Secret Societies of All Ages - Charles Heckethorn




II. Cathari and Luciferians

171. The Albigenses.—One of the most extensive and active heresies was that of the Albigenses, so called after their chief town, Albi, whence they spread all over Southern France. The sect was the offspring of Manichaeism; it fructified in its turn the germs of the Templars and Rosicrucians, and of all those associations that continued the struggle and fought against ecclesiastical and civil oppression.

172. Objects of the Albigenses.—It is to be noticed that the object of the Albigenses in so far differed from that of all posterior sects, that its blows were intended for Papal Rome alone; and wholly Papal was the revenge taken through the civil arm, and with priestly rage. The Albigenses were the Ghibellines of France, and combined with all who were opposed to Rome, especially with Frederick II. and the Arragonese, in maintaining the rights of kings against the pretensions of the Papal See. Their doctrines had a special influence on the University of Bologna, wholly imperial; Dante was imperialistic, tainted with that doctrine, and therefore hated by the Guelphs.

173. Tenets of the Albigenses.—Toulouse was the Rome of that church, which had its pastors, bishops, provincial and general councils, like the official church, and assembled under its banners the dissenters of a great portion of Europe, all meditating the ruin of Rome and the restoration of the kingdom of Jerusalem. The rising in Provence gathered strength from the circumstances in which it took place. The Crusaders had revived Eastern Manichaeism, placing Europe in immediate contact with sophisticated Greece, with Mahommedan and Pantheistic Asia. The East, moreover, contributed Aristotle and his Arab commentators, to which must be added the subtleties of the cabala and the materialism of ideas. Philosophy, republicanism, and industry assailed the Holy See. Various isolated rebellions had revealed the general spirit, and wholesale slaughter had not repressed it; the rationalism of the Waldenses—so called after Peter Waldo, the founder of the sect—connected itself with the German mysticism of the Rhine and the Netherlands, where the operatives rose against the counts and the bishops. Every apostle that preached pure morality, the religion of the spirit, the restoration of the primitive church, found followers; the century of Louis IX., or the Saint (1226-70), is the century of unbelief in the Church of Rome, and the Impossibilia of Sigero foreshadowed those of Strauss.

174. Aims of the Albigenses.—The heresy of the Albigenses made such progress along the shores of the Mediterranean, that several countries seemed to separate from Rome, while princes and emperors openly favoured it. Not satisfied with already considering impious Rome overthrown, the Albigenses suddenly turned towards the Crusaders, at first looked at with indifference, hoping to make Jerusalem the glorious and powerful rival of Rome, there to establish the seat of the Albigenses, to restore the love of religion in its first home, to found on earth the heavenly Jerusalem, of which Godfrey of Bouillon was proclaimed king. This was the man who had carried fire and sword into Rome, slain (15th October 1080) the anti-Caesar Rodolphe, "the king elected by priests," and thrust the Pope out of the holy city, deserving thereby, and by the hopes entertained of him, the infinite praises for his piety, purity, and chastity bestowed on him by the troubadours, who originally appeared in the first quarter of the twelfth century, in the allegorical compositions known by the name of the "Knight of the Swan." The project of making Jerusalem the rival of Rome assigned an important part to the Templars, who perhaps were aware of and sharers in it.

175. The Cathari.—Italy, though watched by Rome, nay, because watched, supported the new doctrines. Milan was one of the most active foci of the Cathari (the Pure); in 1166 that city was more heretical than Catholic. In 1150 there were Cathari at Florence, and the women especially were most energetic in the dissemination of the dogmas of the sect, which became so powerful as to effect in the city a revolution in favour of the Ghibellines. At Orvieto Catharism prevailed in 1125, and was persecuted in 1163; the persecution was most fierce at Verona, Ferrara, Modena, etc. In 1224 a great number of these sectaries met in Calabria and Naples, and even Rome was full of them. But Lombardy and Tuscany were always the chief seats of this revolt.

