Urzeit – Live at La Dolce Vita (1997) Part I

“When, in the changes of time, archaic powers approach or even supervene – Greek, German, Egyptian or Mexican gods – it is not a repetition that takes place, but a return. A repetition takes place, for example, with Napoleon III. Meanwhile, time has seen his power undermined. Return refers to the acquisition of a position of a starting point outside of time. When this event takes place, it is usually only recognized much later, that is: as a result of that which survives the process of demythologization.”
– Ernst Jünger, Approaches: Drugs and Ecstatic Intoxication.

1. A brief introduction to “Urzeit” and the novel Dayan

“Urzeit” was a track originally composed in circa 1996 for Mordor’s third concept album Amors, never released due to the loss of the recordings. Like “The Black Priestess of Kālī”, this version was unprofessionally recorded hardly in stereophony on a 2-track tape during a private live act, performed in 1997 at the Swiss alternative music club La Dolce Vita in Lausanne. A member of the audience described the song as a blend between dark ambient, Western minimalist chamber music, and industrial doom metal. The studio recording should have include death growls and been of longer duration, but once again this concert version is the only one that remains, with all the technical issues inherent in live performances. Nonetheless, with the demo of “Domnișoara Christina” this archive can help to give a very partial and imperfect insight of Amors, even if it requires the listener to make an effort to recreate inwardly the original Idea of the songs. “Urzeit” was structurally built on one repeating pattern slowly evolving and becoming increasingly complex before returning to its primal set, like a sonic picture of the manifested emerging from the unmanifested, its reabsorption and of the cyclical conception of time opposed to the linear one, as the piece deals in particular with the issue of time and its abolition.

Like almost all tracks from Amors, “Urzeit” was based on a story by Mircea Eliade, who was not only a renowned Romanian historian of religions but also an interesting fiction author. In this case, it is the short story Dayan written between December 1979 and January 1980 that held our attention, due to the fact that it contains several elements relevant to the concept underlying Amors, inspired in particular by Left-Hand Tantrism and the Italian mediaeval secret organization the Fedeli d’Amore (“The Faithful of Love”), to which Dante Alighieri belonged. The main protagonist of Eliade’s novel is engaged in a quest of the “ultimate equation” and “Gordian knowledge” to solve in a radical manner the intractable problem of time, by using both advanced mathematics and perennial wisdom, despite an environment, to say the least, unfavourable. Thus Dayan notably includes a quotation from C’est des Fiez d’Amours, a poem of particular interest written by the 13th-century trouvère (troubadour) Jacques de Baisieux, at the origin of the choice of the album title Amors, and makes some brief references to the Fedeli d’Amore, courtly love, Aztec cosmic cycles and the Spanish devastating conquest of Mexico in early 16th century.

The music video features mainly reworked footage from three films to construct a visual narrative related to the track: The Woman God Forgot, a 1917 American silent historical drama which is set in Mexico, directed by Cecil B. DeMille; The Man Without Desire, a 1923 British silent fantasy drama, which includes some shots of a beautiful lady who could have been celebrated by the Fedeli d’Amore, directed by Adrian Brunel; and ¡Que viva México!,a 1932 Russian portrayal of Mexico culture and politics, directed by Sergei M. Eisenstein, but edited later by other hands. Representations of Aztec deities, glyphs, the monolithic sculpture Piedra del Sol (Sun Stone), which refers to important components of the Aztec worldview such as the cosmic cycles, as well as a scientific simulation video of a fly to the triangular galaxy (M33) released by NASA, ESA, & G. Bacon (STScI) are also used.

Picture taken from the 1917 film The Woman God Forgot directed by Cecile B. DeMille, from a scene used for “Urzeit”, with Taloc (Walter Long), an Aztec high priest and Tezca (Geraldine Farrar), one of the daughters of the tlahtoāni (ruler) Motēcuhzōma Xōcoyōtzin.

2. Of the Fedeli d’Amore “The Faithful of Love” and their ladies

“From the fixt lull of heaven, she saw
Time, like a pulse, shake fierce
Through all the worlds. Her gaze still strove,
In that steep gulph, to pierce
The swarm: and then she spake, as when
The stars sang in their spheres.”

