Awakening in the Holy Spirit
May 11th-14th, 2017
This talk will look briefly at how the esoteric stream of Gnostic Christianity, Alchemy and Kabbalah kept alive through European civilization the ancient cosmology of the Divine Feminine which was slowly to disappear over the dark centuries of the Christian era. It will show how Gnosticism and the Cathar Church of the Holy Spirit, whose presiding image was Sophia or Divine Wisdom as well as the cup of the Holy Grail, grew out of the original Essene or Nazarene teachings of Jesus and Mary Magdalene whose apostolic work spread throughout Provence from AD 44 and resurfaced in the twelfth century in the Languedoc.
A thousand years ago, a monk called Joachim of Flora living in southern Italy prophesied the coming of the Age of the Holy Spirit. Has the time come to enter this Age and call upon the Holy Spirit to guide us? This is perhaps the most crucial time in our history: a time of the utmost depravity and barbarism but also a time of tremendous opportunity for change. Millions across the planet are awakening to the need to create a more enlightened kind of civilization: one based on love, service and relationship rather than the pursuit of power and the old pattern of national rivalry, weapons and war. This awakening requires a radical transformation of human consciousness where a different understanding of reality comes into being, bringing with it different values which profoundly respect all forms of planetary life.
Where are we to look for the origin of the idea of the Holy Spirit? First of all, we need to look back to the Neolithic era when the cosmos was imagined as a Great Mother, whose three domains were the sky, the earth and the waters beneath the earth; from whose womb all life emerged. The most important idea I want to convey to you about this time is that there was no creator beyond creation; no separation between the Great Mother as Source and the manifest forms of her life; no separation between Spirit and Nature. The whole of the natural world and the cosmos itself was alive and ensouled, part of a living web of relationships, animated and sustained by invisible spirit. People felt they lived within a Sacred Order, the Order of the Great Mother. (1)
We can follow the transition from the Great Mother of the Neolithic era into the Great Goddesses of the Bronze Age: Goddesses such as Isis of Egypt, Artemis of Ephesus and Cybele of Anatolia whose worship endured far into the Roman era. These Great Goddesses were worshipped as the source of life: one life manifesting as the life of each and all. Sexuality was seen as the vital expression of that life: a sacred, ecstatic experience associated with life’s own creative impulse eternally to renew itself. In the temple courtyards of the Goddess stood the tree of life – the sycamore and the olive. The dove and the serpent were from earliest times associated with her worship. Also associated with these Great Goddesses was the image of the rose because of the observation by astronomers of the exquisite rose petal pattern created by the eight-year orbit of the planet Venus. For many thousands of years the Great Mother and these Great Goddesses personified the principle of relationship: the interconnectedness of every aspect of life and, above all, the sacredness of this great Web of Life. I think we can look to them for the origin of the feminine concept of the Holy Spirit as an all-embracing cosmic entity in whose life we live. (2)
Carrying forward these ideas to later Greek culture, we find in Plato’s Timaeus his influential concept of the Soul of the Cosmos, which he describes as a “Single Living Creature that encompasses all living creatures that are within it.” This idea was to re-appear in the third century AD as Plotinus’s concept of the Anima-Mundi or Soul of the World.
Turning to another culture – that of Judaism– we find the most sublime evocation of the Holy Spirit in the Book of Proverbs where Wisdom tells us that she is the Beloved of God, with Him from the beginning, before the foundation of the world. (Proverbs 8:23-31) She speaks from the deep ground of life as the hidden law which orders it and as the craftswoman of creation. The later Books of Ben Sirach and the Wisdom of Solomon in the Apocrypha describe this feminine Presence –who is named as Divine Wisdom and Holy Spirit – as the intelligence of the cosmos, rooted in tree, vine, earth and water and active in the habitations of man. She is the principal of justice that inspires human laws. She is invisible spirit guiding human consciousness, calling out to the world for recognition. (Wisdom of Jesus Ben Sirach 24:3-6, 9-11, 13-21, 28-34; Wisdom of Solomon 6:12-15) To those who, like Solomon, prized her more highly than rubies, Divine Wisdom (Hokhmah in Hebrew and Sophia in Greek), the Holy Spirit was their wise and luminous guide, associated with the image of Light. In Solomon’s words: “I prayed and understanding was given me: I called upon God, and the Spirit of Wisdom came to me... I loved her above health and beauty, and chose to have her instead of light, for the light that cometh from her never goeth out...” (Wisdom of Solomon 7:7, 10, 21-7, 29; 8:1-2)
With their vivid imagery, these passages transform the Holy Spirit, speaking as Divine Wisdom, from abstract idea into living presence. She speaks as if she were here, in this world, dwelling with us in the midst of her kingdom, accessible to those who seek her out. She is unknown and unrecognized, yet working within the depths of life, striving to open our understanding to the divine reality of her being, the sacredness of her creation, and her justice, wisdom, love and truth.
