This month's missal takes a look at the Cathars. Also known as the Albigensians, the Cathars were a medieval sect practicing in the Languedoc region of southern France from the 10th to the 14th century. Their origin has been traced to the Bogomils and the Gnostics, with whom they shared a similar philosophy. The term Cathars originates from the Greek, catharos, meaning the purified ones. Most of what we know of them is from their enemies, the Inquisitors of the Catholic church. They were effectively wiped out by the Inquisition by about 1300, leaving little of their own behind but legend.
Catharism was based on the idea that the world is evil, as believed the Gnostics
before them, and had been created by an evil god, known to the Gnostics as the Demiurge, and to the Cathars as Satan. They equated this evil god, or Satan, to the Jehovah of the Old Testament, and only used the New Testament, particularly the Book of John, as their Gospel. To the Cathars, men became corrupt due to the hypnotic influence of the world of matter and its evil ruler. The path they saw to liberation and escape from this hell that is earth was to renounce the world and live a pure life, free as possible from the corrupting influences of matter. Those that did live this disciplined life were called Perfects,
and traveled the countryside ministering to the Believers among the common folk.
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. - Louis Khourey
These Perfects were referred to by the Believers as bonne hommes, or good men, and were named Perfects in derision by their Inquisitor adversaries. They usually worked in pairs, the deacon and his student, the minor son. They had no churches per se, believing the true church was within, in the heart of man. The Perfects themselves lived lives of purity, being celibate, non-violent, and strict vegetarians. This was in stark contrast to the priests and bishops within the corrupt and opulent church of the time. They had the power to remove a person's connections to the material world, so that the Believer would go to Heaven when they died. This rite performed by the Perfects was called the consulamentum, the wiping away of sin, which was usually performed on the Believer on his deathbed to prepare him for Heaven. After receiving this, the Believer would sometimes fast, so they might die sooner, and with less taint from the world. The consulamentum was the only sacrament of the Cathar faith. They did not perform marriages, as procreation was not condoned, for it only brought more souls into the world to be corrupted.
"...Christianity, without chapels, without statues, Christianity which always refused to encompass anything sacred within visible matter"...."the heart of man is the true church of God".
- Anne Brenon
Women were treated as equals, for the Cathars believed the physical form to be irrelevant. The soul could have had either form before, and may once again come back as a male. Their insistence on not becoming tied to the world led them to renounce all oaths, also. This did not sit well with many lords and bishops of the time, for in an age of illiteracy, spoken oaths were common.
The popularity of the Cathars reached it height at the beginning of the 14th century. This brought about the
beginning of the end, for the Catholic Church and the nobles of northern France became jealous of the Cathars growing power. A crusade was launched which eventually led to the dramatic last stand at the Cathar castle on Montsegur
. Here, after an as yet to be explained surrender and terms, the remaining Perfects were burned, ending an era and starting a legend. Stories still abound of the last night of this final siege, and the supposed escape of four Cathars with a treasure, reputed to be anything from gold, to the Holy Grail itself.
The Cathars left us with not just another story of strength in the face of persecution, but also an inspiring call to our intuition that things might not be as they seem. Their struggle to escape the bonds of earthly existence and find Heaven and God within, give us an ideal and lifestyle to aspire to. While most of us cannot hope to live the life of a Cathar Perfect, we can take heed from their lives, and turn our attention away from the world and its hypnotic hold long enough to find our lost connection to the changeless realm within.
In the first place, they usually say of themselves that they are good Christians, who do not swear, or lie, or speak evil of others; that they do not kill any man or animal, nor anything having the breath of life, and that they hold the faith of the Lord Jesus Christ and his gospel as the apostles taught.
For an excellent, detailed look at the Cathars, see Louis Khourey's
The Voice of the Cathars
in three parts:
- Related Sites -
The Cathars: "
According to the Cathars, or Albigensians,
the world was created by an evil deity known to the Gnostics as the Demiurge. The Cathars also believed that souls would be reborn until they escaped the material world and succeeded to the immaterial heaven. The way to escape was to live an ascetic's life; to be not corrupted by the world. Those that lived this life were called Perfects.
The name Cathar
most likely originated from Greek catharos
, "the pure ones"." http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cathar
"Catharism was a religion
of which we only have a vague knowledge culled from the documents related or not to the Inquisition. Even reference works rely heavily on these biased but informative sources which make up the inquisitorial statements after the capture of Montsegur, regarded as Satan’s synagogue by the Catholic church."
