Secret Societies of All Ages - Charles Heckethorn




III. Troubadours

181. Religion of the Troubadours.—Troubadours and Albigenses drew closer together in persecution; their friendship increased in the school of sorrow. They sang and fought for one another, and their songs expired on the blazing piles; wherefore it appears reasonable to consider the troubadours as the organisers of that vast conspiracy directed against the Church of Rome, the champions of a revolt which had not for its guide and object material interests and vulgar ambition, but a religion and a polity of love. Here love is considered, not as an affection which all more or less experience and understand, but as an art, a science, acquired by means of the study and practice of sectarian rites and laws; and the artists under various names appear scattered throughout many parts of Europe. It is difficult, indeed, to determine the boundaries within which the Gay Science was diffused. The singers of love are met with as the troubadours of the Langue d'Oc and the Langue d'Oui, the minnesangers and minstrels.

182. Difficulty to understand the Troubadours.—The singers of Provence—whose language was by the Popes called the language of heresy—are nearly unintelligible to us, and we know not how to justify the praises bestowed upon their poetry by such men as Dante, Petrarch, Chaucer; nor dare we, since we do not understand their verses, call their inspiration madness, nor deny them the success they undoubtedly achieved. It appears more easy and natural to think that those free champions of a heresy who were not permitted clearly to express their ideas, preferred the obscure turns of poetry and light forms that concealed their thoughts, as the sumptuous and festive courts of love perhaps concealed the "Lodges" of the Albigenses from the eye of the Papal Inquisition. The same was done for political purposes at various periods. Thus we have Gringore's La Chasse du Cerf des Cerfs (a pun designating Pope Julius II., by allusion to the servus servorum), in which that Pope is held up to ridicule. But some of the troubadours, such, for instance, as Walther von der Vogelweide, d. 1228, and Peter Cardinal, d. 1306, sang openly against the abuses of the Church and the corrupt lives of the clergy.

183. Poetry of Troubadours.—Arnaldo Danielle was obscure even for his contemporaries; according to the Monk of Montaudon, "no one understands his songs," and yet Dante and Petrarch praise him above every other Provencal poet, calling him the "great Master of Love," perhaps a title of sectarian dignity, and extolling his style, which they would not have done had they not been able to decipher his meaning. The effusions of the troubadours were always addressed to some lady, though they dared not reveal her name; what Hugo de Brunet says applies to all: "If I be asked to whom my songs are addressed, I keep it a secret. I pretend to such a one, but it is nothing of the kind." The mistress invoked, there can be no doubt, like Dante's Beatrice, was the purified religion of love, personified as the Virgin Sophia.

184. Degrees among Troubadours.—There were four degrees, but the "Romance of the Rose" divides them into four and three, producing again the mystic number seven. This poem describes a castle, surrounded with a sevenfold wall, which is covered with emblematical figures, and no one was admitted into the castle that could not explain their mysterious meaning. The troubadours also had their secret signs of recognition, and the "minstrels" are supposed to have been so called because they were the "ministers" of a secret worship.

185. Courts of Love.—I have already alluded to these; they probably gave rise to the Lodges of Adoption, the Knights and Nymphs of the Rose, etc. The degrees pronounced therein with pedantic proceedings, literally interpreted, are frivolous or immoral, and therefore incompatible with the morals and manners of the Albigenses, which were on the whole pure and austere. The Courts of Love may therefore have concealed far sterner objects than the decision of questions of mere gallantry; and it is noticeable that these courts, as well as the race of troubadours, became extinct with the extinction of the Albigenses by the sword of De Montfort and the faggots of the Inquisition.