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calendar   Thursday - February 23, 2012

Death In Languedoc

Bugger This

Peiper sent me a couple links to sites about the Cathars. Fascinating stuff. History and religion, not conspiracy theories. War and torture, but underneath it all a completely different version of Christianity. I had read a bit about them decades ago, but only lightly. The internet has tons of information on them now.

While the ancient Egyptians had more gods than you can shake a stick at, their theological world view was dualistic. As above, so below. Life on earth is a mirror of life in heaven. The gods act like people, and the people sometimes have god-like qualities. Along with this duality was a common understanding of what living a proper life was all about; this was the concept of Ma’at. Which was also a god, because the ancient Egyptians made gods out of everything. Perhaps they did so because they realized that some things were inherently holy, or at least sacrosanct. But if you lived a proper life, once you were dead you could meet the gatekeeper of the underworld and argue the defense for your soul during its weighing. “I have not murdered, I have not stolen, I have not lusted after my brother’s wife. I have honored the gods. I have not lied to the magistrates about my brother. I cared for my parents and treated them with respect.” and so forth. If that sounds like the Ten Commandments to you, it ought to because it pretty much is. Only a thousand years or so older. Every new religion that comes along borrows something from the dominant religions of its time. Sometimes lots of borrowing. The Egyptians had the ideas of the seasonally dying god, the virgin birth, the mother goddess, resurrection, heaven, hell, and the devil (the bad god or the anti-god, aka Seth) all figured out too. But Egypt didn’t immediately cease to exist once it became a satrapy of Rome. Their religions continued for some time, and their language survived until the islamic onslaught; the liturgical Coptic spoken today is a direct descendant of pharaonic Egyptian, and was a lingua franca of Egypt until about 1700. The Egyptian pantheon may have received a new coat of Roman paint, but it still existed when the early Christians showed up, and the faiths probably blended: Horus became St. George, time marched on, and a few core concepts may have carried down through the ages.

Very early Christianity flourished in post-pharaonic Egypt. There was a gnostic sect, and either alongside them or descended from them there was the Coptic sect, which still exists today and is currently being persecuted by those ever-tolerant muslims.

Enter the Cathars onto the stage of history. The Cathars were a group of people without any real national identity. They wandered around the shores of the Mediterranean, moving through Greece and the Balkan lands and eventually winding up in the area we now think of as southern France, down near the Spanish border. Except in the 900s-1200s it wasn’t France then, nor really Spain (actually Aragon) either. I have not studied their faith nor their history, so I can’t say if the Cathars were an offshoot of the Bogomils, the Paulicians, or descended from the Manichaean syncretic faith, both of which preceded it and were dualistic in nature. The point is that the Cathars felt themselves to be Christians, as did the Bogomils. These were all gnostic dualistic faiths; while the Church of Rome was just getting to it’s feet, dualism (Christian or otherwise) was a common belief system all around the Mediterranean Sea and into the lands to the East. Gnostic faiths like Pelagianism existed all over Europe, although not all were dualistic. But like the followers of Pelagius, they were all branded as heresy.

The land around that Sea was the “known world” of the west of the time. This was all during the time of the Byzantine Empire, when the focus of the western world was far more to the east than it was during earlier Roman times or later Medieval times. Not that those Medieval times were as euro-centric as we’ve lead ourselves to believe; the Byzantine Empire, centered in Constantinople (modern Istanbul) survived until 1453, and had been the center of Christianity from the fall of Rome until the later Crusades. When the muzzies sacked the city, took over, and closed the trade routes, it gave rise to old Chris Columbus in 1492 ... and that was the end of the Middle Ages. But the West has forgotten the Byzantines. 1000 years of history wiped off the slate; we think “History. Right. Fertile Crescent, ancient Egypt, Greece, Rome, the Dark Ages, then the Middle Ages, lost knowledge brought back from the Crusades, the Renaissance, Reformation, Age of Enlightenment, Industrial Revolution, Modern Times” and forget entirely about the major creche of Western culture. The only Dark Ages were in the forests of western and northern Europe, and it was that corner of the world where the Roman Church made inroads. And one of the best ways of making inroads is to eliminate the competition, by propaganda, war, or both.

