(Hypatia of Alexandria, as portrayed by Rachel Weisz)
To speak of a “rise” presupposes a fall. The restoration of Chivalry, the return of the Templars and the rise of the Divine Feminine are intertwined – not just in the popular imagination sparked by “The Da Vinci Code,” but in the threads of history. When the Templars fell on October 13th in the year 1307, it was actually the last in a series of falls which signaled that a dark time of persecution had come for the balance of the feminine spirit in humanity.
The clock had been ominously ticking for the Templars since the Albigensian Crusade against the Cathar communities of Europe – perhaps the darkest chapter in the bloody history of the Roman Catholic Church, in which these peaceful “True Christians” (as they called themselves) were massacred across the continent in a twenty year campaign against the “heretics” who dared to defy the authority of the Pope, who lived lives of simple purity, who accorded women equality with men, who believed in reincarnation, and traced their spiritual lineage to Mary Magdalene’s sojourn in France after the Resurrection.
One French noble who was ordered by the Pope to massacre the Cathars in his region replied simply, “We cannot. We know these people. They live lives of perfection.”
Several Templar Grand Masters had been Cathars, but the Templars were still untouchable in those years as the elite warriors of the Crusades, secure in their monastic bastions in the Holy Land. But the clock was ticking…
The heartbreaking story of the Cathars and their steadfast refusal to renounce their faith in the face of torture and death at the stake is still difficult for me to read. Their final refuge atop Montsegur in the Languedoc region where the last community was put to the torch is a grim and beautiful place, where the land retains the memory of a terrible time when the forces of greed and ignorance and violence exterminated a community of love, of tolerance, a culture of art and beauty. All told, at least 500,000 peaceful men, women, and children were massacred in Europe’s first genocide.
(Montsegur - The Last Refuge and Martrydom of the Cathars)
This bleak episode in Western history had grim consequences which would echo for centuries. It gave rise to the Inquisition, whose purpose was to root out “heresy” in all its forms, so that no trace of Cathar belief or practice would remain to threaten the church of Rome. The work of the Inquisition would last for five hundred years, during which it is estimated that millions of women were burned at the stake as witches – the great majority of them healers who still practiced nature-based spirituality. They were essentially what we would call today shamans and herbalists, and as such represented a threat to the Church’s claim as the sole source of divine grace, obtainable only by the intermediary of priests and sacraments.
As one Native American scholar observed, “Once upon a time we were all “indigenous” – even the Europeans were “indigenous,” at least until the Church exterminated all the nature-worshipping healers during the Inquisition.” Another parallel here: as among the American tribes, women were respected leaders in Cathar communities – another heresy which the Church-sponsored colonizers of the Americas sought to stamp out in tribal culture.
Yet the beginning of the long fall of the feminine in the Western world can perhaps be traced to another tragic and bloody event 800 years before the Cathar genocide: the murder of the great philosopher and mathematician Hypatia in Alexandria in 415 A.D. by a band of fanatical Christian monks.
Renowned for her wisdom, virtue, and learning, Hypatia led a school of philosophy and mathematics in Alexandria, to which students flocked from all over the Roman world. In the first few decades after the conversion of the Roman Emperor Constantine made Christianity the official religion of the empire, the classical learning and spirituality of the ancient world (long centered in Egypt) had not yet been outlawed nor labeled with the clumsy term of “pagan.”
Hypatia numbered prominent Christians as well as “pagans” among her students and attained such a degree of influence that she was sought as a mediator in the savage political and religious conflicts which began to intensify in Alexandria. A radical group of Christian zealots began a campaign of defamation against Hypatia, believing that she was siding against their version of Christianity in the ongoing disputes. Riots broke out over several years, culminating in the brutal murder of Hypatia by a band of these monks, who broke into her home, skinned her alive, and tore her limb from limb.
This unthinkable torture and murder of a renowned woman philosopher shocked the Roman world, and may be pointed to as a symbolic event presaging the fall of Western Europe into the Dark Ages, as classical learning was lost, and the pre-Christian pharoanic spirituality of Egypt, and of the Essenes (from whom came Jesus and Mary Magdalene) could only flourish in places of isolation, protected from the ever more centralized power of the Church as it sought to cement dogma into blind obedience.
The murder of Hypatia was also the immediate precursor to the time when Gnostic teachings were declared heretical by Rome, leading to the burial of precious manuscripts now known to history as the Gnostic Gospels, unearthed centuries later in the Nag Hammadi and Dead Sea scroll discoveries of the mid-twentieth century. A scholarly consensus has since emerged confirming that the practices of the Cathars were indeed (as they claimed) a direct continuance of the pure Apostolic form of earliest Christianity as they received it from Mary Magdalene, in which there was no priesthood as such, in which men and women were equal, simplicity of living and communal sharing were the norm, manual labor was honored, one’s word was sacred, violence was forbidden, Purgatory and Hell were unheard of, and reincarnation as a process leading to perfection was accepted as a fact of life.
The Cathars even claimed to know the geographical route by which they had traveled from the Holy Land to their final home in northern Italy and southern France over the centuries since the time of the Apostles.
It may be largely thanks to the chaos of the Dark Ages between the fall of the western Roman Empire and the late medieval era that the Cathars and other Gnostic-inspired communities were spared the wrath of the Roman Church for as long as they were. The Emperor Justinian was on the brink of restoring and revitalizing the western Empire in the 7th century when the Plague decimated the population of Europe, leaving whole regions in chaos and ignorance for centuries. Then as now, survival during social upheaval depended on a culture of communal sharing – this may, perhaps, explain the survival of Cathar communities.
