Otto Rahn and the Quest for the Holy Grail
Otto Rahn (1904-1938), described as a gifted young author and historian, was one of this century's truly fascinating figures. Prior to his mysterious death, at age 35, he wrote two books about the Cathars of southern France: *Kreuzzug gegen den Gral* ("Crusade Against the Grail") and *Luzifers Hofgesinf* ("Lucifer's Court"). Legends continue to surround both his life and tragic death. While his books influenced such authors as Trevor Ravenscroft and Jean-Michel Angebert, they were never translated into English. In the 1982 best selling book *Holy Blood, Holy Grail*, Otto Rahn's name appears in a small but intriguing footnote. Otto Rahn believed that he had found the location of the Holy Grail Mountain, the Montsalvat of legend, in the Cathar mountain fortress of Montsegur in the French Pyrenees. He was, says Prof. Joscelyn Godwin, "largely responsible for the mythological complex that associated the Cathars and Montsegur with the Holy Grail and its Castle."
Norma Lorre Goodrich in her own highly acclaimed work *The Holy Grail* pays tribute to Otto Rahn's "Crusade Against the Grail" describing it as "a wonderful book, a monument to this German idealist author, who died mysteriously during a descent in the Alps."
According to his French translator, Otto Rahn believed with absolute conviction that (1) the Cathars were the last owners of the Holy Grail, and (2) the Holy Grail "perished" when they died at the hands of the "pope and the King of France" at the beginning of the thirteenth century.
The war of the Roman Catholic church against the Cathars is variously described as a war where *Roma and *Amor stood opposite each other, in which the catholic ('common') idea triumphed with flame and sword over the catharic ('pure') idea.
The medieval Cathars believed in the existence of an eternal war between the principles of Light and Darkness on whose meetings and encounters everything in the universe was based. Darkness was for them dark matter, the unperfected, the transient. They identified all clerical and secular rulers, principally the Catholic Church as the personification of the Darkness. In their mythology the sun symbolised the primordial Light from which all life emerged. Miguel Serrano coined their doctrine: *Solar Kristianity. For Otto Rahn, Montsegur was the "Lighthouse of Catharism."
Rahn's Grail Quest
Otto Rahn was born on February 18th, 1904 in Michelstadt in southern Germany. In secondary school he developed a fascination with the history of the medieval Cathars, their faith and revolt against king and pope. From 1922 to 1926 he studied jurisprudence, German philosophy and history. Rahn intended to write a dissertation on Guyot, the Provencal Troubadour on whose lost Grail poem Wolfram von Eschenbach claimed to have based his *Parzival. The medieval Germanic tale of *Parzival, revived in the 1800s by Wagnar's popular mystical operas, fired Otto Rahn's modern quest for the Holy Grail. He soon pieced together a series of clues gleaned from a study of the history of the Cathars and the poem of Wolfram von Eschenbach, a Knight Templar of the thirteenth century.
Driven by his deep interest in the Cathars and Grail legends, from 1928 to 1932 Rahn researched and travelled widely in France, Spain, Italy and Switzerland.
Early in the summer of 1929 Otto Rahn made his first appearance in the Languedoc region of southern France. He quickly settled in the village of Lavelanet and over the next three months systematically explored the ruined Cathar temple-fortress on Montsegur as well as the surrounding mountain grottoes.
It was in Languedoc that the city of Carcassonne, the holy mountain of the Cathars (Montsegur) and the church of Rennes-le-Chateau were located. All of these places were steeped in Cathar lore and it was here that all legends of the Holy Grail seemed to converge.
At Montsegur, writes Nigel Pennick, "in 1244 the heretical Cathars had made their last heroic stand against a Catholic crusade which finally triumphed in their destruction. Here, tradition affirms that on the night before the final assault, three Cathars carrying the sacred relics of the faith slipped unnoticed over the wall. They carried away the magical regalia of the Merovingian King Dagobert II and a cup reputed to be the Holy Grail.
"Possession of the Grail has always been the dream of chivalric orders. The Knights of King Arthur's Round Table, the Templars, even the Teutonic Knights have sought the mystic vessel. But Otto Rahn believed that he could triumph where centuries of questing had failed. He had studied the sacred geometry of Montsegur, its sunrise orientations and its relationship with other sacred places, and had discovered secret underground passages, where he felt the treasure must be concealed" (*Hitler's Secret Sciences*).
Otto Rahn's knowledge of 'sacred geography', Nigel Pennick suggests, can be traced back to the Druids and Templars. The Cathars were also said to be familiar with this tradition.
In many meetings with the local people (he is said to have spoken the local Provencal language fluently) Otto Rahn gathered everything concerning the Cathars and the Grail.
