This book is a true revelation, an insight into the depth of a Romantic Love phenomenon. I would strongly recommend this book to every Westerner, but especially to men. For it makes one understand the nature of the so-called love life and how to deal with the obsessive search for love, so common for the Western mindset. The book gives brilliant answer on why relationships in our cultures are in a state of epidemic crisis.
The book is called “Understanding the Psychology of romantic love” and is written by Robert A. Johnson, a world-renowned Jungian analyst and one of 20th century’s most popular depth psychology scholars. The uniqueness of Johnson’s approach is backed up with his long-term visits of India and Japan, profound study of the Eastern philosophy and lifestyle. In his bestsellers Johnson delivers comparative analysis of Western and Eastern approaches which is still a rare take among scholars. Needless to say I am fascinated by him, for his works mirror my own views.
I’d love to share with you here the main idea of the book, but please keep in mind that by no means will my quotation replace the reading of it!
Catharism, the pure love
Psychologically our modern era began in the 12th century. At that time one of he most powerful of the early religions was the Manichean movement, in Europe called “Catharism” (the pure). One of their basic beliefs was that “true love” was not the ordinary human love between husband and wife but rather the worship of a feminine saviour, a mediator between God and man, who waited in the sky to welcome the “pure” with a holy kiss and lead him or her into the Realm of Light. By contrast with this “pure” love, ordinary human sexuality and marriage were bestial and unspiritual. Many Christians at that time saw Catharism as a reform movement, a reaction against the corruption and politics within the religious hierarchy. The pope declared Catharism heresy, but like every powerful idea, the teachings of Catharism suddenly reappeared in the cult of courtly love (a worship of a lady fair by a knight), in the songs and poems of troubadours and in the “romances”. Some cultural historians belive that ladies and knights who first practiced courtly love were Cathars continuing their religious practice under the guise of a secular cult of love.
Thus the ideal of courtly love swept through the feudal courts of Europe and began a revolution in our attitudes towards the feminine values of love, relationship, devotion, spiritual experience and the pursuit of beauty. That revolution finally matured into what we call romanticism. The Western men began to look on woman as the embodiment of all what is pure, sacred and whole, woman became the symbol of a anima, “My Lady Soul”.
A few things changed since the days of courtly love. At the beginning, it was an adoration without a physical contact. By contrast, we always mix romance with sex and marriage. And here comes the main conflict!
Haunting the ghost of true love
The courtly belief that true love can only exist outside marriage is still with us today, unconsciously affecting us more than we know. A man expects his wife to take care of the children, have food on the table, earn money, etc. But some other part of him wants her to be the incarnation of anima, the Holy Lady in the sky who is always beautiful and perfect. He wonders how the pure and shining goddess whom he adored turned into this ordinary wife. A woman sees her husband working, paying the bills, living the ordinariness of life. She wonders what happened to the knight who adored and worshiped her when he was “courting” her, in the days when everything was so intense, so ecstatic, so blissful. The old unconscious belief returns to haunt them, whispering that “true love” is somewhere else, that it cannot be found within the ordinariness of marriage.
That was the historical background of the Romantic Love phenomenon, the description of how this love differs from true love, why we are so frustrated with realtionships and what can be done about it – to be continued…