GWION’S CUP

The wise Pythagoras,

Who was an astronomer, and beyond dispute

So sapient that no man since Adam’s time

Could equal him in understanding,

He could speak from great knowledge of precious stones.

WOLFRAM VON ESCHENBACH

THE INHABITANTS OF CROTONA, a city founded by the Aqueos on the southeastern coast of Italy where Pythagoras lived and taught, assert that this wise man was Apollo in person, and that he had arrived from the land of the Hyperboreans to bring a new doctrine of salvation to mankind.¹It is said that he died a martyr. He was the son of an artisan named Mnesarchus and the virgin Pythais. Still others saw him as the son of Apollo.

Pythagoras taught that the soul was immortal but banished in the body, and that as a consequence it was obliged to transmigrate from body to body, even to those of animals, before it could achieve its definitive redivinization. Cicero believed he had learned from a good source that Pythagoras had adopted the doctrine of the immortality of the soul and its transmigration from the Druids, the philosophers of Gaul.

Druidism was more a philosophic doctrine than a religion, and comprised theology, astronomy, natural sciences, medicine, and law. What Caesar called “the discipline” of the Druids was nothing other than a dogmatic synthesis of these branches of knowledge, a synthesis that offered surprising affinities with Pythagorean philosophy and Hindu and Babylonian theogonic philosophies.

The Druids taught that Dispater, the god of death, had created the Earth and all on it.² The soul was divine in nature, consequently immortal, but forced to transmigrate body to body until the moment when purified of matter, it could enter into the other world, that of the spirit. Their supreme god was Belenus or Belis, as the Greek historian Herodianos called him. This god Belenus was none other than Apollo-Belio, the God of Light.

Dispater was the Latinized name of Pluto, prince of the underworld, sovereign of the pale souls of the dead, and keeper of all subterranean treasures.

The Druids considered the riches of this world to be of no importance. On their orders, the Gold of Tolosa and the treasure of the temple of Delphi were thrown into a Pyrenean lake.

The Path of the Pure Ones leads from Montségur to the Tabor, and from there to the caves at Ornolac. Between Montségur and the summit of the Tabor, there is a mountain lake of dark waters, boxed in by rocky slopes. The inhabitants of the town of Montségur, whose houses, like honeycombs, line the sides of the mountain that dominates the Lasset gorge, call that lake Lac des Truites (lake of trout) or Estang Mal (pond of sins).

“Don’t throw any stones in,” my peasant friends told me, “because it is the cradle of thunder! If you throw a stone, it will provoke a storm and a lightning bolt will destroy you! Evil has its home in the lake. That is the reason why there are no fish in it …”

“And why then do you call it the Lake of Trout?” I asked them. They replied:

Properly, it should be called the Lac des Druides [Lake of the Druids], because the Druids were the ones who threw the gold, silver, and precious stones in it. It happened long before our Lord and Savior was born. The people were dying en masse because of an inexplicable disease. A person who was perfectly well in the morning could be dead by the afternoon.

Never before had such a disease devastated our mountains. The all-knowing Druids advised everyone in this desperate situation to throw all their gold and silver in the lake as tribute to the powers of the underworld, the powers that were lords over sickness and death. In stone-wheeled carts, they transported their riches to the lake and threw them into the fathoms. Next, the Druids drew a magic circle around the estang. All the fish died and its green waters turned black. From that moment, the people were cured of their terrible affliction. All the gold and silver will belong to person who is capable of breaking the magic circle. But as soon as anyone touches the gold and silver, they will die of the same disease that in another time killed so many before the gold was thrown into the lake.

Ptolemy of Alexandria makes a reference to the Bebrices, who belonged to the Volcae Tectosages.³ Let’s go back into history.