Excerpt from the poem The Blessed Damozel by Dante Gabriel Rossetti, circa 1847.

We have previously mentioned that Eliade’s novel Dayan includes references to the Fedeli d’Amore and courtly love. According to some esoterists like René Guénon, Julius Evola and Arturo Reghini[1], who took in consideration earlier work on Dante Alighieri and the secret language of the Fedeli d’Amore by Luigi Valli, Gabriele Rossetti – father of Dante Gabriel Rossetti, one of the founders of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood –, Eugène Aroux, and so forth, the Fedeli d’Amore were likely an esoteric and initiatory circle of poets divided perhaps into seven degrees, exalting in their works an incandescent love and the beauty of various ladies. The most well-know example is the Beatrice of Dante in whom the poet perceived the mystery of salvation and the immanence of Sophia, the Divine Philosophy, and whom he has so lauded in La Vita Nuova, as these two short quotations clearly illustrate: “Here is a deity stronger than I; who, coming, shall rule over me”, or: “[I] found her so noble and praise-worthy that certainly of her might have been said those words of the poet Homer, ‘She seemed not to be the daughter of a mortal man but of a [deathless] god.’”[2] Dante also calls her “the glorious lady of my mind”; in addition, Dante Gabriel Rossetti points out that the name Beatrice means “she who confers blessings”. But the Fedeli d’Amore were not concerned with the creation of innocuous sentimental literature: cryptic poetry was used as a sort of sacred language, the “language of the gods” or “language of the birds”, mentioned for instance in Norse mythology, when the hero Sigurðr acquires it after having accidentally tasted dragon blood while roasting the heart of Fáfnir. As courtly love was mainly a matter of chivalry and aristocracy, the Fedeli d’Amore also were men of action and struggle, supporting the Ghibelline faction favourable to the Holy Roman emperor – the Eagle – against the Pope and Guelphs – the Cross; their brotherhood had political and social dimensions, although their main purpose was of a soteriological order. From this perspective, the love they talked about in their poetry was very different from the common one.

According to most of the authors that we have named, the various ladies celebrated by the Fedeli d’Amore were neither idealized women nor personified allegories or theological abstractions, but were all, “under different names, one and the same symbolic ‘Lady’ who represents transcendent Intelligence (the Madonna Intelligenza of Dino Compagni), or divine Wisdom”[3], the gnostic Sophia, female par excellence, “an image of a principle of enlightenment, salvation, and transcendental understanding”[4]. This is a conception similar to Prajñāpāramitā, the “Perfection of (Transcendent) Wisdom” in Mahāyāna Buddhism, “mother of all Buddhas”, often depicted as a goddess or female bodhisattva. Following the Hindu Tantric or Vedāntic terminology borrowed from the Sāṃkhya school of philosophy, the transcendent or active Intelligence is buddhi (the higher intellect), the door-way to inner wisdom symbolically located in the heart, which is not seen primarily as the seat of sentiments and emotions. In The Yoga of Power, Evola defines buddhi as “the principle of every individuation, which is free from every particular form of conditioned existence”, the deepest aspect of the human psyche, while Guénon explains it as follows:

“if we view the ‘Self’ (ātman) or personality, as the Spiritual Sun which shines at the center of the entire being, buddhi will be the ray directly emanating from this Sun and illuminating in its entirety the particular individual state that more especially concerns us, while at the same time linking it to the other individual states of the same being, or rather, more generally still, to all the manifested states (individual or non-individual) of that being, and, beyond these, to the center itself.”[5]

If that principle belongs to the formless manifestation, buddhi however transcends the domain of human individuality and contrasts with ahaṃkāra (the I-maker, egoity, individual consciousness) and manas, which can be equated with the mind, conceived as the “reasoning reason” and as an organ or instrument organizing the data received from the senses, associated with the head. Thus the cuore gentile “gentle heart” of the Fedeli d’Amore is the heart purified, “devoid of all that concerns wordly objects, and by this very fact made ready to receive interior illumination”[6].

