WOLFRAM VON ESCHENBACH INFORMS US that Kyot, “the famous Master,” brought the true legend of the Grail from Provence to German soil, and that Chrétien de Troyes (the author of Perceval le gaullois ou le conte du graal) changed it. While it is true that no epic poem about the Grail by “Kyot” exists, we do know that by the end of the twelfth century a French poet from Provence named Guyot toured the most renowned courts of the north and south of France, and that among his poems was a “Bible” in which he caricatured his contemporaries. It seems possible to attribute a version of Parsifal that has never reached us to this Guyot. The first part of Wolfram’s Parzival is strongly influenced by Chrétien’s unfinished Perceval le gaullois, and is an obvious imitation of it. But starting with the ninth book, Wolfram embarks on an entirely new formulation of the tale of the Holy Grail. If this were inspired by Guyot, his contribution would have affected only the last, most important part, which refers to the Grail.
Why did Guyot’s original version never reach us?²
Many theories have been put forward, but in my mind the real reason has never been discussed. We have never fully recognized that the crusades of 1209 to 1229 against Provence and Languedoc, and above all the Inquisition in the south of France, destroyed a large portion of Provençal literature. The censorship applied by the members of the “Crusade against the Albigenses” and the Inquisition was very efficient. Every book suspected of heresy was subjected to a “trial by fire,” thrown into a bonfire. Only those books considered non-heretical were left intact and held aloft. With the use of such methods, it is easy to understand why precious little remained.
Walter Map, a cleric in the court of England’s Henry II and perhaps the author of the Grand Saint Graal (written circa 1189), relates that while there were no “heretics” in Brittany, by contrast there were many in Anjou, and that they were numerous in Burgundy and Aquitania (and consequently in Provence and Languedoc).³ Caesarius von Heisterbach explains that the “Albigensian heresy” spread with such intensity that it had converts in almost a thousand towns, and if it had not been obliterated with blood and fire, it would have taken over all of Europe.⁴ A historian belonging to the order of the Minorites cites it, together with Jews, pagans, Muslims, and German emperors, as the five great enemies of Rome.
Regarding their doctrine, the “Albigenses” (who shared only their name with Albi, a town in southern France) belonged to two different heretical sects. The best known were the Waldenses (founded by a merchant from Lyon named Peter Waldo), who spread throughout Western Europe in an incredibly short period of time. The second were the Cathars (from the Greek katharos = pure, and the origin of the German word ketzer or heretic). They could easily be called the Mahatma Gandhis of the West in the Middle Ages. Bent over their looms, they pondered whether “the spirit of the world weaves the living suit of divinity in the creaking loom of time.” This explains why they were also called the “weavers.”
Considering that this book does not pretend to describe the histories of all these sects, I will only refer to the Waldenses when they appear within the framework of my investigations. My work is centered on the study of the Cathars and their mysteries.
To this day, we know very little about the Cathars because almost all of their literary works were destroyed. We will not waste time trying to value the confessions that some Cathars made in the torture chambers of the Inquisition. Apart from a few technical works of a historical or theological character (of which only a few get close to reality), practically nothing has been written about them. Moreover, for reasons that became evident during my work, their purity and the unheard-of courage of their declarations of faith have been silenced.
Maurice Magre, the amiable prophet of Hindu wisdom to whom I would like to express my sincere thanks for his recommendations regarding his native region in southern France, dedicated a chapter in his book Magiciens et illuminés to the mystery of the Albigenses: “Le maître inconnue des Albigeois [The unknown master of the Albigenses].”⁵ His hypothesis that the Cathars were Western Buddhists has a lot of adherents, and it is defended by some very respectable historians, for example Jean Guiraud in hisCartullaire de Notre Dame de Prouille (1907). Further on, we will deal with this in greater detail. Nevertheless, as fascinating as it appears, Magre’s theory that a Tibetan wise man brought the Hindu doctrine of metempsychosis and Nirvana to the southern regions of France does not withstand even the most benevolent scrutiny.
When I decided to spend an extended period in one of the most beautiful (and at the same time savage and inhospitable) parts of the Pyrenees, it was not, as some French newspapers asserted, to prove the theories of my friend Maurice Magre.⁶ Rather I wished to place in situ a subject that had captured my imagination.
In the Bibliothèque Nationale de France, as I was reexamining and appraising the results of my investigations in the Pyrenees, an opuscule entitled Le secret des troubadours [The Secret of the Troubadours] by Joséphin Péladan fell into my hands.⁷ The author suspected that the Cathar and Templar troubadours, the legend of Montsalvat, and the ruins of the castle of Mont Ségur (the last Cathar stronghold to fall during the crusade against the Albigenses), were secretly linked.
I was lucky enough to have already discovered in Pyrenean caves the last traces of certain distinct periods, unknown until then, in the heretics’ tragic history. Corroborated by local legends, they led me to conclude that without a doubt, far more than an etymological relation existed between Montsalvat (mons salvatus) and Mont Ségur (mons securus).
Catharism was a heresy, and only theology provides us with the key to deciphering its mysticism and its secrets. Only a historian of civilizations is capable of describing the birth and decline of Occitan culture with dignity. Only an expert in literary subjects can get a grip on the epic poems of King Arthur, Parsifal, Galahad, and Titurel. The caves—which were my most important documents, and very difficult and dangerous ones at that—require a speleologist and an expert in prehistory. And only an artist can supply the “open sesame” that permits access to the mystical and mythical circle of the Grail.
I must ask the reader for his indulgence if I lack some of these requirements. My desire was nothing more than to guide the men of my time to a hitherto unknown world that I had uncovered with a rope, my miner’s lamp, and a lot of effort, and at the same time tell my contemporaries the story of the martyrdom of the Templar heretics.
I would like to conclude my prologue with the words of Franz Kampers, words that together with my lamp helped me at times to illuminate the dark labyrinths of the caves of the Grail. “The word ‘Grâl’ was obscure from the beginning. The lack of clarity of the name itself and its origin indicates precisely how sacred was a moment in history when a Majesty existed, known and understood, that was called Grâl.”⁸
OTTO RAHN, 1933
“If knightly deeds, with shield and lance,
Can win fame for one’s Earthly self
Yet also Paradise for one’s soul,
Then the chivalric life has been my one desire.”
… You are Parsifal!
Your name means: Pierce-through-the-heart!
WOLFRAM VON ESCHENBACH¹