In the beginning, this book was simply a journal, begun in Germany, continued in France’s Midi region and completed, provisionally, in Iceland. I might have ended it there, as the experience of the midnight sun had brought to light the essence of the perfect sphere within which my thoughts and acts, bound by very precise rules, had been evolving.
. The forest of Odhinn.
BINGEN ON THE RHINE4
I spent eight years of my childhood, until the start of the World War, in this little town next to the Rhine. I am returning, for the first time, after a long absence. Just for a day. The house where I used to live no longer exists. It was razed to the ground due to its dilapidated condition. Even the fields, in which I ran about and played, have disappeared. Now houses stand in their stead. Only the vines, which began life at the foot of our garden, remain unchanged. A good harvest is expected. It is autumn.
I am beginning a great journey. Around this time tomorrow, I will set off for the South: to France and then farther still, the regions that lie between the Alps and the Pyrenees. I might also go to Italy and South Tyrol. I realise that our fatherland has more to impart to us than foreign countries, which have so often born harmful intentions. Even so, I am journeying far away on account of my distant ancestors and my forefathers who were pagans and heretics. I am aware that the future is more important than the past. By the same token, I am perfectly aware what duty requires at the present time. But, if the epochs I am researching thrived then they are not obsolete. There is much talk today of pagans and heretics.
In this little town next to the Rhine, my point of departure, there once lived an abominable woman, originally from Grünberg in High Hesse. She sold her husband’s parents to the German Grand Inquisitor, Konrad von Marburg, who dispatched them to be burnt at the stake. In a few days, I will visit the monastery that was at the heart of all the inquisitions: the abbey of Notre-Dame de Prouille,near Toulouse, which also gave rise to the Western custom of praying with the aid of a rosary. The history of this Dominican monastery, founded by Saint Dominic, is linked to the destinies of the most famous heretics of the Middle Ages: the Albigensians, also known as Cathars. The word Cathar (pronounced Kàtharer) means ‘pure’ (in Greek, katharoi), but its meaning becomes corrupted in the German Ketzer,5 which lends it a more dubious sense. I am going to the south of France, because it is said that heresy is disseminated from there as far as Germany.
I have read everything I could find on the Cathars, who were at one time “as numerous as grains of sand on the beach” and had partisans in a thousand cities. In this way, I learnt that only the Cathars from the south of France, in Provence, Languedoc and Gascony were called Albigensians. In Germany they were called the Runkeler6 or the Friends of God.7 They were probably particularly influential in Lombardy. The moralistic poet Wernher, who was a priest in Augsburg around 1180, reports somewhere that “Lombardy is blazing with a passion for heresy”.
Theologians and historians, whether Catholic or Protestant, were all agreed on one point: Cathars, wherever they might be found, should be exterminated. Otherwise, the spiritual life of the West would be corrupted and led astray down ‘non-European’ paths. But they struggled, as they still do now, to fathom to which category of heretics, forsaken of God, they belong. Some like to see in them a variation of the Manichean heresy, which sprung from Persia. In support of this argument, they could advance numerous testimonies and written evidence. Others, a minority, deemed Cathar heresy a relic of the ancient doctrine to which the Goths, Vandals, Burgundians and Lombards adhered: specifically, that it was from the Visigoth kingdom situated in the south of France, ancient Gothia, that Arianism8 had shown itself to be particularly powerful. Who is right? Already, the sources of the time contradict each other, and it is difficult to make head or tail of it. It is significant, when we see, to give one example, an inquisitor simply dredging up from old books the wrongdoing already attributed to the first Christian heretics.
Amongst the ‘charges’ brought against the Cathars, we find among others: that they gave in to nocturnal orgies, climbed onto piles of crayfish; where they kissed the hind-quarters of a cat and murdered children which they then ate, after first having reduced them to powder. They also rejected procreation, so that Lucifer, according to them, the Creator of all the visible world and of the human form, could not take any more souls into his power. At the same time however, they were reproached as worshippers of Lucifer. Which seems to be founded to a greater extent on the premise that German heretics of the twelfth century would utter, “Lucifer, unto whom such great wrong has been done, greets you!” as a mark of recognition.
Tomorrow, towards the same time, I will head for the South, in the hope of clarifying this obscurity to the best of my abilities. So that I might be allowed to become a Bearer of light.9
I am shown the reproductions of two paintings by the Spanish master Berruguete depicting life-scenes and activities of Saint Dominic. The originals are exposed in the Prado of Madrid. In one of the paintings, heretics are being burnt alive; the pyre is starting to blaze. To prevent them running away, the victims are tethered to stakes. Very quickly, they are transformed into living torches. In the second reproduction, Saint Dominic is burning books. Books suspected of heresy. Parchments are already burning. One book, however, floats freely in the air. It had the good fortune to please the god of Rome and will not be burnt.
On the Rue de Seine, I buy a translation of the Lutheran Bible to read once more the book of the prophet Isaiah where he explains why Yahweh condemns Lucifer and casts him out from the high heavens: “How art thou fallen from Heaven, O star of morning! … For thou hast said in thine heart: ‘I will ascend into heaven; I will exalt my throne above the stars of God; I will sit also upon the mount of the congregation, in the sides of the north: I will ascend above the heights of the clouds, I will be like the most High’.
Yet thou shalt be brought down to Sheol, to the sides of the pit! …10
But thou art cast out of your grave like an abominable branch, and as the raiment of those that are slain, thrust through with a sword, that go down to the stones of the pit; as a carcase trodden under feet.
