Erotic Imagery in the Allegorical Writings of Baha'u'llah

Feb 2019
113
Chicago
#1
I wanted to start a discussion on Erotic Imagery in the Allegorical Writings of Baha'u'llah. I have been contemplating on the Ode of the Dove

I was introduced to the Ode of the Dove in another discussion where I referenced the Houris of the Quran. In comparing the Houri that Bahaullah describes with the Houris of the Quran, I find that Bahaullah was describing his spiritual journey or spiritual evolution/growth in the Ode of the Dove that he saw in a vision while he was still alive whereas the Quran seems to promise sense pleasures to the faithful in Paradise after they die. Another difference is that Bahaullah interacts with one Houri representing the personification of the Spirit with whom he is seeking union/reunion but the Quran mentions multiple Houris in the Paradise. Who are these Houris of the Quran and what do they represent? Bahaullah wrote this mystical poem at the request of the Naqshbandi Khalidiyyih Sufis and was modelled on the "Poem of the Mystic’s Progress" by a Sufi mystic named Sharaf al-din 'Umar Ibn al-Farid. Both these mystical poems describe the longing of the soul to reunite with God while the soul is trapped in the human body but they do not refer to the soul interacting with Houris in the Paradise after the death of the physical body. I am wondering if we can even compare the Houri of the "Ode of the Dove" with the Houris of the Quran's Paradise.

Bahaullah has expressed some of the most profound spiritual truths in a direct language in the Hidden Words. It is pretty obvious from his words that I quote below, that Spirit/God is asking us to have a reunion with It and it would be possible if we cleanse our hearts of worldly attachments and human vices and make it a fitting home for the Spirit. If it possible to know Spirit/God and experience a union with It when we are alive, what's the point of drinking wine and meeting houris in Paradise?

O SON OF BEING! Thy Paradise is My love; thy heavenly home, reunion with Me. Enter therein and tarry not. This is that which hath been destined for thee in Our kingdom above and Our exalted dominion.

O SON OF MAN! The temple of being is My throne; cleanse it of all things, that there I may be established and there I may abide.

O SON OF BEING! Thy heart is My home; sanctify it for My descent. Thy spirit is My place of revelation; cleanse it for My manifestation.
 
Jun 2014
1,071
Wisconsin
#2
Studying Divine Eros is on my to-do list, after I finish up my current theological project. It's a fascinating set of symbolism, from Song of Songs to Ode of the Dove.

I wanted to start a discussion on Erotic Imagery in the Allegorical Writings of Baha'u'llah. I have been contemplating on the Ode of the Dove
Thank you for linking to that!! I had not read it before and it is loaded with interesting symbolism and reminds me of many (too many) things. I wouldn't know how to begin a discussion on this particular poem... but luckily you've given a starting point:

I was introduced to the Ode of the Dove in another discussion where I referenced the Houris of the Quran. In comparing the Houri that Bahaullah describes with the Houris of the Quran, I find that Bahaullah was describing his spiritual journey or spiritual evolution/growth in the Ode of the Dove that he saw in a vision while he was still alive whereas the Quran seems to promise sense pleasures to the faithful in Paradise after they die. Another difference is that Bahaullah interacts with one Houri representing the personification of the Spirit with whom he is seeking union/reunion but the Quran mentions multiple Houris in the Paradise. Who are these Houris of the Quran and what do they represent? Bahaullah wrote this mystical poem at the request of the Naqshbandi Khalidiyyih Sufis and was modelled on the "Poem of the Mystic’s Progress" by a Sufi mystic named Sharaf al-din 'Umar Ibn al-Farid. Both these mystical poems describe the longing of the soul to reunite with God while the soul is trapped in the human body but they do not refer to the soul interacting with Houris in the Paradise after the death of the physical body. I am wondering if we can even compare the Houri of the "Ode of the Dove" with the Houris of the Quran's Paradise.
So (for now) limiting the discussion of the Ode's symbolism to just the symbol of the houri/houris.

First, in answer to the question can this houri be compared to the houris of the Quran?? I don't think they are entirely paralleled, since Ode of the Dove seems to also mention the houris in heaven in verse 35 "The houris in their castles clothed themselves mourning black at My soul's deep despair" which distinguishes the specific houri that is the object of this poem from the houris mentioned in this verse. I think there is a relationship there, in that The Houri (capitalizing it just to distinguish it) is a prominent one of the houris just like how Gabriel is a prominent angel.