In 587 BC at the time of the destruction of the First Temple in Jerusalem a large element of the Jewish population was removed to Babylon. But many other Jews fled to the Greek city of Alexandria, taking with them their ancient Temple traditions of the Goddess Asherah, the Queen of Heaven, whom they worshipped as the Holy Spirit and Divine Wisdom. Once again, this time in the Greek world, we find the association of the Goddess with Wisdom and the Holy Spirit. After the destruction of the Second Temple in AD 70 by the Romans many more Jews joined this community in Alexandria. These Jewish exiles formed the core of the later Gnostic groups of the second and third centuries AD that had assimilated the revolutionary message of Jesus and his Nazarene followers and had kept the image of a feminine aspect of Deity.
The essential message of Jesus, originating in the Essene community of Qumrâm in Palestine, was about opening our awareness to the presence of an inner realm that he called the kingdom of God. The light of the Holy Spirit was the pearl of great price that was present within each of us but it needed to be called forth into our awareness so that we lived life in a different way, in compassionate service of others rather than living in thrall to the debased values and beliefs that governed the world of that time as well as the world of our time. In the Nazarene communities, women as well as men could be teachers, priests and healers since all carried the divinity of the Holy Spirit within them.
The later Gnostic Communities like the earlier Nazarene ones did not organize themselves on a hierarchical model like the Church of Rome and did not accept the legitimacy of the apostolic descent of that Church from Peter.
- They took their teaching and apostolic descent, not from Peter but from the Nazarene teaching of Jesus and his brother James.
- They celebrated God as both Mother and Father.
- They treated men and women as equals. Either could hold the position of teacher, healer, priest and deacon.
- They did not believe that Jesus was the Son of God or that he was immaculately conceived or that he had been resurrected from the dead in a physical body.
This put them in direct opposition to the developing Church in Rome. Jesus was seen as a visionary teacher of the path to enlightenment and union with the divine ground, much like the eastern teachers of Buddhism and Hinduism.
These Gnostic groups gradually spread westwards into Europe and eastwards into India and as far as China. Although there is a time lapse of several hundred years, their teaching may have been transmitted from generation to generation until it reached the Bogomils of Bulgaria and the Cathars in France and Italy since they are so similar. The teaching of St. Francis in thirteenth century Italy is essentially the same as the Nazarene teaching of Jesus.
Many of these Gnostic groups kept alive the ancient idea of a Feminine aspect of the Divine. Until 1945 when the Gnostic texts were discovered at Nag Hammadi in Egypt no-one knew that some groups of early Christians had an image of the Divine Mother whom they named “The Invisible within the All.” The Divine Mother was identified with the Holy Spirit and the dove was seen as her emissary. Some believed that, at the baptism of Jesus, it was the Divine Mother, the Holy Spirit, who spoke to Jesus, saying “This is My beloved son, in whom I am well pleased.” (3) In a Gnostic text called The Trimorphic Protennoia, the speaker describes herself as the intangible Womb that gives shape to the All, the life that moves in every creature. (4)
However, by the late fourth century every one of the secret texts which the Gnostic groups revered was branded as heretical by those who called themselves orthodox Christians. Because of this, all the feminine imagery of the Divine was eradicated from Christianity. This is what happened.
At the crucial Council of Nicaea, summoned by the Emperor Constantine in 325 AD Jesus was declared to be the only Son of God, ‘of one substance with God’ (homoousious) rather than ‘like unto God’(homoiousious). Naming him the Son of God meant that he had to be immaculately conceived, free of the taint of original sin, as well as celibate. This was later ratified at the Council of Ephesus in 431 AD when the Virgin Mary was declared Theotokos or God-Bearer and Jesus was declared to have been conceived immaculately by the Holy Ghost. At these Councils all traces of his brothers and sisters and also of his marriage were erased.
