Love . . . is what brings us . . . together . . . today . . .
Love Love Love
All you need is Love.
You get the picture.
But when we talk of Love, we use that one English word to mean several different emotions (and neurological states). Indeed, there are several practical approaches to the whole subject of Love, and all offer insights to this unique feature of humanity. But in case you were asleep when they covered this in college, let me dissect some of the different kinds of human love so that we have appropriate terms-of-art. You can't engineer something without knowing what the parts are called, so let's turn to the aficionados and the acknowledged experts on the subject, the Hellenic Greeks.
As the founders of our Western Civilization, the Greeks have a huge role in how we even think about things. I personally favor the Greeks not just because of that, but because they were the epitome of high Paleo-Pagan civilization before the Dark Ages that arrived with Christianity. For those of my Christian readers who doubt the importance of that, let me remind you that those heathen Greeks invented logic, reason, rhetoric, and science, to name just a few helpful things. So there.
|Helen Of Troy|
The Greeks acknowledged Love as a primal motivating force in the universe. It is at the heart of both of their national epics, The Iliad (in which Paris' love for Helen and Menelaus' love for Helen and Ares' love of a good scrap caused the decade-long Trojan War) and The Odyssey (in which Odysseus' love for his wife, whom he hadn't seen in twenty years or so, allowed him to persevere through his many adventures and regain his throne and his bride). The Greeks LOVED Love. They were also highly suspicious of it.
But they were wise enough to understand that there are different kinds of love, and they had names for each of them. Later, some of these were co-opted by Christianity as they tried to rectify the rich intellectual history of the Hellenic PaleoPagan culture with the theologically arid foundations they'd received from Semetic tribal religion, but the Church wasn't always particularly clear on the translation or meaning. It was almost like they had a political axe to grind, or something.
When the Greeks looked at love, they of course put sexual love -- "Eros" -- first and foremost. The boy-meets-girl, boy-and-girl-screw, girl-has-baby mysteries were well understood pretty early on, and the Greeks were fond of this. Like, really fond. It's actually pretty natural that sex is so often elevated to the point of mystical experience, thanks to the yummy soup of neurotransmitters it inspires your brain to make. The Greeks took it to it's logical conclusion by deifying the act in the person of Aphrodite (and her son, Eros).
Sexual love between man and woman (or man and boy, in some ages and regions) was considered a holy thing sanctified by the gods. Eros was a Big Deal, especially once the Greeks adopted agriculture and horticulture in a big way and began to associate human fertility with the bounty of the fields. The Age of Muffins, as epitomized by the Eleusinan Mysteries, was deeply connected with Eros. And it was a separate thing from Marriage, which the Greeks were also big believers in. More on this later.
Another kind of love the Greeks recognized was Philios, or "brotherly love", from which we get the name "Philadelphia". Consider it comradeship taken to its logical extreme, this love between men (or love between women) was usually considered in a non-sexual way, although thanks to the ubiquity of sexuality in Greek religion before Christianity it crept in every now and again. Philios was what allowed one Greek to sacrifice himself for the benefit of his closest friends and companions. Hence Philios was adopted by the early Church as a practical approach to Love that didn't involve all those sticky, sweaty Love goddesses that they disliked so much.
Yet another kind of love the Greeks acknowledged was Agape, also co-opted by the Church. Agape was originally a kind of filial love, or love of family or country, that eventually was used to describe the love between Man and the Divine. To the early Greeks it meant "devotion" or "enthusiasm" as much as anything else, but to Christians it was the perfect term to use for the love between Jesus and his people.
But wait! There's MORE!
To get to the next kind of love, we have to skip ahead to that other Paleo Pagan powerhouse, the Roman civilization. Founded more or less as a Greek trading colony by expatriate mercenary Hellenes (or wolves, if you want to get mythological about it), the Romans took the rich intellectual history and creative religious impulses of the Greeks and did their best to improve on them, with mixed results. Among these results was the further clarification of Love. Although Eros, Philios, and Agape covered a lot of bases, there was still plenty of room in the murky territory of the human heart to distinguish between one emotion and another.
Specifically, the term caritas.
Another great Pagan concept ruthlessly appropriated by the Church Fathers, caritas originally meant "mother love" or, conversely, "love of mother". It was the love shared between mother and child during nursing, where the mother gives of her own body to sustain her child in a truly mammalian gesture, and gets rewarded with a big fat wad of oxytocin as a result. Caritas seems like a no-brainer -- it's really the first kind of love we all experience, that vague sense of attachment to the divine maternal. But there was in fact a deeper element to this facet of love.
