In medieval times, the Cathars, a spiritual faith in southern France that practised hands-on healing, pacifism and the equality of women, were severely persecuted for their beliefs. Their principles, many now believe, were part of an underground river of teachings, the ‘Way of love’.
The winter sky hangs low and grey. The wind is freezing, biting through your thin clothes. You ignore your hunger and try to comfort the others, your community, here on the heights of this mountain in southern France. You’re been held here in siege, a few hundred souls, over an interminable nine months. The valley below your fortress refuge is overflowing with 10,000 soldiers and churchmen. They call you all heretics and sentence you to burn. The children and the others who do not choose to make the same shocking stand as you do, escaped over the past few weeks, making their way down the steep cliff sides. You, who know this land so well, could also have made the same choice. Even last night, a final three left, taking with them your daughter and sacred texts. Nothing remains now except your final preparation and to help the others. You offer the Consolamentum, a healing transmission of light to all those who request it, then you and the remaining 224 Cathars begin singing as the soldiers break down the door. You all sing, an act of faith and love, as you are pushed down the steep path. You sing as you walk into the barricade. You sing as the fire is lit. You sing in love. Always.
Who were the Cathars?
The ruined walls of the great stone fortress of Montsegur in southern France, loom above me as I lay on the soft grass surrounded by wildflowers and spring breezes. I gaze down the impossibly steep cliffs into the beautiful valleys of the Languedoc region. How on earth did the Cathars escape down there, I wonder? Curving ridges of mountains like the spine of a great dragon, snake across the land. Rivers shaded by green trees and medieval villages are dotted through the valleys. Cowbells tinkle. Great peace pervades me and I drop deeper into the embrace of this beautiful land.
The stories of the Cathars, or ‘Good people’, have always moved me profoundly. Catharism was a peaceful, egalitarian, spiritual movement that spread through the south of France on a wave of immense popularity through the 12th and 13th centuries. The Roman Church declared them heretics and began a crusade that amounted to genocide. The Montsegur siege in 1244, effectively ended the Cathar resistance. Villages and cities were ravaged, with tens of thousands slaughtered. Those remaining fled south to the caves at Ussat, where they continued to teach and be of healing service. Their initiation cave can still be visited. It is a remarkable place, not only for the energy and acoustics, but for a great dolmen stone altar inside the cave.
The power of Montsegur
Many ley lines, Wouivre (French for snake or dragon lines), cross here at Montsegur as well as at other mountaintop Cathar castles, like Queribus and Peyrepertuse. The area is bounded by five mountains, energetically creating a pentacle, which mirrors the cosmic trajectory of Venus. It forms a powerful chalice of the divine feminine. Local stories, statues and stained glass windows abound, telling of Black Madonnas, Mary Magdalene, of women who teach, heal and bless. There is a rich river of teachings about recognising and experiencing the love and divinity in every form of life without need for priests; from the Isis priestesses who created a temple at Rennes Les Chateau, the Druids whose island in the Aude river near Alet Les Bains still harbours amazing energies and the Cathars who carried on the same tradition, the ‘Way of Love’.
After such a history of great suffering I feared I would be overwhelmed by grief by what is held in the land, when I finally arrived at the mountain fortress of Montsegur. Instead, something extraordinary happened. As I walked across the wildflower strewn meadows, in the shadow of the hill, to the ‘burning field’, I suddenly felt joy arise within me; an uplifting, immense joy. Pain has not been held in the land here. Through their song and forgiveness of their captors, the Cathars transformed the suffering. Every group my partner and I have taken to Cathar sites feels the same response, joy and the presence of limitless Grace. Montsegur embodies peace beyond understanding, a tangible experience of beloved. I understand more of the ‘Way of love’ now. A lark sings nearby and soft light shines on an abundance of crimson roses climbing over rocks. Something within me expands and I feel radiant. Joy fills me.
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