The Cathars were a community that flourished in Southern France throughout the Dark Ages and well into the 11th, 12th and 13th centuries. Whilst throughout Europe the Catholic Church held absolute power and held the people in abeyance through fear and the threat of the Inquisition to any who dared to question its doctrine, in the midst of all this there flourished in a small region of what is now modern-day France, a community which was truly free from the clutches of the church, where love was the religion, and where a freedom and lightness of expression was the societal norm.
This community included Cathar and non-Cathar alike, as the energy grounded in the area by the Cathars transformed a whole region. The area in Southern France and beyond became a ‘heaven’ for those who sought truth, and who sought to venture beyond the dictatorially-imposed dogma of the church.
The term ‘Cathar’ has its origin in the Ancient Greek word καθαρός (‘katharós’), which means ‘pure’, ‘clean’ or ‘clear’. However, it is unlikely that the Cathars ever used the name ‘Cathar’ to refer to themselves; it was rather more used by others around them who observed their way of living, their purity of spirit and their lightness of being. The Cathars themselves were far more commonly known in the regions in which they flourished as the ‘Bonhommes’ and ‘Bonnes Femmes’ (the ‘Good Men and Women’), or simply as ‘Good Christians’, on account of their simple good-heartedness, compassion, deeply loving way, and the high esteem in which their surrounding neighbourhoods held them.
It is also likely that the Latin term ‘Cathari’ (‘pure’) was used by the Catholic Church in an attempt to corrupt the truth about this movement by making it out to be a group that held themselves as better, exclusive and exclusionary of others on account of a perceived ‘purity’ amongst themselves. If there is any truth, however, in the appellation, it is that it refers to a purity of living and a purity of intent which in turn allowed these men and women to access a purity of being – the Light of the Soul.
Almost everything that has been written about the way the Cathars lived is either a re-interpretation of the truth or a complete lie. As has happened so often in history, their teachings have been corrupted, covered in veils of illusion and often desecrated. But within their communities they learnt to inspire and foster a true way of living through understanding and observation, constantly offering evolution to each other as in any true esoteric community, dedicated to developing and raising awareness with each other from a young age and assisting one another to pass over with clarity.
The seed of the Cathar movement was grounded by Yeshua and the Essenes in the early decades of the 1st century AD, and it was formally commenced by Peter, Magdalena and the three daughters of Yeshua, along with other contemporary initiates, shortly after Yeshua’s crucifixion, when they ventured out of the Middle East and travelled west to Europe, possibly settling in what is now France. The movement was initiated with a focus on living and transmitting to other parts of the world the way of love, of true family and the way of being in the world which Yeshua’s short life had embodied to the full.
The Cathars inherited from the Essenes an understanding of the inherent Sacredness of women, and in stark contrast to the teachings and practices of the Catholic Church of the day, there was a high degree of equality between men and women in the Cathar community, with women leading and holding prominent positions. Mary Magdalena – wife to Yeshua, and then to Peter – strongly represented this as one of the first Cathars.
Besides the strong principles of family life, the Cathars were also intently focussed on bringing a certain quality to the human body. They understood that humankind’s journey was to restore the body to be a divine vehicle capable of embodying the light of the Soul. In fact, this understanding formed the basis of their family life and was the foundation of all of their communal and societal activities.
They also knew that there was an illusion which humanity had to resurrect itself out of – that humanity was bound upon the Wheel of Rebirth, and that in order to resurrect oneself out of the mess that we call Creation, one must first understand the Lie of Creation. But to understand and truly see the lies requires a certain disciplined way of life – and a development of the inner life – which allows one to extricate oneself from the lies of the outer world. This was a continuation of the teachings of Pythagoras, as passed on by the Neo-Pythagoreans, by Yeshua and the Essenes, and by the later Neo-Platonists.
One of the biggest upsets which the Cathar community posed to the Catholic Church was that it completely and thoroughly exposed its pretensions to piety, and its self-purported complete monopoly over piety and Godliness. For the purity and simplicity of the Cathar way of life, in contrast to the corruption, manipulation and warped personal indulgences of the church officials, made it very clear to people who truly represented God and who did not. It also showed the people that they did not need priests or the church to develop a personal relationship with God – that this is available to everyone.
