Five countries, seven cities, four continents. What a journey! Still, I have always been and remain quintessentially Portuguese. Even my trajectory as a former emigrant, as well as the factors that led me to such journey, contribute to my quintessential “Portugueseness”.
We are deeply intertwined, myself and this being called Portugal. The love affair between a Portuguese person and this land is often not an easy one. I realize the depth of the resonance between my existential questions and those which affect Portugal as a whole. However, I do not wish to bore you to tears with a biographical litany, nor with a chronology of the events that made Portugal, and the Portuguese, the country we are today. I would like to call your attention to three moments in our collective consciousness. I will use metaphors from the plant kingdom to refer to them: The Rose, the Thorns and The Red Carnation.
Moment nr. 1: The Rose
I would like to invite you to a soul journey very far back in time. Imagine the blue of the sky reflected on the ocean, a shade of blue not very different from that which we see today. Imagine the roaring waves clashing against the rocks of the seashore, lined by stones similar to those of the stone circle of Almendres, as well as of other megalithic monuments across Portugal. Imagine also statues of goddesses, representations of the primordial life force, created by the same prehistoric humans that placed those stones on the seashore. Most of these statues are nowadays in very small, discrete museums in small cities. It’s unfortunate that most people in this country don’t even know they exist. I only learned about them very recently from Kathy Jones, a British national, as well as from one of her students, Portuguese-born Luiza Frazão. Both of them are Glastonbury-based researchers and practitioners of Goddess spirituality.
Imagine this land as one of the last Celtic territories to be annexed to the Roman Empire. Imagine the Earth-based spirituality of the Celts remaining almost intact under a very dim Roman occupation and coexisting peacefully with that of Christians that arrived to this land, fleeing from imperial oppression. Imagine then this land being invaded by Germanic tribes, particularly the Visigoths, who briefly dominated Iberia between the fall of the Roman Empire and its annexation by the Muslim Moors. During the seven centuries of Moorish occupation, this land was a place where the old Pagan, matriarchal wisdom mingled with the Christian and Jewish faith that entered during the Roman and Visigoth periods. Islam and its love for mathematics, introduced by the Moorish rulers, contributed to make Iberia the only place in Europe where Greek philosophy and geometry was studied openly at the time, protected from the religious fundamentalism that predominated throughout the continent.
Although the following claims have not been fully confirmed by academic historiography, they are worthy of consideration, especially since the material clues and oral tradition supporting them are very strong. The work of “alternative historians” such as Paulo Alexandre Louҫão, Rainer Daenhardt, Manuel Gandra and Eduardo Amarante, as well as of the late Dalila Pereira da Costa and António Telmo, indicates that the so-called “Christian re-conquest” of the territory known today as Portugal, carried out by Visigoth warlords that kept their fiefdoms in the Cantabric mountains during the Moorish period, was done in a way that was significantly different from that of the rest of the Iberian peninsula. These authors provide strong clues that here, on the western shore of Iberia, although there were some significant battles and sieges, the predominant strategy of “re-conquest” was the establishment of diplomatic agreements between the Visigoth warlords and Moorish princes. In “História Secreta de Portugal”, António Telmo claims that, behind the scene, there was at work a spiritual order or network that wanted to transcend the dogmas of Christianity, Judaism and Islam, bring these three religions together and merge them with the ancient, feminine, Earth-based spiritual wisdom. The purpose would be to bring into manifestation, once again, the cellular memory of a primordial spiritual and cultural unity of the human species. It is highly possible that such entity was closely connected with the Templars and the Cistercian order, which also promoted the School of Chartres. There are strong indications that these two orders supported the creation of Portugal as an independent country, with the purpose of using its territory as a place of research, as well as a station of rest and replenishing for the earlier crusaders that went to the region known today as Israel/Palestine. António Telmo claims that, while France hosted the political and military headquarters of the Templar order, Portugal hosted its “inner” headquarters, where the spiritual and intellectual research took place. Besides, there are indications that St. Bernard of Clairvaux, one of the most influential early Cistercians and mentor of the Knights Templar, was also the spiritual and intellectual mentor of Dom Afonso Henriques, the first king of Portugal, who strongly supported the introduction of the Cistercian order in this country. Agostinho da Silva even goes to the extent of claiming that “the foundation of Portugal is entirely the result of the mystical potency and agency of St. Bernard of Clairvaux”. The work of this medieval scholar also played a significant influence on Rudolph Steiner, and subsequently on the development of the intellectual and mystical current known as Anthroposophy.
