. Even if we don’t particularly “get” it and the more you look into it the more confusing it gets….
Cupid stringing his bow
It’s a doubly special day to me, born a “Hart” to my father, himself born a “Hart” on Valentine’s Day, 1928. (Happy Birthday, Dad!)
With its roots in the 5th Century, C.E., what we celebrate is not explicitly erotic love, but, rather, ROMANTIC love, which encompasses some eroticism, but which is not encompassed BY eros.
You still see the mythic, pre-Christian symbolism of Cupid, whose “arrows of desire” point out one of the most dangerous (and, therefore, not much discussed) truths of our existence, which Western Thought is notoriously cranky, angry, scared and all harumphy about:
As the arrow of desire strikes us, we become the slave of our desires, and, as any soap opera viewer knows, this completely screws up our lives.
One falls in love with a woman who tells us that she is actually getting a divorce, even though one’s friends keep whispering “she’s married.” One fathers a child, struggles through a series of homes and jobs, loses one’s career, and then — as mysteriously as she appeared, she vanishes with the child — not to be seen again for decades.
That’s the modern version of the story of Melusine, whom you can see stylized in the Starbucks Coffee logo.
A logo which is derived from a cousin of THIS old woodcut:
Sir Walter Scott tells a Melusine tale:
The fairy Melusina … married Guy de Lusignan, Count of Poitou, under condition that he should never attempt to intrude upon her privacy… She bore the count many children, and erected for him a magnificent castle by her magical art. Their harmony was uninterrupted until the prying husband broke the conditions of their union, by concealing himself to behold his wife make use of her enchanted bath. Hardly had Melusina discovered the indiscreet intruder, than, transforming herself into a dragon, she departed with a loud yell of lamentation, and was never again visible to mortal eyes ; although, even in the days of Brantome, she was supposed to be the protectress of her descendants, and was heard wailing as she sailed upon the blast round the turrets of the castle of Lusignan the night before it was demolished.
We of the West, so jealous of our self-asserted “Free Will” have never been able to reconcile the arrows of Cupid with our “self-control,” as the clucking of faux-moralists in the media invariably taps out in the morse code of moralizing: “How could HE/SHE have been so stupid!?!??”
Cupid rhymes with stupid, coincidentally.
I had a beautiful long-haired calico cat that I named “Melusina” (who we called “Sina”) and, like her mythic progenitor, one day, she simply vanished never to be seen again. Like I said, I once knew a guy who named his dog “Cujo.” I won’t make that mistake again.
It is the mystery of romance, of being “moonstruck,” pie-eyed, head over heels in love.
We now know, of course, that pheromones trigger hormones and the complex chemical interaction explains all.
And yet …
The one and his wife seem happy, and his best friend is happy for them. He is around a lot, and Cupid is feeling particularly nasty, and so …
Lancelot and Guinevere fall in love and a kingdom is sent to ruin.
Guinevere Knights Lancelot
Which brings us to the Grail King, or the Fisher King.
This is NOT a holiday for children, nor is it truly a holiday for lovers. We celebrate the intoxication of romance, of Amor! — which was the battle cry of Anfortas, the Grail King, as he set out on his pied horse, and was pierced through the thighs with “the wound that would not heal” until either Parsifal, Percival or Galahad, or Gawain or Bors asks the question that frees the Grail King and relinquishes the crown to the questing (quest-ion-ing) “Perfect” Knight.
The problem lies in the Greek conception of three kinds of love, Philos, (brotherly, friendship love, as in Philadelphia), Eros (romantic and sexual love), and Agape, which is say, religious devotion, or love for all mankind, higher, abstract love. (OK, AND Storge, familial affection, etc.)
The problem, as I said, lies in the Greek conception of FOUR kinds of love …
I’ll come in again.
Ritual kiss (bad stuff)
Naturally, we English-speaking prudes got it all backwards when we decided to euphemize disgusting (a relative term) and/or criminal sexual behavior behind a veil of “clever” legal Latinisms and Bible speak. The “Sin of Onan” has nothing to do with masturbation, but is called (increasingly archaically) “Onanism.” Or “zoophilia,” which, technically means the love of animals a la “National Velvet,” and not having sex with them, which would zooroticism, I suppose.
