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Troubadors

Category: Mystic groups and systems

So much symbolism - the big thighs, the high heels, the large collar
the cloak, the sword, the beard, the belt hung low ....

If you look at any description in an Encyclopaedia or book on Troubadors it is likely to tell you that this was a movement that started in France in the Middle Ages that consisted of wandering poets and musicians who wrote about love, practised romantic and courtly love, were chivalrous and brave and also conducted quite passionate love affairs with their patronesses.

Well, yes and no.

The movement did indeed take off in the Middle Ages and France did indeed produce a large number of troubadors from Guillaume IX father of Eleanor of Aquitaine to Raimon de Miraval, Bernart de Ventadorn , Peire Vidal, Marcabrun, and Raimbaut de Vaqueiras.  The classical period of troubadour activity in France lasted from about 1170 until about 1220.  During this period the lyric art of the troubadours reached the height of its popularity and the number of surviving poems is greatest from this period. During this period the canso or love song, became distinguishable as a genre.

But Troubadors have existed for thousands of years.  Orpheus was a troubador.  Raymond Lully [or Lull] was a troubador before he converted to become a monk. Walter Raleigh was a troubador, Shakespeare may well have been a troubador, Robert Dudley was a troubador, Christopher Marlowe may have been a troubador and Sir Francis Drake.  Elizabeth I did not lack for troubadors.  

There are troubadors around today.  Very effective they are too.

A definition

Waterhouse

Troubadors use music, poems and sexual techniques to help their patrons achieve spiritual experience and also themselves aim for enlightenment via the same techniques.  The sexual techniques are based on making love [without orgasm - sex magick] and  sexual stimulation – in effect no semen and no orgasm for the man conserving, for him all the sexual energy and for the women ensuring that there were no children  - important if the man was a lover.  The techniques helped the women on the spiritual path by conserving and converting their sexual energy.  There were branches of the same movement that helped women achieve very high levels of spiritual experience.  Many troubadors were practised in helping the woman achieve sexual enlightenment via kundalini energy.  They were experts in directing and managing the energy needed for a controlled experience.

Troubadors are thus the male equivalent of a Geisha, [or a vestal virgin] except that they enjoyed none of the cultural support that the Shinto system provided to Geishas – there are no gardens, or tea ceremonies or temples with bells or gongs, etc.  The system is relatively simple in its approach, but is none the worse for that.

The name

Christian and Muslim playing ouds Catinas de Santa Maria by king Alfonso X

The roots of the name troubador give us some clues to the origins of the techniques.  Some historians - specialists of literature and musicologists  -  noticed that many of the French [and Occitan] songs and poems have  their origins in Arabic and Andalusian musical practices. Idries Shah in his book 'the Sufis' categorically states that indeed many troubadors in Spain were Arabic and were Sufis.  In this case the Arabic word t'araba meaning  “provoke emotion, excitement, agitation; make music, entertain by singing” could be the root of the name.  Idries Shah also pointed out in 'the Sufis' that the concepts of "finding", "music", "love", and "ardour"—the precise semantic field attached to the word troubadour—are allied in Arabic under a single root (WJD) that plays a major role in Sufic discussions of music, and that the word troubadour may in part reflect this.

But we can trace the use of poems, music and love through to the Greeks  and of course onwards into Asia and the Indians and thus the yoga system.  From there we can further trace it to the Chinese and the Japanese.

Being a troubador is using a system, it is not a religion that you have to belong to exclusively.  This means that we find troubadors all over the world, and because they travelled, the techniques and their music went with them. 

Female troubadors

Francesco Vinea (1845-1902)

There were female troubadors - the trobairitz , the first female composers of  secular music in the Western tradition.  The word trobairitz was first used in the thirteenth-century Romance of Flamenca and its derivation is the same as that of trobaire but in feminine form.

But musician,  poet and composer may have been their only role, because there is no evidence that they also enjoyed the sort of sexual role that their male counterparts enjoyed.  This may be wrong, as the techniques employed by the Geisha may have been known and they may have been employed in a similar role to the Geisha, they may even have enjoyed a lesbian role with rich patronesses, but here we have reached a dead end because there were so few of them.  The number of trobairitz varies between sources: there were twenty or twenty-one named trobairitz in France, for example, plus an additional poetess known only as  Domna H.