The times of Dom Afonso Henriques, Bernard de Clairvaux and the Templar order was also the golden period of the “Art of Courtly Love” promoted by the Troubadours, which was closely connected to the spirituality of the “Fidelli d’Amore” which included “heretic” spiritual groups such as the Cathars. Their poetry and spirituality entered into decline across Europe in the 14th century, after the carnage of the Albigensian Cathars and the Templars by the armies of the Vatican and King Phillip of France. That was also the time when the Cistercian order lost its prominence as the spiritual and intellectual vanguard of Christian mysticism, having been replaced by the Dominicans. However, the geographical distance of Portugal from the center of Europe allowed it to become a refuge for what was left of that worldview, at a time when the reification of analytical reason and the exclusion of active imagination from scientific production paved the way for the Renaissance, the Modern Age and a materialistic, mechanistic worldview.
After the execution, in 1314, of the last official Grand Master of the Templar order, Jacques de Molay, Portugal became one of the places of refuge for the surviving Templars. This was made possible by an archetypal couple: King Dinis, known as “The Troubadour” or “The Farmer King”, and Queen Isabel, a woman whose historical persona as a saint of the Catholic Church probably hid a much grander, and far more interesting “secret identity”. The work of Eduardo Amarante indicates that Isabel was a practitioner of Alchemy, having been initiated in this path by Saint Arnaldo de Vilanueva, one of the greatest alchemists of the time. She was a carrier of the ancient feminine wisdom of Nature. This knowledge made her a healer who knew how to use the human mind to get in contact with and mobilize the healing qualities of water, stones and plants. She was responsible for the foundation of the first Spa in Portugal, around which grew the town of Caldas da Rainha (The Queen’s Spa), which is nowadays one of the largest urban centers in the Tagus Valley region. Dinis, in his turn, was a “Fidelli d’Amore”, a poet of Courtly Love and a skilled strategist that managed to bypass the growing political pressure for the suppression of any knowledge, culture and spirituality that didn’t conform to the dogmas of the Vatican.
Together, this visionary couple promoted the Golden Age of Portuguese culture. In 1290, they created the University of Coimbra, the second oldest in the world. They received and protected Jews, Muslims, Templars, Trobadours and many other “heretics” that at the time were being persecuted by the Catholic Church across Europe. They also supported agriculture and agroforestry, namely through the planting of the pine forest of Leiria. Officially, the purpose of this pine forest was to prevent coastal erosion. Still, the aforementioned “alternative historians” indicate that Dinis and Isabel promoted this endeavor because they foresaw the Portuguese Discoveries, which started a century later. The earlier Caravels were built with wood taken from the pine forest of Leiria. Dalila Pereira da Costa, António Telmo and other authors in the same field claim that the earlier impulse the Discoveries was not to conquer land and accumulate wealth, but to promote commercial and intellectual exchange between cultures, with the purpose of once again manifesting what was secretly believed to be the primordial unity of Humankind, in the form of a recognition of the Perennial Wisdom, which underlies Eastern and Western spirituality and is based on embodied experience, instead of “revelation” and dogma. However, human consciousness was at the time not yet ripe to bring such dream into manifestation. Soon, the Discoveries would manifest its total opposite: The hatching of global capitalism, built upon environmental destruction, the enslavement of indigenous peoples, the destruction of their cultures and the concentration of political power by authoritarian political bureaucracies in the European metropolis.
