Cathar Beliefs in Tarot Iconography
Are you intrigued by the Cathars? I always have been. Basically, in my limited knowledge of them, all I knew was that they were a medieval religious group that was considered heretical and its members were murdered (set on fire) by the Catholic Church.
After deciding to reacquaint myself with Medieval/Renaissance Tarot, I looked for a book to do some more in-depth studies of the concepts and symbology behind the Marseille Tarot and earlier decks like the Visconti Tarot. I found the book you see above which, though it’s not out as a hard copy yet, you can buy now on Kindle. So I did. After my book burning days, I have realised it’s probably better that way.
The author, Russell A. Sturgess, is from a Christian background but has done a lot of venturing out into other forms of spirituality, judging by sources he quotes in the book. The book is not without New Age influence, sadly. He makes some pretty New Age-sounding claims about the Cathars that I would like to verify for myself because references are lacking.
For instance, according to Sturgess, the most revered Gospel of the Cathars is the Gospel of John. If they lived by this gospel truth, how come they neither believed in a bodily resurrection (or did they?) nor felt any need to celebrate communion (no source reference in the book)?
My guess is that the Cathars were forbidden from taking part in Church communion and celebrated a quiet version of it in their own homes but I could be wrong and would love to hear in the comments from those of you who are better informed.
The Divine Feminine
This isn’t a full review of the book, by the way. I’m only 147 pages in out of 499 but already I have lots of questions. So far, the book has covered a lot of historical ground, with quite a few interesting illustrations.
According to Sturgess, the Cathars believed in a Divine family of Mother and Father God, with Christ and Sophia as the son and daughter of the divine parents. The faith in the Divine Feminine was paramount to escaping the cycle of reincarnation, so it is no surprise that the female religious adepts (Parfait) in the Cathar community were on equal footing with their male counterparts and there was no other internal hierarchy among the Parfait.
In Italy, where the Divine Feminine was held in equal reverence by the Gugliemites, there was more of a hierarchy and even – however briefly – a female Pope.
Apparently, the female pope depicted in the Visconti Tarot was a Gugliemite. She is none other than Maifreda da Piovano, first cousins with Matteo Visconti, which explains her appearance in one of the oldest Tarot decks ever created.
If anything, the fact that the Cathars didn’t have a hierarchy among its adepts speaks to me of quite mixed influences for the roots of the Marseille Tarot.
Murdered by the Catholic Church
Maifreda was a follower of Guglielma of Bohemia, who while not a Cathar, shared some of their beliefs in the importance of the Divine Feminine. Guglielma saw herself as a female counterpart to Christ.
Maifred was not a Cathar but like so many of the Cathars, Maifreda was burned at the stake after having been given the title Papessa by Guglielma not long before she died. How many of the Cathar beliefs were held by Guglielma and her followers is difficult to assertain.
Arround the time of executing Maifreda, the Church also disenterred the bones of Guglielma and set fire to them. Perhaps they were afraid that she would be resurrected as a the Holy Spirit which is what she had prophesied. It’s all terribly exciting, mystical and magical and has definitely whetted my appetite for learning more about the Medieval and Renaissance mystics.
The Holy Grail
In essence, the Cathars practiced a religion of kindness. In that respect, I hope to learn from them and to apply that kindness to my Tarot contemplations. It’s too early to say exactly what the take-away for working with the Tarot will be from this book but I wanted to share some of my thoughts so far.
I’ll return with a follow-up on how useful this book turns out to be in terms of actually working with the Marseille Tarot cards for spiritual growth. The deals with the Grail Code as well, so I’m looking forward to that bit, especially since the dream I had about 3D cards a while back was all Cups cards.
For now, the jury is out for me on whether or not the Cathar beliefs actually form the roots of the Marseille Tarot but some of the iconography is certainly a good match with Gnostic, Christo-Sophianic philosophy, if not specifically Cathar.
In His Love