At the dawn of the sixth century before Christ, under the reign of Tarquino Prisco, the part of Gaul between the Garonne, the Mediterranean, the Alps, and the ocean was referred to as “the Celtic” by Aristotle, Herodotus, and Hiparchus. It was inhabited by a people who were a mixture of immigrant Celts and native Iberians. One of these Celt Iberian tribes was the Volcae Tectosages; their territory had its capital at Tolosa (present-day Toulouse) and its principal maritime city was Narbo (Narbonne). Aproximately 163 years after the foundation of Rome, which is to say circa 590 B.C., some of the Volcae Tectosages immigrated to Hercynia Silva [the Hercynian Forest], which was nine days’ walk wide and sixty days long. It went from the foothills of the Alps to the Sudets and the Carpathians, and from the Black Forest and the Odenwald to Spessart and the Rhône. This branch of the Volcae settled in the plains of the Danube. For centuries, they remained barbarians.

By contrast, their brothers under the sun of the fertile Celtic had become accustomed to a civilized way of life. They were gradually transforming themselves into semi-Greeks. This was partly due to their commerce with Greek colonies that were established along the coastline. The Marsillians taught the Volcae how to cultivate crops, fortify cities, and plant vineyards and olives; in all, they brought them into contact with Greek civilization. This influence was such that Greek became the official language in the Celt Iberian provinces, and remained so until well into the third century A.D. The Volcae adopted Hellenistic fashions and intoned paeans in honor of their Abellio.

Greek ships brought westward the news of the immense treasures in the temple in Delphi. In their condition as semi-barbarians, the Volcae decided to steal Apollo’s gold in order to be able to offer it to Abellio.

In the year 278 B.C., on the orders of their military commander Brennus, some 200,000 warriors on foot and horseback left the Celtic to invade Greece. This provoked panic. The Greeks let the barbarians advance to the Spechio River, but they continued to occupy Thermopiles, the door to their homeland.

The Volcae tried to throw a bridge over the river, but they had to give up. Nonetheless, one night 10,000 soldiers chosen by Brennus swam across the river on their shields. The Greeks, who had received the order to defend the Spechio River, had to retreat to Thermopylies. Thermopiles, crowned with the halo of Greek patriotism, has seen two great invasions: the first, when Leonidas and his 300 Spartans lost their lives repelling the Persians in the year 480 B.C. This, the second one, took place a century later when the barbarians attacked.

Several times, Brennus attempted to cross the pass, but nothing could overcome the Greek phalanx.

The Volcae discovered a path that, passing over Mount Oeta, led from Herclea to the ruins of the city of Trachine; but the heroic resistance of a Greek detachment repulsed the invaders.

This reverse did not dampen Brennus’ confidence. He ordered 40,000 infantry and 800 cavalry to destroy Etolia, hoping that the Etolians, who were defending Thermopylae, would hurry back to protect their threatened homeland. Brennus was not mistaken. The ploy worked. Faced with the horrific news of the sacking of their town by the Volcae, the Etolians abandoned their positions.

In this way, Brennus managed to pass through Thermopylae. The Greeks fled toward the port of Lamia, where they boarded the ships of the Athenians. Without hesitating for a moment, Brennus led his army against the Parnassus.

At the moment when the Volcae assaulted Delphi, a tremendous storm broke. As Pausanias and Justino wrote, the Earth began to tremble. Gigantic blocks of rock fell from the tops of the mountains, crushing numerous besiegers. The following night Parnassus began to tremble again; the temperature fell and hailstones and snow buried numerous attackers.

The inhabitants of Delphi recovered their confidence. An oracle announced that Apollo would not leave them in the lurch, and that the storm was confirmation of this. Encouraged, they launched an audacious counterattack. From this point forward, the historical accounts differ. According to some historians, the inhabitants of Delphi inflicted a massive defeat on their attackers, forcing them to withdraw. Before retreating, however, the Volcae killed all their wounded and dying. Brennus, gravely wounded, didn’t want to be an exception and killed himself.

According to other accounts, the Celts succeeded in taking Delphi, stole its treasures, and transported them back to Tolosa, where all succumbed to a contagious illness. Their Druids discerned by the flight of birds that only throwing all the stolen gold and silver into a sacred lake could cure the population.

