Table of Contents
Montségur and the Mystery of the Cathars by Jean Markale
Review by Tony Taylor
Occasionally a book really makes a difference. It can open your mind to new possibilities or focus your past thoughts into new clarity. For me, Montségur and the Mystery of the Cathars was just such a book. The Cathars were Gnostic heretics so dangerous to the Church that the Albigensian Crusade was ordered by Pope Innocent III in 1208 to eliminate them. Later, the Spanish Inquisition fairly well eliminated the last vestiges of the practice.
Montségur and the Mystery of the Cathars is divided into three sections. “The Sights” was a tough read. I almost abandoned the book. It was tedious, boring, and confusing with lots of jumping around. It felt like a translated book with much lost in the interpretation. That is not to say the read was without merit. Markale’s incredible insights shine through in many places. For example, he states, “A persecuted religion will find clandestine refute, perpetuate the memory of its martyrs, and maintain its doctrine, sometimes modifying it to new circumstances, before eventually disappearing for lack of recruitment and an actual teaching. This is what happened to druidism... and Catharism.” He also indicates that Jules Vern’s interest in “secret sciences” influenced many of his books which were reflections of Celtic Tradition. For example, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea in an initiatory voyage similar to the immrama, and Mysterious Island relates to the myth of the Isle of Avalon.
The second section, “Who were the Cathars” includes chapters on Dualism, Mazdaism, Manicheaism, as well about the Bogomils and the Cathars. Many insights into Druid beliefs are revealed. For example, the Mazdean believer worked with three domains: Mind – Body – Soul. They also believed that deity could not be enclosed in a constructed sanctuary and that the best means of honoring the sacred and establishing contact with it was to place oneself in the midst of Nature. If you are a student of comparative religion and want an understanding of several of the Gnostic heresies and their relationship to general Celtic beliefs, this section is a must.
The third section is “The Cathar Enigma.” In the chapter “The Cathars Among Us”, Markele slams “neo-druids” fairly hard. His description of some druids “with no respect for the sacred and no sense of the ridiculous, perform their grotesque ceremonies surrounded by polystyrene menhirs.” The meatiest of the chapters is “Catharism and Druidism.” Markele expresses both similarities and differences between Catharism and Druidism that are fascinating. In “The Cathers and the Norse,” differences between Cathar and Norse eschatology are identified. The Celtic lack of an eschatological mythology is discussed elsewhere in the book.
If you are looking for a scholarly read that explores the Cathars and untangles myth from fact with many Celtic and Druid references, Montségur and the Mystery of the Cathar is highly recommended.
Montségur and the Mystery of the Cathar by Jean Markale, Translated by Jon Graham. 312 pp, Inner Traditions, ISBN: 0892810904, $18.95.