The empire of love is open,
The fable starts to unfold.
THE INVISIBLE Amor-Eros extended his protecting hand over the world of the Occitan Minne. He was no longer the winged boy depicted in antiquity; now he appeared as an adult male. Troubadour Peire Vidal believed that he met him in flesh and blood as he headed one day from Castlenaudary to Muret and the court of Raimundo V of Toulouse:
It was in the springtime, when the bushes begin to take on color, flowers bloom on the fields, and the birds trill jubilantly. An elegant and strong knight approached on horseback. Blond hair fell on his bronzed face, and his clear eyes glistened. The smile of his mouth revealed mother-of-pearl teeth. The shoe on one of his feet was adorned with sapphires and emeralds; the other foot was bare.
The knight’s cape was covered with violets and roses, and he wore a crown of marigolds on his head. Half of his horse was as black as night, and the other half, white like ivory. The forepart of the horse was jasper, and the stirrups were of agate. On the harness shone two diamonds, as beautiful and precious as any possessed by the Persian king Darius. On the bridle, a stone shone as splendorous as the sun… .
Alongside the knight rode a lady a thousand times more beautiful than he. Her skin was white as snow. Her pink cheeks were like rosebuds. Her hair shone like gold.
Behind the lady rode a servant and a lady-in-waiting. The servant carried an ivory bow and three arrows on a belt: one was gold, another steel, and the third lead. Regarding the lady-in-waiting, I only saw that her hair was very long and fell to the saddle of the horse. The knight and the lady sang a new song that the birds repeated.
“Let us stop at a well in a field surrounded by forests,” said the lady. “Because I cannot stand castles.”
“My lady,” I answered her, “there is a very lovely spot under a laurel tree, and a spring is there among the stones.”
“Peire Vidal,” said the knight, “you should know that I am Amor, and my Lady is called Grace. Her lady-in-waiting and my servant are Modesty and Loyalty.”²
Wolfram prefaces Parsifal with a long prologue about Loyalty and Infidelity. He doubts that God would ever endanger the salvation of the soul; only the spirit of chivalry, that “prize of the intrepid man,” could provide this coveted salvation. Nonetheless, whoever is dominated by disloyalty is punished with Hell.
If vacillation dwell with the heart,
The soul will rue it.
Shame and honor clash,
Where the courage of a steadfast man
Is motley like the magpie
But such a man may yet make merry,
For Heaven and Hell have equal part in him.
Infidelity’s friend is black all over, and takes on a murky hue,
While the man of loyal temper holds to the white.
I shall set these marks as a challenge to women:
With God as my witness I bid good women to observe restraint
The lock guarding all good ways is modesty—
I need not wish them any better fortune.
If I should describe for you here completely
Man and woman, as I could,
It would seem to you long and boring³
Wolfram did not need to explain the roles of man and woman to the Minnesingers of his time. We now know that the development of the world of the Minne in Germany closely followed its evolution in Occitania. According to the Mosaic dogma of Genesis, Yahweh first created an androgynous Adam, who was both the father and mother of Eve; this doctrine was never well received in Occitania. According to Occitan myth, Adam and Eve were two fallen angels, condemned to wander from star to star with Lucifer before their Earthly exile. Eve enjoys the same rights as Adam in Heaven as on Earth. She is not the “fe-male” of Adam; rather, she is his domina, because, like their ancestors the Iberians and Celts, the Occitanians saw in womankind something prophetic and divine. The Jewish Eve is placed beneath man: she must first bear her father’s name and later her husband’s, and can never have her own. The most ancient families of Languedoc, especially in the Pyrenees where the Celt Iberian tradition had achieved its highest degree of purity, always bore the names of their female ancestors. It was said, the Sons of Belissena de Imperia, de Oliveiria. These ladies’ tools were not the spindle and the cradle; they preferred the pen and the scepter.
