Catharism – a late flowering of pagan doctrine in Europe?

The ‘Cathar’ religion reached its height of popularity and notoriety in southern France, parts of Germany and northern Italy between the 12th and 14th centuries. It was founded on a belief in two gods – God in Heaven and a God of the Earth. Essentially Christian, it held that the good Heavenly God represented the redeeming god of the New Testament, whereas the bad Earthly God was that of the Old Testament – the angry creator of the world, who Cathars identified with the evil principle – Satan! If you are familiar with my breakdown and interpretation of ancient Atlantic European (‘Atlantean’) paganism so far, you might recognise this Cathar dualism as being largely similar to what I have proposed, albeit in a Christian guise!

The movement believed that souls were those of Angels who were destined to be continually reincarnated in corrupt, evil worldly flesh until they could attain a state of religious perfection, when they might be released from the cycle and go to Heaven! Catharisms leaders were the ‘Perfects’ who had attained such a state while in the earthly form, and when the  Catholic church sought to eradicate the movement (the Albigensian Crusade from 1209-1229) observers were amazed at how willingly adherents accepted death, echoing the observations of Romans when fighting the Atlantean Celts of Gaul and Brittania 1200 years before. They rejected baptism, the sacraments, the eating of meat, and the swearing of oaths (which they might inadvertently break in another life, denying them perfection).

Catharism’s origins are usually traced by historians and commentators back to the Paulician and Bogomil dualist christian movements based on the older doctrine of Manicheanism from Eastern Europe and the Near East. This opinion demands revision, as it is based largely upon the apparent similarity with these branches of the Christian faith. Of greater interest are the similarities between the religion’s doctrines and those of pagan Atlantic Europe that I have been examining. Catharism can speculatively be proposed as a resurgent interest in certain ideas of the old Atlantic paganism which had developed Christian clothes (in fact as much as with many aspects of Roman Catholicism!). It was identified as an emerging movement in its heyday, which coincided with the medieval Renaissance of classical pagan learning in Europe, as well as upwellings in popular fads and cultures in religion and the  arts. For its inception to have been an attempt by a shadowy group of aristocratic pagans to reignite the pre-christian worldview of ancient northwest Europe, would be one possibility; after all it was supported by such networks. More reasonable though, was that it was a case of a good idea that wouldn’t die so easily. The reason to consider all of this is the popularity at the time of the telling of Europe’s old pagan stories – the Arthurian romances and tales of Parsifal, Siegfrid etc – many of which were riding the wave of popular troubadour culture that emerged from the Cathar lands in and around Occitania in southern France! Pagan conspiracies by shadowy aristocratic groups to kick out Christians were not unheard of (take the Vikings, for instance), and in the 15th and 16th centuries there was a good deal of official paranoia about such conspiracies among ordinary people which led to the infamous witchhunts. In fact, churchmen had been preoccupied with this issue for a good deal longer – right back to the time of first Christianisation. To the church, the social elites had always been unhealthily preoccupied with ‘pagan’ knowledge and traditions and complied with religion only where it suited them; Conversely, the obedient and thankfully illiterate peasantry dutifully accepted what the Church served to them, but their ‘ignorance’ meant that they continued to entertain pagan magical practices and beliefs. Catharism seemed to unite both groups in its heresy, and was therefore eventually annihilated with violence by the Church.