A hundred years later, Toulouse, still the capital of the Volcae Tectosages, had become the commercial center of Western Europe—a fact that excited the jealousy and appetite of Rome more than ever before. When Consul Cepio managed to take the city by surprise, he allowed his troops to pillage it. During this looting a large portion of the Delphi treasure was stolen. However, a multitude of good reasons exist to posit that Cepio did not reach the national sanctuary of the Celt Iberians, which until well into the Middle Ages was located in the range of Saint Bartholomew’s Peak. The Volcae Tectosages had the custom of consecrating all the gold extracted from their mines to their god Abellio. During this period, there was a famous temple of Abellio-Apollo in Tolosa. Granted that the city was sacked by Roman troops, it is possible that only the temple gold fell into the hands of the looters. Nonetheless, it is undeniable that Cepio ordered the transport of 150,000 talents to Marseille, an ally of Rome. On the way, the convoy was assaulted, and the gold never reached Marseille. The Roman authorities accused Cepio and his presumed accomplices of stealing the money. They must have had miserable deaths, and Cepio was pursued by ill fortune until the end of his days. His bad fortune became a proverb in Rome: Habet aurum tolosanum [he has the gold of Tolosa], which means a person with bad luck, for whom nothing goes as it should.

The Celts did not see the Iberians as savage, uncivilized people. They were related to the Persians and Medeans, both highly evolved, and during their seven thousand years of sedentary life, they had completely civilized their new homeland. The Celts, upon entering it for the first time, found the remnants of an extremely ancient civilization.

According to some experts, the prehistoric pictures that can be seen on the walls of the caves in the Sabarthès—above all, those at Niaux—are close to 20,000 years old. The cave drawings of groups of wandering mammoth and deer hunters are proof of a fidelity to nature that presupposes a very developed intelligence and a very fine capacity for observation. In addition, we shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that when we discuss the religion (Druidism) and the philosophy of the Celts, we find ourselves confronted with intimately intertwined religious concepts, perhaps similar to those of the original natives. This is certainly the case for the Celt Iberian theogony, because the god Belis, Latinized as Belenus-Apollo, is the Iberian god Ilhomber-Abellio. The Celtic theogony only appears dualist; the Celt Iberian certainly was. They became polytheistic only under Roman domination. There can be no doubt that they could maintain themselves for centuries in their original form in the inaccessible, wild valleys of the Pyrenees and on the mountaintops. As we already noted, the Celt Iberian Druids saw in Dispater-Pluto the Greek-Latin Zeus Chthonios: the god of death, storms, and fire and the creator of the Earthly world. He reigns in the depths of the Earth with his hammer of thunder in hand, or rides across the sky in his chariot pulled by rams, sowing desolation and death. He looks similar to Wotan and Thor but, despite his Greco-Latin name and his affinity with the aforementioned Nordic divinities, he is nothing other than the Celt Iberian variation of Ahriman (Devastator) of the Iranians, Medeans, and Parthians.

According to Iranian Mazdaist doctrine, there have been two conflicting principles since the beginning of time: one is life-fertility, and the other death-destruction.

The first is symbolized by the sun. The effusion of spiritual light, truth, and generosity was venerated in Ahura Mazda (Ormuzd), the omniscient god. The second, symbolized by the darkness of night, contains error, evil, and lies, and finds its incarnation in Ahriman, the Devastator.

Ahura Mazda created the sky and the Earth. His creation survived, but remained incomplete because of the intervention of Ahriman. Mankind has the moral obligation to fight in favor of the “good” against “evil.” In nature, it has to destroy all dangerous plants and animals—above all others the serpent, “the enemy of God”—and promote the growth and development of useful creatures.

When the souls of the dead head for the bridge of Tchinvat, the good cross it and arrive in Garodemana, where Ahura Mazda has his throne in the House of Songs. The sinners pass by him and remain in this world, the Drudjodemana (House of Lies) until the day when the savior Saosyat will show all mankind the way to Ahura Mazda.