Moment nr. 2: The Thorn
Dinis and Isabel, as well as the multicultural community of sages they helped to create in this country, couldn’t foretell that the initial dream of the Discoveries would soon be boycotted by the manifestation of its shadow: Arrogance, greed and envy. Imagine Lisbon in the early 15th century, the vibration of church bells mingling with that of the Muslim call for prayer, as well as the recitation of Talmudian wisdom in the many Synagogues that existed along the bank of the river Tagus. In many urban and rural households, as well as in fish and farmers’ markets, women carried the old wisdom of the healing powers of Nature, at a time when witches were being massively burned across Europe. The spirit of King Manuel I was not strong enough to withstand his title as “Lord of Commerce with India, Africa and Brazil”. His power was immense, but he wanted even more, a goal that implied “pleasing the right people”. In the pursuit of his goal, he made a political alliance with King Fernando and Queen Isabel of Spain, which led to the introduction of the Inquisition in Portugal. This country experienced the latest and longest Inquisition in Europe, lasting until 1820. It promoted the expulsion or forced conversion of Jews and Muslims, which constituted a significant percentage of the scientific and cultural elite of the country; the public burning of wise women, branded as “witches”, as well as almost any woman who dared to rise above resignation and mediocrity and live her truth; and the transformation of the Discoveries into an exploitative, parasitic affair, which led the Portuguese economy onto a path of external dependence, high concentration of wealth and lack of strategic vision that can still be perceived today. I am going to spare you the details of the decadence that affected Portugal in the following centuries. They are thoroughly documented in countless History books and magazines: The concentration of all the country’s resources on colonial expansion, at the expense of the country itself and its population; The lavish consumerism, supported by the influx of gold from Brazil, that made the Portuguese court the most pompous in 18th-century Europe; The Methuen treaty, between the British crown and the Portuguese landed and colonial elite, which nipped in the bud the possibility of early industrialization and stagnated the Portuguese economy for nearly 200 years; The squabbles between the Portuguese and the British crowns over the “Pink Map”, as was known the territory between Angola and Mozambique, which led to the downfall of the monarchy and nurtured the soil for a 48-year fascist dictatorship (1926 to 1975), the longest in the world after that of Paraguay.
Once a vibrant multicultural community of daring thinkers and doers, it became gradually afflicted by what Portuguese philosopher José Gil calls “non-inscription” or a “fear of existing”. The author conceptualizes this phenomenon as a combination between two contradictory factors. There is a tendency for grandiose visions and dreams, often without a sense of strategy or even feasibility and accompanied by arrogance in a way that awkwardly disguises a collective low self-esteem, as well as a deep sense of shame and powerlessness. This creates a sort of energetic blockage that prevents us from manifesting our dreams. José Gil detects, in the collective behavior of the Portuguese, an underlying believe in the scarcity of opportunities for having one’s gifts manifested, seen and validated that leads to a fear of acting, as well as to a pronounced tendency for individualism, competition and envy of those who manage to manifest their own power and truth. This is accompanied by a tendency to underestimate our own cultural resources (often accompanied by an overestimation of fleeting present and past victories in football and colonial conquest), as well as to overestimate the economic and cultural achievements of countries seen as “richer” or “politically more powerful”. Such overestimation is often accompanied by an envy that prevents admiration to be accompanied by a true affection, or an openness to learn from difference and receive the gifts of that which we perceive as “better”.
Such twisted relationship to personal and collective power and abundance manifests itself not only in international relations, but also at the interpersonal level. Despite our hospitality and friendliness (especially to visitors from “better” countries whom we are often so eager to impress), we are often fearful and stingy in the demonstration of true affection. In “Portugal Hoje – O Medo de Existir” (Portugal Today – The Fear of Existing), José Gil analyses a collective pattern that is widely spread among us, the Portuguese, but seldom consciously perceived and understood: The fear that the manifestation of truth, power and inner light in another person triggers in us and the control and suppression mechanisms we create in order to cast a shadow upon it, so that it does not remind us of our own fear of showing ourselves and risk being punished by the same control and suppression mechanisms, manifested in our peers. This fear and compulsion, incubated by the Inquisition and the societal imbalances resulting from colonialism, contributed substantially to the longevity of fascism in this country, as well as to the lack of pluralistic and life-affirming resistance movements during that dark period of our history. The Communist Party, the only country-wide resistance movement during the dictatorship in Portugal, was known for its deeply centralized and authoritarian structures. It was also known for strict discipline, which often involved the denouncing to PIDE, the fascist political police, of comrades that did not abide by the rules of the party leaders. This collaboration between right- and left-wing authoritarianism ensured the maintenance of the status quo. Still, the grid formed by these political and cultural forces was not strong enough to suppress the collective desire for freedom, which erupted on April 25 1974.
