From, “The Future has an Ancient Heart”

By: Professor Lucia Chiavola Birnbaum

(2005 – Berkeley University)


“…the major 13th century heresy… Cathars lived on an African migration path in the Pyrenees and called themselves “Good Christians.” Cathars did not care for the church of Rome. Like Jews and Muslims, they did not consider Jesus divine, although they lived by his values. Bypassing Popes and priests, Cathars regarded their own clergy, “Parfaites and Parfaits” (women and men) as intermediaries with the Divine. Cathars did not eat meat, and did not believe in the church sacrament of marriage. They lived nonviolently withvalues of Jesus’ sermon on the mount, values that Simone Weil, Maulana Karenga, and others, have pointed out, may be found in very early African documents. The ultimate object of Cathar beliefmay be glimpsed in their pilgrimages to Black Madonnas, of Le Puy in France and of Montserrat in Spain.”

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Cathars lived on an African migration path where the earth is red and the Aude river turns red after a heavy rain. Considering the red earth moistened by rain water as healing, people make medical poultices after it rains. I think of Cathar country as a land of the dark Mother, whose values (found in the folklore) are justice (…political traditions of justice and equality in the Cathar region) and compassion or healing.”

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“The Catholic Papacy, aligned with the French monarchy, considered the Cathars very threatening. In this period…both were intent on killing ‘dark others’ – notably Muslims, Jews, and dissenting Christians.┬áCathars were singled out for killing, while Pope and State were forming the Inquisition, to eradicate heresy. For Europe, Black Madonnas…may be considered our most palpable evidence, not only of the Black African Mother, but of heresies that transmitted her values on submerged levels. Cultural resistance, at the height of the inquisition, is suggested in the great number of Black Madonnas all over France…”

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“The 13th century domestic Crusade, against the Cathars, was accompanied by earlier and continuing European Crusades, to wrest the Holy Land from the Muslims. Christian Church and State killed Muslims in the Holy Lands, while at home they killed non-violent Cathar heretics. Killing people who lived as “good Christians” by the Christian Church strikes me as a lethal hypocrisy, similar to the lethal hypocrisy of the contemporary…killing thousands of innocent dark people…and sending young U. S. soldiers, in the name of ‘freedom,’ to death in a war based on lies.”




“Cathars, for me, recall young heretics of the 1960s all over the world who protested the U. S. imperialist war in Vietnam, in the U.S. insisted on civil rights of African Americans, then on equal rights of all the vulnerable, reached for democratic forms of communalism, and lived in the primitive Christian manner of the Cathars. In an article I wrote at the time, I called them “the unkempt prophets of Berkeley.” They began in nonviolence, considered love, rather than the Church sacrament of marriage the significant bond, and tapped deep levels of consciousness…”

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“Cathars…were Christian heretics, on an African migration path, in the French (also the Spanish) Pyrenees, who tapped ancient African matristic beliefs, which they shared with Basques in the same region. Basque blood type confirms they are an African enclave in Europe, who have kept matricentric beliefs and have defied those who would wrest them away – from Romans to Fascists of the twentieth century. Similarly, in the Balkans, on another African migration path in eastern Europe, where Marija Gimbutas found many icons of the pre-Christian woman divinity (and where I have noted that byzantine Madonnas are dark), an earlier Bogomil heresy is said to have influenced Cathar heretics in southwest France.”

“What happened to the Cathars who fled the burnings? Several went to Lombardy, in northern Italy, where I have found a pattern of beliefs connecting Black Madonnas, heretics and feminists. Heresy, regarded as resistance to the dominant culture, can be tracked in France from early Christian evangelization, when people’s stories differed from accounts in the canonical Gospel. Cultural resistance became political with the French Revolution in 1789, subsequent 19th century uprisings. In the 20th century Catalonians on an African migration path in Spain (near the immensely popular Black Madonna of Montserrat), courageously fought the Fascists in the Civil War, that preceded World War II. The Maqui, in southern France, in the resistance during World War II, saved Jews from extermination camps, and fought the Nazis.”