Secret Societies: The Cathars I

The secret societies mentioned in books, such as the Da Vinci Code, have been influenced by groups, such as the Cathars and the Knights Templar. The Cathars represented a Christian sect that prospered in southern France, Germany and northern Italy during the 11th to 13th centuries. It was this group that led to the early Christian Gnosticism. In this article, you will learn more about the Cathars and some of their religious traditions.

The Cathars was a group that included religion, mysticism, politics, and the military. They wished to attain spiritual perfection and independence in regards to politics and religion. They were active from around 1100 to around 1315.

Introducing the Manicheans

Across Europe and Asia, religion was undergoing great changes during the early part of the CE centuries. At the time, Christianity (and other religions, such as Mithraism and Gnosticism) was spreading at a rapid rate. A lot of different players influenced the shift in religion at the time, where prophets and other leaders emerged. The founder of Manucheanism was named Mani , a Zoroastrian that lived from 216 to 276 CE.

Born in Persia, Manu became a prophet after he started to have visions. He preached a Gnostic gospel of radial dualism that had a widespread influence on religion that affected people all over, including within the Roman Empire and China. His teachings were quite influential on the Gnostic movements to develop after his time, including the Bogomils, early mainstream Christian groups and the Cathars.

Some of the teachings associated with Mani included primal man as being comprised of pure light and spirit, and salvation was a continuous process of freeing “sparks of life” trapped within the physical “prison” of the human body and brain. He said that biblical prophets (including Buddha, Zoroaster, Jesus, and Mani) had been sent to earth to spread the word.

Mani and his followers were quite active in spreading the word and they were successful in gaining the attention of people in high places. For example, Shapur I (the Sassanid emperor at the time) was a political ally for Mani and his followers. Unfortunately, Mani fell out of favor with his political connections and was sent to jail when the persecution the Manichaeans took place after the death of Shapur. While incarcerated, Mani died within a month. His followers equated the death of their leader in the same manner as the death of Christ was detailed.

However, Mani’s church still survived and continued to spread the word throughout Central Asia until it reached Asia, where it was practiced in one form or another , all the way until the modern era. Manicheans were divided into two classes. The Elect were known as the ‘Righteous’ while the Auditors were referred to as the ‘hearers.’ A strict code was established between the two classes. The Elect were not allowed to gather food for themselves. This meant that they heavily depended on the Auditors, who did not have to follow these restrictions. It is this system that the Cathars would also embrace.