Caritas was mother-love, but it was also by extension the pure, humanitarian grace that encouraged one human being to give selflessly to another. It's sometimes translated as "lovingkindness", but the concept goes beyond that. In abstract, Caritas was the grace of one human being to sustain another at need. Specifically the grace of a mother to her children and husband. And the need for caritas, it was acknowledged by our Pagan forebears, did not expire with weaning. Indeed, the desire for that particular basic feeling of love continues throughout our lives. And it's an essential part of marriage.
If Aphrodite was the embodiment of all-important sexual love by which our species is sustained, then Hera (Juno) in her guise of the Goddess of Marriage and Childbirth was the embodiment of caritas. Hera/Juno was an incredibly popular goddess, which might seem strange to our modern, post-Christian sensibilities, but in the Age of Muffins she was incredibly important. Without Marriage, after all, there was no way to ensure genetic inheritance, which led physical inheritance. Simply put, if you were a Hellenistic land-owner, and you wanted to be certain you left your land to YOUR kids and not someone else's, then the best way to do that was to get a good wife and make sure she didn't screw anyone else. Hence Marriage being an important institution throughout the Agricultural Age.
The classic representation of caritas is derived from the ancient Etruscan story (the Etruscans were neighbors to the Romans, kind of like Canada is to the US) of Hera suckling the wounded adult Hercules (whom she'd had an on-again/off-again feud since birth) in an act of grace that not only preserved his life (she was the protector and preserver of Rome, after all) but granted him immortality. It was reflected in the Caritas Romana theme, based on the story of a daughter who breast-fed her starving, unjustly imprisoned father in violation of a whole bunch of taboos. There's also an element of this in the Romulus and Remus story of the twins suckling from a she-wolf (lupa, which also means "prostitute" in Latin, providing some pretty scandalous fare for ancient Roman schoolchildren).
But at its essence, Caritas is about love, and not just one simple kind like Eros or Philia. Caritas is a type of love that works two ways: there is as giver and a receiver, an active and a passive element, a masculine and feminine component and they are not the same or equal. Caritas implies not just the innate grace of a mother nursing her child, literally giving sustainance of her own body, but also in the warm acceptance and implied gratitude from the child to the mother. To an infant, that sweet, thick, warm protein shake they get from the Booby Bar every couple of hours might as well be nectar of the gods. Indeed, that's exactly how the Romans and Greeks equated it.
There is even speculation that amongst Religious Studies scholars that the central mysteries of Eleuseus, the premier religious institution of the pre-Christian West, was Demeter secretly infusing the kyklos (a type of bread used in the rite) with her immortality-bestowing breast milk. That's the "juice" that allowed the initiates of the Mysteries to get special dispensation from her daughter, Persephone, as Queen of the Dead so they didn't have to go to the low-rent section of the afterlife, but could spend eternity at the much hipper Elysian Fields.
But Caritas is more sophisticated than just "mother love" and "love of mother". It is uniquely tied to femininity. Caritas was, to the ancients, a gender-based love, experienced and fulfilled differently by men and women. While the other forms of love all have a sense of passion about them, Caritas is more about yearning and need than it is about desire. Often we don't even recognize that we feel that need, it just pervades us when we aren't looking until its overwhelming.
So as Head Mother Goddess and avatar of the Great Goddess of our hunter/gatherer days, Hera/Juno was the embodiment of Caritas . . . not just in her aspect as Divine Mother, but in her aspect as Divine Wife. To the Greeks, the stability of the universe depended upon smooth sailing up on Olympus. If the Divine Family wasn't working out, things downstairs were chaotic. One of the two maxims inscribed at the great Oracle of Delphi was, after all "As Above, So Below". (The other was "Know Thyself" -- and one had to use both perspectives in order to correctly interpret the prophecies). So if Hera and Zeus' relationship was rocky, look out below!
The Greeks so valued the institution of marriage that they elevated it to their highest point of religious respect. Hera, as Goddess of Marriage, was also Queen of the gods, whereas Aphrodite (who was created from the castrated penis of Hera's grandfather Kronos) just had a seat at the table. The Greeks knew that the relationship between husband and wife was paramount to the stability of everything else. They even had a term for it: heiros gamos, the divine marriage.
