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The Legend of the Cathars

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  • The Legend of the Cathars

    Monts?gur Castle/Sun Temple

    The Legend of the Cathars

    Text and Photographs by Judith Mann

    ? 1996 - Judith Mann

    "At the end of seven hundred years, the laurel will be green once more."
    - Anon. Troubadour, 13th Century

    HIGH ON A SACRED MOUNTAIN in Southern France, the whitened ruins of Monts?gur are a reminder of the last actively visible gnostic scholl in the West, the Cathari.

    Below Monts?gur lies a peaceful meadow, its name, "Field of the Burned", the only indication of a grim event that took place there a little over 700 years ago. In March, 1244, 205 Cathars were burned alive on the site, rather than renounce their creed.

    Who were these heirs to Monts?gur? Their name Cathari, means "pure" in Greek. Branded heretics by the Church, little remains to speak of them today, other than Inquisition records. Their writings were destroyed along with their earthly bodies. Yet, in their time their influence was enormous, networking with centers in Italy, Yugoslavia, Bulgaria, Switzerland and German. There is evidence as well of a deep connection with Moslem Sufi communities in Spain and the Middle East and with Jewish Kabbalist scholars living in surrounding cities. The Grail legends, the Courts of Love, the troubadours, all blossomed under the benign guidance of the gnostic Cathari. The spirit of the land, then known as Oc, was that of tolerance and personal liberty, most rare in any age.

    Much of their faith rested upon a form of Manicheaism brought to Gaul in the 8th century by missionaries from Bulgaria and Yugoslavia. The close affinity of Druidic teachings, the rallying of the poor to resist Church and secular tyranny, and the appeal of an elite strata of the faith to the aristocracy, made rich soil in which the teachings could take root. Cathar doctrines, proselytized largely by readings of the Gospel according to John, provided a highly workable alternative to the confusion and misery that existed.

    Central to the Cathar creed is the concept of Duality, the opposition of the material world to that of the spirit. For the masses, this translated into a battle between good (Light or God) and evil (Darkness or Satan). However, if we return to the source of one of the many strands of which the Cathar faith is woven, we see in early Zoroastrianism, the root of Manicheaism, a less encrusted form of dualism. According to Zoroaster, the Supreme Being created twin forces of reality and unreality. Reality and unreality are seen as essential elements from which our world is created, not polarizations of good and evil. Reality is represented by objective meaning, and unreality is human subjectivity, which only becomes negative when we are enmeshed and blinded by it.

    Man, according to the Cathar creed, has three natures: the body, which is the abode of the soul; the soul, which is the abode of the spirit; and the spirit, the divine spark. Through a life dedicated to ever increasing purity, the composite nature of man can undergo a double death and transfiguration, so that the formed spirit, born of the spark and nourished in the soul, will eventually separate, returning to the Light. The rigorously ascetic discipline necessary to achieve this state was available on the "Parfaits" (or "perfects"), master adepts, and a lower grade of adepts. The masses, or "believers" as they were called, were allowed to live fully in the ways of the householder, and understood that they were in cycles of reincarnation to be reborn on Earth.

    The outer appearance and practices of the Parfaits were simple. They worshipped in forests and on mountain tops, utilizing the strong tellurgic currents of the region. Their initiations were held in a series of limestone caves, chiefly near the Pic de St. Barthalemy.
    Renouncing worldly riches, they wore plain dark blue gowns, ate vegetarian foods, and kept strict vows of chastity in keeping with their belief that it was sacrilegious to procreate. They held to the tenet that Christ was cosmic, (and so could not be crucified), that suicide was sacred, and that the role of woman was equal to that of man with the only stipulation being that a woman could not preach. Marriage, baptism, and communion were not recognized as valid rituals.

    What set the Cathari apart from other gnostic sects was the ritual of the The Consolamentum This ceremony consisted of the Parfait laying his hands upon the head of the literally dying or upon the head of the believer who aspired to enter the community of the Parfaits. A transmission of immense vivifying energy was said to take place, inspiring to those who witnessed it. The ritual of the The Consolamentum may have strongly contributed to the rapid spread of Catharism. This energy transmission allowed the spirit to continue its ascent towards the Light in safety, to evolve, or if the recipient was on the threshold of death, to make the leap into the cosmos. To not fear death was a crowning achievement. This courage served the adepts well when they were ruthlessly hunted down. At Monts?gur, at Minerve, in the dungeons of Carcasonne, it is told that the Parfaits went willingly to their fate, helping others at the same time achieve release without fear or pain.

