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Otto Rahn: A Hero's Journey

Caves of Catars

I recently visited the former South of France residence of the legendary Grail hunter Otto Rahn, only to discover that it was scheduled to be demolished, thus ending an era, and prompting this memorial.

I believe Otto Rahn (1904-1939) was a hero; the real Indiana Jones and prototype for Dan Brown’s Robert Langdon character. A tireless explorer, Rahn was a gifted researcher, committed to the quest like no one before, or since. Quite simply, he was a grail hunter extraordinaire.

Rahn was obsessed with the Cathars, and was convinced that their treasure remained hidden in the shadowy crevasses of the Pyrenees. His research led to Montségur, which he believed to be Munsalvaesche, the Mountain of Salvation of Wolfram von Eschenbach’s epic grail romance, Parzival. Not surprisingly, the entire region around Montségur soon became Rahn’s esoteric playground.

Montségur: Rahn's Munsalvaesche
Montségur: Rahn’s Munsalvaesche

Rahn’s dedication to the quest was exemplary, stimulating more interest in the Holy Grail than anyone since Thomas Malory. Many believe Rahn found what he was looking for in the region around Montségur. Rumors of his alleged discovery quickly spread, and his books were read in influential circles, prompting Heinrich Himmler to recruit the grail hunter into the Nazi Party. Ironically, Rahn had become a victim of his own success.

Otto Rahn in Catar's cave
Otto Rahn in a Cathar cave

Rahn detested the Third Reich, and for his anti Nazi ideology was sentenced to guard duty at a German concentration camp. A few years later, his body was found frozen in the snow on an Austria ski slope; the official cause of death was deemed to be a suicide.

However, before it all went horribly wrong, Rahn basked in the glory of the golden age of grail hunting, basing himself in the then affluent, Ariege Spa town of Ussat-les-Bains.

Ussat-les-Bains

In Ussat-les-Bains, Rahn acquired a 9 year lease on the Hotel-Restaurant des Marroniers. The house stood alongside the main road, a stone’s throw from the train station. This convenient location served Rahn well, as he is said to have entertained distinguished guests from afar on many an occasion.

Hotel-Restaurant des Marroniers – The Grail House
Hotel-Restaurant des Marroniers – The Grail House

Inevitably, Rahn teamed up with Antonin Gadal, a French mystic and Cathar historian who lived in nearby Tarascon. Rahn became Gadal’s protégée; drawing on his extensive knowledge of local caves and grottos to help narrow and refine his search for the grail. Without question, Gadal would have taken Rahn around the Mountain immediately across the road from Hotel-Restaurant des Marroniers, known locally as the ‘The Holy Mountain’.

The Holy Mountain

The Holy Mountain

The Holy Mountain contains two grottos believed to have been frequented by the historical Parzival as well as a three stage Cathar initiation centre.

Cathar initiation centre – first stage
Cathar initiation centre – first stage

Cathar initiation centre – second stage
Cathar initiation centre – second stage

Cathar initiation centre – third stage
Cathar initiation centre – stage three

Rahn would have been mesmerised by each, and would have gazed upon the Holy Mountain from his living room window.

Rahn’s living room view: the Holy Mountain
Rahn’s living room view: the Holy Mountain

Rahn packed up his pick axe, helmet and torch and departed the Hotel-Restaurant des Marroniers after only a year, fuelling belief that his quest had ended and that the grail was quite literally, in hand. I visited Hotel-Restaurant des Marroniers the day before it was scheduled to be demolished as part of a road improvement scheme. Much to my surprise, and disappointment, the house had been abandoned for some time and had been subject to considerable vandalism.

Rahn’s living room: vandalism
Rahn’s living room: vandalism

Rather cautiously, I climbed what’s left of the three flights of stairs, holding onto beams and rafters for support until reaching the top floor, and the base of the attic. It then occurred to me that there were men in the attic. They were ripping apart floor boards, shouting angrily, acting hurried and paranoid and speaking in alternating whispers and screams. Images of a ‘Grail Hunters Liquidation Sale – One Day Left’ raced through my mind. And as it did, I raced to the safety of the street below, smirking in the fact that Rahn would have been pleased that treasure hunters were interrogating his residence; real time karma in action, I mused.

Somewhat disturbed by the experience, I headed for my car, depressed that Hotel-Restaurant des Marroniers would soon be no more, but smug in the fact that the legend of Otto Rahn, grail hunter and hero, would live on.


Otto Rahn – a hero

 

November 28th 2006 by Andrew Gough