It was later appropriated by both Christianity and Alchemy, as well as a bunch of other mystical traditions where it was used as metaphor or allegory. But originally the heiros gamos was the Official Sexual Act of the Greek Pantheon, the consummation of the Divine Masculine and Divine Feminine principals. When Aphrodite went out and slept around, she was keeping the party going and the conceptions coming. But when Hera and Zeus knocked boots, the whole universe paid attention. The sexual act was sacred . . . but the sexual act within the bounds of marriage was more sacred and essential to life. The love of Hera and Zeus is rarely commented upon because it's mostly acrimonious, and that makes a better story. But if it wasn't for their mythological ability to make their marriage work, then the rest of Olympus would have fallen down around them.
And at the center of that rite is Caritas.
Consider: Zeus is the epitome of manly masculinity on Olympus. He's not just in charge of ordering the Universe, he's also responsible for keeping his two unruly brothers in line, keeping his kids out of trouble, and keeping the cthonic monsters, stray gods and itinerate Titans at bay. He is part Sky God and part War God, but all Sovereign God. When it comes to Big Responsibility, Zeus is the CEO, the Primal Alpha Male. And while the Greeks recognized the right of a Bull Alpha to his harem, they also recognize the equally important necessity of marital fidelity. And sex in marriage.
And that's where Caritas comes back in. While part of sex in marriage (even divine marriage) is pure lusty Aphrodite, there is also a part that is undeniably Hera. And when Hera lets her hair down and does her wifely duty with Big Sparky, the heiros gamos brings order to the universe -- not just because Zeus got laid, but because Zeus got laid with Hera, and Hera got laid, and the equilibrium between the two polar forces is restored under the auspices of marriage. And part of that equilibrium is the Caritas-inspired need for Zeus to have a refuge where he can be safe from judgement and rejection, and Hera's need to provide of herself to fulfill her creative need to nurture and sustain.
All men (and women) at some point have wanted to seek refuge with their mommy in the face of great stress. Dying soldiers on the battlefield routinely call for their mother. The Cult of the Virgin in Catholicism is a result of the need for Caritas. George R.R. Martin's fictional deity, the Mother, is one of the Seven gods of his fantasy world, and her role is clearly Heran in nature. The need -- not just desire, but nearly physical need -- of a woman to give of herself is nearly universal. That's why spinsters have cats: not just to keep them company, but so that they have someone who needs them and is depending on them: Caritas.
Within the realm of a marriage, Caritas occurs when the husband is in dire emotional straights and in need of comfort, and the wife is willing and able to provide the emotional security that he needs to weather on. When a husband presents an emotionless facade to hide what he perceives (with some justification) as weakness, then he gets labeled "emotionally distant", "detached", "withdrawn" and "un-engaged", all common complaints of wives about their husbands in poorly faring marriages. In an effort to be strong, he becomes rigid, and because of his rigidity the order he brings to the table is brittle. He is not displaying his need for Cartitas, and without a need then there's no way his wife can dispense the Caritas she needs to. A wife who cannot nurture is a terrible thing to behold.
Which brings us to the flip side: the need for women to dispense their innate Caritas. It's not merely a "maternal instinct", it's the intersection of Philios and Eros with a big side of Agape. A woman who can care for her husband -- and demonstrate that care -- as a best friend, as an erotically engaged lover, and as a fellow-traveler on the path of life can find great fulfillment in marriage. If she elects to have children, then the nascent Caritas she developed with her husband is extended and shared to the children. The nest built out of the Caritas she has showered on her mate is strong and safe and a product of her efforts and desire to give.
But damn, it can be a bitch to be the only game in town sometimes.
Caritas is draining on a woman. It takes effort to withhold judgement and offer unhindered acceptance, even to children. It takes energy to sustain a level of love and support over time. If she doesn't feel secure and showered with adequate Beta by her husband, she's not going to be enthusiastic about those demands. If she feels unappreciated and taken for granted, then she feels objectified and used. If she is tired or hungry or sick or not rested, then accessing that reservoir of feminine grace gets more and more difficult.
For a man, the need for Caritas can be desperate, especially when he's challenged emotionally or at a great extreme. Caritas can restore a man, cleanse his soul of his sin and doubt and renew him. The sense of affirmation and acceptance he gets in the presence of pure, freely-given Caritas is both vital and valuable -- but it can't be compelled and it can't be bargained for, it can only be freely given. If a man has not developed a deep emotional relationship with a woman -- probably beginning with his mother -- then he may spend the rest of his life looking for the right Caritas dispenser, without having the facility to either invoke it or properly appreciate it.