    The sacred caves of the Sabarthez cluster around the small resort town of Ussat-Les-Bains and are known as 'doors to Catharism'. To reach Bethlehem, the most important of the Cave Churches of Ornolac, one must climb the steep Path of Initiation. The Cave of Bethlehem may well have been the spritual center of the Cathar world. For it was here that the 'Pure' candidate underwent an initiation ceremony that culminated in The Consolamentum.

    Four aspects of the Cave were utilized in the ceremony:
    • A square nich in the wall in which stood the veiled Holy Grail
    • A granite altar upon which the Gospel of John lay.
    • A pentagram hewn into the wall.
    • Telluric currents eminating from the rock walls and floor.

    The crusade against the Cathars began in earnest in 1209. It was one thing for an obscure monk to take vows of poverty and chastity and
    quite another for a whole people to loosen their ties to the material world. The very foundations of the Church, and feudalism were rocked by Cathar teachings. Practicing what they preached with great humility, attacking the corruption of the Church clergy, and establishing prosperous, cooperative communities in the land of Oc brought forth the full wrath of the outraged Church and Northern nobility.
    When the first rumblings of persecution were heard in 1204, Monts?gur was rebuilt and fortified with a garrison. Originally the ancient ruin was used by the Cathars as a meditation site. Now, according to legend, it served an additional function as a refuge for the sacred treasure of the Grail, the safekeeping of which was allegedly part of the function of the Cathari.

    Attacks on the South of France were led by the fanatic, Simon de Montfort. Whole towns loyal to the Cathars were massacred in the most brutal fashion. To experience the wildness of the countryside is to understand the depths of De Montfort's obsession. Innumerable men must have been lost as he plunged armies into deep, craggy ravines and up forbidding mountainsides. De Montfort's vicious attacks on Monts?gur during 1209 were successfully repulsed. Monts?gur stood firm as a symbol of hope.

    By 1215, the Council of Lateran established the dread Inquisition. During the next 50 years the toll of those killed by this infamous arm of the Church climbed to one million, more than in all of the other crusades against heresies combined.

    Throughout these trials, Monts?gur quietly defied the Church, standing as a bastion of faith. The murder of two Dominican Inquisitors at Avignonet was the pretext for resuming attacks against the fortress-temple. The brave Cathari and their supporters resisted for
    six months. but, through an act of treachery, the difficult mountain was scaled, and in march of 1244, Monts?gur surrendered. Singing, 205 Cathars marched down the mountain and into the large bonfires awaiting the. A memorial solar cross silently testifies to their martyrdom.
    Coins and sacred objects left behind by the Cathars were distributed to the conquerors, but according to Inquisition records, the real treasure vanished the night before the capitulation. Four Cathars and the Cathars' treasure were said to have been let down the steepest side of the mountain by ropes and disappeared.

    Speculation still exists about the nature of the treasure - sacred books, the Grail Stone, or the Grail Cup? And where might it be hidden? In one of the many limestone caves that surround Monts?gur? In an abandoned, water-logged mine deep in the Ariage? Mute witness to all, the ruin of Monts?gur does not reveal these secrets. Patiently it waits in the brilliant sun for the last sign of the Cathars, the greening of the laurel.

    Cathar-influenced Cross
    (Note the bird which symbolized divine grace.)

    Judith Mann is a media producer living in Oregon. She has
    been researching sacred sites and gnostic practices for over twenty years.

    Visit Judith's Web site: The Trail of Gnosis

    Click on any of the links to bring up full size images.

  • #2
    Re: The Legend of the Cathars

    God said, "I am the Lord thy God, and there are no other gods but me." Then a voice came out of the deepest heaven and said, "Thou liest, god of the blind!" - from a Cathar prayer
    The Cathars believed that their soul became trapped in the world, reincarnating over and over until they were once again free from identification with this dimension and could return home to pure Spirit. They saw how our attention becomes easily trapped in this dualistic universe. Snared by the temptations of the outer life, the mind creates an inner thought-based world to match, and by these very thoughts, reinforces the outer world of matter and the senses. Seeing how thoughts and matter became intertwined, creating a net nearly impossible to break, the Cathar Perfects labored to save themselves with great earnestness. A little serious introspection will show us that we too are trapped in a net of two worlds interwoven of mind and matter.

    Cathar Beliefs:

    The Cathars were dualists. That is, they believed in two universal principles, a good God and a bad God, much like the Javeh and Satan of mainstream Christianity. As dualists, they belonged to a tradition that was already ancient in the days of Jesus. Dualism came, and still comes, in many flavours. Indeed the Cathar variety came in more than one flavour, but the principal one was this: The Good God was the god of all immaterial things (such as light and souls). The bad God was the god of all material things, including the world and everything in it. He had contrived to capture souls and imprison them in human bodies through the process of conception. As Cathars put it, we are all divine sparks, even angels, imprisoned in a tunic of flesh.