Thou shalt not be joined with them in burial! …
Prepare slaughter for his children for the iniquity of their fathers; that they do not rise, nor possess the land, nor fill the face of the world with cities.11
Yahweh Sabaoth hath sworn, saying: Surely as I have thought, so shall it come to pass; and as I have purposed, so shall it stand…12 For Yahweh Sabaoth hath purposed,and who should disannul it? and his hand is stretched out, and who shall turn it back?13
I, Yahweh Sabaoth, I am the Lord and there is none else, there is no god beside me ... That they may know, from the rising of the sun, and from the west, that there is none beside me. I am the Lord and there is none else. I form the light and I create darkness; I make peace, and create evil…14
Woe unto him that striveth with his Maker! Let the potsherd strive with the potsherds of the earth. Shall the clay say to him that fashioneth it, ‘What makest thou?’ … Woe unto him that saith unto his father: ‘What begettest thou?’ or to the woman: ‘What hast thou brought forth?’”15
All afternoon, I strolled along the quays of the Seine where the bouquinistes — near on five hundred dealers of second hand books who align themselves next to one another — sell old works. I was told that the days of finding treasures, an invaluable first edition or a rare work, are long since gone. In one of the vendors’ well-secured trunk (for it is in this manner that the book selections are presented), I unearthed the German mystic Jakob Böhme’s book, Aurora. I leafed through the work and read: “In truth, I am divulging a secret here; the time is already upon us when the fiancé crowns his fiancée. Guess where his crown is to be found? Next to Midnight, because the light shines in the darkness. But where does the fiancé hail from? From Midday, where the heat engenders the light, and he heads for Midnight where the light shines. But what do those from Midday do? They sleep due to the heat, but a storm is going to wake them, and, amongst them, many will die of fear”.
Jakob Böhme was a Protestant cobbler from Görlitz. A contemporary of a certain Kepler and one Galileo, he died during the Thirty Year War. The full title of his book16 is: Aurora or the sun at sunrise, that is to say the root or mother of Philosophy, of Astrology and of Theology according to their true basis, or Description of Nature, as everything appears and as everything becomes. I bought this book at a ridiculously low price. Now it is on my table. Next to the Bible.
I have come from the North. I wish to journey to the South. Scarcely has my voyage begun when I must return my gaze northwards once again. Towards Midnight. It must be there that a mountain of Assembly and a crown can be found…
Late in the evening, under a violent October rain, I leave Paris. Worn out by the big city, I am soon asleep. On waking, the blue of the Meridional sky, which I have never laid eyes upon before, greets me through the window of my compartment. The trees are resplendent with the colours of summer; the waters of a stream, straddled by a broad medieval bridge, sparkle.
I have been here ten hours now; I have visited that which all travellers must visit if they wish to maintain, with any conviction, that they have been to Toulouse. As my final destination, I visit the basilica of St. Sernin, a marvellous Roman edifice in brick, which is reminiscent of the Gothic churches of Greifswald, Stralsund, Wismar or Chorin. As I approach the basilica from the town-centre, it appears to be ablaze due to a visual effect rendered by the golden rays of the setting sun, which is hidden from view by the tall houses. One could believe there is a fire in the House of God, the stone ablaze, where it is a bloody red. Much blood flowed in Toulouse: the blood of the Goths and Albigensians…
In crossing the square opposite the portal entrance, I think of the Italian philosopher Vanini, whose tongue was cut out by Roman priests in order to stop him making public addresses. Finally, on the 19th of February 1619, he was burnt alive in Toulouse, as, deprived of speech, he had taken to writing. Inside the church, I notice a heavy and oversized umbrella propped up against a column. Nearby, leaning against a second column and hugging it with her arms outstretched behind her, a peasant girl stares transfixed with ecstasy at a cross in front of her. She is as unaware of me as she is of others as they pass her by. Nor does she hear the clinking of coins, which from time to time, fall into the collection box at the foot of the crucifix. I turn around and head back to town.
A marble plaque is embedded in the town’s enclosure. It marks the spot where, on the 25th of June 1218, during the siege of Toulouse, a stone killed the knight from the north of France, Simon de Montfort, generalissimo of the Albigensian Crusade, commissioned by the Pope and the king of France. A heroic Toulousan is said to have, with steady hand, manoeuvred the stone from the ramparts. According to what I have been told, people from Toulouse and Provence still come here even now to spit. They have not forgotten the suffering that Simon de Montfort willed upon their country.
It is on account of the Albigensians that I have come to this country. Like my ancestors, they were believed to have been in league with the Devil. In 1275, when a great number of heretics were burnt, a 56-year-old woman, Angèle de Labarthe, also passed through the temporary to the eternal flames. Under torture, she was made to confess that she had had carnal relations with the Devil and, through this union, had born a monster with a wolf’s head and a serpent’s tail. Each night, she would steal little children to nourish her monstrous offspring. All this, this heretic woman confessed… under torture. Angèle, a name that means ‘Angel’.
The climate of this little town whose walls reflect in the Ariège’s crystal waters, waters of Andorran snow thaws, is very unhealthy. At least, such is the opinion of a young Toulousan whom I met in the library; he also confided to me, among other things, that one could meet women every morning around eleven o’clock, without any difficulty, in St. Sernin’s Basilica. Even, that it was there that one could most easily come upon the femmes legères, the prostitutes. He advised me not to stay in Pamiers. I would certainly die of boredom. When I informed him that it was indeed my intention to go to Pamiers and continue on towards Foix, and from there as far as the little village of Montségur, in the Pyrenees mountains, he regarded me dumbfounded. Then, an instant later, a smile, at once polite and sympathetic, washed over his face. And he added: “You too are looking for the Albigensians’ treasure?” When I asked of him what he had meant, he replied that a legend spoke of a treasure that the Albigensians were said to have buried in Montségur Castle, during the crusade launched against them by Rome and Paris, seven hundred years ago. It should still be there. At that very moment, an engineer from Bordeaux was apparently looking for it, with the aid of dynamite, divining rods and other such means.
Pamiers is surrounded by hills whose graceful contours block out the peaks of the Pyrenees, which stand beyond it. In the narrow streets, the crowd bustles; I notice black Senegalese and Arabs in uniform. In effect, this town will not hold me up.