At the Council of Nicaea Christianity lost the ancient feminine imagery of the Holy Spirit in the new formulation of a male Trinity of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Divine Wisdom was dissociated from the Holy Spirit and assimilated to the figure of Christ as Logos. Some fifty years later, in 381AD, the Emperor Theodosius declared that anyone who did not comply with his edict that all must believe in the Apostolic Creed defined at Nicaea that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit were of one and the same substance would be declared a heretic. It was at this time that the idea entered Christian teaching that hell and eternal punishment awaited heretics and unbelievers, laying the ground for persecution in centuries to come. The many Gnostic Gospels were destroyed; all meetings and rituals were forbidden under pain of death. Some of these Gospels, hidden at the time of this edict, were recovered in 1945 at Nag Hammadi, including the Gospels of Philip, Thomas and Mary. Most were lost forever.
As the Christian Church became more and more fused with the Roman model of Imperial power and more and more identified with the persecution of heresy, the Gnostic beliefs and practices and the feminine image of the Holy Spirit and Divine Wisdom had to go underground for many centuries.
These beliefs and practices emerged 800 years later in the twelfth century Cathar Church of the Holy Spirit as well as in the parallel and very similar tradition of Kabbalah in the Jewish communities in Spain and south-western France, a mystical tradition wonderfully named as the “Voice of the Dove”. It is interesting that the earlier imagery in the Biblical Wisdom texts of the Queen of Heaven as Holy Spirit and Divine Wisdom re-appears in Kabbalah as the Shekinah, the feminine aspect of the god-head. The Shekinah as the Holy Spirit, active and present in this world, supplies the missing imagery of divine immanence, sanctifying the whole of the phenomenal world: an idea which was lost or deliberately eliminated by the three patriarchal religions.
We also find in this mystical Jewish tradition the indissoluble union or sacred marriage of the feminine and masculine aspects of Deity which is also tragically absent from the patriarchal religions. The great centres for the study of Kabbalah in Medieval Europe were Toledo and Girona in Spain, Narbonne and Toulouse in the Languedoc and Troyes in Champagne. Troyes was the city where the Order of the Knights Templar was founded by St. Bernard in 1128.
Now, I need to go back a thousand years in this complex story of the Holy Spirit to the role of Mary Magdalene, the Apostle who brought the Nazarene message of the divine element hidden within human nature to France. Mary Magdalene is the missing link in this story. In AD 44 she had to flee Palestine and sailed to Marseilles, landing, so the legend says, at Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer or, as is more likely, further along the coast at the port of Narbonne (Narbo Martius). (5) Mary Magdalene was the consort of Jesus and took with her to France their daughter and son, born in AD 33 and AD 37. She was pregnant with her third child and second son when they arrived in France and gave birth to him there, naming him Josephes. Lazarus and the Apostle Philip sailed with her, also her sister Martha, and Mary Salome, Jesus’ sister, who was married to Lazarus. It is highly likely that Mary Magdalene, Philip and Lazarus took with them to France precious texts relating to the teachings she and Jesus shared with a close group of disciples. (6)
Lazarus became the first bishop of Marseilles. Martha was buried in Tarascon. Mary Magdalene taught for nearly 20 years in Provence and the Languedoc and was widely known and adored in this part of France. Towards the end of her life she is said to have withdrawn to a cave on the Ste. Baume mountain in Provence and was buried by Lazarus in a chapel at the foot of it when she died age 60 in 63 AD. This chapel, later a Basilica, was probably the most sacred and venerated place in France in the so-called Dark Ages, only rivalled much later, by Vézelay and Chartres.
In 1059 a church was dedicated to Mary Magdalene in the town of Rennes-le-Chateau in the Languedoc. There is a village called Les Labadous, near Rennes-le-Chateau where she is believed to have lived. There are many local legends about her. There was an Essene community there. Her memory was honoured by the Knights Templar who knew the true story of her marriage to Jesus and built the great cathedrals in her honour although, in the orthodox tradition, they are dedicated to the Virgin Mary. To the Templars, Mary Magdalene was ‘Notre Dame’. They identified her with Divine Wisdom (Sophia).