Their tradition is unusual in that women exercised their own agency in a world that otherwise limited their options, and though there were fewer of them than there were troubadours the sheer numbers of trobairitz compared to the numbers of women in other fields at the time merits greater attention.

Fin Amors

 

The name given to the overall system used by the troubadors in France was 'fin amors' – fine love.  It is a useful summary name, as the system is based on the art of love – all the practises and little touches which make the overall experience exquisitely pleasurable for both parties.  This is not the name given to exclusively sexual practises, it is not a sort of ‘Joy of sex’ manual, the implications are far more subtle.

It includes such things as the giving and receiving of flowers [as in the Japanese system of Shinto], the use of decoration in the home, the use of scent and perfumes, the use of clothes, the role of food and drink, the manners and courtesy used, the etiquette, the  manner of proposals [for making love], the use of chivalry, courage and protection, generosity,  and a host of other forms of  what is essentially making love, but making love in its broadest sense, not just the sexual side.  You will see that here we have all the techniques I have listed on the site under voluntary techniques.

It is, funnily enough, the summation of probably what every woman in her wildest fantasies these days would love to get, but never does!

Troubadors and their financing

Livre-d-art-moyen-age-flamboyant-froissart-commynes-joutes

From both the man and the woman's point of view, the troubador system looks to be rather wonderful.  The man gets to make love to women that he is not expected to marry, just love, and the woman has a real lover – a lover who really loves and practises all the arts that make life for a woman ideal.

But who pays for all this?  The troubador has more than one source of finance. 

The woman

In the first place he is in effect paid for by the woman.  In the days when the French troubadors were at their height, many French women owned land and the title to land and were thus wealthy enough and powerful enough in their own right to be able to command troubadors.  So any place or time when women were independent and wealthy produced troubadors.

The husbands

 

In the second place, though this may cause bemusement to some, the next source of finance was the husband of said women.  To understand this we need to go back to the Model of the Mind

We have three levels within us – the Higher spirit, the Conscious and the subconscious.  The subconscious has a tendency to choose lovers, the Conscious has the tendency to choose a husband.  In effect, marriage for many has been and still is a marriage of minds – a logical rational choice based on shared backgrounds, shared interest, shared intellect and shared objectives.  Marriage is ultimately a financial partnership with the added objective of producing children with something of the intellect of the parents. 

In France at the time of the troubadors, for example, marriage was undertaken for the increase of property and titles to land, for power and for 'succession'.  The truly dreadful restrictions that the Catholic Church made on sex for pleasure – it was widely stated that sex was sinful and evil – meant that within marriage, sex for pleasure was largely unheard of. 

Thus it was in the husband's interest to employ a troubador who via his 'safe sex' practises would not father any children, but at least provide the wife with some degree of pleasure.  In the eastern countries and arabic countries, this person was often a eunuch.  If the troubador was successful in providing the wife with spiritual experiences and added powers, the husband had the additional bonus of a potential prophesier or someone whose wisdom and intuition might have proved very helpful in any court intrigues.

Performances

 

The final source of income for the troubador was from performances of the songs and poetry of which the troubador specialised.  A troubadour often stayed with a noble patron /patroness of his own and entertained his /her court with his songs.

Many of the songs and poems were allegorical tales of love and spirituality – the two cannot be separated in this context, so they had an educational as well as an entertainment value.  He wrote poems to his lover and performed them for others, he wrote poems about his lover and did the same. 

At court, songs could be used not only as entertainment but also as propaganda, praising the patron and mocking his enemies. Occasionally the poems and songs provided little notes of satire and criticism of the clergy or the powerful, but this was dangerous ground as he never knew when the very person he might be criticising might come along and ask for his services for his wife.  So to avoid hypocrisy, most true troubadors appear to have concentrated on love and the spiritual path.

The contract

At the height of the troubador system, there were rules and contractual obligations by which the arrangement was made and undertaken.  It was clearly not a 'marriage' but contractually the rules could be enforceable, if only by the rather crude system which stood for law and order in the day – duels and imprisonment.