Moment nr. 3: The Red Carnation
From my perspective (as well as that of many of my fellow citizens)), the most touching aspect of the April revolution was not the virile bravado with which the young “Capitães de Abril” risked their lives when facing the factions of the army that were loyal to the fascist regime. It was the collective eruption of courage and joy that led to a massive disobedience to their request that the people should stay home while they confronted the power structure of the state and the military. The people of Lisbon refused to stay quiet and invaded the streets in a collective catharsis of centuries of imposed silence. The desire to be the driver of one’s own personal and collective history proved to be much stronger than fear. The collective dream of freedom and democracy captured the hearts of young captains, who initially only aimed to promote a political change that would correspond to a goal they had as a professional group: To end the colonial war and the misery it caused among their brothers-in-arms and loved ones.
There was a magical moment in that fateful April day that will be remembered forever: That when a working class woman, a flower seller, introduced red carnations into the guns of the revolutionaries. The red carnation, like the rose, is a symbol of the Heart Chakra, which makes the bridge between the two hemispheres of the brain, as well as between the material and spiritual nature of the human being. As a collective, we still have a lot to overcome in order to raise ourselves to the beauty and significance of that moment. The legacy of fascism is still very much alive in the collective consciousness of the Portuguese. This is visible in the fact that we are still lacking a truly democratic public sphere. We still do not have sustainable grassroots social movements, focalized by empathic doers that are able to communicate an emancipatory vision in a way that is able to mobilize large, but socially and culturally diverse audiences. That can only happen if activists and their projects are able to think and communicate beyond the language and cultural references of their own class or political group. Instead, we have a fragmented public sphere, led by “opinion-makers” that regiment followers through charisma and forcefulness, instead of what Jürgen Habermas refers to as the rationally and communicatively-based power of the better argument. Such “opinion-makers” are often the protagonists of epic squabbles of ideas and agos that only contribute to the perpetuation of a fragmented public sphere, as well as of a generalized sense of hopelessness and cinicism.
Despite the current circumstances, Portugal has all the resources it needs to successfully overcome the legacy of fascism. The last four years have witnessed a multiplication of grassroots resistance projects in fields such as political education, permaculture and community-building. Many professionals are leaving the corporate world to dedicate themselves to such projects. More and more young academic researchers are breaking free of the old constraints of academia and building grassroots networks of participatory action research. This is happening despite the economic crisis and the massive emigration of the generation born after the 1974 revolution. Many of us are staying in Portugal, joyfully facing the risks associated with manifesting alternatives in a country constrained by international creditors and a subservient political class that acts like a colonial administration. However, it is worth noticing that these projects of resistance are often led by culturally and economically privileged young people. What we need now is a realistic vision that democratizes the knowledge, tools, access to political networks and the financial resources needed to make the possibility of manifesting a realistic emancipatory vision accessible for all. This process could be supported by a rediscovery of the rich cultural and spiritual legacy of the “Rose” period, but in a centered, constructively critical manner, without romanticizing the past. It should also imply looking from a new perspective at the work of great minds that lived among us in the 20th century, a period when Portugal offered the world some of the greatest voices of European literature, such as Fernando Pessoa, Natália Correia, José Saramago, Teixeira de Pascoaes, known as “the poet of Nature”. Their work offers much more than pleasure to the ears and brain: It is drenched in Perennial Wisdom, in a treasure that does not belong to Portugal alone, but to the whole of the Human Species, which is the dream of reunification of Eastern and Western spirituality, as well as of Reason and Eros, through the mediation of active Imagination. May the legacy of these great minds inspire us to overcome fear and live our truth. Having a happy love affair with one’s country should not be a privilege only accessible to a few of us.