Romantic Love & Marriage?


Since ancient times people have recognised the importance of the stable
family as the basic corner stone for the stability of a society. However,
then there was love and passion, which is notoriously unpredictable as a
stable element for marriage. Even in ancient times the beauty and power of
the romantic sexual love was recognised. The passion, “madness” and longing,
is a perfect symbolism for yearning and desire for spiritual perfection,
which underlies all human desires. The ecstasy of the sexual union still has
no better equivalent to describe the ecstasy of the integrated balanced
personality.

The sacred marriage is especially central to the alchemist philosophy of the
full integration, marriage between the masculine and feminine elements
within the individual attempting the creation of the fabled philosopher’s
stone. This stone that can turn base elements into gold and bestow
immortality. In Tao the balance between Yin and Yang is another well-known
example.

So we have within the human being two seemingly conflicting traits, just as
the masculine and feminine in every level of symbolism represents
conflicting elements with the potential of creating either a “living hell”
or “nirvana”. So even today we find in every society the notion of “Everyone
loves lovers.” and the realisation that a stable marriage provides the
stability of the greater society. The human being is not naturally
monogamous. If we look at the statistics of marriages where the two
elements; romantic love and stable marriage, has been successfully achieved
the percentage is only about 28%. The lucky few. The results of this are
widely reflected deterioration of society in general.

In every free society I believe that would probably be an accurate
reflection of the odds of those two combining successfully. This why the
state, whether in the form of the present sophisticated governments or
ancient tribal laws always governed the rules pertaining to marriage in
recognition of the family as the corner stone of the health and wealth of a
nation or tribe. Various ancient traditions resolved these two conflicting
aspects of humanity in one of two ways. One was the well-known complete
suppression of romantic sexual love by either punishment of death for
infidelity or female circumcision. The institution of marriage even today
operates from the premise that infidelity is bad, yet at the same time
recognising the natural flames that burns within the human being. This
dilemma has probably been the subject of discussion since time immemorial.

The Wodaabe Nomadic tribe of West Africa practises the most innovative
solution to this problem I have found. “To the Wodaabe personal
relationships are the essence of being human. In the Wodaabe society
philandering takes place within an elaborate set of rules that allows for
romantic sexual passion while preserving the stability of the family. Within
one’s lineage – and there are fifteen separate lineages among the Wodaabe -
a man may only marry one woman, and this marriage is arranged at childhood.
It is called the kobgal marriage. Affairs are not outlawed within one’s own
lineage, but can never lead to marriage. It is considered dangerous and
disruptive to the entire lineage to carry on one of these affairs for too
long, and while it is going on, it must be very discreet. Wodaabe etiquette
says, “What the eyes do not see did not happen,” which means that rumours
and suspicions have to be ignored. Unless the couple is caught in the act,
the affair is not reckoned to have taken place.

A far more common source of romantic adventures is the practise of
wife-stealing between different lineages. This occurs throughout the year
when lineages meet at marketplaces or common wells, but the biggest
opportunity is at the annual Geerewol celebrations, the great festival that
includes the Yakke dance. This dance competition lasts for a week and may
involve as many as a thousand young men who compete to be chosen as the most
charming and beautiful. The men perform before a critical and appreciative
audience of women, with members of both sexes on the lookout for possible
liaisons.

A couple may meet each other for trysts, where the lie “invisible” under a
blanket and make love. They may eventually decide to elope. What is
extraordinary from a Western point of view is that the decision o run away
together, made “from the heart ” as they say, is often reached very quickly.
A Wodaabe couple may arrange a meeting, sleep together once, and decide to
marry. If they are already married to others, as is often the case, and her
husband is anywhere near, he will give them chase. But this is a ritual.
Strictly for show. He usually accepts that if his wife wants to leave, there
is no point in trying to stop her. His best bet is to go off and use his
togu (charm) to persuade another woman to join him. The runaway wife goes to
live with her new husband and other wives. Such a union is also considered a
marriage – it is called a teegal marriage – but it is a secondary one. The
kobgal wife is a man’s principal spouse and takes precedence over teegal
wives. She has the largest dowry. Above all, she stays with her children. A
woman who runs away has to leave her children behind to be raised in her
husband’s lineage.

What the Wodaabe value, almost above all else, is personal relations. So men
are constantly on the lookout for lovers, and women are often willing to
leave the stability of their arranged marriages and go for love into the
household of a man whose togu has charmed them. But life goes on, even if
they do. Their children are not uprooted, and the orderly relations of
Wodaabe society, which are built around the kobgal marriages, are
unaffected. The Wodaabe have dealt effectively with the age-old problem of
trying to reconcile marriage with passion by instituting these two kinds of
marriage. The sensible kobgal marriages form the foundation of their social
institutions while spontaneous teegal marriages allow a freer rein to
passion and personal whim.

Wodaabe society seems to be male-dominated. Descent is in the male line, a
man has authority over his family, and it is he who may have a number of
wives. Yet the Wodaabe women enjoy considerable freedom of action. They can
leave their husbands without stigmata and always have a place to go if they
do – back to their own family’s camp. They can enter into as many love
marriages as they have the heart and the stamina for. The price they pay is
that if they move from one marriage to another they must leave their
children behind with their husband’s lineage. That is how the Wodaabe ensure
the stability of society while allowing individuals to pursue their romantic
impulses.”
Millennium Tribal Wisdom and the Modern World – David Maybury Lewis

It makes you think doesn’t it. We are entering a time that calls for
innovative solutions. A time to put aside personal ego and look at the
reality of what we are as human beings, not what we are conditioned to
believe.

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  1. #1 by Andra on April 10, 2010 - 4:19 pm

    Hello Sophia, great articles!

    A question: what is sacred marriage? Is it done between two different people, or within oneself?

    Thank you, best wishes!

    • #2 by verewig on April 11, 2010 - 1:49 pm

      Hi Andra, thank you. The more I contemplate the sacred marriage, the more connections it seems to make, the more multi=level its meanings.

      Sophia

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