This is what happened in Pamiers in 1207. At the invitation of the Countess of Foix who bore the handsome name of Esclarmonde,17 priests, doctors and roman monks, hailing from the towns and abbeys of the south of France and even the Vatican, gathered here to debate Christian faith with the Albigensian heretics. Esclarmonde, a heretic herself, feared for her country, aware that the Pope in Rome and the king of France had sworn out its downfall. Blood had already flowed. On Pope Alexander III’s order, an abbot, Henri de Clairvaux, given the title of cardinal of Albano during the Lateran Council in 1179, had preached a crusade against the Albigensians and attempted the triumph of Rome’s doctrine through pillage and murder with the help of some bribed pilgrims. In 1207, Innocent III, the infamous, was sitting on Peter’s throne. He had sworn not only to destroy the head of the Albigensian dragon, but also the entire heretic country, to make way for a new generation. In Pamiers Castle, where Esclarmonde had lived since her widowhood, it was a question of determining who, the Romans or Albigensians, were the better Christians. Esclarmonde herself participated in this heated debate. But, just as she was reproaching the Romans for the cardinal of Albano’s unchristian crusade, a monk replied angrily, “Madam, your place is by the spindle! You have no place in such an assembly!”
Esclarmonde de Foix, even if hardly anyone today remembers her, was one of the greatest female figures of the Middle Ages. Cursed by the Pope and hated by the king of France, she had but one preoccupation right up to her last breath: political and religious independence for her country. She died at a ripe old age. But where, nobody knows. Perhaps in a lodge within Montségur Castle, which she had turned into an impregnable fortress. One thing is certain: she did not facilitate the tragic end that befell her country. So that she might rest in peace, the faithful must have entrusted her body to the earth, the earth that the Creator had shaped. Esclarmonde was a high-ranking heretic. Today’s Christians denounce her as neo-pagan, as she rejected the Old Testament, believing that Yahweh, god of the Jews, was Satan, gave no credence to the death of Jesus Christ on the cross, and even less that this had brought about mankind’s redemption.
Esclarmonde was received among the heretics in 1204 at Fanjeaux, which is not far from Pamiers. The heretic Church’s patriarch, the knight, Guilhabert de Castres, of the noble line of Belissen, had celebrated Haereticatio. This was how the inquisitors termed the act of heretic ordination. From this point, Esclarmonde belonged to the Cathar community.
It was impossible to become a Cathar unless one had previously been a faithful or believer (credens), and uttered, so it was said, the following oaths: “ I promise to give myself up to God and to his true Gospel, to never lie, to never blaspheme, to no longer engage in relations with a woman (a female heretic equally renounced the same for men), to not kill animals, to never eat meat, and to live on vegetables alone. And I promise never to betray my faith, no matter what form of death I am threatened with”. In this way, one became a Pure One or a Perfect18 (Perfectus). The new member of the community would then wear a plaited cord around the waist, called a vêture or robe.19 The heretic women, for their part, wore a diadem. In the language of the people of Provence, this ordination act was called Consolament (consolation). A simple believer who had not pronounced his vows could live as any other man. He had a wife and children, went to work and hunted, ate meat and drank wine. A forest or a grotto served him as a house of God. His spiritual fathers were Cathars whom he venerated and addressed as Bonshommes (Goodmen). Saint Bernard de Clairvaux reports that in the south of France, almost all knights (fere omnes milites) became Cathars.
When Esclarmonde de Foix pronounced her Cathar vows, she was already an aged widow and the mother of six adult children. Had not heretic asceticism adopted a rather particular form? I find it hard to believe that “almost all knights” lived like monks.
I am most pleased by this little village in the Pyrenees. Surrounded by imposing mountains, with an overhanging, picturesque castle and fine church, in the midst of the well-kept, verdant gardens, it is paved in every direction with narrow but sparklingly clean lanes. I cross a surprising number of large, blonde men. Might they not be of Germanic origin? The Goths and the Franks, these fraternal foes, have long since been at home here…
The town’s church reminds us of our fratricidal combats. It is dedicated to Volusian, a little-known saint, of whom I should therefore say something here. Around the year 500 AD, while the Visigoths dominated Meridional Gaul, the Roman bishops, unhappy with the domination of the Visigoths, who were Aryan and therefore heretic, enlisted the help of the king of the Franks, Choldwig.20 One of the bishops, this Volusian, opened the gates of the town of Tours to the approaching Franks. The Goths pursued the traitor relentlessly and caught up with him in the Pyrenees. There, they slaughtered him. After the Battle of Vouillé, which cost the life of the king of the Goths, Alaric II, and which opened up the way for the Franks’ conquest of the south of France, Choldwig sought out the remains of this Volusian who was then proclaimed a martyr and saint by the Frankish clergy. A monastery was erected around Volusian’s tomb; and around this monastery, on the ruins of these very ancient colonies, a town was created, which Charles, king of the Franks, transformed into a stronghold. So came about the present day town of Foix.
Its name, however, comes from the Phocaeans, the Greeks of Asia minor, who having been chased out in the sixth century BC by the Persian tyrant Harpagos, abandoned their country of Phocaea to establish themselves on the coast of Gaul. Massilia (present day Marseille), Portus Veneris (Port-Vendres) and a certain number of other French Meridional towns came into being in this manner. It is even believed that Foix was originally the Phokis or Phocaea of the western Occident.
About seven hundred years ago, the country, the town and Foix Castle were witness to terrible events. It was the time of the Albigensian Crusade. In 1209, by order of the Pope and with the blessing of the king of France, three thousand good Catholics, joining with the rabble of the regions, gathered in Lyon to unite, under the command of the abbot of Cîteaux, then Simon de Montfort, on the fertile lands between the Alps and the Pyrenees, Provence and Languedoc. There were three pretexts attached to this: Rome’s Christian dogma must be recognised as the unique credo, French authority must be imposed, and finally, that a group of people, who were accustomed to plundering and killing unbelievers during the Crusades in Palestine, should be able to continue in the same vein. The king of France promised a wealth of spoils. The Pope’s promises also had their effect: all those who took part in the Albigensian Crusade, for no less than forty days, were guaranteed a place in eternal Paradise and were absolved in advance of all sins they might commit during the war’s course. Under the Virgin Mary’s protection and accompanied by a legion of archbishops, bishops, abbots, priests and monks chanting canticles, all the while bearing arms, this army reached the Provençal frontier. In his declaration of the 1st of September 1883, Pope Leo XIII, one of Germany’s many enemies to have occupied Peter’s throne, claimed that the Albigensians were preparing to overthrow the Church by force, but that it had been saved, not by force, but by the intervention of the Blessed Virgin who had responded to the Dominican invention of the rosary. Either this Pope was badly informed or he informed badly. Rome and Paris had deliberately triggered the war by provocation.
