The Sacred Fire, by B.Z. Goldberg, , at sacred-texts.com
IN the land of Haidenluma, on the coast of Haidenhaid, they tell the story of a charming princess and of her lover, fair and strong. Wandawind was the name of the princess, and she lived in her castle on the top of a hill. Every morning, at early dawn, Wandawind rose from a bed of roses to bathe in the River of Souls so that its rippling waters might ever be pure. For there, in the swiftly flowing stream, the souls of the departed were purified before they reported at the gate of Shadenshade for eternal peace and comfort.
One day, Wandawind, the charming princess, felt tired on waking. She walked down the hill but did not go in to bathe. The souls would be disappointed, but her head was heavy and her feet ached. She sat upon a rock to rest. For a moment she closed her weary eyes to see a dizzy, whirling world. Then she opened them. But in the brief interval something happened. She was now being carried in the arms of a ragged shepherd boy.
Loverlain was the name of the lad, and he lived on the plain. Loverlain had been walking along the bank of the river, following the soul of his father who had just departed. Sad had been the heart of the shepherd boy, and full of grief and love. His head had been lowered, his eyes
upon the water. When he raised them, he beheld Wandawind prostrate on the rock.
Tired was the charming princess and heavy her eyes. Yet she opened them to gaze upon the wonderful shepherd lad who was carrying her up the hill to the castle. And as she gazed at him, her golden locks mingled with his hair of jet, and her azure eyes bathed in eyes that were black as night. And as they reached the draw-bridge, their lips came close together, locked in a kiss of love.
Now, Wandawind was a charming princess and Lover-lain only a shepherd boy, so she returned to her chambers in the palace and Loverlain went back to the valley. But the lad could never forget the warmth of Wandawind's lips or the gaze of her dreamy eyes. He could neither eat nor sleep, always longing for the lovely princess, who lived in the castle above. One morning, when he heard that the princess was to marry the King of Radan, he came down to the rock where he had first found Wandawind and lay down to die. The shepherd boys of Haidenluma buried the body of Loverlain, but his soul remained hovering over the waters of the river.
And as Wandawind came down to bathe in the River of Souls she heard a faint murmur in the waters. It was the voice of Loverlain, speaking of love and of longing. And the charming princess said to the shepherd boy: "They would not admit you to the castle when you were living, but I shall admit your soul to my body and take you along with me. Our souls will be forever united even as our lips were on that sunny morning when you carried me up the hill."
So the soul of the shepherd boy entered the body of the lovely princess, and people called her possessed. She now
refused to marry the King of Radan, for she was already living in marriage with the soul of Loverlain. A fast was declared in all the land of Haidenluma and a period of mourning on the coast of Haidenhaid. For the King of Radan was fully resolved to banish the soul of a base shepherd boy from the body of a princess of the blood.
And on the seventh day of mourning, the priests of Haidenluma were all assembled in their temple that faced the sun and Haidenhaid. They lighted the black candles and opened the chest wherein lay the sacred sword. For this sword could cut souls and destroy them so that they might not live to enter the gate of Shadenshade there to find peace eternal.
Loverlain's soul would not submit even under the edge of the sacred knife. It would rather be destroyed altogether than forsake the happy abode of the charming princess. But Wandawind would not have the soul of Loverlain destroyed. She asked it to leave her body and to wait at the rock by the river.
So again were the priests of Haidenluma triumphant. Bugles were sounded, tom-toms were played, and sirens were blown all over the land, for again was Wandawind herself and her marriage with the King of Radan could now take place.
All the land was happy, and there was no end to the joy and clamour, which only increased with the fall of night. Fires were made, and around them a happy people drank and danced. In the midst of the festivities, as the waning moon crept from beneath a heavy cloud, the face of Wandawind grew pale in death, her soul departing to the rock below to meet the soul of Loverlain. To this very
day the two souls are forever floating over the waters of the river in eternal embrace.
And this is the end of the story. Because she defied the priests of Haidenluma, the soul of the princess could never enter Shadenshade. But Wandawind would fain be worried, for what is life on earth and eternal peace in Shadenshade in the face of love triumphant?
This is also the end of the story of love as it emerged from the momentary passion of physical desire into the realm of the spirit. Love was born of physical desire, yet Loverlain dared to forego all desire, life itself, out of his love for Wandawind. And the princess went even farther, defying death itself for love. The spirit of love steps over life and transcends death, to remain like the Spirit of God, forever moving over the waters.
Love could never have reached this stage were it not for the Spirit of God with which it had merged in the union of love and religion. That which once was brutal passion, mere physical hunger, was only little tempered by the social relationship and comradeship that proximity to the object of sex afforded. He who caught his woman in the field and raped her at his whim, was possessed of little more refinement when he was forced to keep her at his side for a while or compelled to associate with her in some social task. It was only when he came to do his loving in the temple that he discovered esthetic values in this prime force of his life. For just as music regulates sound, so have the temple requirements regulated man's sexual conduct within its walls. What was elsewhere a savage outbreak, animal fashion, was here reduced to an artistic accomplishment.
