Synergy ExplorersAccording to the French Wikipedia page on Assag, assag is a rite of courtly love advocated by the troubadours as the supreme test of fin’ amor (“true love”), which the lady imposed on her lover. The two lovers slept naked and enjoyed foreplay but without penetration.

The word is generally believed to have come from the Occitan (Langue D’Oc) assag or ensag, which means “trial”. Alternatively, it may have come from the Arabic achak عشق which means “to be in love with love”. By that era, among the Arabs, the refusal to satisfy sexual desire seemed the most delicate way to eternalise it. Ibn Daoud said: “Oh no, do not fulfill your promise to love me, lest oblivion come!”

The courtly love rite

Among the troubadours, the assag practice was a fundamental law of the joi d’amor (“joy of love”). For example, Cercamon (1135-1145) says: “Nothing makes me want more than an object which always escapes me”. And Matfre Ermengau (late 13th or early 14th century) said, “The pleasure of this love is destroyed when the desire finds its satiation”.

Thie joi d’amor is almost always directed toward a woman as the object of loving reverence. At the same time, joi d’amor offers the pleasure of being in love. One vows to eternalise desire, as with the Arabs. In the assag, the fin’amor lover is exalted by the restraint that the lady imposes upon him. For example Guillaume IX of Aquitaine says, “No one can be assured triumph over love if he does not submit himself completely to its will”.

The allegiance of the suitor to his lady leads her to subject him to a test: “My lady puts me to the test. She tests me in order to know which way I choose”, says Guillaume IX of Aquitaine. In the 13th century this test, the assag, became a heroic test of chastity retained in bed, “naked with naked” (nudus cum nuda). If the lover yielded to the desire, it was proof that he did not love with fin’ amor.

More about the assag

In L’amour courtois ou le couple infernal Jean Markale explained:

The assag was a test in which the lover had to show that he was capable of loving purely, that love existed in him. He could contemplate his lady naked and he could do with her everything that passion demands. He could hold her (embrace her), kiss her, caress her; everything except the fact (lo fag). … The more meritorious the ordeal was for the lover, the more perilous it became for her and her honour.”

Thus, the assag was a technique to engender the joy that gives rise to fin’ amor (the experience of true love). This courtly love precluded procreation.

The rite of assag can be found in the book La malédiction des Trencavel by Bernard Mahoux. In it, the heroine Adélaïs de Toulouse requests it of king Alfonse of Aragon, who seeks to prove his true love.

Beghards and beguines

Beghards and beguines imitated Jesus’ life through voluntary poverty, care of the poor and sick, and religious devotion. They differed from priests and nuns because they could leave at any time without breaking any vows. Marguete Porete was a Beguine, and may have written about a fin’ amor-style practice in her work entitled The Mirror of Simple Souls. She shared the same grisly fate as the Cathars, who also practiced fin’ amor.

Certainly, evidence suggests that the assag was found among the beguines and the beghards of Saint Francis of Assisi since the 13th century. Beghards and beguines remained celibate while residing in the beguinage (community), but it appears that some benefited from engaging in the assag.

We often learn the most from the harshest critics of the past. So it is that in the Book of Opinions of the Toulouse Inquisition (Liber de Sententiarum Inquisitionis Tholosonæ), there appears the deposition of Guillaume Roux. According to his statement, beguines or beghards could not be declared virtuous “unless they were able to lie naked in a bed, without performing the carnal act” (nisi se possent ponere nudus cum nuda in uno lecto et tamen non perficerent actum carnalemwas).

Of possible interest:

[Compare with Hindu practice]  Asidhāravrata: The sword’s edge observance