The Cathar civilization was one of high learning, productive work, religious tolerance, and a simple lifestyle. “Catharism held that the universe was a battleground between good, which was spirit, and evil, which was matter. Human beings were believed to be spirits [angels] trapped in physical [evil, unclean] bodies. The leaders of the religion, the perfects, lived with great austerity, remaining chaste and avoiding all foods that came from sexual union [ie vegetarians].” Like the old Egyptian concept of ma’at, they had a sophisticated, all encompassing, and nearly beyond understanding way of being called paratge, which filtered down to the rest of Europe as what we think of today as chivalry. They actually had no name for themselves, calling themselves merely “Good Christians”. The word Cathar comes from the Greek katharos and means pure.They were just people trying to live a proper life as they saw it. It was other people who called them Cathars, or Albigenseans because the city of Albi was one of their centers, along with the city of Toulouse. But their beliefs were more than just antithetical to the Catholic faith; they were heretical. And thus began the Albigensian Crusade.

The Albigensian Crusade was immensely popular in northern France because it gave pious warriors an opportunity to win a Crusade indulgence without traveling far from home or serving more than 40 days. During the first season the Crusaders captured Béziers in the heart of Cathar territory and—following the instructions of the papal legate who allegedly said, “Kill them all. God will know his own,” when asked how the Crusaders should distinguish the heretics from true Christians—massacred almost the entire population of the city. With the exception of Carcassonne, which held out for a few months, much of the territory of the Albigeois surrendered to the Crusaders.

So while the English were figuring out how to write the Magna Carta and limit the power of kings, the French went on a killing spree and had nearly a commuter war that they could wrap in shrouds of holiness. And kill they did, not just defeating the Cathars but nearly eliminating all of them in a genocidal orgy of war and torture. The very first Inquisition was formed by the Dominicans to get the Cathars, and it was very effective. People were burned at the stake left and right. Hundreds of thousands of people were put to the sword, and by 1215 or so the Cathars nearly eliminated. What was once the most fertile and productive corner of Europe was laid to waste, and centuries later is still one of its poorest corners. By 1244 the fighting was all but over, but it took another century of Inquisition and repression to completely eradicate the faith.

A few remarkable castles remain in the south of France, now popular with tourists. A few of their tenets may have made their way into Protestant philosophy; it isn’t that great a theological leap from the Cathar belief of “angels in devil’s bodies” to the “man is inherently sinful” view of John Calvin. Their scriptures only exist as fragments, but what is left is markedly different than what we call the bible today, and actually closer to ancient Greek manuscripts and certain Dead Sea scrolls. It really makes me wonder what was lost, and just how far the faith we call Christianity has been bent by politics and revisionism over the centuries.

March 16th 2012 will be the 768th anniversary of the collapse of Montségur, a defensive Cathar castle atop a steep narrow mountain. When the fortress surrendered the inhabitants were given the choice of renouncing their faith or suffering the consequences. They kept their beliefs. 200 people were burned alive in one of the largest and earliest auto de fes in European history. The heavy metal band Iron Maiden made a song out of it in 2003, but the burning, like the Cathars themselves, has largely been forgotten by history.

Fascinating stuff. You could study this for a lifetime.



Oh, and the “bugger this”? Part of the Catholic propaganda against the Cathars was that they were sodomites (rather projectionist maybe?). The Cathars were believed to have come from Bulgaria, which is Bougre in French. So calling someone a Bulgarian became a polite way of saying that they favored a sexual union historically associated with homosexuality. Now give bougre to the English, who can’t pronounce anything foreign, and you get bugger. There was also a Dominican Inquisitor known as Robert le Bougre (Buggery Bob) “the hammer of heretics” who was a renounced Cathar, and like many recent converts, was rather too enthusiastic ... and has come down through history as one of the cruelest and most sadistic torturers of all time.

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Posted by Drew458   United States  on 02/23/2012 at 09:21 AM   
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