There's a difference. Strength is the ability to soldier on, to persevere in the face of great adversity to protect and secure yourself and your family. Vulnerability is the ability to be hurt. A woman usually wants a strong man, but not one who is impervious to harm. Men who are impervious to harm are also impervious to love in all of its forms. By demonstrating his vulnerability at an appropriate time, he invokes both his need for caritas and her need to dispense it. But if it happens on a daily basis, or over trivial matters, she will soon be exhausted and he will soon transform his vulnerability into weakness.
So there is a natural reluctance on the part of a man to openly show his need for caritas. It's a tacit acknowledgement that he can't quite handle it all on his own, that he is, at his core, just a frightened little boy who needs to know that his mommy still loves him no matter what. He is simultaneous ashamed of losing state control to that extent and incredibly driven by his need for succor and respite. Caritas is essentially a maternal-oriented love, a love associated strongly with infancy and childhood. He does not want to present himself to his wife as an immature boy but as a man. And he doesn't really want his mother -- he just wants the feelings of unconditional love and acceptance his mother once gave him.
The problem with that is that when he found a wife, in his mind he transferred the responsibility for caritas to her . . . and she may not understand what that implies, especially in a Marriage 2.0 world. When a man commits to a woman he is entrusting her with not just his worldly possessions and his offspring, he is entrusting her with the care and security of his vulnerable soul. He still needs and craves the love, acceptance, non-judgement of caritas he enjoyed as a boy. But his need for caritas is transformed as well: as a boy, hugs and kisses and praise were how caritas was manifested. Within the bounds of marriage, that presentation, while still affectionate, is sexual in nature.
Heh. I may have lost some of you there.
The transformation from child to adult happens on many levels, and most of them we're familiar with. But the emotional maturity that allows a boy to become a full-fledged adult man involves in part learning how to find the peace and serenity of his mothers lap in the arms of a woman who is not his mother. From the mother's side of the equation, this can be a very painful separation -- after years of unconditionally loving and accepting her son, she feels rejected by him in favor of a younger woman. If he is not willing to stand up to her in favor of his new wife, then often his mother and his loyalty to her dominates the relationship until she's dead. That can lead to years of frustrated in-fighting between mother-in-law and daughter-in-law over the man's emotional real-estate . . . because a man's deepest loyalties lie with the woman who provides him with caritas.
But from the boy's side, this transition is absolutely essential. Merely losing your virginity and learning how to have sex for the first time doesn't do it -- you can screw a dozen sexually liberated uninhibited tarts, get your rocks off each time, and still not figure it out (and then spend the rest of his life aimlessly searching for it in vain). You have to be able to make the emotional association with a woman, and to do that a man has to undergo a deep psychological transference somewhere between puberty and maturity. Without it, he will never be able to truly bond with his wife . . . in a weird way he's still kind of hung up on his mother.
For a dude who has matured, he realizes that caritas can only be granted through trust. You don't take off your battle armor and expose your naked ass to someone you don't trust, and that's effectively what caritas requires of a man. An early heartbreak may have impaired his ability to trust women, but he can usually overcome that obstacle by finding a woman he can trust (a rare and special breed -- which is why due diligence is so important in wife selection). A wife he can trust as thoroughly as he trusted his mother . . . and whom he can trust to raise his children with the same level of caritas. Betray that trust, and it can take years to regain it.
For a woman, learning the nearly superpower-like ability to grant through her grace alone the benefits of caritas to those who need it is a difficult process. If she's young, then she's just "weaning" herself off of her own need for such respite, and transforming it into the mature female desire to nurture and protect the vulnerable. In this day and age, that's conflated with the discovery of her raw sexuality, and often the two are confused in her mind. If a boy has difficulty making the transition from getting his caritas from his mom to his wife, then a girl has an even harder transition from being a consumer of caritas (which she never stops being -- she just gets it from her mother and sisters) to a provider.
Particularly with the rise of feminism, this desire has been ruthlessly stomped on in the modern world. If a young woman displays an eagerness for family life, where she can dispense her love as she needs to, then feminists jump all over her as a weak tool of the Patriarchy, not an emotionally-empowered adult woman. To feminism, a woman's ability to dispense caritas is either a weapon or a weakness, something to be (ironically) jealously guarded and reluctantly dispensed. Men who are over-fond of caritas are controllers, to feminism, even as they encourage women to succor other women. That attitude exacerbates the already-fragile transition period, and by the time a woman figures out that Eros and Caritas are two sides to the same coin in her adult life, she is often too old to utilize that knowledge in a relationship with anything that doesn't purr.