The uncrowned king of the south of France, Count Raymond of Toulouse tried every approach with Rome in the hope of distancing his country from grief. In vain. Even though he had knelt before the cross, hardly any time passed before the first cities, the first villages and the first men began to burn.
Finally, the Crusaders laid siege to Foix. Already, its lord, one of the most loyal vassals amongst the Counts of Toulouse, had complained to the third Lateran Council, that the representative of God on earth, the Pope, was standing idly by while the people of Provence, without any distinction made concerning their religious beliefs, had their throats cut. Five hundred thousand had already succumbed to the blows of the crusading assassins. The plaintive secured only a farewell benediction, given with a simple diplomatic smile. It is impossible to describe here what the earldom of Foix must have endured in the way of ensuing atrocities, despoilment and persecution by the pilgrims and their successors, the Dominicans (read: the Inquisitors) who had been set up especially for the conversion (read: extermination) of the Albigensians.
During this Lateran Council, the Count of Foix saw himself reproached for the fact that his sister Esclarmonde was a Cathar of high rank and that she protected the heretics in an unwavering manner. It was not his fault, reasoned the count, his sister could dispose of her possessions as she thought fit and entertain her subjects as she wished. As far as her beliefs were concerned, he had less chance and even less right to influence them. Besides which, he held the deep-rooted conviction that everyone should be free to choose their beliefs, whatever they were.
But from then on, everywhere in the country, masses were chanted in Latin, the Provençal castles had been usurped by new masters, the conquered country obeyed the French crown and the language of the victor, French, was imposed. At this time then, the Cathar faith was maintained only at Montségur Castle and in the high country of Foix, protected by the Pyrenees mountains that seemed to threaten the very sky. This area was still enjoying its freedom in 1244, in other words, thirty-five years since the Crusade’s inception. After the failure of the Pamiers conference, the prudent Countess Esclarmonde, to whom Montségur belonged in cosuzerainty according to her widow’s rights, had commissioned the finest military architect of the period, Bertran de Baccalauria, to modify the castle with the aim of making it as impenetrable as was humanly possible. As a result, isolated high up in the clouds, a small number of knights loyal to their country, heretics, unshakeable in their faith, and a few brave peasants were capable of resisting an enemy, both obstinate and superior in number.
Cécile, Esclarmonde’s sister, was ‘heretical’ as well, but she belonged to the Vaudois sect, comprising disciples of the Lyon merchant Peire Valdo, which, adhering to the tenets of the Bible and protesting at the opulence and moral perversion of Rome, aspired to a return of apostolic life, in imitation of the strict life of Christ. The Vatican had also sworn to exterminate the Vaudois, who now numbered among them but a few knights or free men from Occitania, for during the Albigensian Crusade, they had been killed in their thousands and thousands. But the high-ranking heretics whom Rome hated above all others were the Cathars like Esclarmonde’s father and brother. The latter was renowned troubadour, a courtly poet, whose castle was always open to wandering minstrels. On his deathbed, he was given the heretic ‘Consolation’.21
During the journey, I am barely able to make out the high peaks of the Pyrenees. Since yesterday, it has been pouring down. Here too, autumn seems to want to put in an appearance. In the end, I took the coach. My travelling companions are peasants who are going to sell their produce at the market in Lavelanet. They soon learn I am German and that I am planning to stay in their mountains. They would like to show me the rock that supports Montségur Castle and normally dominates the landscape from a fair distance. But the clouds and rain conceal it. “You wouldn’t, in fact, be hunting for the treasure of the Albigensians, would you?” they ask me. I learn that, very recently, an article on the subject appeared in a Toulousan newspaper.
A small, clean inn housed me for the night. Around ten o’clock, tomorrow morning, I will be able to visit the village of Montferrier (which means Mount of Iron), with the innkeeper’s son, a doctor, and from there arrive at the hamlet of Montségur, where he has some calls to make.
After dinner, an octogenarian resident of Lavelanet invited me back to his house to show me his collections. For dozens of years, he had been searching in the castles and grottoes of the sector. With enthusiasm and unhidden pride, he brought out bear and lion bones found in the caverns, objects in stone, arrowheads in bone, bronze and iron, fragments of glass and many other things besides. He had also carried out some searches in Montségur Castle, but only superficial ones. His main finds were weapons, stone tiles and balls, which would be hurled down from the slopes onto assailants and would then continue rolling down into the valley. Finally, with the utmost care, he brought out from a cupboard some clay doves, which he had also discovered at Montségur. My host could not enlighten me as to their erstwhile purpose. To my great surprise, he informed me that one of his friends, now deceased, had discovered a book in the castle written in strange, foreign characters — Chinese or Arab, he was unsure as to which. It had since disappeared.
Now, recalling this evening, I am all the more eager to reach Montségur. However, this little tale was not all the old man divulged as, practically on his doorstep before taking his leave, he encouraged me to reflect upon the following:
Towards the end of the twelfth century, somewhere near Cahors, in the county of Toulouse, there lived the powerful Viscount Raymond-Jourdan. As befitting a knight of his rank, he occupied his time with courtly suiting and the composition of poetry honouring a noble lady, in other words, the deeds of a troubadour. Raymond-Jourdan’s chosen one was Adelaïde, the wife of the noble knight of Penne who knew of their love and gave it his blessing. When the terrible war against the Albigensians exploded, Raymond and the noble knight took up arms and threw themselves against the enemy. The knight of Penne fell, and soon after, there was no sign of Raymond-Jourdan. Despondent and distraught, Adelaïde awaited her troubadour. Believing him also to have died in the war, she retired from the world and, as she was a heretic, took herself to Montségur Castle. Here, she wished to live out the rest of her life as a recluse. Raymond-Jourdan, however, was still alive. Seriously wounded, he had sought refuge and treatment with some friends. After a long illness, he recovered and wished to be reunited with Adelaïde. Via secret passages, he gained Penne Castle, which had for a long time now been occupied by the enemy, its mistress long since vanished without trace. For him too, having being declared an outlaw by the enemy, there was no other alternative but to seek out Montségur Castle. There, he was reunited with Adelaïde.
