Every soil has its secret of which we carry an unconscious image in our souls: a relationship of spirit to body and of body to earth.
C. G. Jung; CW 18
I first went to Portugal in 1972, approximately two years before the bloodless revolution that took it out of dictatorial tyranny. Prior to that time, I was acquainted with Portuguese culture through my own heritage as a Luso-American (although the meaning and effect of my heritage were wholly unconscious before visiting and living in Portugal). Since 1972, I have been to Portugal on many different occasions for differing lengths of time.
This background is mentioned to alert the reader to the fact that my relationship with Portugal is not superficial. Rather, there is a deep and abiding connection that goes beyond mere curiosity. There is a soul connection to that land that is grounded in the flesh - my own.
Although I was born in the U.S., I was conceived in Portugal. My soul, it seems, has never forgotten this event and the irrevocable bond it formed with that land. It is from this soul and flesh connection to Portugal, and from time spent in this culture, that I make the following comments and observations.
Longing and Lament
Jung writes of the spiritus loci as “a sort of atmosphere that permeates everything.” In its history, mythology, music and language, the atmosphere that permeates Portugal is the sense of longing and lament.
Historically, one understands this as a result of Portugal’s one-time dominance in the realm of oceanic navigation and world trade, and their subsequent and dramatic decline on the world stage. From 1415 to 1542, Portugal discovered an eastern route to India that rounded the Cape of Good Hope, discovered Brazil, established trading routes throughout most of southern Asia, colonized areas of Africa, and sent the first direct European maritime trade and diplomatic missions to China. But since this period of discovery and wealth, Portugal has lost nearly everything worldly it once acquired. Until recently, this loss, as well as the cruel and crippling dictatorship of Salazar from 1932 to 1974, contributed to an experience of existential loss, inferiority and even quiet despair. In the historical legend of King Sebastian, Portugal’s own version of the myth of the Sleeping King, King Sebastian returns to redeem his land and its people. The legend has been considered by some as central to the formation of Portuguese culture.
The distinctive music quintessentially Portuguese is known as fado. Fado means “fate” in Portuguese and the sound and lyrics are indisputable in their intention. At the core of this musical expression is the haunting sense of longing for what is missing; a lament for what has been lost. It is often said by fadistas, those who sing fado, that if the audience has not wept during a performance, the fadista has failed.
The Portuguese invented the fado. They invented it for a reason. Why? Because of their nature. We’ve had a lot of reasons to lament, because the universe put us in this place where no one would come unless they had to. We didn’t have borders with anyone except Spain, which was always at war with their swords; or else, we had the sea which was terrible, which was unknown, which was frightening, and we went into the Discoveries [The Great Portuguese Discoveries, from 1415 to 1542] like that. So we had a lot of time to wait, to suffer, and that’s a lament. Fado is a lament, a lament that is eternal. The Portuguese have always had it in them. There isn’t a [Portuguese] poet that doesn’t speak of the tragedy of fado. Amalia Rodrigues (Fadista)
Four video clips from a documentary on Amalia Rodgrigues:
Fado from Coimbra – from the group, Verdes Anos (website w/audio & videos)
In the Portuguese language there is a word that challenges exact translation: saudades. It expresses a feeling of longing for something or someone that is now lost. It is often connected to a sense of fate and to an understanding that the object of longing might never return. Some specialists say the word may have originated during the Great Portuguese Discoveries, giving meaning to the sadness felt about those who departed on journeys to unknown seas and disappeared in shipwrecks, died in battle, or simply never returned. Those who stayed behind suffered deeply in their absence. It is argued that the state of mind described by the word saudades has become a Portuguese way of life: a constant feeling of absence, the sadness of something that is missing, a longing for completeness or wholeness, and the yearning for the return of that which is now gone.
One can also feel this sense of longing by virtue of Portugal’s geo-physical location. It stands at the edge of the European Continent, looking out beyond the vast and seemingly infinite expanse of the wild Atlantic Ocean that in so many ways determined the fate of this culture and its people. One stands at the margins of existence, separated from the rest of the Iberian Peninsula by a range of mountains and plateaus of arid land. Portugal stands at the outpost of the continent, separate, isolated, turned inward on itself even as it looks out to the sea.
Longing and lament are largely marginalized in the greater collective and often seen as pathological in the more extroverted, logos-oriented, strictly-ordered work ethic of more dominant cultures. A place and time to lament what has been lost, and longing for that which is beyond immediacy finds little place or recognition in the wider world. What can we redeem in psychic wholeness and cultural diversity by making a place for these archetypal energies? What can we learn by not shunning the need to lament, but truly mourning the tragedy in life? What can we learn by not rejecting the ache of our longing in favour of feeling perennially safe and satisfied?
Through myth, music and other creative expressions of this land, Lusitania, the meaning or telos held within longing and lament can be sought and offered back to the collective as an essential part of the whole. As a result, the redemptive powers of longing and lament may find a greater place in the collective. And so, too, the people in any land who lament, and who long for the return of wholeness.
© Thomas Joshua Cooper, 2004 ( *Please see complete title and information below)
There are many people who feel the unhappiness of a homesick soul and yet do not know its cause. They do not realize the wonder of their pain, that it is their heart's longing that will take them Home.
Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee (Sufi)
Not King nor law, not peace nor war
Grasps the outline and the truth
Of, look!, that creeping gleam of the earth
That’s Portugal breaking the heart,
A flaring without light or heat,
Like the core of a hollowed reed.
No one knows what she desires.
No one has seen what soul is hers,
What is bad, what is good, in there
(What distant agony mourning near?)
All’s uncertain and is the end,
All is scattered, nothing entire.
O Portugal, fog you are…
It is the Hour!
Fernando Pessoa from Mensagem (Message)
*Sea Fog – North-most – The Mid North Atlantic Ocean and Caldeirao.
Ilha do Corvo / The Isle of Corvo
Regioes Autonoma Acores / The Azores, Portugal, 2004.
The North-most point of The Azorean Archipelago.
(For more information about Thomas Joshua Cooper, please see this PDF of Land's End by Paul Weideman, originally published in the Santa Fe New Mexican on October 16, 2009.)