Now I can come to the last phase of this extraordinary story and to the Cathar Church of the Holy Spirit, presided over by Divine Wisdom (Sophia) which recovered the original Nazarene message of Jesus and Mary Magdalene. Like the Bogomils of Bulgaria, the Cathars claimed that their teaching was descended directly from that of the Apostles and the early Church. They spoke of their Church as “The Cup that gives out manna” and “The Precious Stone”. It is impossible not to connect these images with the Grail and indeed the twelfth century Quest for the Holy Grail was a deliberate attempt to recover and restore the lost feminine image of the Holy Spirit; the Holy Grail was the disguised symbol of the Holy Spirit. At the beginning of the twelfth century, no-one had heard of the Grail; by the end of it, there was no-one in Europe who had not heard of it. This secret teaching was woven into the many Grail legends and carried all over Europe by the troubadours, many of whom were initiates of the Church of the Holy Spirit. From early in the ninth century, they had received their training at St. Guilhem-le-Desert, near Montpellier. The dove was a primary symbol of the Church of the Holy Spirit and the troubadours in their forest meetings wore red cloaks embroidered with the image of the dove. But the dove was also the symbol of the Jewish mystical tradition of Kabbalah, known as “The Voice of the Dove”.
850 years ago in 1167 an extraordinary event took place in this town: a synod was convened to plan the strategy for supplanting the Catholic Church in the Languedoc with the ‘true Christianity’ — the Cathar Church of the Holy Spirit.
By the second half of the twelfth century it had virtually displaced the Church of Rome as the recognized vehicle of the Christian revelation in this area. It claimed to be nothing less than the true Church of Christ, handed down in unbroken succession from the Apostles and retaining the power, which the false Church of Rome had lost or never possessed, of ‘baptising with the Holy Spirit and with fire.’
The Cathars believed the world was imperfect because of human enslavement to the power of the Demiurge, not because of original sin. They believed the Catholic Church had withheld from men and women the knowledge of themselves as repositories of the hidden light of the Holy Spirit and barred their access to the true teaching of Christ. Where the Catholic Church taught that the Redeemer is outside us and our ultimate redemption as Christians has been assured by Christ’s sacrificial death, the Cathar Church taught that man can become the redeemer or awakener of the divine spirit hidden within his soul. This gave great significance to the individual since the divine drama of redemption was consummated in and through him, not through the sacrifice of Christ. Catharism, like Gnosticism, taught a sacred rite of unification, an opus divinum, which ultimately awakened a man or woman to their indwelling divinity. This was identical to the Great Work of Alchemy and to the original Nazarene teaching of Jesus.
“Against this stupendous claim and the success of its ministers, the Catholic Church found itself obliged to mobilize all its resources, finally raising against it a Crusade which was pursued more relentlessly than any against the Saracen infidel, and then creating an Inquisition to hunt down Cathars to the last man, never resting till it was satisfied that the last of them had been exterminated.”(7)
One of the most revolutionary elements in this Church was that the Cathars were the first group since the Gnostics in the third century to ordain women as well as men as bishops, arch-deacons and priests. They did not believe that the sexual act transmitted original sin but that it was a sacred union of two equal beings. They took a vow of celibacy once they had received the rite of the Consolamentum and been ordained as Perfecti.
The texts they held in the highest regard were an expanded version of the Gospel of John and The Apocryphon of John or Secret Book of John found at Nag Hammadi in 1945. They also had two others called The Book of Love, believed to have been written by Mary Magdalene, that was treasured by the Knights Templar and another called The Secret Supper which may have contained the sacrament of the Consolamentum. No trace remains of the last two whose existence was revealed to the Inquisitors when they tortured the unfortunate people who fell into their hands. These books would surely have been the treasured possession of the libraries of the Cathar nobles in Foix, Carcassonne and Toulouse that were seized by the Inquisition. (8) They also had texts of the Greek philosophers. These had been taken from Athens to Persia in the sixth century when the Platonic Academy was closed down. When the Arabs conquered Persia in the seventh century they preserved them, taking them ultimately to Toledo after their conquest of Spain. There they were translated from Greek into Latin and taken into France and Italy in the eleventh and twelfth centuries. (9) They might also have had the Gnostic writings of Valentinus and Basilides. It is more than likely that they had several of the Gnostic Gospels, copies of which had been secretly preserved through the centuries. The Cathar priests and Perfects carried with them a copy of the Gospel of John on their journeys through the villages of the Languedoc.
The Cathars were skilled in the art of printing and they translated these texts as well as some parts of the New Testament into the language of the Languedoc so the people they taught to read could gain access to them. This was one of their most remarkable achievements, unheard of in the Europe of their time. They emphasised brotherhood, compassion, loving service of the poor. They taught the people not to fear death and to trust in the divine guidance of the Holy Spirit. They had an extensive knowledge of herbs used for healing and were consummate observers of the stars. They saw all human souls as fallen angels imprisoned within the body. At death they were released to return to their true home. Hence they said that at death “they took the Way to the Stars”.