Rule One – love

 

Only LOVE, NO HURT is  the principle rule, only fine love provides the energy for spiritual vision and experience.  The troubador must exercise all the arts of fine love and the love he feels must be 'true' and genuine as must hers for him.  This has to be partnership of 'souls' rather than intellect.  To demonstrate this I will provide the story of the Coyote, an allegory from another culture, but then this  Art is world wide

  The Coyote story

"The Native American Cochiti people of New Mexico tell the following story .......
A young girl living with her poor parents teaches herself to weave and makes many beautiful items on a simple loom. The things she weaves catches the attention of many young men of the village and many decide they would like to marry her, but she keeps her eyes focussed on her work and shows no interest in the men, even though they offer her all sorts of presents.
Then Coyote [the mischievous figure of the mythology of the American West] sees her and is instantly attracted to her.  He decides he wants to have her.
'I shall offer her none of these things' he says 'but she will belong to me'
Then he goes into the mountains to fetch some blackcurrants.
Next he ritually puts on a human costume.  Stamping four times with his feet he puts on a pair of white buckskin moccasins and using the same magic dresses himself in fine clothes.  Then after taking the blackcurrants in his left hand he goes to her village.
In the village centre he stands in front of the girl and dances and dances for her and she is bewitched.  At the end of the dance he gives her the blackcurrants which are in his left hand.
And she falls in love with him.
And she takes him home and makes love to him and from that moment she is his"
The story can be read on two levels. 
At the basic level it is about the illogicality of attraction between people.  About the magic of love between two people that cannot be explained by anything sensible, rational or explained by reason. 
The figure of the Coyote symbolises the idea that the attraction is often 'dark', magical and is connected with fertility - the dancing is also symbolic of fertility and mystery.  The blackcurrants are symbolic of an underworld fruitfulness - dark, sweet and in seed form - a promise of things to come - dark seduction.  And the fact it is offered with the left hand is also significant - not the conventional way but again a mysterious way - the right brain way.
The weaving and loom are both symbolic.  See the symbol section.
The girl is weaving a life for herself  - 'soul making'.  She is preparing herself for the time when a person magical enough to attract her comes along - she is weaving her perceptions and experiences.  A person prepares for the 'right' person by becoming someone who has achieved a unique identity through achievement and creativity in this world.  This creativity doesn't have to be grand, just something special.
The story also tells us that attraction has nothing to do with compatibility.  Some people may be apparently compatible - like the young men of the village and the girl - where the externals of life - language, culture, friends etc all appear to be right, but in every true 'marriage' of souls there is an inner magic - an illogical dark attraction.  Marriage in standard textbooks and according to psychotherapists is about a 'relationship' with another person, but the coyote story tells us that a true marriage should be mysterious, a union with dream and fantasy.  Genuine marriage takes place in a realm that is not identical with outward life.  Our soul partner is of 'another species' - an angel, or a phantom or a Lucifer!
But the story at another level is also about the union with the Higher spirit.  That the Coyote is the Higher spirit who dresses up in order to attract her to him.  Higher spirits go for you not you them.  So a person to whom you are inexplicably attracted - your soul's choice may also be a reflection of your own Higher spirit.  In them you see the Higher spirit you long for and through them you can maybe achieve that union. 
The story says that it may be the role of civil marriage to create a home, to have children, to accumulate friends and wealth, but all of us have a greater need  to 'evoke the soul's lover' - to find and meet your Higher spirit.  It is not unusual to find people, whose life's elements appear to be all in order, with deep attractions to someone else - usually someone quite different from their partner.  The girl is not interested in men who are like her - from her own village - or who can do what she can do.
Ultimately the one we really love is actually an unreachable part of ourselves, but through that person we may find that unreachable part.   

Rule two – No infidelity

 

Infidelity is a heinous sin and according to Miraval, for example, 'absolute treason'.  An infidelity is compared to the treachery of Judas.  Thus this is not a loose free for all of thoughtless sex,  if one can put it in these crude terms, it is very strict in its approach.

The troubador is faithful to her who herself is faithful.

In the technique of love with visualisation, the man uses visualisation to transpose ,as it were, his concept of the female Higher spirit onto the woman he loves; as such the woman becomes a sort of goddess in his eyes, an ideal and a spiritual person.  Thus to be unfaithful in any way is to be unfaithful to yourself, to let yourself down – a betrayal of your Higher spirit and thus the 'God like' aspect in you.  This faithfulness to the Higher spirit is expressed well in the following poem by Miraval

My Lady, I am full faithful to you
and in all your courteous plans
Miraval will help you
but I dare not say who you are
nor from what country

Rule Three – Loyalty

The troubador shall be totally loyal to the lady whilst the contract is in force and the lady in turn shall be loyal to the troubador

Rule four  - jealousy

 

Jealousy is not a 'sin' in this system it is regarded as a natural part of the process.  It is also regarded as a useful goad to fidelity and loyalty, and a way of boosting the love of the lover for his or her partner.   It is also a useful preventer of complacency in the contract.