On my return, some verses of Ludwig Uhland come to mind. As a schoolboy, I had had to learn them by heart. Who would have guessed that one day I would repeat them in the valleys of Provence!
In the valleys of Provence
Dawns the song of Love: 22
Child of Springtime and of Love,
Charming and ardent companion.
It is on account of the Albigensians, heretics like my ancestors, that I have journeyed to this country. But that there existed a link between the heretics and troubadours, I had no previous knowledge.
MONTSÉGUR IN THE PYRENEES
I am living in a very modest house belonging to some peasants. I must fetch water from a source a distance away, where a footpath leads to a place known as the pré du bûcher,23 field of the stake. It is there that the Dominican monks burnt two hundred and fifty heretics on an enormous pyre. The source springs from a rock, upon which stands a cast-iron cross, adorned with two crossed swords. A whip, a rod, a crown of thorns and Saint Peter’s keys hang from the arms of the cross. The formidable mountain of the castle rises up from behind the rock. At its summit, the ruins nestle in Montségur’s grandiose solitude.
The hamlet of Montségur, suspended above a vertiginous gorge, holds fewer than thirty houses. And even some of those have fallen into ruin. Those who can, settle in the towns and valleys, abandoning their belongings. Nothing grows at this altitude, except pasture grass, potatoes and a few fruits. People are particularly poor. Even the town’s curate, with whom I lodge, complains of this. He is forever poring over the church registers and rehashing his accounts. The revenues of the parish do not provide him with enough with which to live. Sometimes, he takes off for a few days and stays with his parents in the neighbouring village of Belesta. When he returns, he is laden with bread and sausages.
The schoolchildren are practically the only people who frequent the little church, which is a miserable building. The adults, a pair of wrinkly old women aside, only come for le jour des Morts, the Day of the Dead. It is the one day of the year when the curate can muster the whole community. On this day, the dead are remembered.
The engineer from Bordeaux, who is looking for the Albigensian treasure and whose acquaintance I made on the first day of my stay at Montségur, is staying near the church. He informed me that the castle is the property of the community and that he had come to an arrangement with it whereby he would share half of the treasure, should his search be crowned with success. This treasure, he was convinced, was made up of gold and silver, but he also hoped to find an unfalsified Gospel of John, which contained Jesus Christ’s true doctrine and which had belonged to the Albigensians — during the same period when the Roman Church, the falsifiers of the Gospels, wished to destroy the authentic and unique message of God-made-man.
I asked him how had he come into possession of these precise pieces of information. This, he could not answer me. He belonged to a secret society, which demanded silence from its members. He only had the right to divulge one thing: that although the Albigenians had been wiped out, almost to the last, by the inquisitors and their valets, the executioners, the true Gospel of John had been concealed in a secure spot, in the heart of the mountain which is hollow. For a long period, after it had gained possession of the castle, the Church would regularly return and carry out searches, in the hope of finding this Johannic Gospel. In vain.
Furthermore, he added that he knew the site of Esclarmonde’s tomb. A dowser had indicated the placement and even described the sarcophagus, thanks to the motions of his diving-rod: it is made out of stone and there is a golden dove on its lid. I suppress a little smile.
Never before have I had a more beautiful view from the castle mountain’s summit24 than this morning. The plain extends unhindered all the way to Carcassonne, where the Visigoth kings once held court, and as far as Toulouse. To the extreme east, I believe I can make out the sea, as a silver line between the black mountain and the Alaric mounts. At my feet, surging forth from the luxuriant verdure, is the abbey of Notre-Dame de Prouille: motherhouse of the Dominican order, birthplace of the rosary and cradle of the Inquisition. The abbey was founded by Saint Dominic who wished to survey Montségur from close-quarters, after the mother of God, appearing to him in a vision, had told him to introduce the rosary and exterminate heretics. But he himself never set foot in the Cathar castle. Before it fell into the hands of his people, Dominic had closed his eyes forever and had entered, if the Church is to be believed, into the Community of Saints. With plenty of dead on his conscience…
To the northeast of Toulouse, where a light mists floats, one can make out Albi, from which the name ‘Albigensian’ given to heretics was derived, as the town had sheltered a great many. Nearer, just at my feet, but more than a thousand metres below, I can clearly make out the little town of Mirepoix. I know that in pre-Christian times, it was known as Beli-Cartha. This meant ‘town of light’; Belis and Abellio were the names of light divinities in this country. Towards the north, maybe four hours walk, I can make out Foix Castle, superbly alluring between the high mountains. The morning sun is reflected in its windows. To the west and south, the peaks of the Pyrenees rise up, each one prouder and bolder than the last: Canigou, Carlitte, Soularac and the majestic peak of St. Bartholomew, that the peasants here call the Tabor. Could it have been, like the Tabor of Palestine, a mountain of Transfiguration? Around its summit, culminating at nearly three thousand metres, little clouds dance.
For thirty years, the pilgrims and soldiers of the Albigensian Crusade, then the Dominicans, all united with the French and launched themselves against Montségur. As we know, it was behind these solid walls that the last heretics and free knights entrenched themselves. For thirty years they held out, until some bribed shepherds, on the night of Palm Sunday 1244,25 pointed out to the assailants a way through the rockface, via which, if one did not suffer from vertigo, it was possible to reach the mountain’s summit. The west side, less sheer and only route of access to the castle, was totally protected by fortifications. But even on that side a danger menaced the besieged. The assailants had constructed a cat, a siege machine, which, day by day, foot by foot, approached nearer to the summit and had already reached the castle walls.26 But it was really the shepherds’ treason that brought about the downfall. All those who refused to acknowledge the god Yahweh, the power of Saint Peter’s keys and Rome’s dogma, were burnt alive, on Palm Sunday.27 Amongst the two hundred and five of their number was Esclarmonde de Belissen, the castle lord’s daughter, who was related to the noble Esclarmonde de Foix. The other prisoners — around four hundred — were thrown into the oubliettes of Carcassonne Castle, where most of them died miserably.
