Friday, 31 December 2010

And so this is Christmas...

...and what have I done?

Certainly another year older though not necessarily wiser. Occasionally more cynical and that's one to go on the Resolutions list. This has been the year that I have lost one friend, and seen the nature of a relationship change. I have driven almost 3,000 klms of the Camino in retrospective, and flown to Canada to be a keynote speaker at a conference on Gnosticism based on Pilgrimage to Heresy. I have let go of things. I have come to treasure the peace and quiet of my home. I have overcome Writer's Block and am well into Compostela the second book in the Camino Chronicles series.

And I have become a first-time GrandMom and that's the very best of all. I love my little Puppy with all of my heart. I can watch her for hours just learning about the world.

And I hope that I too am continuing to learn about the world as I progress with my home schooling project and find that trying to condense "general knowledge" into a relatively short curriculum is a real challenge and one that we are enjoying immensely. I have seen my client base wax and wane and wax again following "El Crisis". Who knows what 2011 has in store for debt ridden Spain with our 20% unemployed?

Next year I will be blogging less frequently for the simple fact that I have a book to finish and a deadline to meet. I began these pages writing a history of the Camino, in particular the story of how Santiago and Compostela came to be linked together. I shall be continuing with this and the fascinating story of Diego Gelmirez, first archbishop of Compostela and the main historical character of my novel. I hope you will come along for the ride.

Happy 2011 to everyone who visits these pages. I hope the new year brings for you everything you wish for yourselves. For myself I ask for a chance to continue to write, to help adults in my psychotherapy practice and children in my Learning Centre. I ask for the chance to mellow and enjoy the pleasures of the Ordinary and remember that Yesterday is History, Tomorrow a Mystery,

but Today is a Gift.

Monday, 13 December 2010

God is All Good...

Such reasoning only led me to the conclusion that either:

God is not all good - because he either denied his creation access to their true natures, or else put temptation deliberately in their way so that he could exercise his power over them whether they transgressed or not. A God who wishes to keep his creations in the cave of ignorance cannot be all good.

God is not all knowing or else he would have realised that his creature was no fool. "God" is blind to the true nature of his creation, and blind to the fact that he is neither good nor powerful. His name is Samael, the Blind One, and he is evil personified.

God is not all powerful - he could have prevented them from having the longing for knowledge had he wanted to.

Strong words...? Try these on for size:

slavery, genocide, terrorism, poverty, environmental catastrophe, paedophilia, sex slavery, ignorance, squalor, domestic violence, rape, the exploitation of the weak majority by the rich minority, and the inability to free our minds from religious institutions which in order to secure our loyalty must keep us in a state of perpetual fear!

If man is responsible for all this, how can he have been created in the image of a Perfect God? Perfection cannot admit evil or it is not perfection. If God is responsible for this, well, he has one hell of a lot to answer for!

Who created evil? Satan? Perhaps. But who is the Devil and how did he get to have such a hold over us?

There is only one conclusion, that which we have been taught to worship as God, even knowing or perhaps despite the horrifics of the Old Testament and the evidence of our own television screens, is not God. This god is deeply flawed, malicious and insecure, ignorant of his own weaknesses and caprices, jealous of...?

In fact, God is indeed all good etc., but there is another God who perfectly fits this description. And once we realise this, the heaviness of the world, the imperfections of our bodies, the torment of our minds as they strive to make a sense of this life we have been thrown into, all assume their proper place as subservient to our true nature and are allowed to return to our true home, not as the Catholic church will tell you, after death, but in this life. We can be resurrected in the flesh as pure spirit.

Master, when shall the kingdom come? And he answered us straightways: It will not come by waiting for it. It will not be a matter of saying Here it is or There it is. Rather the kingdom of the Father is spread upon the earth. But men do not see it.

You will not find this is the New Testament; you will not even find it exactly as it is written here in the Gnostic Writings. It is an excerpt from The Apocryphon of Jesus the Christ which Kieran in Pilgrimage to Heresy is translating. As far as I know, no such gospel exists, yet the words are pure Gnostic, pure Priscillian, pure Cathar, and they are what I have come to believe in myself.

The world came about by a mistake. For he who created it wanted to make it imperishable and immortal. But he fell short of attaining his desire. For the world never was immortal; nor for that matter was he who made the world.

Who would ever have thought to find Jesus saying these words? Yet in the Gnostic writings they are repeated many times.