The lover is not however to be jealous of the husband, nor the husband jealous of the lady or her lover, the contract itself should prevent this.

Under no circumstances should jealousy be countered with acts of hurt – spiteful acts of revenge for example or anger.  Jealousy must always be countered in the jealous person by more acts of love and greater effort in the fin amors.

If the loved one attracts others who seek to become the lover, for example, then this  is likely to provoke jealousy, but it must be used to spur the lover to greater acts of fin amors – more poems, more flowers, more attention. 

Rule five – refusal

 

Any troubador may ask a lady if he can be her lover without fear of scorn, disdain or mirth.  A troubador asks  directly and may go on bended knee [this is where we get the custom used now of marriage proposals].  No hurt must attach to the request.

But in turn the troubador must not take a gentle refusal from the lady as being dishonourable or take it too much to heart.  If the lady is a kind one she should express the refusal in the highest possible terms stating all the good points he has and the things in his favour before she says gently why not.  In this way honour can attach to a refusal.

Miraval used to say that a 'no' from a loyal and gentle lady is worth more than a 'yes' from a lady who turns out to be faithless.

In effect, a refusal, if accompanied by genuine expressions of care and love has infinitely more value than sex with a lady incapable of real love and by extension one incapable of providing any sort of spiritual joy.

Rule six – forgiveness

If there is inadvertent hurt that arises in a contract, both participants must forgive and then 'forget'.

Rule seven – humility

 

Both participants must act with humility to one another.  There should be no battle of the egos.

It is interesting, however, that in some rules of engagement and contractual systems, there is room made for courteous masochism, in effect, the suppression of the will of one by the other. 

Given that spiritual experience is dependent on the suppression of the will,  this makes perfect sense.  In some of the more detailed systems there are all sorts of circumstances in which the lover will suppress their ego, one can sum it up by saying it is the 'yes dear' approach to the partnership.

Rule eight – absence

Separation is used to heighten the love and the passion upon meeting.  Passion incidentally is perfectly acceptable and encouraged as long as it doesn't become unfeeling lust.  Separation should not result in depression, the lovers must live in hope.  Romeo and Juliet were not a good example of what should be done.

Rule nine – money

 

 This is a quote “the troubador becomes a ward of the lady and she becomes his guardian; his rights are given over in absolute submission to the lady and the lady determines the financing of the arrangement.  The sum of money agreed contractually is however given to the troubador directly, not held in 'trust' or some other arrangement”. 

It was also possible to have phased financing depending on the stage reached for them both.  As the process was a spiritual one and thus not entirely within their hands, this latter approach did allow for part financing if  the full spiritual path for them both was not achieved.

Rule ten – the poems and songs

A troubador does not use vulgar words or vulgarities, does not swear, avoids banalities and aims only to raise the tone, not lower it.

Rule eleven – false lovers [male]

 

Anyone setting themselves up as a troubador who subsequently turns out to be false [not incompetent, just false] is punished in a manner appropriate to the time.  Early false lovers were given some extremely nasty punishments including death 'for dishonour', as time proceeded the punishments became less severe but could involve the loss of land, property, freedom, honour, respect, and so on.  False lovers were often shunned by other people and banished.

A false lover is one who disobeys the rules above and whose objectives are not spiritual.

At the time of the French troubadors, it was accepted that false lovers often marked themselves by their inability to compose poems or songs and their recourse, in desperation, to pointless expensive gifts such as furs and horses or even servants.

False lovers, despite the position of this rule, often turned out to be a major source of worry to genuine troubadors.  Many ladies, hurt or wronged by a false lover they did not detect, were subsequently extremely fearful of entering into a contract with a troubador.  Even if they were still willing to try the arangement, they were often very reserved and far more cautious about being hurt, which of course was not conducive to any form of spiritual experience – for either of them.

It paid the society in which the troubador lived, and it also paid the troubadors themselves to make punishments truly as harsh as possible.  In some societies, the troubadors who were genuine were helped by the husbands.

Rule twelve – false lovers [female]

 

Remembering that the women paid for the troubador, the problems encountered with the women tended to be somewhat different to those with the men. 