We note in passing that the “chivalric” perspective of the Fedeli d’Amore, with the emphasis on an active principle represented as feminine (Madonna) is also to be found in Hindu Tantrism, more particularly in the tendencies inspired by goddess-oriented Śākta traditions. Generally, Śakti “power, energy” is the dynamic, changing aspect of the Absolute, also “the prototype of perfect femininity, the supreme female” (Devī Gītā, 1910 anonymous translation) and Śiva, the static, immutable one, “the perfect prototype of man” too. But Śākta adherents, as the name of this branch of Hinduism suggests, gives priority to Śakti in their doctrine, practices and cults, and She even may be regarded by some of Her devotees as the supreme godhead, source of all powers and potentialities in nature, including other gods, ordering them to perform their cosmic tasks. The subsequent verse of Dino Compagni speaking of the Madonna Intelligenza, “Lady Intelligence”, can be understood with a deeper meaning than being simply a matter concerning the affective domain:

The amorous Lady Intelligence
Who makes her home in the soul
Who with her beauty has made me fall in love.[7]

The love which is in concern to the Fedeli d’Amore is released when the male “possible or passive Intellect” – technical expression borrowed from Aristotle, which expresses the supraindividual noûs as potentiality –, latent and hindered in the ordinary man, is falling in love with the transcendent Intelligence represented as a woman, able to illuminate him, and becomes active. Thus, the objective pursued in the quest is to be eventually reunited with Her, like a man deeply in love who constantly thinks to his beloved, but is separated from her and is eager for meeting her again. In other words, it is the spiritual reintegration of the fallen man through a feminine principle, actualizing a superior potentiality that is in the unawakened man in dormancy. There is for instance a coded meaning in the literature of the Fedeli d’Amore related to the salutation (saluto) granted by a lady to a man and salvation/health (salute), generating a new life and a new being.

The Blessed Damozel (1871-1878), detail of a painting by Dante Gabriel Rossetti illustrating his eponymous poem, an artist who was heavily inspired by Dante Alighieri, Harvard Art Museums/Fogg Museum.

If the ladies exalted by the Fedeli d’Amore were likely one single woman – the “Unique Lady” – symbolizing ultimately the transcendent Intelligence, or put differently an image of Sophia, the Divine Wisdom and gnosis, it does not mean that earthly women cannot be an incarnated medium or hierophany revealing the numinous, sometimes even without them knowing. Thus Dante’s Beatrice was probably inspired by Beatrice “Bice” di Folco Portinari, the daughter of a banker, although this identification is disputed by some scholars. Everything may be an obstacle or on the contrary a starting point for a spiritual path according to the idiosyncrasy of the individual concerned, and therefore human love and the sense of beauty may be used – or not – for initiatory purposes. For some traditional worldviews, beauty in its essence is a phenomenon of the divine and may be discovered in landscapes, natural and artificial objects, living beings such plants, animals, and human beings. Iranian perennialist philosopher Seyyed Hossein Nasr summarizes very well this conception applied to mankind:

“The beauty of woman is for spiritual man an unveiling of the beauty of the paradise that he carries at the center of his being […] According to an Arabic proverb, in man goodness is outward and beauty inward while in woman beauty is outward and goodness inward. There is not only a complementarity between the sexes but also an inversion of relationships. From a certain point of view man symbolizes outwardness and woman inwardness. She is the theophany of esotericism and, in certain modes of spirituality, Divine Wisdom (which as al-ḥikmah is feminine in Arabic) reveals itself to the Gnostic as a beautiful woman.”[8]

To define properly the notion of beauty is of course complex, as it involves so-called objective (for instance, mathematical proportions) and subjective elements (beauty is also in the eye of the beholder, for someone must be able to perceive it), and we will not attempt to do it here; we will simply paraphrase a classic saying quoted by Ananda K. Coomaraswamy, which adequately synthesizes our view: “To see the beauty of Beatrice requires the eyes of Dante”.[9]