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Duende, flamenco and bullfights

   
The famous Spanish author Federico García Lorca was a great advocate of the Andalusian culture, and particularly flamenco music. One of the things he did for instance, was organizing, with others, an important concourse in 1922 (Concurso de Cante Jondo de Granada) for serious flamenco-artists to promote this form of art. Lorca was also a sensitive poet and playwright, who had an eye for the suffering of the poor and the subordinate role of women. In flamenco, especially its hard core, the "cante jondo" (deep singing), Lorca recognized an extraordinarily valuable cultural treasure of the tormented Andalusian people with its roots in ancient cultures. He linked this to the mystery-religions from ancient times. In imitation of Friedrich Nietzsche the left-wing author distinguished two kinds of mysteries: the Dionysian and the Apollinian. The Dionysian mysteries revolved around a spirit that was earthly, vital and hedonistic, derived from Dionysos (Bacchus), god of wine and intoxication. The Apollonian cult stood for conscious, philosophical or mystical enlightenment, named after the heavenly god of light, Apollo. Both types of mystery religions knew initiation ceremonies in which acolytes were initiated into secrets and rituals during which the deity took possession of their bodies and spirits.
The mystery religions probably date back to ancient shaman practices and thereby to the first, most original forms of human spirituality. Lorca now linked flamenco primarily to the Dionysian tradition. This is very debatable because serious flamenco is usually NOT about orgiastic pleasure or wild lust. Themes in serious flamenco are often the suffering and tragedy of earthly life, with its philosophical and political issues and with all forms of personal love. These are none of the typically Dionysian subjects. Instead of senselessly letting go of problems in a sort of abandoned state of intoxication, it's much more a matter of emotional ecstasy comparable to that of the Sufi mystics (mystical Muslims), Indian classical music or Jewish Chassidim.
 

Any way, good flamenco singers, guitarists or dancers according to the flamenco tradition are seized by a supernatural inspiration called "duende". This force manifests itself in the focused performance of a song or dance in which expression and expressiveness are so great that the artists, but their listeners as well, reach a form of rapture. Besides exclamations such as "olé" this can also be accompanied by tears, emotion and excitement, and sometimes even with tearing out hair and ripping of clothes and such. It was probably this kind of manifestation that gave Lorca the idea that flamenco is primarily inspired by Dionysian mysteries. The Bacchantes from ancient times reached a sort of fury during their gatherings, and ripped their clothes, etc.
But with duende in flamenco itself, thoughts never turn to any dark power from the underworld. On the contrary, the lyrics of flamenco songs often refer to Undebé (God), a Spanish gypsy word derived from the Sanskrit term "deva". And there are strong indications for links between flamenco and Spanish-Jewish religious music and Arabo-Andalusian ghernati music. To me it seems therefore unmistakable that flamenco belongs more in the Apollonian than in the Dionysian tradition. Flamenco singers and aficionados (lovers) themselves generally speak of a spiritual, therapeutic force in this music that helps them deal with life better and more authentically.
There seems to be a strong link between the cult of bullfighting and Mithraïsm.
Mithraism was a rival sect during the time of the rise of Christianity. In Mithraism cows and bulls were worshiped. The divine bull-God Apis, who symbolized infinite life and youthfulness, was ritually sacrificed at the passing of each year. In an attempt to discredit Mithraïsm, Christianity connected the bull with the symbol of the Devil and darkness, that's why the devil is depicted with horns, hooves and a tail.
The duende of bullfighting doesn't primarily have to do with the life force of the bull that is transferred through ritual sacrifice to the participants, but much more with the power of the torero to break that life force. It's a celebration of the power of people over animals, of human pride.
No matter how beautiful people think bulls are, they are and they stay destined to die in a way that honors the torero.
The Catholic Church has protested many times against bullfighting, because it brings out the worst in people: low bloodthirsty lust, which would also have its effect on people's behavior toward their fellow man. In line with the Spanish-Roman scholar Seneca who turned against the circus plays. From his stoic humanism he mainly directed himself against gladiator fights etc. but he found also the animal fights too bloody and undignified.
Unfortunately, the term "duende" does not only play an important part in flamenco, but in bullfights as well, especially among real connoisseurs that approach bullfighting as an artistic event. They look beyond the beautiful colors of the torero's cape or his movements that may seem like dance steps. Like in flamenco this form of duende is about utmost concentration by which people generate certain effects at the exact right moment to move the public. Some Spanish connoisseurs of serious flamenco are also lovers of artistic bullfights. Flamenco songs in some cases may be - distressingly enough - about the duende of a bullfighter (like in a - in itself - beautiful song by the famous Camarón de la Isla about the torero Curro Romero). But this link hasn't been around for very long. Before, bullfights made no esthetic pretense, and they were just a continuation of the violent fights with wild animals from the Roman arenas. Several centuries ago the typical bullfighting costumes and the different stages of a bullfight - each accompanied by bullfighting music - were introduced. From then on the link was made between flamenco and bullfighting. Many a flamenco singer was a bullfighter first, or vice versa. Maybe this link was even more strongly made in countries other than Spain itself, as we can see in the opera Carmen by Bizet.
Despite this common ground and the connecting element of duende, there is also a great difference. The duende in flamenco has a cathartic function that in a moving way brings the listener into contact with himself, with his own deeper drives and feelings. In bullfighting, this is not the point: the ecstasy such a spectacle can arouse has nothing to do with cleansing or purification of the soul, but only with the kick of a spectacle in which someone dominates another creature and brings about extreme suffering in an "esthetically" responsible way. It's the sadistic counterpart of the excitement a beautiful and subtle striptease may evoke: it's a violent step-by-step taking away of the bull's life force, ending in the apotheosis of its death. This means it is pre-eminently about a "perverse", immoral feeling of lust, ecstasy at the expense of another. A feeling that is related to the ecstasy of an intelligent sex murderer who runs through an entire esthetic program, or the enjoyment connected with a craftily filmed "snuff" movie.
It's sometimes said that Spain is the one country in Europe that embodies the spirit of tragedy. Spain in general, and Andalusia in particular (which is supposed to be most influenced by eastern fatalism) is said to experience life primarily as being tragic. This means that destiny controls life and that it's no use trying to deny it. Instead, it's important to recognize the tragedy and to replace it with - if need be - foolish human courage (this explains the great appreciation for Don Quichote), dignity and sense of beauty. According to supporters this is expressed best in bullfighting: although they recognize the beauty of the wild animal, tragedy requires that precisely for that reason it must be killed.