Eros and Caritas collide in the bedroom, of course. Marital sex can be delineated several different ways -- I'm fond of the restaurant metaphor, myself -- but a very useful one is to examine your married sex life through the lens of love: when you did it last, how much was Eros (inspired by Alpha), how much was caritas (inspired by Beta), and how much was a confused ball of other emotions? Resentment, frustration, anxiety, etc.? Did your wife starfish out on you when you wanted a deep and passionate combination of Eros and Caritas? Did your husband blandly pump you until you faked an orgasm and then rolled over without a word? Eros takes a penis, a vagina, and lust. Caritas requires two vulnerable and understanding hearts who appreciate the sex-specific roles they play in each others' lives.
When you're young and single, you're having sex for pure Erotic reasons: you like sex, you want to cum. When your old and married, that healthy lust is still present but so is the more-meaningful expression of marital Caritas. In other words, you want sex to feed your soul, not necessarily your loins. You want someone to hold you, want you, accept you, and make you feel warm and welcomed and appreciated. Caritas is far less about the pleasure and the orgasm and a lot more about building emotional and physical trust in each other to the point where caritas can be requested and granted without either party feeling weak or taken advantage of.
Caritas is, in other words, the love associated with respite and the end of suffering, and those things were inextricably intertwined with the feminine divine principal . . . which didn't go over well with the heavily patriarchal Church Fathers.
When Christianity came to Rome and got popular, the Church Fathers began sorting through the ruins of their Pagan past for intellectual loot, and Caritas was just too good to pass up. The problem was, traditionally only women could grant caritas, and that was just too much power to put into the hands of their gender, it was thought by the male-only priesthood. The latent sexual imagery of breastfeeding was also a problem. Under Christian doctrine, only God could grant that kind of grace . . . and God wasn't female.
So they transformed the ancient, powerfully cthonic idea of Caritas from the solid foundation of love it once was to the somewhat tepid "virtue" of Charity.
To be fair, Christianity has taken Charity to heights no other religion has. But by purposefully misunderstanding the gendered nature of caritas, they shoot themselves in the foot when it comes to fundamentally and practically appreciating it. When the Church fathers were sitting around deciding what the new religion was going to look like, the compassionate aspects of Pagan Caritas seemed to work very well with Jesus' essential message to love one another. So they took the sexually-laden Pagan term caritas and whittled it down until it meant, merely, charity and self-sacrifice, and demoted it from a form of love to a mere virtue. And of course they stripped away all of the sexual connotations they could.
Then they made it an attribute of Jesus . . . which killed a good chunk of Jesus' Alpha. It's not that compassion and charity are foreign concepts to men or rare in masculinity, but when it comes to caritas, that's a chick thing. When your prime avatar is demonstrated to be invested far more in the feminine pursuit of caritas than more masculine disciplines, you damage your brand. Christianity didn't become popular among men in Europe until it was grafted on to the warrior-code of Chivalry. Before that, hearing tales of Jesus being all Beta just didn't have appeal outside of intellectual circles. Once the Church condoned fighting again, then the religion really took off. Young male warriors were able to take up the cross without feeling like they dropped their testicles in the process. It worked so well, in fact, that after a couple of centuries Europe imported Christian Chivalry to the Middle East in the form of the Crusades.
But Caritas has always been, and always will be, a female's gracious gift to men and children, the cornerstone of a family. Yes, men can provide caritas, in the traditional sense, but it misses the point. Caritas is not designed so that men can be compassionate, it's designed so that men can feel compassion. It's not there to drive and empower a man, it's there to restore and replenish him after his labors and struggles. It's not designed so that a woman can use it as leverage in a relationship, it's designed so that she can ensure a safe and comfortable nesting situation for her children by securing a strong and protective long-term partner.
Consider how caritas is generated and dispensed in your life, and how it fits into your relationship. If you are a woman enthralled with your career you might be suspicious of such a murky, family-based emotion like caritas. In order to appeal to a man, you need to know how to invoke his appreciation of caritas and convince him that your particular variety is just PERFECT for him.
If you are a man, then you have to come to terms with your own vulnerability and need for succor, and not see it as weakness. You need to be able to request what you need from your wife, even if it feels a little embarrassing at the time. You need to be able to demonstrate to her that while you are strong, you are not unapproachable . . . or invulnerable, especially to her.
So think about this over the weekend. I might delve into this further at some point, but for now I think it's critical to bring this long-lost kind of love back into the light of day where it belongs.