The troubadours were poets, and all poets suffer from unsatisfied nostalgia. Those who couldn’t find satisfaction in the Minne knew the road that led them to the Round Table of nostalgia where the “Consoler”—whom Christ had first announced through Saint John the Evangelist—could be found.
The troubadours were poets in a country where the sun was more radiant than ours, the stars closer to Earth, and it was easy to pray.
These errant poets were no longer crazy rhymers, but “Pure Ones” or Cathars who, as we will see a little further on, transported the leys d’amors to the world of the spirit. In place of their ladies’ favor, they sought freedom in God. In place of the Minne, the Consoler.
To pray and compose verses were the same thing. And so it was in Occitania, whose inhabitants very well appreciated the gifts of poetry and prophecy, qualities identified today as intuition and inspiration. The prayers of the Cathars—the errant troubadours—were nothing other than stanzas of the hymn to the luminous divinity that they received day to day in the symphony of tones and colors of their homeland. They were truly poets.
And like all poets, they felt themselves strangers on Earth; they aspired to a better Hereafter, where man, according to their mythology, had been in his time an angel, and where his real home could be found: the “House of Songs” or the Kingdom of the Light of Ahura Mazda, as he was called in remote times by the Babylonians.⁴ The Cathars were so convinced of a better Hereafter that they radically renounced this life, considering it only a preparatory period for the true life that they knew existed beyond the stars.
The mountain peaks that rise to the heavens and the gorges that are lost in the eternal night of the Earth have always delighted poets and priests. On the summits, poetry and prayer blossom instinctively. Mankind feels closer to God there. In all great myths, the divinization of man is achieved in the mountains: Hercules became Olympic on Mount Oeta; Christ was transformed on Mount Tabor. The troubadours knew all this perfectly well, because in their time, the bridge that united the Orient with the West over the Mediterranean had not yet fallen: its first arch extended from the gigantic mountains of Asia to the sacred Paradise of the Greeks, and the second one from there to the Pyrenees, where Heliades had placed the Garden of the Hesperides: the luminous land of souls.
Mankind came from the Orient, just as our great myths come from the Orient, the last of which were the “Good Tidings.” The sun rises in the East.
When it disappears behind the clouds, the desire to follow it is awoken in more than one—but how? Man must be a fallen god who feels an immense desire to return to the sky. Perhaps a poet’s nostalgia is nothing more than the yearning for a lost Paradise, where man is the image of divinity, not its caricature.
When the sun sets in Provence and Languedoc, it arches in golden cirri over the intrepid and noble Pyrenees, which rise into the blue of the sky. When night falls over the Provençal plains, they continue blessed, transformed by the rays of the setting sun for a long time. Saint Bartholomew’s Peak, one of the most beautiful summits of the Pyrenees, is still called “Mount of Transfiguration” or “Tabor” by the people of Provence. The Pyrenean Tabor is located between the valley of the elm trees known as the Olmès and the Sabarthès—the valley of Sabart—where the mother of God promised Charlemagne victory over the Saracens. A lonely and rocky pathway leads from the idyllic Olmès to the cliffs and caves of the Sabarthès: the Path of the Cathars, the pathway of the Pure Ones.⁵
In the heart of the desert solitude of the Tabor rises a rock whose ruggedness defies description; its summit is sometimes enveloped by golden clouds illuminated by the sun, and its walls fall precipitously to the fortifications of a castle called Montségur. One day as I was climbing the Path of the Cathars to the summit of the Tabor, I met an old shepherd who told the following legend:
When the walls of Montségur were still standing, the Cathars, the Pure Ones, kept the Holy Grail inside them. Montségur was in danger; the armies of Lucifer were before its walls. They wanted to take the Grail to insert it again in the diadem of their Prince, from where it had broken off and fallen to Earth during the fall of the angels. At this most critical moment, a white dove came from the sky and split the Tabor in two. Esclarmonde, the keeper of the Grail, threw the precious relic into the mountain, where it was hidden. So they saved the Grail. When the devils entered the castle, it was too late. Furious, they burned all the Pure Ones, not far from the rocky castle on the camp des cremats.
