The Cathars: Christians who believe in Reincarnation, Dualism, and Ascetic Salvation

The Cathars were Christians who broke away from the Catholic church during medieval times. They did not label themselves as “Cathars” — rather, “good men” or “good women” or “good Christians.” The religion was a dualistic and Gnostic movement. Unfortunately, the Catholic church eventually struck back and they died out by the 1200s — while some believe the last survivors went into hiding and continued practicing their beliefs in private.


Cathar beliefs

Catharism was based on the belief in two gods, which was their explanation for the existence of evil. According to their teachings, life began with a “benevolent God” or “Spirit,” who created Heaven and the angels. And then came an “evil God” — known as “Satan” or “The Devil” — a fallen angel, who created this material world.

Their belief is that the entire world is evil, and that a benevolent God could’ve never created it. Rather, it was Satan who created this world and tricked angels to incarnate into material bodies (humans). And in order to escape the endless cycle of reincarnation, one must learn how to give up all worldly pleasures and temptations. So essentially, all humans are angels who were tempted by Satan to incarnate in this world for eternity. Yet through each incarnation, humans can work to regain angel status and thus return to Heaven.

The Cathars lived simply, most especially the priests, with minimal money and possessions. They saw men and women as equal: viewing the soul as genderless, and the body as an illusion. They aim for asceticism (the renunciation of physical and psychological desires) similar to Buddhism, Hinduism, Jainism, as well as ancient Islamic, Jewish, and Christian practices. They saw the detachment of materialism as a way of becoming holy again and finding oneself back into Heaven.

The Cathars valued Jesus Christ and his holy teachings. However they denied the Resurrection and viewed the Cross as a symbol of evilness and a tool used for torture.


  • Divine masculine + divine feminine; equal status of men and women
    • Divine feminine is called “Sophia” or “wisdom.”
    • Female figures of the Bible were praised as highly as males; Jesus has equivalent power to Virgin Mary or Mary Magdalene.
  • Reincarnation: a soul is incarnated over and over until it has reached angelic status, giving up material pleasures. Then, the soul returns home to God in Heaven.
  • Cosmic Duality: a constant war between a benevolent God (Spirit) and an evil God (Satan).
    • [Note: just because Satan is titled “God”, does NOT mean worship, rather it implies power.]
  • Non-violence: against war, capital punishment, and the killing of humans and animals.
  • Vegetarianism: no consumption of animal products, although fish is allowed in some cases.
  • Celibacy: abstaining from intercourse and reproduction; marriage is discouraged.
    • It is said that Cathars who were not celibate used birth control and abortion to prevent birth, as reproduction was discouraged and viewed as “slavery of spirit.”
    • On the other hand, it can also be argued that reproduction can be used a chance for the spirit to work towards angelic status through incarnation.
    • There are also some reports of their belief that Jesus Christ married Mary Magdalene and procreated — so this issue seems like a grey area.
  • Manual labor is encouraged and dignified.
  • Rejection of baptism or communion.
  • Suicide is rational and dignified in certain situations. [Editor’s note: suicide is never OK, hotline: 800-273-8255]

Cathar view of Jesus Christ

As Christians, naturally, the Cathars believed in Jesus Christ and valued his teachings with high regard and obedience. However, their view of him greatly differs from mainstream Christianity.

  • Jesus was neither God nor man.
  • Jesus was not flesh and blood; he was more like a hologram.
  • Jesus did not come into the world through reproduction/physical birth, rather he was sent directly by Spirit.
  • A holy bloodline was established by Jesus and Mary Magdalene after marrying and having children.
    • This particular belief is up for debate. It conflicts with the belief that Jesus was not flesh and blood, incapable of being born or dying, yet it is claimed to be a “secret” of Catharism.
  • There is no Resurrection of Jesus, as he was incapable of death. Ultimately it was Satan who ended his life.

The Bible / Holy Scripture

The Cathars did not reject the Bible, but had a skeptical view of it. Many passages were rejected while others were still followed. They believed many parts of the Bible were mistranslated or edited through the centuries.

Passages of the Old Testament that the Cathars followed:

  • Book of Job
  • The Psalms
  • The books of Solomon [Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon]
  • Book of Ecclesiasticus
  • Book of Isaiah
  • Book of Ezekiel
  • Book of David
  • The twelve prophets

Most of the New Testament was also rejected, except for The Gospels, which were held with high regard.

The holy Cathar text was known as “The book of Two Principles”

“The story goes that the devil came to the gates of heaven and requested entry but was denied. He waited outside the gate for a thousand years, watching for a chance to slip in, and one day he saw his opportunity and took it. Once inside, he gathered an audience of divine spirits around him and told them they were losing out by continuing to love and serve God who never gave them anything. They were little more than slaves, he said, since God owned everything they thought they had. If they would follow him, however, and leave heaven, he could provide them with all kinds of pleasure such as lovely vineyards and rich fields, beautiful women and handsome men, wonderful riches, and the best wine.

Many souls were seduced and for nine days and nine nights they fell through the hole in heaven the devil had created. God allowed this for those who wished to leave but other souls were falling through the hole and so God sealed it. After the souls had fallen, they found themselves in the devil’s realm without any of the good things he had promised and, remembering the joys of heaven, they repented and asked the devil if they could return. The devil replied that they could not because he had fashioned for them bodies which would bind them to earth and cause them to forget all about heaven.

