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The Cathar Myth: Church of the Holy Grail

Les Cathares chassés de Carcassonne

The first to create the Cathar myth referred to in The Da Vinci Code was Napoléon Peyrat, a bourgeois and talented fabulist, concocted in the 1870s an account of the Cathars, which, though largely made up, still passes as truth in esoteric circles today . Another equally influential is Jules Doinel (Jules-Benoît Stanislas Doinel, a Freemason  and Spiritist (See "The Making of Spiritism" in the first part of  Da Vinci Code Matrix). He claimed that Gnosticism was the true religion behind Freemasonry. Thus it is in the second half of 19th century France that the Cathar-myth was born, to which Joseph Péladan was the first to add to this a mention of the Holy Grail in his short treatise From Parsifal to Don Quixote, the secret of the Troubadours. (The Cathar-hype conquered all of France and was of special interest for the Parisian occultists at the end of the 19th century. Doinel's contribution to the Cathar-hype at that time was the "legend of the first Gnostic Mass which was held at the parade-ground of the castle of Montsegur", thus Doinel one night in 1888 had a vision in which the "Aeon Jesus" appeared. Doinel alleged that in this ‘vision’ he was consecrated as a Patriarch by Jesus Christ himself, who was assisted by "two Bogomil Bischops”. Earlier already Napoleon Peyrat had freely admitted that when he wrote about the four Cathar perfecti excaping Montsegur with a treasure, none of this was based on historical facts, but that  what he wrote had appeared to him in dreams.

Peyrat's treasure of Montségur became a cache of ancient knowledge in a theory advanced by an influential occultist, Joséphin Péladan. His friends - Charles Baudelaire, Joris-Karl Huysmans and others - called him Sr, as befitted his self-proclaimed status as descendant of the monarchs of ancient Assyria. Péladan-Sr pointed out that Montsalvat, the holy mountain of Wagner's Parzifal and Lohengrin, had to be Montségur. This led to the myth of the Pyrenean Holy Grail, the elusive secret behind western civilisation hidden in the mountains between France and Spain. However it is thus also with Peyrat's heretics hoarding an immense treasure that we have the origin of the treasure legend of Da Vinci Code's Abbe Sauniere, plus Saunier's Priory de Sion.

After the calamity of the First World War, which led to a continent-wide interest in the paranormal, the call of the Cathars was heard beyond France. British spiritualists descended on Montségur, where occultists were busily embroidering Peyrat's narrative, among them Déodat Roché, a notary from a town near Carcassonne. Roché was a disciple of Rudolf Steiner, the founder of anthroposophy, which promised its followers direct immediate contact with the spirit world. Roché's Cathar-tainted anthroposophy was open to all influences - Hinduism, druidism, gnosis. He made much of cave scratchings near Montségur, claiming they were pentagrams traced by Cathar fugitives to transmit a message to posterity. Any cave graffito not obviously modern was immediately Catharized by Roché (who died in 1978, at the age of 101).

Around him was a group of young spiritual seekers, including, for a time, the philosopher Simone Weil. She used an anagramatic pen-name, Emile Novis, for her articles about medieval Languedoc as a moral utopia. But one of the best distorters and exporters of the legacy of Peyrat was Maurice Magre, a writer of considerable talent now almost forgotten. In the 20s and 30s, this prolific novelist and essayist (and prodigious consumer of opium) brought the energy of Montparnasse to Catharism. He wrote two Cathar novels, The Blood Of Toulouse and The Treasure Of The Albigensians. In the first he recast the fabulations of Peyrat and caricatured the enemies of the Cathars: the wife of the crusade leader, Simon de Montfort, is described as having rotting teeth, skin the colour of Sicilian lemons, and a big nose. His second, less successful novel presented the Perfect as Buddhists. In 1930 Magre a member of the Pollaires, met Otto Rahn in Paris.

Who were the Cathars, in Rahn's view?

We do not need the god of Rome, we have our own. We do not need the commandments of Moses, we carry in our hearts the legacy of our ancestors. It is Moses who is imperfect and impure... We, Westerners of nordic blood, we call ourselves Cathars just as Easterners of nordic blood are called Parsees, the Pure. Our heaven is open only to those who are not creatures of an inferior race, or bastards, or slaves. It is open to Aryans. Their name means that they are nobles and lords.

Otto Rahn became a legend  himself; having joined the SS,  he had to resign, followed by various wild stories about his death in the Pyrenees, none of which have been proven.  Christian Bernadac in Le Mystere Otto Rahn(1994) even claims that  Otto Rahn  simply changed his name and became "Rudolf Rahn" the last Nazi ambassador in Rome. One issue  Christian Bernadac's book has in common however with the  more reliable article by Joseph Mandement in La Depeche:  both agree Otto Rahn was part of a propaganda fraud (he was seen planting German rune-graffitti on the walls of some of the mountain hideouts he visited), in preparation of the invasion of France by the Nazis.

The legacy of Peyrat did not degenerate wholly into nostalgia for the Third Reich. In fact, Rahn's competition overwhelmed him. There was an obvious comparison to be made between Cathars and members of the French Resistance, fighting an invading force. This came up again and again in works published in the 50s. The Cathars - bourgeois liberals, Buddhists, gnostics, Nazis etc - had now joined the maquis. The 60s updated the lore surrounding the Cathars to suit the counter-culture. The babas-cool,  French back-to-the-land hippies, made the Pyrenees a prime target for returning to nature and making goat's cheese. When they began arriving in the late 60s, they were met by Dutch Rosicrucians, neo-gnostics from Belgium and other groups who had already moved to Cathar country summer camps. The babas-cool found the idea of the Cathars appealing: they were vegetarians; they were said to disapprove of marriage - therefore they were pro-free love; women could be Perfect - therefore the Cathars were feminists; and they partook of the troubadour love culture of Occitania. Rock groups serenaded crowds at the foot of Montségur, where the billows of smoke came now only from reefers.


The mythology of Montsegur reached a new peak during the 1980's with the publication of Holy Blood, Holy Grail by Michael Baigent, Richard Leigh, and Henry Lincoln, a best-seller that linked the reported missing treasure of Montsegur with mysterious events in the nearby village of Renne-le-Chateau.   It is the authors' intriguingly original assertion that the contents of the Cathar treasure were in fact genealogies of Jesus Christ's surviving family which were looted by the Romans in 71 AD from the Temple of Jerusalem.  

According to the authors, The Visigoths in turn captured this hoard when they sacked Rome in 410 AD and brought it with them to the Languedoc region of France where they eventually established their community.   The Visigoths, who practiced an Arian heretical Christianity, and did indeed settle in the region, eventually interbred with the local populace, infusing them with a propensity for heretical faiths and the key to Jesus Christ's ancestry, the authors suggest.  This genealogy is what the authors allege was smuggled from Montsegur in 1244 and hidden in the village of Rennes-le-Chateau until its discovery in the late 19th century by a local priest who subsequently became fabulously rich for it (by blackmailing the Vatican) and rebuilt the local church in a bizarre manner--still standing today for all to see.