    According to the Cathars, when we die the powers of the air throng around and persecute the newly released soul, which flees into the first lodging of clay that it finds. This "lodging of clay" might be human or animal. The soul would therefore be condemned to cycle of rebirth, trapped in another physical body. By leading a good enough life human beings or rather their souls could win freedom from imprisonment and return to heaven, the immaterial realm of the good god. For members of The Elect, death was no more than taking off a dirty tunic.

    The realm of the Good God, heaven, was filled with light. (Some Cathars regarded the stars as divine sparks, or souls, or angels, in heaven). The realm of the bad god was the material world in which we serve out our earthly terms. Satan had entrapped these divine sparks and created humankind as their prison. Thus there was a part of the Good God trapped in all men and women, longing to rejoin its Maker. The Bad God filled humankind with temptations to frustrate souls from ever making that reunion. They could be tortured by disease, famine and other travails, including man's own inhumanity to his fellow man. Yet the Bad God had no power over the soul - a divine spark of the Good God. His remit was confined to material things. Any hell that existed was here on this material earth. To confound the Devil it was necessary to abstain from all earthly temptations and to strengthen the inner spirit by prayer.

    The idea that flesh was inherently evil became popular in mainstream Christianity too - it was formalised in the concept of Original Sin and was enormously popular up until the twentieth century. Today this traditional teaching is played down, and it comes as a shock to many Christians to hear the words like that of the Burial service from the Book of Common Prayer, contrasting an evil material body with a good spiritual one: ".... our Lord Jesus Christ, who shall change our vile body that it may be like to his glorious body."

    Cathars were Gnostics. Gnostics believed, and still believe, that divine knowledge is granted only to an inner elite, like the "esoteric" knowledge of the Pythagoreans. The inner elite undertook a long period of training before leading severely ascetic lives. These were the Elect, or as they are now popularly known Parfaits. Cathars were also universalists, which means that they believed in the ultimate salvation of all human beings.

    Here is an account of how they saw themselves, recorded in 1143 or 1144 by Eberwin, Prior of the Premonstratensian Abbey of Steinfeld writing to Bernard of Claivaux (St Bernard):

    Of themselves they say: "We are the poor of Christ, who have no fixed abode and flee from city to city like sheep amidst wolves, are persecuted as were the apostles and the martyrs, despite the fact that we lead a most strict and holy life, persevering day and night in fasts and abstinence, in prayers, and in labour from which we seek only the necessities of life. We undergo this because we are not of this world. But you, lovers of the world, have peace with it because you are of the world. False apostles, who pollute the word of Christ, who seek after their own interest, have led you and your fathers astray from the true path. We and our fathers, of apostolic descent, have continued in the grace of God and shall so remain to the end of time. To distinguish between us and you Christ said "By their fruits you shall know them". Our fruits consist in following the footsteps of Christ.

    (Sancti Bernardi epistolae, (letter 472, Everwini Steinfeldensis praepositi ad S. Bernardum) cited by Walter L Wakefield & Austin P Evans Heresies of the High Middle Ages, (Columbia, 1991) p. 129.)


    • #3
      The Voice of the Cathars

      The Voice of the Cathars (part 1)

      by Louis Khourey:

      Postcard photo of Monts?gur,
      the last bastion of Cathar defense
      The world cannot forget the Albigensians, the people of southern France who, over 700 years ago, suffered persecution and extermination because of their religion and their defiance of Church and crown. History recalls innumerable religions, sects, cults and movements, but the voices of none have resonated over the centuries like that of the Cathars of Languedoc, with their unwavering profession of the highest spiritual sentiments in the face of a cruel and relentless Inquisition.

      While the name Albigensians (or Albigenses; French: Albigeois) is most widely used to describe the "heretics" against whom a Crusade was mounted in the 13th Century, because of their large numbers around the city of Albi, the religion that the Catholic Church so aggressively sought to eradicate is more properly known as Catharism, and its adherents, Cathars, or Cathari. The latter term, Greek for "pure ones," was not actually used by the Cathars to describe themselves, but was employed by their persecutors who sarcastically criticized their ascetic lives. The Cathars considered themselves to be simply "Good Christians," who practiced the way to salvation as taught by Christ and not corrupted, as they believed, by the Roman Church.