In fact, it was in the temple that man made an art of his loving, an ars amandi, which Western man has well nigh forgotten. And not until he relearns this sacred art will he be completely happy again.
In the temple there was an atmosphere of awe and admiration. One felt it toward the god and goddess, and this feeling was carried over to the priestess. Representing the divine being, she, too, was in a way divine. And as such she was to be treated accordingly. One's attitude toward her assumed a definite form. And the attitude toward the priestess affected the attitude toward women and love in general. They who came to cohabit in the temple unwittingly introduced a divine element into the act of cohabitation generally.
As the temple priesthood degenerated, and man began to look upon woman as a mere object of sex, religion again came to the rescue of love. For by that time it had established a new plane of living—a spiritual plane. Religion repaid sex by raising it to the high position to which religion itself had risen on the shoulders of love. With a spiritual concept of God and divine existence, man's attitude toward sex and love itself became highly spiritualized.
At base, love is still physical desire, sex, the hunger of the male for the female. But that is only its foundation. No edifice may be judged entirely by its foundation. One must look to that which has been built upon it. Upon the basis of sex, love has evolved disinterested friendship, cordial comradeship, and a communion of soul that is akin only to the communion man may achieve with God. Love, the physical force, has become the great spiritual power that makes for the creative arts, for the sense of beauty and of the higher values. And all this was brought about
by the divine element that entered into love somewhere in its course of evolution. It was God's way in love.
All this religion did for love. But even more was done by love for religion. In fact, one may doubt if, without love, religion would have survived the onslaughts of time and progress. Without love, religion would have remained a mixture of fear and magic. With the advancement of civilization, man's fears were bound to lessen. With the growth of the social organization, man came to look upon himself as the arbiter of his own destiny, and the instrument of magic was bound to become well-nigh powerless. A threatening god of fear could hardly dominate a modern, enlightened world. Here, love came to the rescue of religion. Love humanized religion. The god was no longer to be either feared, bribed off, or tricked by magic machination. He was no longer the terrible, vengeful master, and man his hateful slave. Love introduced intimate contact between god and man. Both worshipper and divinity partook of the same food, enjoyed the same revelry, and shared the same bed. In place of impersonal magic, intimate contact became the basis of man's attitude toward his god. The worshipper began to seek communion with his divinity, at first in concrete form, whether by consuming the god or feeding him with his own flesh, and in time, in symbolic form, through prayer and ceremonial. The voluptuous desire of love for union created the greatest value of modern religion—the desire and the attempt to commune with God.
In addition, love gave to religion the possibility of being its own reward. It made religion not only a means but
an end in itself. Religion could not persist solely on the promise of a hereafter. The promise of an after life may still have a powerful hold upon man, yet it is doubtful that he would go on praying daily if it were only for that. Prayer is largely its own end. Whether it brings the object prayed for or not it relieves the aching heart. The kingdom of heaven was acceptable on the basis of a kingdom upon earth. It was love that offered a kingdom here as a base for the kingdom to come. Before the heavenly bliss of joining one's God in heaven there was the earthly joy of meeting one's God here on earth. To melt away in the love for God, to be ever pining for Jesus, were in themselves the greatest boon from heaven. Communion with God lifted the burden from one's shoulder, rolled away the stone weighing down upon one's heart, gave the warmth of life to those walking in the valley of death, brought friendship to the lonely and solace to the loveless. Religion became lover, parent, and child to the weary soul, drifting in the sea of humanity. Whether in synagogue or church, mosque or pagoda, whoever carne to worship in prayerful mood found his God awaiting in love the communal embrace.
Pious souls need not be wary of this great force of love in their religion. They have more reason to be proud of it than to apologize for it. Love in religion has had, indeed, an humble origin, but so has had religion itself. Like religion, love has been evolved and elevated, refined and sanctified. Today, it is difficult to choose the more divine: love or faith. To the refined, delicate, sensitive soul of modern times, love in its religious aspect offers greater spiritual depth and wider esthetic experience than the other elements in religion. Any movement to rob religion of its personal and emotional element and reduce it to intellectualism, whether theologic dogma or ethical precept, is an attempt on the very heart of religion to undermine its basis and to take away the reason for its existence.
The dogma, or ethical precept, was ever the concern of the theologians, but the ceremonial, as the bearer of the emotional content, is today, as it ever was, the key to the hearts of the faithful. What is the small white host that is offered by the priest at the communion table? Is it merely a piece of bread or is it the body of Christ? Are the bread and wine actually converted into the body and blood of Christ by his representative?
The men and women who devoutly approach the communion table are little perturbed by these dogmatic problems. Theirs is a single purpose: to become more closely united with their God. Theirs is a belief in a Divine Being. He is their trust and their solace. It is He who is drawing their hearts to Him. Whether it is theologically the bread that bridges the chasm between the human and the divine, whatever it is that they receive from the hand of the priest,
the moment it touches their flesh they are consumed by that divine presence for which they have been pining. All religious ceremonies of today are the expression of that intimate relationship that love introduced into religion. They who know religion know that no greater love exists and that there is nothing more all-inclusive in life than the love of God.