A troop left it on Earth and then rose high above the stars,
If their purity drew them back again
WOLFRAM VON ESCHENBACH⁶
The pathway of the Pure Ones starts out from Olmès, borders Montségur, and passes over the summit of the Tabor. Finally, it reaches the caves of Sabarthès, the last home of the Cathars. Once there, so far from the world, they meditated on the supreme Minne in a trance-like state.
Yes, if the true Amor calls,
Love like today
The supreme Minne requires it.
WOLFRAM VON ESCHENBACH
The Cathars left their hermetic life in the bowels of the mountains only to bring the “last consolation” to the dying, or to recite ancient myths to noble ladies and gallant knights gathered in the great halls of castles. With their long black garments and Persian-style round caps, they looked like Brahmans or acolytes of Zarathustra. After they finished, they would pull out the Gospel According to Saint John from a roll of leather that they carried on their chests; then they would read aloud:
In the beginning there was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. God is spirit, and those who adore him must adore him in the Spirit. It may be that I die, because if I do not die, the Consoler will not come to you. But when the Consoler that I shall send to you comes… .
Dieus vos benesiga! Shall God bless you!
The Pure Ones would return to their caves, the “Cathedral,” the “Gleysos” (churches), the “Hermit’s Cave,” and the “Cave of Fontanet.”⁷
The beast made for Fontane La Salväsche,
This was the abode of the austere Trevrizent… .
From Trevrizent, Parsifal is about to learn matters concerning the Grail
That has been hidden
His host led Parsifal into a grotto… .
WOLFRAM VON ESCHENBACH
The caves of the Sabarthès are so numerous that they could house an entire city of cave dwellers.⁸ Next to these large caves, which penetrate leagues and leagues into the mountains, are innumerable grottoes. In the walls of these grottoes, niches still clearly show where carpentry was installed, and how authentic hermitages existed. But because of fires and the passage of centuries, only the burned limestone walls have survived, corroded by time, together with remains of tarred or burned wood, drawings, and inscriptions:
A tree of the word or of life can be found, as they say, in the middle of Paradise, and the Hellenes already knew this. The people of the Hesperides guarded its golden apples.
A boat with a sun on the sail.
A fish, symbol of divine luminosity.
A dove, the emblem of God the Spirit.
Monograms of Christ, in Greek or Latin characters.
The word “Gethsemane”: the garden where Christ was handed over to the authorities.
The initials “GTS,” artistically entwined, probably an abbreviation of the word “Gethsemane.”
Fragments of a phrase, of which only “Sant Gleysa” can be read.
Two of these grottoes have kept their names: the Grotto of Jesus Christ and the Grotto of the Dead Man. Before the entrance to the first one, traces of a small garden and a small terrace remain where the hermit who lived there must have meditated:
Alas wicked world, why do you do so?
You give us more pain, and bitter sorrow,
Than ever joy!
WOLFRAM VON ESCHENBACH⁹
The Cathars did not feel that Earth was their homeland. They compared it to a prison that an architect, lacking experience, had constructed from low-quality materials. They were conscious of the fact that their real home could only be somewhere beyond the stars. “Up there” had been built by the Spirit, Amor: neither hatred nor war, but life; neither sickness nor death, rather—God. In the beginning was the Spirit. In it was the Word, and they were God.
Just as within us two worlds may fight each other—the spirit, which is fat, and the flesh, which is thin—there are two principles of action in the universe: the Yes and the No, the Good and the Bad. The Good is God; the Bad is Lucifer—the eternally negative spirit.
The Word created a world that extends beyond the arch of golden clouds, past the stars. Our world is the work of Lucifer. The Word is creative; Lucifer is only a plagiarist, an untalented modeler.