- Dove of Minerve, carved in stone,
in remembrance of the 150 Cathars burnt at the stake in 1210 -
The Cathar Faith: A Critical Introduction
by Peter Wronski. "Today the Cathars are most
often portrayed as pacifist vegetarian feminists; medieval New Agers who were ruthlessly put down by a supposedly reactionary and corrupt Catholic Church. While there are elements of some truth in these portrayals, the reality of the Cathar faith falls somewhat short of the fuzzy-warm puppy-loving reputation attributed to it." http://www.russianbooks.org/montsegur/montsegur1.htm
Information on the Cathar Castles of the Languedoc, including locations, descriptions, maps, photographs and site plans, role in the Cathar Wars (Albigension Crusade), Medieval owners and history. http://www.catharcastles.info/
The Legend of the Cathars
by Judith Mann.
" 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 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. They held to the tenet that Christ was cosmic, (and so could not have been crucified), 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." http://gnosistraditions.faithweb.com/mont.html
The Albigen System:
A three-fold approach for finding Truth, the Albigen System is a method for stripping away the glossy veneer of life in the pursuit of the greater Reality that lies beneath its surface. It is a system of spiritual seeking for those who are sincerely interested in becoming the Truth. Based on the experience and teachings of Richard Rose,
a man who reached enlightenment at the age of 30, in 1947, and dedicated his life toward helping others who were seeking self-definition. http://www.tatfoundation.org/albigen.htm
The Essence of the Albigen System:
With its practical methods for Self-discovery, the Albigen System contains down-to-earth advice for those with the ears to listen. The Albigen System does not provide formulas for "attaining." It merely provides ways and means for self-definition, to better understand ourselves and others. An individual does not reach for magical Absolute states of mind. The seeker instead incessantly asks, "Who am I?" http://www.searchwithin.org/
The Albigen Papers,
by Richard Rose.
A shattering expose of social, psychological, and spiritual illusions. The aim of this book is to approach reality. It is an indispensable guidebook to the path of self-knowledge and realization. It contains an examination of spiritual systems, blocks and aids to spiritual progress, and a common sense approach to spiritual seeking. Also included is a poetic account of Richard Rose's own spiritual experience - "The Three Books of the Absolute." Click here to read selections. ISBN: 1878683004 (paperback); 1878683071 (hardback). Order from Rose Publications.
Tricks and Traps
Trap: Making up rules as to when we are aware or awake, and when we are asleep. If we are using the intellect to judge our state of awareness after the fact, we're not free from the ego, but simply lost in its pride. Focusing on the inner drama by dictating what we think we should be aware of, rather than just being aware, is still identification. The objects of our attention do not improve or lessen our awareness, no matter how we label them. It's the identification with the view that puts us to sleep.
Trick: Watching our thoughts without attachment, so as to see both sides of the ego as it judges itself. If we are identified with the part of the ego that says when we are awake and when asleep, you can bet that the part that is subject to this criticism is not far away. Look for how they both rely on each other like opposite sides of a coin. Awareness is not subject to being unaware, its attention is just easily caught. It can be looking at an ego and identified, or looking and listening. It can even look at itself....
" What I suspect we need is not any kind of path or discipline, but a collection of tricks or devices for catching the Dark at the corner of the eye, as it were, and learning how to spot its just-waiting-to-be-seen presence, combined with strategies for stopping the hyperactive survival-programmes from immediately explaining the perception away." - John Wren-Lewis
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.
The first of these worlds, and the primary projection, is the physical world of matter and the senses. It is basically neutral, having no emotional or value-based characteristics in and of itself, and separate from us, being a view. This world includes our body, also. The second world, our personal inner drama, is entirely in our heads, and is reactive, less real, and layered upon the first world like icing on a cake. It too, is only a view. The only reality in either of these worlds is our attention, which, when it comes into contact with this dualistic mess, soon becomes trapped.
These two worlds, or movies, let's call them, are so intertwined that we come to see them as one. We are taught from birth to accept what we see in front of us as real, and soon learn to accept our inner reactions, or thoughts, as valid also. Most of these early thoughts are colored by the psychic atmosphere of our home environment, and are never questioned, being so close, and us so young. Soon enough, as the play of life unfolds, we have blended our thoughts and the scene before us into one big drama, which we call our life. This so-called life oscillates between heaven and hell, depending on how the two movies are interacting. Barring a catastrophic failure, trauma, or mounting misery, we never question any of this. Any attempt at escape usually consists of simply rearranging one of the two movies to better fit the other. Let's take another look at each of these dramas, and see if we can find any holes in this net; the trap of movie madness.
The first movie, the world 'out there', is the universal projection we are all, as humans, subject to. It functions according to universal rules, and can be taken as good or bad, right or wrong. Hardly anyone sees it clearly, in and of itself. To illustrate this, simply pick an object and try to look at it without association. If you could see the world as it is, without benefit of the inner drama's projections, you would not know what the object was, nor care. As soon as 'knowing', or memory, kicks in, you are looking at the inner movie as it layers itself over the neutral world of the senses. For most of us, many years of inner work are necessary before we can gaze upon the world without attachment. This can be a startling revelation, to look about at a world created new every moment, full of wonder and possibility. This listening attention can only be had in a quiet mind cleared of emotional baggage, a mind unconcerned with voices of judgment and fear, desire and greed.