      The central fact of Cathar theology, on which historians are unanimous, is that it is dualistic, that is, that it denies the universal pre-eminence of a Good God and posits in opposition an Evil Principle, Satan, who is the creator of the material universe. This dualism has caused some writers to state that Catharism was not a Christian heresy at all but another religion entirely. Such an opinion ignores the fact that there was a strong current of dualism in the early Church, especially in the East, best exemplified by Manicheanism which had a great following from Turkestan to Carthage during the first millennium. St. Augustine was himself a Manichean from 373 until 382. While it could not be denied than Mani, a Persian, was greatly influenced by the Zoroastrianism of his own land, the central thesis of orthodox Christianity itself -- the death and resurrection of Christ -- echoes the stories of Tammuz and Adonis from Near-Eastern mythology.

      Photo of Monts?gur from below
      There are no Cathar writings that have survived which describe their beliefs, the victors having done their best to obliterate the teachings of the vanquished. Ironically, however, the detailed records of the Inquisitors themselves have proved a rich source of information about Cathar beliefs and practices. Transcripts of interrogatories of heretics and chronicles of the Crusades have given historians much information which, surprisingly enough, often seems to be accurate.

      Satan, the creator of the world, was often identified by the Cathars as the Jehovah of the Old Testament. Naturally, then, they placed no value on the Old Testament, except for occasional references to the Psalms and Ecclesiastes. This idea of matter being a creation of evil can be traced directly back to the Gnosticism of the Roman era which taught that the world was created by the Demiurge, who might have been a fallen angel (or "eon") and who was either ignorant of, or hostile to, God, the First Principle. Among the Cathars there were both "absolute" dualists and "mitigated" dualists. The former believed the Evil Principle to be co-eternal and co-equal to the Good, while the latter viewed the Evil One as inferior to God and who created the world out of inchoate elements already created by God.

      Whatever their ultimate antecedents, there is general agreement that the immediate spiritual ancestors of the Cathars were the Bogomils of Bulgaria, who formed a bridge to Western Europe for the religious ideas of Asia Minor. In the Middle Ages there was substantial trade between East and West, and with the transport of goods came powerful religious concepts. It is often suggested that cloth merchants were the first carriers of Catharist teachings and that they conveyed the religion to the influential families of Europe when they came into their homes to exhibit their wares. The merchants and artisan guilds, especially the weavers and paper-makers, were always great supporters of Catharism.

      Entrance to the fortification
      on Monts?gur
      Whether their dualism was absolute or mitigated, all Cathars believed the world to be an evil place where human souls, created by God, were imprisoned in matter created by Satan. There was no Hell or Purgatory other than the earth, and the goal of the spiritual life was to free the soul from the material world so that it could be re-united with its spirit which dwelt with God. If the soul failed in this effort, it would migrate after death to another body to try again. This doctrine of metempsychosis has prompted some speculation that the Cathars were actually Buddhists, in light of their similar ascetic practices, but there is no evidence of any direct influence.

      Their conviction that the world is a scene of unmitigated evil led to certain logical conclusions for those who wished to escape from the bonds of matter. It called for a life of extreme asceticism and complete dedication to the spiritual goal. Had Catharism depended for its numbers on those who were prepared to make such a commitment, it would not have concerned the Church in the least. In fact, at its height there were probably no more than a few thousand of these Cathar Perfects (Latin: perfecti; French: parfaits). But they were supported and honored by many more ordinary Believers (Latin: credentes; French: croyants) who postponed their dedication until the time of death.

      By far the most important religious ceremony of the Cathars was the Consolamentum by which an ordinary Believer became a Perfect. It was the Cathar baptism, administered without water by a Perfect, and also carried the characteristics of confirmation and holy orders. Receipt of the Consolamentum was considered essential to a Cathar's salvation, but it was given only when a Believer was prepared to abandon his worldly life and adhere to the austere regimen and constant devotion of a Perfect. Consequently, most Cathars delayed the Consolamentum until they were on their deathbeds. Attending the dying and administering the Consolamentum was one of the major duties of the Perfects, and they met these obligations often at great personal risk.

      To the Cathars, the Consolamentum was no mere ceremony but constituted the reception by a man or woman of his or her spirit, which was previously separated from body and soul. One who sought this transcendent experience while still healthy was required to undergo a rigorous, one-year probation known as Abstinentia, to insure that the applicant had the strength and resolve to live the demanding life of a Perfect. For once the Consolamentum was received, the body became a veritable temple of the spirit to be preserved inviolate. A Perfect was required to abstain completely from sexual intercourse and from all animal food, including fish. During three days of every week they consumed only bread and water and also observed three forty-day periods each year of more severe dietary restrictions. It is small wonder that Perfects were often recognized during the times of persecution by their gaunt appearances.