When Europe began to revive and emerge from the darkness in the medieval era, the rise of the Cathars took place in step with the rise of the Templars in their heyday. It is widely known that the earliest Templar knights made momentous discoveries in their excavations beneath the Temple Mount in Jerusalem – the fabled “treasure” of the Templars. It is not improbable that those first nine French knights knew what they were looking for – the lost gospels of the earliest Christians, which proved the truth of the Cathar tradition of the divine union between Christ and the Magdalene, and which reaffirmed the simpler and purer form of Christianity, which had later been tainted and corrupted by the influence of Rome. It may well be that these manuscripts were in many cases copies of those same Gnostic gospels which would be unearthed at Nag Hammadi in the 20th century.
Other treasures there may well have been: maps preserved from ancient times which showed the location of the Americas; mathematical treatises which provided the basis for longitude as well as latitude, empowering the Templars to prove the greatest mariners of their day – these have all been rumored to be among the great Templar discoveries at Jerusalem which were the basis of their unrivaled influence.
In those early days of the Templar era, their protection from Rome was secure in the reign of Pope Innocent II, who had risen to the papacy despite adversity, with the sponsorship of the greatest saint of the age, St. Bernard de Clairvaux, the author of the Temple Rule which governed the Templar way of life. From their founding in 1118 A.D. until the mid-13th century, the Templars could safely weave their “heretical” beliefs into the Arthurian tales, with the encoded reverence for the Divine Feminine in the Holy Grail and the Lady Fair, a magical set of myths and reshaped history which became a founding pillar of Western civilization – a magic which flourished in a high culture of troubadour chivalry in the Languedoc region of France, where an atmosphere of tolerance and art reigned, where the attractive spiritual magnetism of the Cathars exerted such power that one Catholic bishop fretted that “the whole of Europe might fall into heresy…were it not for the swords of the faithful.”
Those merciless swords were wielded by the authority of the Pope, and though the Templars extended what little protection they could, the slaughter went on for twenty horrific years.
The Templars arose when they did because – and it may be we can call this the Divine Will – a time of crisis had come when a “bridge in time” was needed to ensure that the truth of the balance of Divine Feminine/Sacred Masculine would be seeded into the World Mind in the form of the legends and myths which survived the Templar fall. For the swords of the Pope and terror of the stake – and 500 years of the Inquisition’s torture and death – could not altogether silence the troubadours, could not vanquish the inspirational power of the Holy Grail, of the Round Table, of the Lady Fair, of Mary Magdalene…or of the Code of Chivalry itself.
(St. Mary Magdalene)
I am enough of a student of history to want to be careful about not oversimplifying the complex inter-weavings of socio-economic, religious, political, and cultural threads which make up the often confusing tapestry which tells the story of humanity. But in the end, history belongs not to the academic but to the storyteller. It is Shakespeare’s Richard III, not the historian’s, which embodies our understanding of the Wars of the Roses. Whatever its flaws and inaccuracies, it was “The Da Vinci Code” which relit awareness of the Magdalene and the Templars in the popular imagination.
And there is an arc to the story of the fall of the Feminine and her inevitable Rise which again it falls to the modern troubadour to tell.
In this time of shocking revelations and fearful uncertainty, we are tempted to demonize the masculine and blindly worship the feminine, when the ancient teachings guide us to seek the balance of both within the soul. There is an authentically sacred stream of what we may call the Exalted Masculine which is instinctively welcomed by the Feminine. And there are distorted and destructive manifestations of both masculine and feminine which can easily blur the picture, triggering fresh pain in whatever unhealed wounds lie festering in each soul from past trauma.
Here I endeavor to tell our collective story of past trauma and unhealed wounds, at a time when light is at last being shed on shadowed places. For we have come to another bridge in time – a time of worldwide upheaval when the guttering candle of the highest and best within us must be relit and passed on in a new form, so that hope is rekindled, so that we can carry forward into this harrowing time an impassioned commitment to love, honor, courage, and compassion – and a deep personal and direct connection to the Divine.
The Templars and their Cather brothers and sisters were not martyred in vain. They encoded into the mind and heart of the West a hidden story of the Goddess at a time when they knew She would be shrouded by the smoke of a thousand burning stakes. They gave us King Arthur, the Round Table, the Holy Grail, the knight in shining armor and his devotion to his Lady Fair – these archetypes which may be dismissed on the one hand as myths, but which are inescapably present in the air we breathe, which make up our cultural DNA.
They gave us Magna Carta, which would become the foundation of human rights in the West. They gave us the Code of Chivalry, which would be passed down in democratized form as the “Gentleman’s Code” which still held sway into the 20th century. They gave us the sacred power centers of Chartres, of Notre Dame, of Mont St. Michel and Rosslyn Chapel, which still radiate the sustaining ley lines of Gaia out among the human family.
The Gnostic communities which desperately buried their sacred texts in remote caves 700 years before the Templars were also endeavoring to make “a bridge in time” – and they too succeeded when the Templar Order arose to give fresh expression to ancient truths.
Now another 700 years have passed since the fall of the Templars – and the time returns. Another bridge in time takes shape.
There is a legend – let us call it an unverifiable myth – of a Cathar prophecy dating from the time of the fall of the Templars, that in 700 years “the laurel would grow green again,” that the ancient order of Melchizedek, the biblical “King of Peace” from whom the Templars traced their lineage, would again arise in an hour of need. 700 years from that prophecy, so it is said, fell in 2013.
For myself, that year found me risking everything to join what seemed as real a knightly quest as I might ever find.