176. Doctrines and Tenets.—But we have only scanty notices of this sect, because, unlike other heretical associations, it sought to conceal its operations. It bore great resemblance to Manichaeism and the dogmas of the Albigenses, like which latter, it concealed its doctrines not only from the world at large, but even from its proselytes of inferior degrees. They believed in the metempsychosis, assuming that to attain to the light, seven such transmigrations were required; but, as in other cases, this was probably an emblematic manner of speaking of the degrees of initiation. They attributed the origin of the visible and of the invisible world to different creators; the former was the creation of the evil spirit, wherefore they rejected the Old Testament account of the creation, as also the incarnation of Christ, purgatory, hell, etc. They had communistic tendencies, and were averse to marriage; philanthropists, above all they led industrious lives, combined saving habits with charity, founded schools and hospitals, crossed lands and seas to make proselytes, denied to magistrates the right of taking away life, did not disapprove of suicide, and preceded the Templars in the contempt of the cross. They could not understand how Christians could adore the instrument of the death of the Saviour, and said that the cross was the figure of the beast mentioned in the Apocalypse and an abomination in a holy place.

They performed their ceremonies in woods, caverns, remote valleys; wherefore those belonging to this heresy and others deriving from it could well answer the question: Where did our ancient brethren meet before there were any lodges? In every place. They were accused of strangling or starving the dying, and of burning children; charges also brought against the Mithraics, Christians, Gnostics, Jews, and quite recently against the Irish Roman Catholics. The accusation, as in the other cases, probably arose from some symbolical sacrifice, literally interpreted by their opponents. They had four sacraments, and the consolation consisted in the imposition of hands, or baptism of the Holy Spirit, which, bestowed only on adults, remitted sins, imparted the consoling spirit, and secured eternal salvation. During persecutions the ceremonies were shortened, and were held at night and secretly: the lighted tapers symbolised the baptism of fire. At the ceremony of initiation the priest read the first eighteen verses of the Gospel of St. John, a custom still practised in some Masonic degrees. In remembrance of his initiation the novice received a garment made of fine linen and wool, which he wore under his shirt; the women a girdle, which they also wore next to the skin just under the bosom.

177. Persecution of the Cathari.—The following may suffice as an instance of the persecution to which the Cathari were subject in those religious days. Dolcino, the leader of a sect of the Cathari, who called themselves the "Apostolic," because they endeavoured to restore the Christianity of the Apostles, and who predicted the downfall of the then already most corrupt Papacy, was pursued by the Inquisition (1307). With 1400 of his followers, Dolcino took refuge on a hill in the district of Vercelli. But the Apostolic were taken; Dolcino and his wife Margaret were torn to pieces, limb by limb, by order of the holy fathers, and the pieces afterwards burnt by the public executioner. Against such of the followers of Dolcino as had not been seized with their leader, Clement V. ordered a crusade, granting plenary absolution to all who took part in it. Fifteen years after Dolcino's death thirty of his disciples were burnt alive on the marketplace at Padua.

178. The Waldenaes or Vaudois.—This sect arose in the twelfth century, and was so named after its founder, Peter Waldus, a rich citizen of Lyons. Its aims were, to a great extent, similar to those of the Albigenses. Persecuted by the Church, its members spread over a great part of Europe. In the thirteenth century the Pope instituted a crusade against them, the details of which belong to general history. The principles of the Vaudois, however, remained unsubdued, and at the Reformation their descendants were reckoned among the Protestants, though they differed, and continue to differ, from them in many doctrinal points, and they remain as a distinct sect in many parts of Europe. But it was only in 1848 that by the edict of the king of Sardinia they were granted religious liberty and equal civil and political rights with the Roman Catholic population of that kingdom. According to Rulman Merswin, who wrote between 1370-80 at Strasbourg, a community of Vaudois then lived hidden in the mountains of Switzerland, calling themselves by the name of "Friends of God." The Anabaptists, Lollards, Beghards, and Beguines all sprang from this sect.