The fight between God and his adversary will last 12,000, years but in the end Ahriman will be beaten thanks to the intervention of the savior Saosyat. This will happen on the Final Judgment Day. Ahriman will fall to his knees before Ahura Mazda to intone an eternal hymn of praise to the supreme and true God.

The savior Saosyat was born from a virgin, and will return from the dead. He will separate the good men from the bad, and will judge them. The Pythagoreans also called him Rhadamanthys, the judge of the dead.

Of course, the Final Judgment will not mean eternal condemnation for all sinners. Converted by the generosity and justice of Ahura Mazda, they will recognize and adore him as their only god. Henceforth, there will be only light, love, and celestial songs.

The undeniable beauty of the Mazdaist theogony was in truth disfigured by an accumulation of pedantic and eccentric statutes. This is why Voltaire said of the Zendavesta (the “Sacred Writing” of Mazdaism) that he couldn’t read “two pages of this brew, attributed to the horrible Zarathustra, without feeling compassion for human nature.” At any rate, Voltaire liked to exaggerate.

Not very long ago, a stone head of the Buddha, probably of Iberian origin, was discovered in a burial chamber in the south of France. Dating from the first millennium before Christ, in all probability it belonged to an Iberian or Celt Iberian Abellio, who was invariably depicted with crossed legs in the style of the Buddha.

We should point out in passing that swastikas appear as a religious symbol on all the statues and altars of Abellio that have been found in the Pyrenees. (Swastikas have also long been a Buddhist symbol.) Even today, the stone portals of old Basque farmhouses display swastikas as a way to keep evil spirits from their homes and families.

The fact that the Celt Iberian-Iranian Dispater-Ahriman exists also in Sanskrit under the name Dyaus pitar, in Greek under the name of Zeus pater, and in Latin as Jupiter, indicates the richness and intensity of the relations between the Aryan Mediterranean world and the Oriental world of Hindu civilization, its neighbor. All the priestly castes of the primitive Aryans learned Celt Iberian and Iranian dualism during the formation of the esoteric mysteries.

We must keep this in mind when, in our considerations, we speak of dualist Manichaeism and its Western variant Catharism. Were the Cathars Druids who were converted to Christianity by Manichaeist missionaries?

The Druids engaged themselves with theological, philosophical, juridical, and pedagogical problems. The superior of each local caste was called “good-father.” In the Pyrenees, as in Ireland, Druidism managed to survive for a long time against the unstoppable advance of Christianity. It was not so easy to penetrate into isolated regions where the native peoples, under the influence of their own priests, clung to their traditions.

The vates were astrologers, soothsayers, and medical doctors. For their time, they had a profound knowledge of astrology. Many marvelous tales were told of their methods for curing illnesses.

The bards were poets and cantors. They were also called privairds (in Provençal, trobère; in English, troubadour or inventor). In religious ceremonies and palace festivities, they accompanied the songs of the gods and heroes with the chrotta, a type of harp. They found copious material for their mythological epochal poems in Druidic theories of salvation.

So it is that the Druids were not solely the keepers of dualist mysteries—mysteries that we can only guess at, because they were transmitted orally from teacher to student. Like the oligarchy of princes and nobles, they constituted a closed hierarchy that included both the vates and bards.

The word “druid” has three meanings: the first is “Seeing-thinker” or tro-hid. The second meaning is “Wiseman” or magician. The third, which is the best known and probably the most correct, comes from the Greek drys or the Gallic drou, which means “oak.”

From the Septentrion to the Indus, the oak was the sacred tree, linked to all the myths and cults that were close to nature. An oak was an object of special veneration in Dodona, in the north of Greece. The will of God was interpreted from the rustling of its leaves and the trickling of the holy well that sprang from its roots.

When the Argonauts left in search of the Golden Fleece, which they would find hanging from an oak, they put a piece of wood from the sacred tree of Dodona on the bow of their ship.

The druidic oak and the medlar tree, whose fruits were gathered by the Druids during ceremonies, are referred to so frequently that we will examine them again.

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