We humans—the fallen angels—must adapt ourselves to these two principles that have determined who we are. The spiritual man, the soul, is the work of the divine Word. Material man, the body, is Lucifer’s creation. Our soul is divine, eternal. Our body is non-divine, perishable. The soul, created by God, is Spirit. Banished to the Earth for having rebelled against the Spirit, it has to remain in the body until it has recognized the vanity of Earthly life and wishes to return to the Spirit. A person should begin to redivinize himself now on Earth in order to return. In this case, souls, as they wander from star to star, must dematerialize themselves until the doors of their real home open for them.
The stars perhaps enthrone the exalted soul
As here vice rules, there virtue has control.
In his Universal Natural History and Theory of Heaven (1755), Immanuel Kant wrote:
Who is so bold to dare an answer to the question whether sin exercises its sway also in the other spheres of the cosmic structure or whether virtue alone has established her control there? Does not a certain middle position between wisdom and irrationality belong to the unfortunate capacity to sin? Who knows whether the inhabitants of those distant celestial bodies are not too refined and too wise to allow themselves to fall into the foolishness inherent in sin; whereas the others who live in the lower planets adhere too firmly to material stuff and are provided with far too little spiritual capacity to have to drag their responsibility for their actions before the judgment seat of justice?
The Cathars considered Earth to be Hell. To have to live in the midst of sin was a more atrocious punishment than having their flesh torn with pincers, pricked and tortured by devils with horns and tails in an icy lake or a burning oven. “Earth is Hell,” they said… .
For them, death was nothing more than changing dirty clothes, a little like butterflies abandoning the chrysalis to lose themselves in the radiant springtime. The Greeks had called the soul Psiche, which literally means “butterfly.”
What happens with souls who “have not seriously forced themselves,” who have found their home in the material? In his condition as father, God cannot remain deaf to the pleas of his children. Their souls can stay down here, emigrating from body to body as long as they like, until the day when they too yearn for the stars.¹⁰
The largest cave in the Sabarthès is at Lombrives. In very remote times, during a period whose night had hardly been illuminated by the science of history, it was a temple of Ilhomber, the sun god of the Iberians. The simple shepherds and pastors of Ornolac, a nearby town, call it “the Cathedral.”
Ornolac is in the lateral valley where the Path of the Cathars snakes its way up to the summit of the Tabor. A marvelous small Romanesque church dominates the town. On the square in front, a Mother of God, sculpted by peasant hands, holds the baby Jesus in her arms and a tassel of wheat in one hand—a sign that her protecting cloak extends over the fields and vineyards.
The steep pathway leads past menhirs [prehistoric stone monoliths]—one has fallen over—and then you arrive at the gigantic vestibule of the Cathedral of Lombrives. This is the entrance to an amazing subterranean kingdom, where history and fairy tale have found refuge together from a world that has become dull and ordinary. The path leads into the depths of the mountain between stalactites of white, jasmine-like chalk and walls of dark brown marble, studded with brilliant rock crystal.
A cavern 107 meters [350 feet] high became an authentic cathedral for the heretics. The Earth—another creation of Lucifer—furnished the Cathars with their most precious home, where they could ponder the beauty created by the great artist beyond the stars. So they would not be forgotten, a heretical hand drew the sun and the silvered disc of the moon—the only revelations of God who is love and light—on the marbled wall of the cave. As the water falls to the ground drop by drop from an arched ceiling lost in eternal night, it never changes its rhythm. Its stalactites still form church benches for all those who wish to contemplate this wonderland for a moment.
When there is a storm in the Ariège valley, the whole mountain resonates with the din of thundering waters that widen a passage through the limestone fissures in the rock. When Lucifer, the god of tempests and death, hits the trembling world, his hammer flashing sparks, the entire mountain shakes to its foundations.
A stone stairway leads from the cathedral of the heretics to another part of the cave at Lombrives. After a hike of several hours, the foot stops seized by terror before an abyss hundreds of meters deep.
There, a gigantic stone can be found, upon which, drop by drop, the water has sculpted a marvelous stalagmite in the form of a hammer, which the peasants of Ornolac call the Tomb of Hercules.