This reminds us of the tragic logic of Othello. A same kind of beauty (in a broad sense) of his wife Desdemona requires Othello to kill her basically out of "love". For lovers of tragedies, beauty is partly determined by the unfavorable ending for the bull. Because otherwise, bullfights would be no more than glorified romps. The bull must die at all costs; that is essential. Sometimes, however, a bullfight doesn't end in the death of the toro alone, but also in the death of the matador. Aficionados usually refer to such a bull as an "asesino" (murderer) - a torero never - but his violent passing is at the same time seen as an act of heroism that fits the tragic whole. This evolves into veritable hero worshiping (Manolete is a famous example). The "fallen" bullfighter is even turned into a sort of patron saint of living toreros and, according to some songs, he shouts "Olé" from his place in heaven.
The Andalusian recognition of real tragedy is expressed very differently in flamenco. The artist overcomes negative influences only by creating, never by destroying. So beauty is not expressed in murder. The bullfighter is an accomplice of darkness. He believes that one can only live by killing. The flamenco artist channels his lust for life into creations that comfort and keep life dignified, filled with hope and solidarity, expressly without capitulating to evil. These are anything but identical answers to the power of destiny and injustice. Cante jondo is an honorable, engaged and emotional resistance against wrongs, while bullfighting comes down to the morbid glorification of the tragic."
That brings us back to where we started: the duende of bullfighting is - contrary to the duende of flamenco - clearly Dionysian in its origin. This spirit is related to movements like satanism, that ritually sacrifices kid goats and other animals. Dionysos as the (wine) god of intoxication merely dampens our suffering; he channels it into addiction but especially in rage, venting and the sacrifice of others. In this way he continues the suffering and even adds to it. But Apollo clearly reveals all that lives inside us and makes it manageable through our tears, he integrates it into our personality and makes us whole, in harmony with ourselves and others. These are really opposed forces that should not be confused in any way. We really hope that all flamenco lovers will one day see this. And that they will ignore bullfights in future or rather, boycott them. Then the cries of 'olé' will only be heard during flamenco performances and never again for an elegantly made injury or a magnificent murder.

"Soleares"

Le pido a Dios llorando
que me quite la salú
y a tí te la vaya dando

Crying I beg of God
to take my health
and give it to you

Contribution by Titus Rivas

Titus Rivas, Msc, argues that veganism is a reasonable, moral choice that has nothing to do with extremism as such.
This is a collection of published articles which have all been written from this perspective:

Laughing at animals

Do animals have a consciousness?

Do animals have much to tell?

Nice doggie! Affection in the Animal Kingdom

Animal-friendly dairy consumption?

Killing Young Animals for Human Consumption

The denial of injustice: existential anxiety as a source of the underestimation of animal suffering

Blaming the victim

Joan of Arc

Quichottisation

Conversion versus Guidance

Duende, flamenco and bullfights

Spirituality, engagement and commitment to animals

Are humans superior to other species?

Islam and ethics concerning animals

What is so 'extreme' about veganism?

Pioneers of animal emancipation

Does left-wing animal rights activism lead to terror?

The attitude (eating) behavior model projected behind veganism

 
Author:Titus Rivas
 

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