I am resting up with a shepherd whom I met on the Soularac peak. He gives me cheese and I let him drink red wine from my gourd, made from goatskin, which I was given to refresh me en route. Even though the sun is shining through a clear sky, the South wind is raging. The shepherd and I talk of Montségur and the Cathar treasure.
My shepherd truly believed that Montségur had, at one time, sheltered the Grail: while the ramparts still stood, the Pure Ones kept the holy object there. The castle was in danger. Lucifer’s cohorts were laying siege to the walls. They desired the Grail, so that they might place it on the diadem of their prince, where it had fallen to earth, when the angels were cast out from the sky. At the height of the peril, a white dove rose up out of the cloud and split the Tabor open with its beak. Esclarmonde, the Grail’s guardian, threw the sacred object deep into the mountain’s interior, which then enveloped it and in this way the Grail was saved. By the time that the demons had penetrated the castle, it was too late. Mad with rage, they burnt all the Pure Ones, not far from the castle, on the Champ des Crémats, the Field of the Burnt. All the Pure Ones were burnt, save for Esclarmonde. Once she knew that the Grail was safe, she climbed to the Tabor’s summit, where she metamorphosised into a white dove and flew off towards the mountains of Asia. Esclarmonde is not dead. Even today, she lives on in terrestrial paradise. It is for this reason, concludes my shepherd, that Esclarmonde’s tomb has never been found.
I questioned him further and asked what he thought of the divining dowser and his claims on the subject of Esclarmonde’s sarcophagus. “They are all just shirkers!” he told me.
In a kitchen with a low ceiling, I am sitting down by the fireplace with the curate’s nephew and some peasants. In the adjoining room, some young belote players are making a great deal of noise. It is dark. The village and Montségur Castle seem suspended in the clouds. (Three days later, as I am copying this out, the clouds still remain. It is autumn. It is very cold.) Everybody here is convinced that Montségur was the ‘Grail castle’. Everyone in Foix also believes this. The engineer had made fun of them, when they told him this. It was for this reason they had remained silent with me about this legend until now.
It is without doubt due to my exaltation that our conversation became more enthusiastic. And I learnt more:
The engineer would never find the treasure, as it is hidden in a grotto, lost in the thick Tabor forest. To protect it from intruders, its entrance is blocked by an enormous stone slab. And in the cavern itself, vipers keep watch. He, who wishes to enter, must present himself there on Palm Sunday, during the priest’s mass. At this time only, the stone will draw aside, and the serpents will be asleep. However, tragedy will befall he who has not left by the time the priest pronounces, “Misa est!”28 At the end of the Mass, the treasure grotto will reseal itself and he who finds himself its prisoner will reap an atrocious death, bitten by the suddenly awoken serpents.
One of those present tells of a day when his grandfather while looking after his sheep had found, in the thick of forest, just such a stone slab with a ring of iron. He had failed to lift it. So he rushed to the village to seek help. But he had never found the place again. Oh, country full of mysteries!
Winter is here! For eight days now, it has been snowing virtually continuously. When I left the North, my country, I could never have imagined myself clearing a path in the snow with a shovel, in order to reach the little inn where I now take my meals. Were it not for the farms of the south of France, I would completely forget that I am sojourning in the most Meridional part of the country. And that just a few hours walk separate me from Spain, which we wrongly represent as a great garden full of lemons and oranges. Instead of which, I find high mountains similar to the Bavarian Alps, pastures and snowy fir forests. From what I have experienced, the South appears to me in a very Nordic light. But the sky is of a blue and the sun a luminosity, the like of which I have never seen before. The night is extremely cold. And the stars seem so close; close enough to touch. I throw log after log into the hearth. I hate fireplaces, because if you are right next to it, there reigns an infernal heat, but if you distance yourself a few feet, you freeze. Seat yourself right in front and, at the same time, you shiver and sweat. I prefer to stay in the inn’s kitchen. There is an oven there, which radiates heat out in a homogenous fashion. The peasants have much the same opinion. The kitchen has become the communal room.
It is impossible to reach the castle. I have tried a few times. But the snow is too deep for me to make any progress. The abrupt incline halfway from the castle has become an insurmountable wall of ice and the storm, which whips the mountain, barely allows me to remain standing. As a result, I profit by reading the few books that I have had sent from Germany: The Parzival29of the greatest German troubadour, Wolfram von Eschenberg, The War of the Wartburg Singers and some French and German works on the Grail legend and troubadour songs.
Wolfram’s poetry sets off an intense inner joy. What man, questing for what is right, has not identified with Parzival? What mother, who must let her son go off and do what life demands of him, does not compare herself to Herzeloïde?30 What just person has not felt drawn to the light and the clarity of a Grail country?
The War of the Singers of the Wartburg, written by an unknown, moves me less profoundly. It lacks the completion, the eternal and universal dimension of Wolfram’s work. But, it contains moving passages, which express profoundly the great suffering of a religious epoch, the thirteenth century of the Christian Era. The great cry, “Let us break from Rome!”31 even though it belongs to another period, has found an echo here, that it is hard to find an equivalent for in German literature.
The object of Parzival’s nostalgic quest is the Grail, a stone of light, which would make any terrestrial light seem dull, and which would correspond to the realisation of all terrestrial desires, Paradise. The one who sees the Grail cannot die. Heracles, Alexander the Great and plenty of other heroes of Greek antiquity had already known it. And, illuminatingly, it is “a pagan and an astrologer” who caught sight of it in the light and movement of the stars and then revealed it to men. Wolfram did not say how the Grail came from the starry sky down to earth. But the stone finally stayed on earth, abandoned by a legion of beings, “who climbed back up to the stars, because their purity had called them back to their origin.” In a castle named Montsalvage,32 the Grail has, since that time, been guarded by a king and brave Templars. Young maidens are devoted to its service and only their mistress may carry it. A young hero sets off in quest of the Grail: his name is Parzival. He leaves his mother, Herzeloïde, to embrace a knight’s life. On becoming a knight of King Arthur’s Round Table, he aspires only to terrestrial happiness. In Montsalvage Castle, he finds it in approaching the Grail, and he becomes its king. His son Lohengrin, on becoming an adult, becomes the Grail’s herald. In a wherry drawn by swans, he visits with men and fights against all injustice.