      • #4
        The Voice of the Cathars

        The Voice of the Cathars (part 2)

        by Louis Khourey:

        Monts?gur in the distance
        Most Perfects were homeless out of design, traveling about the country to preach and console the dying. They always traveled in pairs and were obliged to remain always with their socius or socia, who was one of the same sex, until the threat of arrest caused them to travel in mixed pairs to allay suspicion. Their characteristic attire was black, with a distinctive girdle around the waist. They always carried a copy of scripture in a pouch, usually St. John's Gospel, which they esteemed above the synoptics.

        As was the term Cathar, the name Perfect was originally applied in derision by their detractors. Their own Believers called them bons hommes, "good men," although many women were also among their number. So esteemed were they by their flock that a distinct ceremony known as the Melioramentum or veneration was invariably performed upon meeting one; it was, in fact, the only affirmative religious duty of the Believer. He would bow three times to the Perfect and say: "Pray God to make a good Christian of me, and bring me to a good end." The Perfect would reply: "May God make a good Christian of you, and bring you to a good end." The "good end" would, of course, imply receipt of the Consolamentum.

        Another ceremony, although not essential, was the Convenensa by which a Believer promised to honor the Perfects and placed himself at their disposal, in exchange for the promise that he would receive the Consolamentum on his deathbed, even should he be then unable to speak.

        The Cathars thus differentiated significantly from the Catholics in their lack of liturgical duties. In fact, they had no churches at all, believing that they were wholly unnecessary; the Perfects preached and taught in the streets and in the homes of the Believers.

        Interior of the remains of the
        fortification atop Monts?gur
        But what set the Cathars farthest beyond the pale of orthodoxy was their teaching about Christ who was, to them, neither God nor man but an angel or envoy. He only appeared to assume a human body, and came not to atone for men's sins by his death but to teach a way of salvation that would rescue the captive souls from the chains of matter. To the Cathars, the Catholic doctrine of Christ's suffering and death was an abomination, and the cross a symbol of the victory of evil in the world.

        Despite the Catholic Church's own monastic tradition which placed a high value on ascetic practices, the opponents of the Cathars often attacked the Perfects because of their great austerities. One canard commonly raised was that they encouraged suicide by starvation. In fact, Cathars were known on occasion to refuse nourishment until death, a practice known as the endura. But this was employed only when the person was already dying or was in prison facing torture or execution. While the Cathars certainly looked forward to release from their human bondage, they also honored all life, as evidenced by their pacifism and vegetarianism.


        The story of the Cathars was played out over a relatively short period, from about 1150 when they first became evident in large numbers, until 1330 when the last burning of Cathars in France took place. During that time they rose to a position of equality in size, power and organization to the Roman Church, suffered massacres of their followers during the Crusades, and finally went into hiding, futilely seeking to avoid the Inquisition.

        Languedoc, in southwestern France, was in the 12th and 13th centuries entirely independent of Paris and the northern French. Its language, Occitan, was similar to Proven?al and Catalan, and its great lord was the Count of Toulouse. It was a cultured land, with a direct exposure to the Islamic civilization of the Mediterranean, then in full flower. Its nobility and burghers were proud of their country and disdainful of what they saw as the semi-barbarians of the north, and of the Church which they viewed as corrupt and rapacious.

        Within this social framework, Catharism was widely supported and its ideas were permitted to spread. In 1167, a council of Cathar bishops and ministers was held at St. Felix de Caraman near Toulouse, attended by the Bulgarian Bishop Nicetas who confirmed the Church of Languedoc in the true Bogomil tradition. For the next forty years, the only battles that the Cathars had to fight were verbal ones. The Cathar Perfects were renowned as great preachers and were often joined in debate by their Catholic counterparts. Lay juries of thirteen Catholics and thirteen Cathars were often the judges. Into this fray of ideas came the Spaniard, Dominic de Guzman, who preached and debated with the Cathars from 1205 until 1209 and who sought to live more ascetically than his opponents. For all of Dominic's skill and dedication the Catholics were losing the fight for men's minds and hearts, and it would not be long before the order that Dominic founded would abandon rational debate in favor of forcible interrogation.

        Monts?gur from below
        In 1208 a papal legate, Peter of Castelnau, who was seeking to convince Raymond VI, the Count of Toulouse, to employ harsher methods to control the heretics, was murdered while on his mission. This random act of violence served as a pretext for the release of forces that would ravage the entire Languedoc, destroy its independence, and finally eliminate Catharism. On March 10, 1208 Pope Innocent III called for a Crusade against the heretics of southern France, an unprecedented action against a Christian land and one that remained in great part still Catholic. This call was answered enthusiastically by the nobles and bishops of the north, and it was not long before they were on the march.