When I was a kid, I had the toughest time figuring out what “sodomy” was, because the dictionaries all went into recursive cycles of euphemisms until you came to “see ‘SODOMY’ — at which point I gave up. The only thing I knew about Sodom had to do with a stack of sodium-chloride and Lot’s wife pulling an Orpheus moment.
And aliens dropping an atomic bomb, of course.
Amor comes to us from the Latin, and runs rampant in Europe …
Inflected form of amo (“I love”).
Icelandic: amor (borrowed)
Old Provençal: amor
The arrows of Cupid fall where they may and we are powerless to stop it. “Why must we love where we must, and not where we will?” Theodore Sturgeon asked, and it seems one of the most essential mysteries of the human condition.
Cupid by Caravaggio, 1601
A mystery that we celebrate today, and, alas, all those underage children and diamond companies and florists celebrate in their own, clueless or exploitative way, who are celebrating it with us.
But Cupid’s arrows sometimes lead to the Hieros Gamos, which lies at the center of that Mystery:
Hieros gamos or Hierogamy (Greek “holy marriage”) refers to a sexual ritual that plays out a marriage between a god and a goddess, especially when enacted in a symbolic ritual where human participants represent the deities. It is the harmonization of opposites.
The notion of hieros gamos does not presuppose actual performance in ritual, but is also used in purely symbolic or mythological context, notably in alchemy and hence in Jungian psychology.
The metaphor of sexual union and spiritual union is seen around the globe, as noted further on in the Wikipedia article, which you are invited to read. It’s short, but suite. (sic):
In Tantric Buddhism of India, Bhutan, Nepal and Tibet, yab-yum is a ritual of the male deity in union with his female consort. The symbolism is associated with Anuttarayoga tantra where the male figure is usually linked to compassion (karu??) and skillful means (up?ya-kau?alya), and the female partner to ‘insight’ (prajñ?). Yab-yum is generally understood to represent the primordial (or mystical) union of wisdom and compassion.
Maithuna is a Sanskrit term used in Tantra most often translated as sexual union in a ritual context. It is the most important of the five makara and constitutes the main part of the Grand Ritual of Tantra variously known as Panchamakara, Panchatattva, and Tattva Chakra.
The symbolism of union and polarity is a central teaching in Tantric Buddhism, especially in Tibet. The union is realized by the practitioner as a mystical experience within one’s own body.
A Renaissance version of the Hieros Gamos
There is also this:
Further information: Sex magic
In Wicca, the Great Rite is a ritual based on the Hieros Gamos. It is generally enacted symbolically by a dagger being placed point first into a chalice, the action symbolizing the union of the male and female divine in the Hieros gamos. In British Traditional Wicca, the Great Rite is sometimes carried out in actuality by the High Priest and High Priestess.
I am not saying that these are the answers to that eternal riddle of Eros/Amor. I’m just pointing out that different peoples have come to the same place in equating sexual union with cosmic union, much as the fertility of the king and queen created a fertile kingdom (a mythological motif seen everywhere), where the infertility of the crown creates the wasteland, as in the legends of the Fisher King.
The Hieros Gamos brought up to date
It isn’t a new mystery, but it remains a mystery.
Which is why I’m going to cop out and say “Happy Valentine’s Day!”
And happy birthday, as I said, to my Father, a heart born on Valentine’s Day, from a state that celebrates its 153rd Statehood Day this Valentine’s Day.
I wish you love, romance … and
A writer, published author, novelist, literary critic and political observer for a quarter of a quarter-century more than a quarter-century, Hart Williams has lived in the American West for his entire life. Having grown up in Wyoming, Kansas and New Mexico, a survivor of Texas and a veteran of Hollywood, Mr. Williams currently lives in Oregon, along with an astonishing amount of pollen. He has a lively blog His Vorpal Sword. This is cross-posted from his blog.