So on a symbolic level, Gabriel encompasses all the symbolism of angels in general, but also introduces symbolic elements unique to his self. Likewise I'd wager on a symbolic level The Houri encompasses all the symbolism of houris in general but also introduces symbolic elements unique to Her self.

I mention Gabriel in specific as my example of a specific angel because I think much of the symbolism added by Gabriel to the general angel archetype is much the same of that added by The Houri to the houri archetype, in that both Gabriel and The Houri are specifically associated with Divine Revelation.

I'd say the houris in general are a symbol of Divine Eros, in specific the seductive, attractive, and enticing power of the Love of God.

The Houri is something more in the poem, associated with both divine revelation and divine unity, and completely and totally outshining the beauty of the other houris (ergo all the verses about Her light outshining all others).

Due to my current project, I am also reminded of of the poem Paradiso by Dante Alighieri, which contains an (explicitly symbolic) description of Dante ascending through the heavens. His guide through the journey is Beatrice, who is explicitly symbolic of a beatific vision, and whose beauty increases further every heaven that Dante ascends.

If it possible to know Spirit/God and experience a union with It when we are alive, what's the point of drinking wine and meeting houris in Paradise?
Well that really depends on whether you want to take the wine and houris as literal truth or spiritual metaphor. It cannot be literal truth, or else lust for wine and women would not be a bad thing in this world either. Otherwise we'd have a situation in which God would say "Don't do these things" and our reward for not doing them is getting to do them. It doesn't make a whole lot of sense that way.

But as a metaphor for the concept of Divine Eros, it's another thing entirely, and a very good spiritual metaphor at that. The seductive beauty of the houri paralleling the enticing beauty of the divine, and the intoxicating, mind-clouding, wine paralleling the reason-destroying, and even madness-inducing aspects of Divine Eros.

As a literal promise of what's to come, I agree, what would the point be?? As a spiritual metaphor, there are a great many points to be made!!
 
Likes: tonyfish58
Feb 2019
113
Chicago
#3
Walrus,

Thank you for sharing your perspective. You say the Houri is associated with both divine revelation and divine unity. I tend to lean towards that view because I am of the opinion that the Houri is a personification of the Spirit (God) with which the soul is seeking union. This kind of separation between the soul and Spirit and the longing for union is quite normal when the human mind is still in spiritual ignorance but is evolved to the point of seeking God. You will see many Sufi and Hindu mystics in this state. In verses 21 and 22, Bahaullah is openly expressing his desire for union with the Houri. Needless to say, he was asking for a spiritual union and a mystic would only seek union with God. Considering the context in which he composed this mystical poem (he was among the Sufis of Sulaymanniyah who requested it and he patterned it after the "Poem of the Mystic’s Progress" by the Sufi mystic al-Farid), I am inclined to believe that the Houri is personification of God. And that's ok. In the Hindu scripture of the Bhagavad Gita, God says that in whatever form a devotee worships Him, he manifests to him in that form. That is if a devotee holds a particular form of God as dear to him, God can appear to that devotee in that form to satisfy the devotee's desire although God is essentially formless. There will be many people who may believe that God does not have a form and that is true but God being omnipotent can also take a form when necessary either in the visions of a devotee or on the material plane. The fact that Bahaullah gave the form of Houri to God shows that God does not find it offensive.

As far as the houris in verse 35 are concerned, I think they represent the spiritual qualities of the soul that became dormant at the soul's deep despair. The black clothing represents "death" of spiritual qualities when the soul is not experiencing union with God.

-Venu
 
Jun 2014
1,071
Wisconsin
#4
As far as the houris in verse 35 are concerned, I think they represent the spiritual qualities of the soul that became dormant at the soul's deep despair. The black clothing represents "death" of spiritual qualities when the soul is not experiencing union with God.
Since houris are normally symbols of love, in this context they could be as you say, and specifically be the notion of love giving way to despair, compare to such lines as this from the Seven Valleys: "How many a day he found no rest in longing for her; how many a night the pain of her kept him from sleep; his body was worn to a sigh, his heart’s wound had turned him to a cry of sorrow. He had given a thousand lives for one taste of the cup of her presence, but it availed him not. The doctors knew no cure for him, and companions avoided his company; yea, physicians have no medicine for one sick of love, unless the favor of the beloved one deliver him. At last, the tree of his longing yielded the fruit of despair, and the fire of his hope fell to ashes."

So we see another instance of Baha'u'llah describing separation from the object of love turning to despair, much like how the love-incarnate houris in verse 35 are veiled in the clothes of mourning.