        The Crusade achieved quick successes, owing in great part to its extreme brutality. One of the first cities of the south to be attacked was Beziers, put under siege in July 1209. To the people of Languedoc, this was not so much a war of religion as one of the north against the south, and the Catholic burghers of Beziers refused to turn over to the Crusaders their heretic citizens. When the city finally fell, it was burnt to the ground and as many as 20,000 men, women and children massacred. From this holocaust has been preserved one of the most famous sentences in the annals of human cruelty, spoken by Arnald-Amalric, Abbot of C?teaux and the pope's legate to the Crusade, when asked how to distinguish the Catholics from the heretics: "Kill them all; God will look after his own."

        Similar episodes, though none quite so terrible, followed during the first few years of the Crusade and had the desired effect of discouraging local resistance. Under the military leadership of Simon de Montfort, a noble from Ile de France, the Crusaders not only consolidated their control over the major cities of Languedoc -- Carcasonne, Albi and finally Toulouse -- but began to persecute the Perfects in earnest. At Minerve in June 1210, one hundred forty Perfects were flung into a great fire at once, four hundred were burned at Lavaur in May 1211, and sixty at Cass?s in June 1211.

        The Crusaders were, essentially, an army of occupation and suffered all of the problems that an occupying force could expect to encounter from a hostile populace, including guerilla attacks led by dispossessed knights, known as faidits. It seemed that the tide was turning against them when Count Raymond VI and his son, Raymond VII, recaptured Toulouse in 1217 and when Simon de Montfort was killed outside its walls during the unsuccessful siege of 1218 by a rock that struck him in the head (which, as legend has it, was from a stone-gun fired by women). But the respite from warfare was to be short-lived for the people of Languedoc, for in 1226 a new Crusade was led by King Louis VIII, and by the summer of 1227 many cities had again capitulated and the Crusaders were ravaging the countryside around Toulouse.



        • #5
          The Voice of the Cathars

          The Voice of the Cathars (part 3 of 3)

          by Louis Khourey:

          Interior of the fortifications atop
          This was the beginning of the end for Catharism. As late as 1225, the Cathar Church was functioning quite openly, with five dioceses of Albi, Toulouse, Carcassonne, Agen and Raz?s. But in 1229 the papal legate in Toulouse began to enforce the anti-heresy laws, and two Perfects were arrested, one of whom was burnt and one of whom recanted -- the only recantation of a Cathar Perfect ever recorded. By letter of April 20, 1233, Pope Gregory IX instituted a Special Inquisition, of which the Dominicans were placed in charge, and their zeal quickly filled the jails of Carcassonne, Toulouse and Albi, and fired the flames of an auto-da-f? at Moissac in which 210 Cathars lost their lives. Persecution became so intense during the 1230's that many Cathars emigrated to Lombardy, which had always harbored the religion, and to the Cathar "headquarters" in Languedoc, the mountain fortress of Monts?gur in the shadow of the Pyrenees.

          As the murder of Peter de Castelnau had precipitated the Crusade in 1208, so another isolated act of violence led to the Cathars' "last stand." In 1242, Raymond d'Alfaro, a minor official in Avignonet and a Cathar Believer, took the news to Monts?gur of an impending visit to his town of a group of inquisitors. Pierre-Roger de Mirepoix organized a group of assassins who traveled to Avignonet and burst in upon the group of eleven Dominicans and Franciscans, mercilessly butchering them with axes and swords, while the clerics sang Salve Regina in their final moments. Despite the ruthlessness of the inquisitors, even writers sympathetic to the Cathars have condemned the savagery of this attack. Even in that era of seemingly wanton bloodshed, this event did not go unnoticed, and aroused support for an all-out assault on the stronghold of Monts?gur.

          The fortress of Monts?gur, its remains still standing, is on top of a rugged peak 3,500 feet high. It had come into the possession of Raymond de Pereille in the 13th century, and he had opened it as a haven for the Perfects. On the slopes surrounding the fortress were many huts and caves in which dwelt the aged Perfects and others who had retired from preaching for a life of contemplation.

          The siege by an army of several thousand began in May 1243. The besieged were between one hundred twenty and one hundred fifty fighting men, their families, and about two hundred Perfects. The natural defenses of the castle, a large provision of food and water, and gaps in the besiegers' lines enabled the defenders to hold out until March 1, 1244 when negotiations were begun. It was agreed that the garrison would be permitted to remain in the fortress for another fifteen days and, according to the terms, Monts?gur was surrendered on March 16. During the truce period eleven men and six women received the Consolamentum, effectively condemning themselves to death. After the surrender there were no trials nor individual executions; a large stockade was built in a field and two hundred Perfects were burned on the same day.