The editor of my Parzival edition believed that the castle of which Wolfram speaks was to be found in the Pyrenees. The place names, like Aragon and Katelangen (Catalonia), must have suggested this hypothesis. The Pyrenees peasants are not mistaken then, when they choose to see in Montségur Castle, the castle of the Holy Grail. And the snow that Parzival, the Grail seeker, must cross on horseback, on the way to his fortress-sanctuary, could well have been Pyrenean snow. The name Montsalvage, which only Wolfram gives to the castle of the Grail, in French would give you, as many would testify, Mont sauvage.33 The French word sauvage comes from the Latin silvaticus (from silva: forest). Forests are certainly not lacking in the region of Montségur — but only in this region. It must also be noted that, in the local dialect, Mont sauvage is pronounced Moun salvatgé. Differing from Wolfram, who served as his guarantor all the same, Richard Wagner, the author and composer of Lohengrin and Parzival, called the castle Montsalvat. This means ‘Mount of Salvation’ but Montsalvat and Montsalvage could easily be interpreted, one as much as the other, as Moun ségur, the sure mountain or the mountain of security. Thus, even from this point of view, Montségur Castle, in whose environs I’m staying, could be considered the castle of the Grail, so much sought after.
As I have said, the name Montsalvage is only found in Wolfram von Eschenbach’s work. Other poets of the Early Middle Ages, many of whom spoke of the Grail, all chose very different denominations. In an Old French prose novel, the goal, towards which the Grail questing knight heads, is the paradise of Edein (Eden), the Chastiax de Joie (Joy Castle) or the Chastiax des Armes (Castle of Souls).34 In another poem, the ultimate objective is Olympia itself and that accordingly, the one who finds the Grail becomes an Olympian, like the Greek gods and heroes. In all the poems of the Early Middle Ages, the mountain and Grail castle are considered lands of light and places of Transfiguration. It is perhaps because of this that St. Bartholomew’s Peak, on whose easternmost foothills Montségur Castle lies, is called the Tabor, like the biblical mountain of Transfiguration.
In my room there hung a brightly coloured picture, representing Jesus on the Mount of Olives. A winged angel, half-visible in a cloud, was offering up in prayer a chalice, in the form of an ostensory, to the Lord. I took this off the wall and replaced it with a sheet of my finest letter-writing paper. On, it I wrote, in the finest and neatest way I know how, some verses from Wolfram:
From Provence to German country
The true news has carried to us:
When Lucifer went to Hell
With his legion, man appeared.
Reflect on what Lucifer
And his companions of war won!
They were innocent and pure…35
I willingly believe, that it was Satan’s armies and not those of Lucifer who besieged Montségur in the hope of stealing the Grail, fallen from the crown of Lucifer, bearer of light, looked after by the Pure Ones. The Pure Ones were Cathars, not these priests and adventurers who, with the cross on their chest, wished to prepare Provence for a new race: their own.
LAVELANET ONCE AGAIN
I left the little village of Montségur a few hours ago. The mule-drawn cart, to which I had entrusted my luggage on its journey down the valley, has just arrived. My worktable is set up in the little inn’s garden, next to a fig tree. Sirens cry out in the great and reputed cloth factories. It is the signal for the relief team. I would say that nearly half of the town’s population is comprised of weavers and weaving has been practised here since time immemorial.
The Cathars were also called Tisserands (Weavers)…
I am once again the guest of this octogenarian, Mr. Rives,36 as I will refer to him here. I learnt some important details from him: before the Albigensian Crusade, the poetry of the troubadours and heresy were mistaken for one another! And as he underlined to me, it was for this reason that Catharism was thought to have been a Gleisa d’amor — a Church of Love, and that the ritual by which a Lady accepted a troubadour at her side was called Consolament, like the ceremony of ordination, which turns a Credens heretic into a Perfectus. By that the Chevalier errant (Knight-errant), singing and practising Love, becomes a Chevalier parfait (Knight-perfect). From Pregaire (a preacher or seeker), he becomes a Trobador, (a finder). The state of the Chevalier errant corresponds to that of the heretic Credens and that of the Chevalier parfait to the Perfectus. The Latin denominations were originally introduced by the inquisitors who wrote only in Latin. As for the Round Table, as so many poems from the Middle Ages celebrate so marvellously, it was, due to its ‘perfect’ from, a circle, the symbol of the community of Perfecti and the ideal pursued by the Chevaliers errants. Arthur’s circle and that of the Grail should be perceived as a magnified poeticisation of the world of Love and Cathars.
I ask him if he is aware of the legend that would have it that Montségur is the ‘Grail castle’ and he becomes serious. Without hesitation, he replies in the affirmative.
It is taught in the schools and universities, Mr. Rives continues, that the troubadours were nothing but a group of sentimental and wild parasites who abandoned the charge of all their daily problems to their protectors and patrons, and only worried about winning a lady’s favour, more often than not that of a married woman, by their courtly songs and actions. Therein, we can recognise a malevolent interpretation that, immediately after the Albigensian Crusade, was lent authenticity by Rome. Reading in an objective manner the songs of the first troubadours from Provence, it can be noted that they never call their lady by her name, but they sing praises to the “Blonde Lady” and the “Lady with the beautiful face” or the “Light of the world”. This lady was nothing other than the symbolisation of their Church of Love. And all the troubadours who celebrated, for example, their “Blonde Lady of Toulouse” or their “Lady of Carcassonne”, were envisaging none other than the secret Cathar communities of Toulouse and Carcassonne. In the same way that, when the inquisitors of Rome forcibly imposed the cult of Mary and the practice of the rosary, enforcing them with the stake, the troubadours certainly composed songs about Mary, all the while knowing in their hearts that it was still to their Church of Love that they were referring.