The other drama, the inner movie, is the world of thought, both personal and impersonal. It is reactive, associative, and entirely in the head of the individual, regardless of how it may or may not correspond to the heads of others. It is what separates and confines. Again, to get a look at this, pick any familiar object, and take a look. What you tell yourself you are seeing is your inner movie at work. If you see the object as separate, with associations in memory, no matter how valid, you are looking at your own head, not the object. As you go through your day, look at how everything you see is colored with memory, expectation, and judgment, trapping your attention into a dualistic dream world of your own creation. And it all happens automatically, as if by magic. And magic it is. We weave and spin the net that binds us into our own heads with every thought we identify with. How can we free our trapped attention, and perhaps turn it back in the direction of our Source, towards something non-associative and changeless, something Real?
The devil is said to be in the details, and this is where we can start. Simply look at your thoughts, your reactions, as they automatically fire every second of the day. There are many holes in the net, if we but look. By a constant passive attention, a listening, a looking without thinking, we can spot the many little clues that show us how we project the inner movie onto the outer, and how we can break the chain of relentless association. Once this listening attention is familiar, one can learn to turn it, to move it from movie to movie. We may eventually find it can be turned around and focused within, behind the inner movie to the formless realm beyond all experience. This freedom of movement of the attention doesn't happen by willing it, for that would be just another ego-character playing about in the inner movie. It simply happens, once we've paid the price.
If you're not lucky enough to have paid the price of losing your own head through the grace of trauma or disaster, then the freeing of your attention must be bought with austerity, conviction and earnestness. The Cathar Perfects gave us a hint on how to get started freeing the attention through their lives of abstinence, discipline, and peace, which set them free from the cares and temptations of the worlds of matter and thought. This lifestyle develops the intuition and clears the head of desire and fear based thinking. Then, by paying constant attention, coupled with intuition, one can see little tricks, gaps in the net, that build on the conviction that things are not as they seem. The inner presence of one who has already lost his head can also help. If felt, this presence may trigger a revelation, a conviction that there is something beyond the apparent. As for earnestness, this cannot be bought or faked, but again can be bolstered by intuition, clear reasoning, and the facing of the fact that life, as it is in appearance, is a zero-sum game.
The everyday world of paying the bills and getting by will not allow itself to be questioned; it will not help you of itself. If you have read this far, you must have seen enough holes in your own net to start questioning your worlds, inner and outer. If so, make a move. Find your true companions, the ones who too have had enough of the dream world of living alone, in the movie theater inside their heads. They're out there in the lobby, waiting for you, these soon to be headless souls. Help each other, clear a path through the tangle of thought and form. Find the exit, the door to daylight and freedom, and walk away from the movie madness of shadows and dreams. You may discover, once you are outside in the daylight, that you and your companions are One.
* * * * * *
For the large chart detailing the two movies, and the binding effect of experience on the attention, click here:
and for his related article:
- Quotes of the Month -
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
" People are able to continue living or tolerate life by putting serious thoughts as far back as possible. Something inside the individual does not wish to examine its potential for oblivion. The human mind does not want to see anything negative about itself.
" We are unaware of this life of make-believe, simply because we live it as reality.
" There is a path to Truth. From ignorance to relative knowledge. From relative knowledge to an awareness of the limitation of such knowledge. And finally, we pass from intelligence to a reality of Being." - Richard Rose, The Albigen Papers
" 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." - Louis Khourey
" It feels quintessentially natural
that personal consciousness should be aware of its own Ground, while my first 59-odd years of so-called 'normal' consciousness, in ignorance of that Ground, now seem like a kind of waking dream. It was as if I'd been entranced from birth into a collective nightmare of separate individuals struggling in an alien universe for survival, satisfaction, and significance." - John Wren-Lewis
" Experience is binding. Intense experience is intensely binding -- pleasurable and painful alike. Observing experience is liberating." - Bob Cergol
" It's embarrassing that 90 percent of the universe is unaccounted for."
-- English astronomer Martin Rees
" God does not play dice with the universe; He plays an ineffable game of His own devising, which might be compared, from the perspective of any of the other players (i.e., everybody), to being involved in an obscure and complex version of poker in a pitch-dark room, with blank cards, for infinite stakes, with a Dealer who won't tell you the rules, and who smiles all the time." - Neil Gaiman & Terry Pratchett, Good Omens
" Yo, yee Pharos, let us walk through this barren desert in search of truth, and some pointy boots, and maybe a few snack crackers." - Southern Culture on the Skids
Copyright 2003 - 2004 Robert Fergeson. All Rights Reserved.