          THEIR LEGEND:

          After Monts?gur, Catharism ceased being an established church and a social force in Languedoc. The remaining Perfects maintained an underground ministry until about 1300, but could no longer count on the support of the nobility. The Inquisition continued its work, and the last Cathars sought refuge in the Sabarthes valley of the Pyrenees. Pierre Autier, the last great Cathar minister, was burnt in 1307.

          But despite their complete disappearance from the pages of history, Catharism has remained alive through the centuries, not only because of sympathy for their principled suffering, but -- more interestingly -- because of suggestions that they were the possessors of an occult or esoteric teaching and of a "treasure" of an unknown but powerful character.

          The view looking out from the
          entrance of Monts?gur
          The enduring mystery in the story of the Cathars concerns the surprising terms of their surrender of Monts?gur. All historians, whether or not given to esoteric speculation, have commented on it. There has never been an explanation as to why Monts?gur surrendered when it did, why the terms of surrender were so lenient (no one who abjured their heresy was to be killed or even imprisoned), and why the fifteen-day reprieve was sought and granted. In January 1244, two Perfects escaped from Monts?gur with what is generally considered to have been the monetary treasure of the Cathars, which they hid, possibly in the caves of Sabarthes; it has never been found. But on March 16, after the surrender, four other Perfects who remained hidden in the garrison while their brethren were being executed, escaped with another "treasure."

          Presumably, this latter treasure was not of material value but consisted of sacred books or relics, of central importance to the Cathars. Several writers have deduced that the Cathars agreed to surrender in order to obtain a peaceful celebration on March 14 of Bema, an important Manichaean feast day, and that the spiritual treasure was not removed in January because it was somehow necessary to the celebration of Bema. To the esotericist, this required object could not have been a mere symbol, but something with truly magical properties.

          Many have concluded that the Cathars were the possessors of the Holy Grail and that Monts?gur was, in fact, the legendary Grail Castle of Montsalvat. This belief has been widespread in esoteric circles and has been noted by the great occult writer, A.E. Waite, as well as by the modern historian of the Middle Ages, Sir Steven Runciman. This hypothesis has been most recently put forward as the starting point of the laboriously worked-out (and ultimately unsatisfactory) theory of Holy Blood, Holy Grail. The authors point out that the medieval Grail romances of Chr?tien de Troyes and Wolfram von Eschenbach can be linked to the Cathars, that Wolfram places the Grail Castle in the Pyrenees in the land of Perilla, and that the historical lord of Monts?gur was Raymond de Pereille.

          In light of the Cathar belief in metempsychosis, or transmigration of souls, Arthur Guirdham's book, The Cathars and Reincarnation, holds a unique fascination. Guirdham was an English psychiatrist who gives a true account of a female patient's dreams and memories of her prior incarnation as a Cathar. Guirdham applied to his subject a critical eye and gradually became convinced of the reality of his patient's experiences from the obscure but accurate historical data that she periodically produced.

          Guirdham's healthy scepticism, as well as his sincerity, have been commended by Colin Wilson, the prolific chronicler of the occult, in his book, Strange Powers. Wilson, who met with Guirdham personally on several occasions, concludes that Guirdham's meticulous documentation of his patient's dreams and visions makes out a legitimate case for the reality of reincarnation. Wilson also refers to another book by Guirdham, entitled We Are One Another, which asserts that half a dozen people living in the vicinity of Bath, England, independently reached the conclusion that they were reincarnated Cathars.

          But by far the greatest modern interest in the Cathars lies in France, especially in the southern regions where they flourished. There are a multitude of books, articles and studies that have been published about the Cathars in French, only a few of which have been translated into English. The French interest has not been just scholarly but has been stimulated by those who consider themselves to be neo-Cathars. The most famous of these was D?odat Roche, described in an article in Time magazine of April 28, 1961, as a 79-year-old "former magistrate of Arques, whose lifelong dedication to spreading the Cathar gospel, organizing pilgrimages to Monts?gur, and following the strict vegetarian regimen of his heretic ancestors has earned him the nickname 'the Cathar Bishop.'" Arthur Guirdham met Roche while doing his research on the Cathars, as well as Ren? Nelli, a Professor of Sociology at the University of Toulouse, who founded a journal dedicated to the subject, Cahiers d'?tudes cathares [Cathar research notebooks]. Guirdham also refers in his book to an Albigensian Society dedicated to the memory of the Cathars, although he does not indicate whether it is English or French.

          Whether or not the Cathars left a physical treasure, or an occult teaching that has somewhere been preserved, there is no doubt that their spiritual legacy has survived. For the purity of their religious teaching, and their steadfastness in the face of extermination, they continue to live and teach in the imaginations of those who sense that man's true home is not in this world.