The Domina, the mistress of the troubadours, in his opinion, was in this sense a ‘goddess’, because it was not a human being that the minstrels were glorifying, but divine wisdom. It went even further, in the beginning, in the songs of the Fideli d’Amore (The Faithful of Love) from northern Italy, directly influenced by Provence, which praised a Madonna Intelligenzia, Madam Wisdom.
In examining the biography of the troubadours, it can be noted that the Domina or the Madonna is ‘married’, the knight husband is always cited under his full name and never without mention of his castle and his fiefdom. As ancient sources can prove, this ‘husband’ should be seen as the noble protector of the Cathar community on these lands. Thus Lady Adélaïde (which corresponds to the German name Adelheid, meaning ‘noble pagan’) — whose tragic tale Mr. Rives had recounted on my previous visit — was protected by the knight of Penne, who — his full name is irrelevant — had encouraged and protected Catharism on his Albigensian grounds of Penne. He knew and approved of the ‘Love’ of his wife, Adélaïde, for her ‘suitor’, the troubadour Raymond, which meant that she had granted Consolament to Penne: on his knees, he had sworn fidelity until death and, as a symbol of that Love, she had given him a ring or a coat…
I then asked Mr. Rives how he could explain that the German word Minne37was never to be found among the Cathars and the troubadours of Provence.
He responded that I was mistaken. The sacrament of Consolament was also referred to as Manisola — the fête of the Mani consolatrice — in the Albigensian tongue. Mani corresponds to the German Minne and to the closely related Gothic term munni, that is to say what we call ‘Recollection’. Minne could never mean ‘Love’ in the common sense of the word, rather ‘thoughts of Love’. In Sanskrit, the literary language of ancient India, this word had the same sense, while also describing the legendary stone, which lit up the world and dissipated the Tenebrae, the domain of error. To my knowledge, many seekers saw in this stone — most often perceived as a stone table, which dispensed food and drink — the reflection, if not the original model, of the Grail. Finally, I asked my host, if, according to him, the courtly songs — Love songs — of Provence had belonged to Germany’s spiritual heritage. He again replied in the affirmative: the Manisola and the Consolament would have been the equivalents of the Germanic custom of ‘toasting Love’38 which, as it is celebrated in May, come from the Germanic tradition of May dances. Since the time of the Visigoths, this custom continued in ‘Gothia’.39
Before going our separate ways, Mr. Rives cited a number of books, thanks to which I shall be able to verify and follow up on his information. On shaking my hand, he adds, “Don’t forget that the troubadours saw themselves as the practitioners of a Gaja Scienza — a Gay Science40—; and that is indeed what they practised!”
My head is spinning. If everything I have learnt here is correct, I will have to throw out all that I have learnt and believed in up until now. I will have to, as the saying goes, start from scratch.
So be it!
Our German word Minne therefore does not mean ‘love’ but ‘recollection’ and ‘thoughts’! Since I am reflecting, compounding and interpreting as a result of my ancestors, I also wish to be a ‘poet of the Minne’ — a poet of Recollection. I seek. That I might become a Trobador — a finder! My ‘knowledge’, which seemed to me up until now to be closed and rigid, should be bright and in turn render people of my kind bright too in their turn. But I must not take the easy way out, no more than should those who, in the future, will read this book, when I have judged it fit to be published…
4 Celtic-Roman Bingium, between the left bank of the Rhine and the right bank of the Nahe.
6 Runcariens, Runcarii, Runcharii or Rungarii.
7 In the Balkans, where heresy originated before reaching the Pyrenees, they were called Bogomils, which also means ‘Friends of God’.
8 The first of the great heresies of the Catholic Church, bearing the name of its initiator the Christian priest Arius (probably born around 256 in Cyrenaica). The gist of the doctrine sought to give a coherent explanation to the mystery of the Trinity, notably in distancing the Father, creator of the world, from the Son-Word, progenitor of the creatures.
9 In other words, a ‘Lucifer’, which etymologically means ‘bearer of light’.
12 Isaiah, 14, 24. In the Authorised Version ‘Yahweh Sabaoth’ is replaced in English by ‘the Lord of hosts’ – as this is clearly not the case in Otto Rahn’s edition, I have accordingly altered these texts.
16 Böhme’s first work, which dates from 1612.
17 Lit. Burst of crystal.
18 Pur or Parfait, in French.
19 Before the Inquisition, the Cathars wore a long black robe. But in order to escape Christian persecutors, they abandoned this outfit and kept only the belt, symbolising their membership and their old garment, and for this they held onto the name of the original garment.
20 The Clovis of the French.
23 In fact, it is known as Pré des Brûlés, Field of the Burnt, Prat del Cremats in Occitanian
24 This is known in the community as the pog or peak.
25 Otto Rahn is thought to have made an error here. In 1244, Palm Sunday fell on the 16th March, the day when the Montségur Cathars were burnt at the stake (as he mentions later). It is more likely to have been sometime towards the end of December 1243.
26 In matter of fact the machine was hoisted, not to the west, but to the east.
27 Traditionally thought to be the 16th March 1944. As there had been no modification to the Gregorian calendar at that time, with the slight displacement required, it would have been nearer to the 21st March.
31 Los von Rom in German.
32 Montsalvatge, Munsalvatsche or Munsalvaesche.
33 Mount Savage in English.
34 Armes was Old French for ‘souls’ and not arms / weapons as it now means.
35 Aus der Provence in deutsches Land
Ward uns die rechte Mär gesant:
Da Lucifer zur Höll’ entschwand
Mit seiner Schar, der Mensch entstand.
Bedenkt, was Luziver errang
Mitsamt der Kampfgenossen sein!
Sie waren unschuldsvoll und rein …
36 In reality, the Occitanian poet and archaeologist Arthur Caussou.
40 Nietzsche speaks of ‘the Gay Science’.