The Cathar Church and the brilliant culture of the Languedoc were utterly destroyed in the thirteenth century by the infamous Albigensian Crusade and the Inquisition: a prime example of genocide. Although the Church of the Holy Spirit was eradicated, enlightened individuals drawn from different European countries and from a Jewish as well as a Christian background, managed to keep it alive. This underground stream of secret esoteric teaching, originating in the crucible of Hellenistic Alexandria with the exiled Gnostic communities there, was transmitted in the elaborate code of symbols known as Hermeticism and Alchemy, as well as in the practice of Kabbalah, whose devotees were both Jewish and Christian. We owe an enormous debt to the courageous souls who kept these traditions alive in the face of horrendous persecution.
Bringing this story into the present time, how can we understand the Holy Spirit today? The New Story emerging in quantum physics is that the whole universe is a unified field. We live within a cosmic web of life which underlies and connects all life forms in the universe and on our planet. Every atom of life interacts with every other atom, no matter how distant. We are not only connected through the Internet but through the infinitesimal particles of sub-atomic matter. We are part of an immense Field of Consciousness which sustains not only our world, but the entire Cosmos. A new cosmology is being born; a new vision of our profound relationship with an intelligent, living and interconnected universe. The realization is dawning that we are participating in a Cosmic Consciousness or Intelligence which is present in every particle of our being and every particle of matter. We are all individual expressions of a single Cosmic Organism. Spirit or God is not something transcendent to us. We are part of it, at the very heart of it. This is one of the great revelations of our time.
The Old Order has been based on the principle of power. The new one will be based on the principle of relationship. The time of transition from an old paradigm to a new one is challenging and dangerous because the old one is so deeply established in the collective psyche and in the governments of nations and their unconscious political leaders. Yet there is great hope for a different future carried in the hearts of those who are working to establish the new vision and raise our level of consciousness to a more enlightened level.
Awakening in the Holy Spirit means embracing a new image of Spirit that includes Nature and all planetary life. It means recovering a very ancient understanding that the Cosmos has a Soul and an Intelligence and that Divine Spirit is immanent or present in every particle of matter: every stone, flower, tree and blade of grass. We are all engaged in a profound process of transformation that is manifesting as a new planetary consciousness which recognizes that we are part of a Sacred Web of Life, a Web of Life that might be called both Holy Spirit and Holy Grail. If we could hear the voice of the Holy Spirit and listen to her Wisdom we would awaken to the sacredness and divinity of life. We would begin to see matter and our bodies in a different light. We would treat them with greater respect. Once, long ago, the world was experienced as alive with Spirit. Nature was part of a sacred cosmic whole. We need urgently to recover that vision if we are to respond to the challenge of this crucial time of choice and heal our neglected soul, our culture and our raped and vandalised planet. It is a wonderful time to be alive.
(1) Baring, Anne and Cashford, Jules, The Myth of the Goddess; Evolution of an Image, Penguin Books Ltd. 1991
(2) Baring, Anne, The Dream of the Cosmos, a Quest for the Soul, Archive Publishing, Wimborne, Dorset 2013
(3) The Gospel of the Nazarenes or The Gospel of the Hebrews
(4) The Nag Hammadi Library, Ed. James Robinson, Brill, Leiden 1977
(5) The erudite researches of the French author Christian Doumergue suggest that she landed at Narbonne rather than Marseilles. See his interesting book Marie-Madeleine, Qui suis-je ? éd. Pardès, p.112 - p.115 : “This permits us to conclude that Marie-Madeleine and her companions embarked at the port of Ostia… Ostia did not have relations with Marseille but with Narbonne (Narbo Martius).” “Cela permet de conclure que Marie-Madeleine et les siens ont embarqué à Ostie... Or Ostie ne commerçait pas avec Marseille mais avec Narbonne (Narbo Martius).” (translated from the French by AB)
(6) Gardner, Laurence, The Magdalene Legacy, Element, London 2005 and The Grail Enigma, HarperElement, London 2008
(7) Burks, Walter and Gilbert, R.A., The Treasure of Montségur, Crucible, Northamptonshire 1955, p. 55
(8) The Cathar View, The Mysterious Legacy of Montségur, ed. Dave Patrick, Polair Publishing, London 2012, p. 251
(9) Reeves, Minou, Europe’s Debt to Persia, Ithaca Press, Reading 2013