          • #6
            Die Kathare

            Die Kathare

            Gedenksteen naby Monts?gur
            Die term Kathaar (ook gespel Kataar of Kathar, letterlik die "Reine", afgelei van Grieks katharos "rein") verwys na 'n aanhanger van die Christelike beweging, wat tussen die 11de en 14de eeu veral in Suid-Frankryk, Itali?, Spanje en Duitsland uitgebrei het. Dikwels word in plaas van Kathare ook die naam Albigense (of Albigensers) gebruik - 'n verwysing na die Suid-Franse stad Albi, 'n bolwerk van die Katharisme. Die Kathare is deur die Inkwisisie vervolg en in 'n bloedige kruistog uitgewis.

            Die Kathare was naas die Orde van die Tempeliers een van twee religieuse bewegings wat deur die 13de eeuse Rooms-Katolieke Kerk en die Noord-Franse owerhede as 'n uitdaging beskou en uitgewis is. Maar terwyl die Tempelridders alle beskuldigings summier van die hand gewys het en ontsteld was oor die aanklagtes teen hulle, was die Kathare bereid om hul lewens te offer vir die leerstellings wat hulle as die ware Christelike geloof beskou het.

            Die Noord-Franse kruistog teen die Kathare van Suid-Frankryk is uiteindelik eerder om politieke en ekonomiese as om religieuse redes gevoer en was 'n tipiese voorbeeld van Middeleeuse magsbeleid. Nogtans het die Kathare sentrale dogmas van die Rooms-Katolieke Kerk bevraagteken en verwerp; hulle het die stamgod Jehovah van die Bybelse Ou Testament as wraaksugtig en primitief beskou en sodoende 'n nuwe Christelike boodskap verkondig wat die gesag van die Rooms-Katolieke Kerk regstreeks bedreig het.

            Aangesien spirituele reinheid vir hulle nie met liggaamlikheid versoenbaar was, het die Kathare nie geglo dat die werklike, spirituele Christus van 'n vrou gebore en aan die kruis oorlede was nie.

            Die Kathare het hulle self as die "ware" Christelike kerk beskou, en Jesus Christus het 'n sentrale rol in hulle geloof gespeel. Vir hulle is Christus as die ware seun van God na die stoflike w?reld gestuur om sy spirituele verlossing te verkondig. Die God van die Ou Testament is as die skepper van 'n bose w?reld afgekeur.

            Daar was baie Bybelse aanhalings in Kathaarse preke, tog is die uitleg van die Bybel taamlik vry gehandhaaf.

            Die Kathare is in twee groepe verdeel, die gelowiges en die Perfecti. Met die aanvaarding van die Consolamentum, 'n soort sakrament wat deur handoplegging ontvang is, het gelowiges tot die status van Perfectus of Perfecta gevorder.

            Die oorspronklike bronne bevestig dat die Kathare sterk gekant was teen die destydse Katolieke Kerk en sy priesters, wat as korrup afgemaak is. Daar was slegs 'n klein aantal Kathaarse teolo? wat hulle self die "goeie vroue" (bonnes femmes), "goeie mans" (bons hommes) of "goeie christene" (bons chr?tiens) genoem het (die terme Cathari of Perfecti is slegs deur die Katolieke Kerk en die Inkwisisie gebruik).

            Dikwels word die Kathaarse leerstellings vanuit 'n manige?ese of gnostiese oogpunt beskou en as nou verwant aan die tradisie van hierdie filosofiese stromings beskryf, alhoewel die protokolle van die inkwisisie die enigste bronne is wat 'n soortgelyke gevolgtrekking steun en weens hulle partydigheid nie betroubaar is nie.

            In die grusame kruistogte van 1209 tot 1244 is duisende mense vermoor en die bloeiendste kultuur in Europa vernietig. Die Kathare wat die aardse god van die Hebreeuse Skrifte verwerp het is deur "Christelike" Noord-Franse le?rs en met goedkeuring van die Vatikaan uitgeroei. Die kruistogte word onder die grootste gruweldade van die geskiedenis gereken, en die Oksitani?rs, wat die Noord-Franse eintlik steeds as buitelanders beskou het, bly in die volgende eeue argwanend teenoor die Paryse regering. Die Franse Rewolusie van 1789 word in die gebied ewe sterk ondersteun soos die gedagtes van die antiklerikalisme en radikale sosialisme. Vandag is daar weer 'n klein maar groeiende beweging wat die nagedagtenis en erfenis van die Kathare in Suid-Frankryk bevorder.