The devil made the bodies easily enough but could not manage to attach the souls to them so they would think, feel, and move; vexed by this, he asked God for help. God understood that the souls who had fallen would have to work their way back to his grace and that they could do so through struggling with these bodies so he made a deal with the devil: the devil could do as he liked with the bodies, but the souls which animated them belonged to God. The devil consented, and humans were created.

Trapped in these bodies, the soul would live, die, and be reborn in another as long as that soul remained attached to the body and the pleasures which the devil had promised it back in heaven. Once the soul renounced the body and all its temptations, it would be freed to return to God and resume its former state. The whole purpose of human existence was this struggle against the devil (known as Rex Mundi, “the king of this world”) and the prison of the flesh.”

Direct quote from Ancient History Encyclopedia

Life as a Cathar

The Cathars were most highly populated in Italy and Southern France. They typically lived in small communities of 60-600 people, sharing supplies and helping one another out. While many Cathars lived together in seclusion and secrecy for their own protection, other Cathars had the freedom to live among all people while continuing to follow their beliefs. Cathars ranged from peasants, to writers and poets, to business owners, even to nobility and members of the Catholic clergy.

They dressed simply in dark robes, barefoot, and unshaven. There was no central authority figure or leader, only priests, who served more as inspiration rather than dictators. To become a Cathar, you simply had to profess your beliefs. There was no official baptism or communion, or any type of ritual. Instead, the Cathars held informal meetings, typically at someone’s home.


Suppression by the Catholic church

Well aware that the Catholic church was their greatest threat, the Cathars appeased them through donations and gifts. Their strategy only worked for so long, until the Catholics enforced conversion.

In the 1200s, Cathars were captured and prosecuted, many of them tragically massacred by the Catholic church. The last Cathar fortress fell in 1244, with over 200 priests burned on the spot. The scarce few survivors were forced to contain their beliefs in secrecy.


Modern followers

Although the Cathars may have died out long ago (or simply went into hiding…) those who are attracted to these beliefs may still follow them. As a religion based on informal gatherings, it seems you do not need to be a part of an official ritual in order to become one.

Book titles on Cathar teachings:

  • The Lost Teachings of the Cathars: Their Beliefs and Practices
  • Cathars: Their History and Myths Revealed
  • The Other God: Dualist Religions from Antiquity to the Cathar Heresy

Tarot card connection:

  • The Cathar Tarot: The Secret Wisdom of the Perfecti
  • The Spiritual Roots of the Tarot: The Cathar Code Hidden in the Cards
  • The Secret of the Tarot, How the Story of the Cathars was Concealed in the Tarot of Marseilles 

Free documentaries:


Conclusion

Catharism still remains a mystery to this day. When historians think of the Cathars, they tend to automatically relate it to medieval times and the bloody takeover by the Catholic church. But the Cathars should be remembered as more than just their defeat, their unique and unorthodox Christian beliefs deserve to be reexamined.

To this day there are still many conflicting reports about their exact teachings. What we do know for sure, is that the foundation of Catharism is the existence of two Gods: first there was Spirit, the benevolent God who created love and purity. Then there was Satan, an evil God who created the world. By tempting God’s angels in Heaven with the promise of pleasure, he thus created humans — Spirit’s angels trapped in Satan’s bodies, trapped in the cycle of reincarnation, until they use their free will and conscious efforts to detach from worldly pleasures and return home, the Paradise where they originally came from.

And so, Spirit (the benevolent God) allowed this to happen because it was what the angels (and Satan) wanted, to experience this material world with all its enticing pleasures [lust, food, power, money, free-will, etc.] that also come with suffering and misery [sickness, disease, discomfort, jealousy, sadness, betrayal, etc.] Alongside, God does not allow this cycle to go on for eternity, but welcomes us back to Him with open arms once we choose to do so, through repentance.

This piece is not meant to disrespect or discourage anyone’s religious or spiritual beliefs. This is an unbiased look at a real religion that once thrived for a moment in time. My hopes is that no one was offended, but that it can be understood that Christianity comes in many forms. This is not to say that this religion is right or wrong. However it is extremely disheartening that their culture’s lack of religious freedom was the cause of so many innocent deaths.


Sources:

11 thoughts on “The Cathars: Christians who believe in Reincarnation, Dualism, and Ascetic Salvation

  1. Wow, this is amazing! My only prior exposure to Catharism was a single, quickly-killed-off character in the BBC Merlin series. Needless to say, that portrayal did not even scratch the surface of the fascinating facts you provide here. The similarities to the general Buddhist outlook are quite interesting. Then again, there’s actually a sect of Buddhism (Pure Land) that strongly resembles certain types of Christianity in that people pray to Amida Buddha to save their souls by bringing them into his paradise so they can finally achieve enlightenment.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Aha! Yes, mainstream media highlights how they died out but brushes over their beliefs! Wow, I haven’t heard of Pure Land but I’m going to look into that, certainly sounds like a similar thing! I can totally see the connection there!

      Liked by 1 person

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