The Cathars

The Cathars were important in French history
(text of a letter)


That programme about the Cathars which I saw on French television has somewhat modified my picture of the situation; enlarged it in fact.Clearly the Cathar religion, which was a form of Gnosticism, was very dominant in the South of France for a long time and France was in a state of civil war for centuries, with the Catholic church repeatedly sending in inquisitions and crusades in its efforts to wipe it out.Finally, what did the trick was the Catholic churchís invoking of commercial motives by declaring (which apparently it was in a position to do) that the Cathar lands were forfeit and up for grabs to whoever could overrun them, so that the landowners from the North of France invaded the South to see what they could get.

I have referred to this as genocide before, and it certainly was.At one stage the TV cameras roamed over a panoramic vista of piled-up skulls.

The Alien Man or the Son of God had entered the world to bring a bit of useful information to the benighted souls.The story about how they had become benighted was different from the standard Fall of Man story, and also different from other Gnostic cosmogonies.When Lucifer was thrown out of heaven and became Satan, along with other rebellious angels, this created a hole in heaven.Some other angels, standing too near the hole, were dragged down after the fallen angels, and before they could return were ensnared in matter by Satan, which caused them to lose their memories of who they were.

I donít know how much difference it made to the way women were treated in practice, but they had the standard Gnostic idea of the essential equality of the sexes, and that the soul was intrinsically masculine. Women as well as men could administer the consolamentum, their only sacrament, which was supposed to eliminate the impurities which arose from interaction with the physical world, and leave the soul of a dying person free to re-ascend and perhaps avoid reincarnation, which could be as an animal as well as a human person.

It was very like Buddhism in its reincarnationism; eventually the souls of all sentient beings would have been liberated and the situation would have been resolved.

Clearly the opposition on the part of the Catholic church was very fierce and motivated, which certainly had something to do with the Catharsí refusal to pay taxes to the Catholic church, but one wonders whether it also owed something to their having information about Jesus surviving the crucifixion and coming to France, which would upset the central beliefs of Catholicism, to which the suffering and death of the Saviour were essential.

In fact the absence of hard evidence is remarkable, considering how much attention Jesus apparently aroused, and one wonders if this is not the result of a very determined campaign by the Catholics, who wanted to leave no documentary evidence to conflict with the synoptic Gospels which were composed to support their basic ideas.

There is a fair amount of circumstantial evidence that Mary Magdalene came to France, but even that rests on supposition.I think the story about the offspring can be discounted, as the Cathars were very much opposed to reproduction, which led to souls being entrapped in matter.However, there was probably enough of a tradition about Mary Magdalene for the Merovingian kings to conceive the idea of strengthening their claims by demonstrating descent from Jesus Christ, and it would not be difficult to identify some ancestress as his daughter.

The Cathars were also against violence, which seems a harmless prohibition if you are going to have a mass religion at all, and vegetarian on account of the undesirability of encouraging reproduction of animals, which gets souls trapped in material bodies.They were, of course, a bit misled by medieval science, and actually ate a lot of fish, which were believed to be spontaneously generated by water.