179. Luciferians.—Another sect which sprung from the Cathari was that of the Luciferians, which must not be confounded with that so named after Lucifer, Bishop of Cagliari, and which existed for a short time under Theodosius the Great. The Luciferians, or Devil-worshippers, to be spoken of here arose in the twelfth or thirteenth century; their chief seats were in the principality of East Friesland. The Frieslanders, having refused to pay tithes to the archbishops of Bremen, they were proclaimed heretics. Konrad von Marburg, infamous for hypocrisy and cruelty, took the part of the Church, and nothing shows the mental besottedness of the clergy of those days better than the report sent to the Pope, Gregory IX., and adopted by this latter as a true statement of facts, as is apparent from his Bull, published in 1233. According to Konrad's report, as reproduced in the Pope's Bull, the Luciferians, when initiating a candidate, first caused a frog or toad to appear to him, which he had to kiss, or to draw its tongue and saliva into his own mouth. This animal usually appeared in its natural size, sometimes as large as a goose, but more generally as large as a baker's oven!

Then a pale man, consisting of only skin and bone, appeared to the novice, who had to kiss him, after which the novice lost all recollection of the Catholic faith. A black tom-cat then descended through a statue, which was always found in the meeting-place of these heretics, and when they all had kissed the animal's hinder quarters, the lights were extinguished, and the most licentious practices indulged in. The candles having been re-lighted, a man appeared, more glorious than the sun in his upper parts, while the lower part of his body resembled that of a cat, who received a piece of cloth torn off the novice's clothes, as a pledge that henceforth the new initiate belonged to him. These heretics further said that God unjustly cast Lucifer into hell, but that eventually the devil would be restored to his former glory and happiness.

180. Origin of Devil-worship.—Now it is certain that in the dark ages, when men were crushed under superstition and cruelty, when cleric and secular oppressors—the former the worse of the two—rendered life almost unbearable to the serf and the bondsman, these, seeing themselves forsaken by God and his saints, naturally appealed to the Devil for protection, and hence a kind of Devil-worship arose; wherefore we may accept the charge brought against the Luciferians of believing in the Devil's eventual restoration as true; nor is it a serious one: very pious people such, as the Everlasting Gospellers, held that belief. But the other charges are too absurd to require serious refutation.

We are told that the Luciferians had their signs of recognition, and used to accost one another thus: "Lucifer, who has been wronged, greets thee." To prevent an uninitiated to enter their assemblies, they would put the question, "Do thorns prick to-day?" the answer to which is not recorded, but of course was known to the initiated only. The places where they held their meetings were called "cellars of repentance." The charge of committing unnatural crimes brought against them was one brought by the Church against all heretics; but the Luciferians were not so accused till late in the thirteenth century, when the sect had ceased to exist, having been exterminated by the word and fire of Holy Mother Church.

There existed numerous other sects, named either after their founders or the localities in which they arose, such as the Messalians, the Bogomiles, supposed to be sprung from the latter, the Cainians, the Encrafites, and others; yet none of them were of such importance as those spoken of above. But whatever might be their determination, the members of all these sects in the course of several centuries supplied many victims to the torture-chambers and faggots of the Inquisition, the Church cunningly mixing up heresy with witchcraft. Thomas Stapleton, who during the reign of Queen Elizabeth emigrated to Holland, to escape the persecution of the Roman Catholics in this country, wrote a book on the question why clergy and witchcraft spread simultaneously to such an extent, which two evils he called the twin-children of the Devil. The author died in 1598. Even after this date it was damnable heresy to deny the existence of witchcraft. In 1725 the principality of Hohenzollem Hechingen in Wurtemburg by public decree promised five florins reward to any one bringing in, dead or alive, a goblin, nixy, or other spook of the kind!