No women were criticised or punished if they were simply not suited to this spiritual adventure.  If the pursuit turned out to be a waste of time but a waste of time because the spark was not there or the lady was really not capable of spiritual expression, then no fault was ever attached to the lady.

But ladies who set out with false intent were treated as harshly as the false male lovers.  Women who broke the contract by being unfaithful, disloyal, vengeful, hurtful, spiteful, scheming and manipulative, and whose motive was not spiritual enlightenment but one simply of pleasure and lust were made 'dead' to society – shunned by everyone, made into a social pariah.

A false female lover was, like the man,  one who disobeys the rules above and whose objectives are not spiritual.

False female lovers, also turned out to be a major source of worry to genuine troubadors.  Some ladies seemed to delight in being hurtful and treated the whole exercise as though it were a court game, not a spiritual journey.  Many troubadors in the French period were both badly hurt and deeply upset by the failure of the system.

Rule thirteen – emotion

Most of the techniques that the troubadors used are based on high levels of emotion.  In effect they worked via the high level of emotion produced, thus emotion was not suppressed.

Torment, anguish, pain, grief, passion, bliss, joy, sexual ecstasy, excitement – all were expressed and all encouraged.  The songs were meant to tug at the heart strings, the music was meant to be soulful and emotional [lots of minor keys].  A troubador can be thought of as a form of magician.  The techniques are very similar.

The Gypsy Kings [if we take their music] are troubadors.  Flamenco is troubador music.  The tango is a troubador style dance.  It does not produce spiritual experience in the sense that much frenetic dancing does, but it provokes high levels of emotion, so works via this method.

Rule fourteen – independence

 

Both parties to the contract were free to live their own lives, and there was no attempt on behalf of either party to 'control' the other – no 'thou shall do this' or 'shall not do this'. 

Fin Amors was thus highly unsuited to the control freak and the controlling personality!  Left brainers would have been very uncomfortable with this.

Thus if the troubador decided he wanted to travel to another country to sing, that was his decision, it was his life and his destiny.  If the lady decided she wanted to have a rest from love for a time, that too was respected.

 Ultimately, the contract was based on mutual respect and the independence of each person and a recognition that their destinies may be different.  The wishes of each person were respected as well as the decisions.  There was no attempt to change the decisions made by the other or forcibly prevent the decision being enacted.  An opinion could be expressed as to the wisdom or otherwise of a decision, but that is all.

Rule fifteen – the end

The length of the contract could be as long as both parties decided.  Some contracts lasted entire lifetimes.

There was, however, also  an acceptance that contracts may cease either because the objective had been achieved or because they had simply run their course.  The emphasis in the Fin' Amors is on the need for affection, kindness and  gentleness at this stage and the gradual easing of the 'break' and conversion of the relationship into one of friendship – if that is possible. 

Techniques

 

The main techniques were based on music and love making so we have

A very simple list.  But I think it possible to make this into a comprehensive, hugely effective  and really interesting and rich system – almost a way of life - by the addition of  techniques and pursuits along the same lines which are based on the emotions

  • Dancing – the tango for example.  This would not give you a spiritual experience via frenetic activity, but might help via the emotion generated. 
  • Humour - Laughing and scary movies – which would heighten the emotion
  • Going on Scary rides – which provide high levels of emotion – mock fear
  • Ritual and ceremony – adding some highly emotional ceremonies to the process, in modern terms maybe a rock or classical music concert or a football or rugby match
  • Nature rambles and walks – which provide relaxation and also add emotional content from the beauty of the environment again the objective is not to use frenetic activity, but heightened emotion
  • Seeing sad films – which produce false grief but also thus provide high levels of emotion

References

  • The World of the Troubadours: Medieval Occitan Society, c.1100-c.1300 by Linda M. Paterson
  •  Anthology of Troubadour Lyric Poetry (Bilingual Library) by Alan R. Press 
  • Songs of the Troubadours and Trouveres: An Anthology of Poems and Melodies (Garland Reference Library of the Humanities) by Samuel N. Rosenberg, Margaret Switten and Gerard Le Vot 
  • Troubadour Lyrics: A Bilingual Anthology (Studies in the Humanities: Literature-Politics by Frede Jensen 
  • The Origins and Meaning of Courtly Love– Roger Boase

The rules of Courtly Love are taken from the classic in the field, The Art of Courtly Love by Andreas Capellanus

Observations

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