These formed the basis of Rahn's thrilling accounts of his exploration of the caverns of Sabarthes south of Montsegur and especially the Lombrives caverns called "the Cathedral" by the local people. He described this magnificant cavern as follows:
"In time out of mind, in an epoch whose remoteness has been barely touched by modern historical science, it was used as a temple consecrated to the Iberian God Illhomber, God of the Sun. Between two monoliths one which had crumbled, the steep path leads into the giant vestibule of the cathedral of Lombrives. Between the stalagmites of white limestone, between walls of a deep brown colour and the brilliant rock crystal, the path leads down into the bowels of the mountain. A hall 260 feet in height served as a cathedral for the heretics."
Rahn tells how, "Deeply stirred I walked through the crystal halls and marble crypts. My hands put aside the bones of fallen pure ones and knights..."
An old Languedoc shepard's tale recorded by Otto Rahn and incorporated into his first book displays profound mystical symbolism:
"During the time when the walls of Montsegur were still standing, the Cathars kept the Holy Grail there. Montsegur was in danger. The armies of Lucifer had besieged it. They wanted the Grail, to restore it to their Prince's diadem from which it had fallen during the fall of his angels. Then, at the most critical moment, there came down from heaven a white dove, which, with its beak, split Tabor [Montsegur] in two. Esclarmonde, who was keeper of the Grail, threw the sacred jewel into the depths of the mountain. The mountain closed up again, and in this manner was the Grail saved. When the devils entered the fortress, they were too late. Enraged, they put to death by fire all of the Pures, not far from the rock on which the castle stands in the Field of the Stake. All of the Pures perished on the pyre except Esclarmonde de Foix. When she knew the Grail to be safe, she climbed to the summit of Mount Tabor, changed into a white dove and flew off toward the mountains of Asia."
Both "Crusade Against the Grail" and "Lucifer's Court" are full of remarkable insights and revelations of important historical links.
Deep within the grottoes of Sabarthez Rahn found chambers in which the walls were covered with symbols characteristic of the Knights Templar, side by side with emblems of the Cathars. This finding confirmed the notion, fostered by mystical historians, that the Knights Templar and the Cathars were at one time closely associated. One intriguing image which had been carved into the stone wall of a grotto was clearly a drawing of a lance. This depiction immediately suggests the bleeding lance which appears over and over again in the Arthurian legends.
The legend of the Grail, explains Miguel Serrano, "reappears forcibly Christianised in the Middle Ages. The Templars disseminated it. It is centred on the legend of the court of King Arthur (who is the King of the Grail and is also called Amfortas). It is interesting to point out that Arthur is Arthos, Bear, that is to say Arctic. By which the exact geographical position of the lost continent of the first Solar Age is pinpointed: Hyperborea, seat of the Grail. In the Middle Ages, it became a cup, when the myth was Christianised, the one from which Christ was said to have drunk at the Last Supper, or else the one in which Joseph of Arimathea received the blood of Christ as it spurted from his side as he hung on the cross."
The Cathars who guarded the Holy Grail in their castle at Montsegur, Otto Rahn believed, could be traced back to Druids who converted to Manichaeism. The Druids in Britain were forerunners of the Celtic Christian Church. He saw in the culture of the mediaeval Cathar stronghold of Languedoc strong resemblances to the Druids. Their priests akin to the Cathar Parfaits. The Cathar secret wisdom being preserved by the later Troubadours, the travelling poets and singers of the medieval courts of France.
Most Troubadours, according to Rahn, were secret Cathars. Their apparent yearning and longing songs only seldom dedicated to a special woman, their feminine symbolism referred to the Cathar community, the Sophia, the Wisdom of the Gnostics. Julius Evola explains in *Le Mystere du Graal*: "To make this doctrine inaccessible to the profane, it is hidden in an *erotic symbolism, similar to the Grail cycle where it is represented by a *heroic symbolism."
When Otto Rahn first studied Wolfram von Eschenbach's *Parzival he noticed remarkable similarities with names and places in southern France, and he suspected that *Parzival's Grail castle *Munsalvaesche (Richard Wagnar called it Montsalvat) was non-other than the Cathar solar-fortress Montsegur. In Eschenbach's work he discerned the influence of Cathar poetry. The probably incorrect assumption that the persecuted Cathars had retreated under the earth and celebrated their mysteries in subterranean churches was adopted by Otto Rahn from the researcher of Cathar enthusiast Antonin Gabal. Gabal gave Rahn the freedom of his library and private museum. In letters Rahn called him his "Trevrizent" (the uncle of Parsifal in Eschenbach's work) and developed the propositions laid out in Gabal's *Au Chemin du Saint Graal*.
The tale that Otto Rahn actually found the Grail and that it was kept until the end of World War II in the Wewelsburg, the SS castle near Paderborn, can easily be disproved. There was a Grail in Wewelsburg but it was just a huge rock crystal. Rene Nelli, an important scholar of Catharism, maintains that the Grail is not mentioned in any of the still existing Cathar texts, while Julius Evola did not think much of the Cathar Grail thesis.
