A medieval Christian gnostic heretical sect that flourished
in southern France, especially in the Provençal region. One
branch of the sect, originating in the region of Albi, gave rise
to the name of followers as Albigenses.
As early as the 1100s, a form of dualism that held that Satan
was, though a creature of God, an immensely powerful being,
appeared in southern France and in the Rhine Valley. Its immediate
source may have been beliefs brought back from the
Holy Land by crusaders. Within a decade, a more extreme dualism
that argued for the existence of Satan prior to the creation
of the universe appeared. The dualists in France made
common cause with the Bogomil dualists of the southern Balkans
and by 1180 had become a significant force in southeastern
France and northern Italy. Cathar belief was also strong in
Lombardy and the Rhineland. The Roman Catholic Church
started a crusade against the Cathars of southern France, centered
upon the town of Languedoc. By 1230 the Albigensians
What little we know concerning the Cathar belief and practice
derives largely from a Cathar ritual from Provence, recorded
in a thirteenth-century manuscript, and from the proceedings
of the Roman Catholic inquisitors who ruthlessly
persecuted the sect. The group has roots that go back to Manicheanism
and origins in the theological problem of the place
of good and evil in Christian doctrine. The Cathars believed a
dualist concept of two gods or principles. The evil god Satan
or Lucifer ruled the material world, which was a purgatorial
condition for angels or divine souls imprisoned in flesh after
the primal war in heaven. Humans could only recover the divine
kingdom through a spiritual rebirth, becoming a vehicle
for the Holy Ghost, otherwise death would not bring release.
A man who died without such a spiritual rebirth would face reincarnation
again and again, in human or animal form.
An interesting modern echo of the Cathari and its doctrine
of imprisonment in the flesh through various incarnations is
found in the strange claim of a modern British physician Arthur
Guirdham that he has verified information that he and a
group of other individuals were reincarnations of Cathars who
were brutally persecuted in Languedoc, France, during the
Birks, Walter. The Treasure of Montsagur A Study of the Cathar
Heresy and the Nature of the Cathar Secret. U.K. Crucible, 1987.
Guirdham, Arthur. The Cathars and Reincarnation. London
Neville Spearman, 1970.
Lea, H. C. History of the Inquisition in the Middle Ages. 3 vols.
New York Harper and Bros., 1888.
Russell, Jeffrey Burton. Witchcraft in the Middle Ages. Ithaca,
N.Y. Cornell University Press, 1972.
Wakefield, Walter, and Austin P. Evans. Heresies of the High
Middle Ages. New York, 1969.