Arthurian romance, Tristan and Isolt, and other mythological stories of the time, distilled from a variety of themes from pagan Celtic myth. These were mythical stories which relied on nature. Arthurian romance suggested that there is virtue in corruptible nature. The view of nature as corrupted is an idea that existed throughout the Christian world. Celtic pagan myth and post Roman period Irish myth delivered the message of nature, not as corrupted, but as innocent and fulfilling. It accomplished it, by clothing Celtic gods and heroes, heroines and goddesses, in the guise of Christian knights and damsels.
Myth has been a major formative force of traditional civilisations. It had been a land of compulsion neurosis shared by all its members of an implicated domain. The leading practical function of religious education has been to infect the young with the madness of their elders. This is one of the functions of myth, to shape community members’ brains to the needs of the group, even though establishes mad customs within societies. One of these aspects, to treat marriage as a business, initiative that was established during the middle ages and which aimed at infecting, influencing, directing and controlling women through marriage, was to be challenged by new artists. This approach of treating marriage as a formal and interested move towards the future well being of the family, which was followed and directed by the Church, was taken seriously by the latter and also by husbands, taking all necessary precautions and actions to maintain this status quo. Under this frame, love was seen as evil. A process that would have been natural in any other society, in the Christian world wasn’t. Love was corruption, sin, disturbance, danger for human life and death. Under these circumstances, most of the literature went that way, avoiding subjects such as true love affairs. The Roman Church committed to this dualistic dogma, imported from the Levant, according to which life in its spontaneity, in harmony with nature, was not innocent, but corrupt.
The times though started changing at the age of troubadours and harpists. This was the age of the story of Heloise and Abelard, a story of letters of love, in which love and reason, or the courage to affirm against tradition whatever knowledge is controlled by own experience, flourished with talented poets and writers such as Wagner or Gottfried. In the story, Heloise exchanges letters of love with Abelard and they get deeply in love with each other. However, Abelard suffers an internal conflict, as he knows that his affairs with Heloise are against the Catholic Church and its principles, and worries about his present and after life comfort. The story ends with Abelard rejecting Heloise and entering as monk to a convent.
The story of Heloise is an actual experience of innocence and love, especially the one experienced by Heloise. As I mentioned, this was the age of troubadours and harpists. During this period, European literature received deep influence by the East. Indian and Muslim poetry of love to god arrived and spread. Muslim conquests arrived to Spain, where it flourished this poetry of love and song. Oriental poetry and song initiated the conquest of the West and influenced all those new artists developing their work in the European continent. There is something extraordinary about this, as unbroken, though variously modified aristocratic tradition of mystically toned erotic lore, extended from India not only Eastwards, as far as Lady Muraskiss’s sentimental Fujiwara court in Kyoto, but also westwards, into Europe, with a simultaneous culmination from Ireland to the Yellow sea, exactly at the same time as the calamitous adventure of Abelard and Heloise.
According to Oriental philosophy, plurality and distinction belong only to this world of appearances, Eastern civilisations believed that one and the same being was beheld in all these living things. The experience that dissolved the distinction between the I and not-I couldn’t be false. On the contrary: its opposite must be false, and indeed, in India we find this opposite denoted by the term maya, meaning deception, phantasm, illusion. However, the former experience underlies the mystery of compassion. That experience, therefore, must be the metaphysical grounds of ethics and consist simply in this: that one individual should recognise in another, himself in his own true being. It is about loving the outer, which will bring love in the inner being.
While in the East the lover, beloved and love are one, the European ideal is rather to celebrate specifically the beloved human individual, who moreover, is normally a woman of high station and developed personality, not as so often in the orient, where a mere slave girl, professional courtesan or a female of interior caste was to be the subject of poetry writing. In places such as Japan, the ideal was to follow rules of discipline handed down from the masters of the past, whatever the useless function might had, for the realisation of spiritual ends, whereas in the Europe of creative mythology, self-discovery was the aim, so neither rules nor ends were foreknown.
In this new mythology, such as Heloise, themes were not derived from dogma, learning, politics, or any current concepts of the general social good, but were expressions of individual experience. Comparing traditional to creative mythology is like comparing libido versus credo, where libido succeed. Traditional myth antecedes and controls experience, whereas creative mythology is an effect and expression of experience. The former avoids experience, the latter reflects on it. What oppositional and conflicting views of myth are encountered in the age of harpists, love poets and troubadours. These new writers find on the majesty and innocence of love its main artistic subject, a theme never treated in the middle ages before.
What is the artist feeling while creating this love poetry? Aesthetic arrest was to be experienced, the enchantment of the heart by which the mind is arrested and raised above desire and loathing in the luminous stasis of aesthetic pleasure. This supreme quality is felt by the artist, when the aesthetic image is first conceived in his or her imagination. Poets such as Thomas, Gottfried and Wagner spoke of magic of love and how that magic turned to be. Schopenhauer treats of love as the great transforming power that converts the will to live into its opposite and reveals thereby a dimension of truth beyond the world dominion of king death: beyond the boundaries of space and time and the turbulent ocean, within these bounds, of our life’s conflicting centres of self-interest. Love is the transforming power of myth, a myth that relies on experience, on a ruleless world of literature, where imagination, expression and connection lead and influence societies at will.
By Dr Joseph Campbell…
Image taken from: kimberlyevemusings.blogspot.com/2013/01/the-great-love-story-of-abelard-and.html