Tuesday, 24 March 2015

rex mundi or spirits in the material world

The massacre of the Cathars in Europe—particularly in their bastions of southern France is not just a historical curiosity, a footnote or something merely comparable with the ongoing plight and persecution of the Yazidi under contemporary righteous bullies and deserves much more of a mention than a few lines sandwiched between the more well-known campaigns of the Children’s Crusades and the Reconquista. What little that is known for certain about the beliefs and traditions of people grouped under the name Cathar, which means pure one but may have been applied in the pejorative sense to a whole spectrum of individuals with unorthodox tenets, is scant and suspect since it was chronicled by those who sought to exterminate heresy in all its forms. A few common accusations of the inquisitors sketches at least a faint outline of the framework of their belief—the dichotomy between the material and spiritual world, which are the handiwork of distinct gods, the former faulty, evil and covetous and the later perfection, goodness and love, and born to the dual nature of mind and body, they believed that they were duty-bound (as reflected by their manner of worship) to try to reconcile this dual-nature through a series of reincarnation until finally pure, having elevated and shed that physical form.

With procreation seen as a way of perpetuating the cycles of death and re-birth, marriage was generally eschewed and couples practiced birth-control. As anyone might be reborn as anything, there was not the usual denigration of women and most of the sects practiced vegetarianism. Naturally, such beliefs were dangerous and subversive, as the community scoffed the authority of the Church, and while they believed that Jesus was a good man with admirable qualities and a prophet, the Cathars found it ridiculous to believe that a saviour would be made incarnate. Secular authority was questionable too, appealing as it did to the divine right of kings.
For decades, missionaries were sent into the Balkans, where the faith had probably originated, and into parts of southern France and Italy to try to reform the Cathars—but seeing no conversions for all their efforts and with the needed catalyst came in the form of murdered papal delegate, accompanied by Saint Dominic, and perhaps more pointedly, the tacit permission to sack Byzantium, a twenty-year long purge, called the Albigensian Crusade (named for the arch-diocese of Albi, which was in the centre of Cathar country), was launched to rid Languedoc of Cathar influences. Of course, frustrated clerics and nobles welcomed themselves to the spoils of the auto-de-fay. The story of this persecution, however, is an even greater crime than mankind generally unleashes on his own kind in that, like the destruction of Constantinople in terms of learning and culture lost to the world, the region that was home to most of the Cathars prior to the beginning of the thirteenth century, the Aude praire with the cities of Carcassonne, Narbonne, Perpignan, Nîmes, Toulouse and Avignon, was probably the chief contender for the most refined and advanced territory in all of medieval Europe—everything in between Ireland (with its monasteries, which were also irritants for the Church but remote enough to be left alone) and said Constantinople—which now toppled, exposed Europe to incursions from the Mongols and Ottomans.
Hints of this cultivation remain in the architectural tradition but little else, as the genocide was nearly total. Anecdotally at least, this indiscriminate slaughter was the source of the saying, paraphrased, “Kill ‘em all and let God sort them out.” Caedite eos. Novit enim Dominus qui sunt eius. Pockets endured in the most remote rural areas and Cathar communities were also incorporated into other sects of outliers, the new Protestants and the Moravian (Herrenhuter) of the German woodlands. On a lighter note, happily an international café chain affords us the opportunity to reflect and share our experiences with gnosticism and the Albigensian Crusade by branding the avatar of the dread and almighty Abraxas on all their merchandise.