The disciples asked Jesus: Lord, when will the New World come? And he answered them: What you look forward to has already come and you still do not realise it.
The disciples entreated him: Lord, how shall we know truth from falsehood?
The saviour answered us thus: woe to those who are captives. For they are bound in caverns. In mad laughter do they rejoice in what they think you see. They neither realise their perdition,. nor do they reflect upon their circumstances. They do not realise that they have dwelt in darkness and death.
Some will say the lord died first and rose up, they are in error for he will rise up first and then die. If you do not attain the resurrection first then you too will die.

First there is a mountain, then there is no mountain, then there is...

A Child's Garden of Gnosticism - Revisited

So, I suppose that brings me back to me.

If God is All Good...
If God is All Powerful...
If God is All Knowing...

Why do evil things happen?

The problem is, as has been pointed out by the Rev. Doctor Stephen Hoeller of the Los Angeles Gnostic Church, that it is impossible to reconcile these premises one with another. Personally, I think I may have predated Dr. Hoeller since I figured this out at the age of 16 around about the time I dropped God. My reasoning went a bit like this:

If God is all-knowing, then God must be aware of human fragility and weakness so that any attempt at testing humankind is expecting man to be Godlike: pure and omnipotent etc.

Either that, or expecting man to fail. If that was the expected outcome, it hardly seems fair to put us through a test that we are by nature (God-given nature at that) destined to fail. We are either perfect and able to withstand temptation, or we are not. Or some of us are...although that would make us less than human, and more like God.

God-like...Like God?

It's getting tricky already! Especially if that God is jealous by self-proclamation.

If God is all good but allows catastrophe and evil to exist then he is not all powerful. If he is all powerful and allows such things to happen, then he is not all good at all.

Ah, but I hear you say: Evil came about because of man's original sin and we have been paying for it ever since. The sins of the fathers and all that. According to Saint Augustine, who turned tailcoat against the Manichees the minute he realised what had happened to Priscillian could happen to him: "sin" is a sexually transmitted disease.

Saint Augustine, however, was writing not far from 400 years after Christ was born. And nobody else had ever suggested such a thing as the idea of children born tainted with sins of their species.

What a horrendous idea! I am tempted to say: "Jesus would turn in his grave".

There...I said it.

Yet somehow, we have been fed this as "Gospel Truth" since the time we were able to understand speech...Generation after generation of newborns cursed to go through life with the greatest of guilts weighing down their innocent souls. And what was that guilt? Wanting to Know!

Let's take the proposition that God created man in his own image. This begs the question: "What image?" If we are speaking of a physical image, well all well and good. But if that is so then God must suffer the same decay as we do, and the same bodily inconveniences which I will leave to your imagination. If however, we posit that this may have meant "in God's intellectual image" (the Nous), then we have to assume that not only does man have free will, but the right to use it. That being so, it is hardly surprising that Adam would have found Eve's gift of interest. And what if man was not exactly created, but partook of the spiritual image of God? Then surely that would make man Godlike, or perhaps even God as a piece of a hologram is the whole hologram.

Even though holograms didn't exist when I was sixteen, this was the form my reasoning was taking.

Is it possible, I thought, that God might not be the good, powerful, knowing being that we have been told to worship? Suppose, having created man, God found out that his creation somehow was smarter than he had expected him to be? Or conversely, is it possible that God thought man his creation simple and foolish and unlikely to give Him any trouble? It all boils down to the rather more plausible possibility that either man was intended to be an automaton, created to serve a lesser God who being All Good should not have debased his creation in such a way in the first place, or else, man proved to be too smart for God to handle hence the prohibitions about trees and apples and all that. Man, he found, was investigative: he, and she, seeks knowledge as a way to truth, and having found the means to that truth becomes all knowledgeable, all powerful, and good. What is the nature of that truth? Could it be that man and woman, realising their bondage to their earthly bodies, recognised that within them was a heavenly spirit, forever at one with and a part of the true God? Could it be that this investigation led Eve and Adam to the conclusion that the one they have been told to worship "above all others" is not only jealous, but deeply flawed!

What would be the one and only outcome of this conclusion? Atheism. Apostasy before religion had even been created. Now obviously "God" couldn't have that and so to punish Adam, Eve and all humankind to come for daring to challenge his orders, they would be forever removed from this paradise he had created for them where they had been expected to remain forever in ignorance of their true origins.

A Vengeful Saint - Dominic Guzman...

I have been to Montsegur. I left a white rose on a rock. To this day the atmosphere is redolent of sadness, injustice, and ignorance. I felt no glory there.