The Cathars, in their religious way, lived and represented the true version of everything the church claimed to be, and the effect of this on the surrounding regions was hugely powerful. Simply by virtue of living, walking, working, talking, healing, and teaching, in their loving way the Cathars exposed each lie and attempted deception by the church. They awoke people to the truth and inspired them to arise above the energetic prison which the Dark Ages had imposed upon medieval Europe.
By the medieval period, the Cathar sect lived and travelled mainly in the region of the Languedoc, bordered by the Mediterranean Sea, the Pyrenees, the Rivers Garonne, Tarn and Rhone and corresponding to the French region known as L’Occitanie. However, they had also travelled far and wide over preceding centuries, and the movement had spread all over Europe, ebbing and flowing over the centuries in many pockets across the Mediterranean world during the period c. 30AD - c.1400. At various points during this period, there were Cathar communities in Spain, Portugal, all over France, and northern Italy. And their early migration from the East left pockets of Cathar imprints in what is now Turkey, Bulgaria, Serbia, Croatia and Germany – movements which were known under different names, e.g. The Waldensian, The Bogomili. Early Cathars even came as far as England, and the influence of their footsteps there would later give rise to the Knights Templar, an English medieval military order which knew the truth of God, who were willing to protect with their lives the Cathar values and principles, and defend the right for them to be lived out in the open in communities: these men inevitably met the same end at the hands of the Catholic Church as did the Cathars.
The movement, however, came to be focalised in the Languedoc, and this area became known across Europe for its high cultural values, open liberalism and tolerance of all religions, facilitated of course by the imprints of the Cathars in these regions. The church here had limited influence because the common people saw and aligned with the Cathar way of life, and they endorsed and supported it, such that the church had no power over them, and thus very little populace to control and manipulate. The strength of what the Cathars lived even prompted divisions within the church, as those previously loyal to it began to open their eyes to the Truth before them. When Bishop Fulk of Toulouse, a leader of the Cathar persecutions, berated the Languedoc Knights (funded and ordained by the church) for not pursuing the Cathars more diligently, he received the reply: ‘We cannot. We have been reared in their midst. We have relatives among them and we see them living lives of perfection.’ Here, it was the Cathar church which ruled supreme – a universal church, which included everyone, and which was based on God’s true Love as lived and taught by Yeshua. The Catholic Church could not gain entry here.
Even the feudal lords of this region – among them Count Ramond VI of Toulouse, Count Raymond-Roger of Foix, Raymond Roger of Trencavel, Viscount of Carcassonne, and Peter II of Aragon – observed the true way of the Cathars, aligned with them, and supported them in spite of the incredible danger of excommunication by the church, or worse, which this put them in. In fact, many of them ended up dying in support of the Cathar cause. This was an extraordinary thing for medieval Europe, where the feudal subjugation of the common people to the power and dominance of their landed overlords, whose own prosperity and wealth rested entirely on their good standing in the church in Rome, formed the bedrock and structure of society. But these Counts’ and Viscounts’ allegiance to the Cathars fostered an extraordinary culture where beauty, philosophy, poetry, Truth and the appreciation of the true beauty in women were allowed to flourish. Among all the Christian sects over the centuries, the Cathars were the first group since the Gnostics in the third century to ordain women as bishops and priestesses, and women played a respected and active role as teachers, priestesses and healers within the communities. There were also women physicians, for the Cathar elders were trained, above all, in the arts of healing.
Scholars and philosophers from different cultures – Jewish, Muslim, Christian and Hindu –were also drawn to the area, and the region gave rise to a prosperous, thriving economy that drew merchants and traders from all across the Mediterranean.
One of the female leaders of the 12th century Cathar community was Esclarmonde de Foix. This was a woman who was brought up in an aristocratic family – daughter to Roger Bernard I, Count of Foix – who went on to become a Cathar priestess and spoke out openly about the evil and corruption of the church and the rulers of France. She, and many others, travelled throughout the area teaching and spreading the light of the Cathar communities; healing, and establishing schools and hospitals.