Return to Germany
After 1933 Rahn lived in Berlin, devoting himself to further studies of the Grail. His quest for a secret primordial religious tradition - the Religion of Light - came to the attention of Nazi SS leader Heinrich Himmler who sought Rahn's collaboration in SS-sponsored research. After first joining the SS heritage bureau, the *Ahnenerbe*, as a civilian, his talents were soon recognised by his superiors. Pursuaded to formally join the SS in 1936, within a matter of weeks Otto Rahn was promoted to SS-Unterscharfuhrer.
By September 1935 Rahn was writing excitedly to the chief of the *Ahnenerbe about the places he visited in his hunt for Grail traditions in Germany, requesting complete confidence in the matter with the exception of Himmler.
Otto Rahn is even rumored to have founded a neo-Catharist circle within the SS. In the summer of 1936 he undertook, by order of the SS, an expedition to Iceland. Highlights of this journey formed part of some chapters in his second and final book "Lucifer's Courtiers", published in 1937. Rahn makes no mention of the SS and the ship that sailed for Iceland flew a flag with a blue swastika on white background (in sharp contrast to the official standard of the Third Reich).
We know that Otto Rahn fell into disgrace with the Nazi hierarchy in 1937 and for disciplinary reasons was assigned a tour of duty at the SS run Dachau concentration camp. In the winter of 1938/39 he wrote to the SS Reichsfuhrer requesting immediate dismissal from the SS. A few months later he was dead.
Rumours abound concerning Otto Rahn's departure from the Nazi SS. Some claim that he was a homosexual or of Jewish descent, but evidence is lacking. In a conversation Rahn claimed that he had been betrayed and that his life was in danger. In a letter to a friend he openly expressed his concern about the Third Reich:
"I have much sorrow in my country. Fourteen days ago I was in Munich. Two days later I preferred to go into my mountains. Impossible for a tolerant, liberal man like me to live in the nation that my native country has become."
Col. Howard Buechner, the author of the *Emerald Cup, says that Rahn "let it be known that he opposed the war for which Germany was obviously preparing in 1938. In place of war, he believed that Germany and then Europe, should be transformed into a community of 'Pure Ones' or Cathars. In other words, Rahn's long association with the history of the Cathars and their unjust persecution by the church and the throne of France, had led to his conversion to the Cathar faith. He was also proposing a 'New Order' in which the states of Europe, and perhaps all other nations, would adopt the Cathar beliefs in the interest of world peace."
On 13 March 1939 - almost on the anniversary of the fall of Montsegur - Otto Rahn died in the snow on the Tyrolean mountains. "In the manner of the Cathar heretics," says Nigel Pennick, "Rahn voluntarily left a world he saw disintegrating." A few years earlier Otto Rahn had written in "Crusade Against the Grail":
"Their doctrine allowed suicide but demanded that one did not put an end to his life because of disgust, fear or pain, but in a perfect dissolution from matter. This kind of Endura was allowed when it took place in a moment of mystical sight of divine beauty and kindness...It is only one step from fasting to suicide. To fast requires courage but the final act of definitive ascesis requires heroism. The consequence is not as cruel as it may look."
The story of the enigmatic life and work of Otto Rahn, symbolising as it does a Great Mystery, will always fascinate both students of the Holy Grail and seekers of the Cathar tradition. This Mystery can be discerned in the following quote from Miguel Serrano's *Nos: Book of the Resurrection*:
"When we talk about the religion of love of the troubadours, of the initiated knights of the Grail, of the true Rosicrucians, we must try to discover what lies behind their language. In those days, love did not mean the same thing as it does in our day. The word *Amor (Love) was a cipher, it was a code word. Amor spelt backwards is Roma. That is, the word indicated, in the way in which it was written, the opposite to Roma, to all that Rome represented. Also *Amor broke down into 'a' and 'mor', meaning *Without-Death. That is, to become immortal, eternal, thanks to the way of initiation of A-Mor. A way of initiation totally opposed to the way of Rome. An esoteric, solar Kristianity. The Gnostic Kristianity of Meister Eckhart. And mine. Because I have tried to teach western man to resurrect Kristos in his soul. Because Kristos is the Self for western man.
"This is why *Roma destroyed *Amor, the Cathars, the Templars, the Lords of the Grail, the *Minnesanger, everything which may have originated in the 'Hyperborean Blood Memory' and which may have had a polar, solar origin.
"The love talked and written about so much in novels, poetry and magazines, the love of one's neighbour, the universal love of the churches, love of humanity, has nothing whatsoever to do with 'loveless love' (A-Mor, Without-Death), which is a harsh discipline, as cold as ice, as cutting as a sword, and which aspires to overcome the human condition in order to reach the Kingdom of the Immortals, Ultima Thule."
This remains a fitting tribute to Otto Rahn.
by Alexander Dugin
From New Dawn No. 43 (July-August 1997)
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