This was also a time when the Medieval Troubadours flourished. These were travelling musicians, poets and storytellers who played an important role during this time in exporting the light and love of the Cathars throughout the rest of Europe. They represented a lightness, a joviality and a joy, amidst the backdrop of the intensity of the Dark Ages, and would travel from kingdom to kingdom, being welcomed in by foreign courts and the homes of noblemen and the common people alike to provide entertainments. What they communicated was that it was possible to live this lightness, love and joy in life despite the intensities of the world around us and the corrupt systems which run society. Sometimes the messages of love, truth and wisdom which underlay their songs were coded within, and it took some deciphering to reap their fruits; others sat far more in the open, and many of the Troubadours were bold in their critique and exposure of the hypocrisy and corruption of the church. The Troubadours were responsible in many ways for propagating the chivalric culture of the middle ages and medieval period which we come to associate with this age through their songs and poems, and the common literary trope of the knight in shining armour symbolically represented the man who would stand up for and protect the Truth, whilst the damsel or woman represented the purity of Divinity and the sacredness of God which lies within all of us. The Troubadours, and the message of Love communicated through their works, played an important part in dissolving and breaking down the heavy, thick consciousness under which Europe was submerged during the Dark Ages, and they were instrumental in re-igniting in people their long-forgotten Truth.
For the Church, represented by the papacy in Rome and the monarchs of Europe, the growing community of Cathars posed a fundamental threat to their rule and power. For many centuries, the church, however, was unable to get anywhere near the Cathars, such was the latter’s strength and their claiming of their lands and the communities of people inhabiting these regions. The turning point, however, was an insularity which crept into the Cathar community. Just when they were on the cusp of going bigger, of expanding, of taking the Truth of God’s lived-way out of their families and communities and into the wider regions of Europe – lands staunchly held in the church’s grip – they instead resisted this next expanse, and retreated into an insularity which was safe and which they knew and trusted. They knew they were safe in their own communities and thought that no harm would come to them there. The problem is, as soon as they chose this – a choice not in line with Heaven and in opposition to where they were called to go to next – they were left vulnerable to attack by the forces which had long plotted their demise.
It was the drawn-out Albigensian Crusade – a reference to the town Albi, known as one of the religious centres for the Cathars in the Languedoc region – masterminded by the Church and which lasted for many years that finally ensured the near-total eclipse of the Cathar sect; this was among the more bloody and barbaric chapters in our history. Whole castles, towns and communities who had anything to do with the Cathars were murdered indiscriminately; when the Abbot Arnold ordered the taking of Beziers in 1209, when asked how they would tell which were the Cathars, he is said to have replied: ‘kill them all; God will know his own.’ This genocide, declared by Pope Innocent III and supported by the French monarchy, lasted for almost 40 years, beginning in early 1208 and culminating with the complete annihilation of the last remaining Cathars at Montsegur, the famous hilltop fortification and the final standing-point of the decimated Cathar community in 1244.
The forces which came for the Cathars – the indiscriminate genocide on the orders of the Catholic Church – epitomises the very worst acts of humanity and what it is capable of doing to those who represent and live the light of God. The Cathars were threatening and exposing every single lie upon which the church had amassed their great wealth and power over humanity. But the church knew that it was not enough to simply kill the Cathars – for they knew they would simply reincarnate – perhaps into the same communities and families, perhaps elsewhere in the world – and continue to live the love of God.
To truly destroy the movement and to disband the community for good it was required to traumatise them, to leave scars in their spiritual memories, to break them so that they would give up, abandon God, and thus not return in the same divine quality in which they had lived.
The intent was to exacerbate the seeds of withdrawal and protection which had already crept into the community. And hence the torture, the dismemberment and disembowelment until they would admit themselves heretics; the rape and torture of one’s family before one’s eyes, amongst other tactics carefully calculated to crush the expression of God’s love on Earth.
Despite the church’s best efforts, however, the expression of God’s love on earth continued to flourish, and it moved on in its expression. The Rosicrucian movement was already growing, and this represented the purity and focussed aspect of the Wisdom and the Brotherhood lived by the Cathars, whilst the incoming Renaissance period represented a change of focus to the temporal expression of God’s light in life and worldly affairs. This saw the planting of God’s messengers in the cities and the corrupt institutions, and also the inspiring of the common people to reclaim their true light. Leonardo da Vinci was sent to usher this in in continental Europe, and Francis Bacon sent later to ground it in England.
As for the original Cathars, many have reconnected to the truth and love of God and have resurrected themselves out of their past traumas. For, as the forces which sought to destroy them knew, they could never truly crush a Son of God; they could merely induce them to step back from God, and in doing so delay humanity’s return to Heaven.