After this, there appeared to be no more organised Cathar resistance although the practice continued in secret, much as it is likely the Priscillianists had to take their conventicles out from the houses of adherents and elite to clearings in the forest, mountain retreats etc. But the Popes knew that the threat remained. By 1226, the second crusade against heresy had crushed the southern counts and the entire region had been annexed to France under the Capetian rule of St. Louis who had headed the Crusade in person. Meanwhile, in 1229, there emerges in the Languedoc a Spanish priest named Dominic, a religious fanatic and thoroughly unpleasant man, although it must be said that he cannot be held directly responsible for the deeds of the Dominican Inquisition which he founded as by then he was already dead.

For several years, now, I have spoken words of peace to you. I have preached to you; I have besought you with tears. But as the common saying goes in Spain: where a blessing fails a good thick stick will succeed. Now we shall rouse princes and prelates against you; and they, alas, will in their turn assemble whole nations and peoples and a mighty number will perish by the sword. Towers will fall and walls will be razed to the ground. And you will all of you be reduced to servitude.

Thus force will prevail where gentle persuasion has failed to do so.

These are the words of Christian "Saint" Dominic to the Christian"`heretic"`: the Cathars. The Lamb to the Wolves...

You decide.

The Inquisition was charged to do anything at all they wished to force Cathars to recant. This stopped short of actual torture or death. They had to keep their souls pure for the Holy Office. Instead, they handed their victims over to the secular forces for that. Any and every means could and was used to exact the "truth" from these poor innocent men and women in order to save them from eternal damnation, the perpetrators never knowing that it was they themselves who already lived in hell. The atmosphere of distrust in towns and villages grew daily. Anyone could be arrested on the grounds that they carried on heretical practices, never knowing the exact nature of their so called crimes, not the identity of their accusers. Bodies of suspected heretics were dug up to be thrown to the flames.

By the middle of the 14th century, there was not a Cathar left.

Sunday, 5 December 2010

The Burning of the Holy Martyrs...

The Synod of Verona took place in 1184. It was convened for the specific purpose of condemning the Waldensians, another Gnostic group whose beliefs were very similar to those of the Cathars who also travelled and preached in pairs as did the Bogomils. It was clearly only a matter of time.

In 1198, the very mis-named Innocent III tried to launch a crusade against the Cathars but couldn't drum up much support. The nobles and knights lived side by side with the Cathars, some, such as the Count of Toulouse, were clearly Cathar sympathisers and in some cases, their mothers and sisters were Parfaits and Parfaites. "Why would we want to persecute them'' the knights said in Albi. "They are our neighbours and our friends and we respect them and their honest work". Innocent had to be content with seething and fuming while his church became more and more shipwrecked by the doubts of the people.

But after Cathar sympathisers were suspected in the murder of a Papal legate near Toulouse in 1109, Innocent decided to make a call for Holy War and this time he had the backing of the King of France. He exhorted the knights to exercise their religious zeal, promising them full remission of sins for any deeds they carried out in the name of God. These men, for the most part, were mercenaries, interested in nothing but the spoils of war. Near Beziers, a town of some 20,000 both Cathar and Catholic, the townspeople were so terrified of the massed forces that they hid in the Church of Mary Magdalene. When asked by a commander what he should do in this situation, their leader Armaud Amaury most famously exclaimed:

`Kill them all; God will recognise his own`.

What followed over the next 40 years was some of the most blatant butchery ever carried out in the name of Jesus. At Minerve after a long and drawn out siege which ended when the water supply was contaminated, 140 went to the flames. When the knights approached their leader - who had offered clemency to any who accepted the Catholic faith - and said that they weren't there to see heretics escape, he told them not to worry. "They won't recant", he said. He was right. Chroniclers of the time say that the heretics "hurled themselves into the flames". At Lavaur, 400 Perfecti died the same death. Finally in 1244 at Montsegur, perhaps the most famous Cathar site of all, 225 Parfaits and Parfaites died by being burned alive at the bottom of the mountain upon which stood the castle which had been the last remaining Cathar stronghold.

After a prolonged siege, the defences of the castle of Montsegur were breached by a group of Gastons. The residents asked for 15 days to prepare for their deaths and distributed their clothes and few possessions to prepare for a death they did not believe in. Those who were credentes were given the option of deciding during those days whether they would give up their faith and walk free or not. It is on record that 20 credentes asked the leading Parfait Bertrand Marti to be consoled. What is extraordinary about this is that as ordinary believers they could have survived the capitulation, but as Parfaits they knew they would be burned alive.

The words of the Consolamentum are known to us. Part of the sacrament states that the supplicant say: "I have this will and determination. Pray to God for me that he will give me strength".

They would have needed it.

Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Priscillian, the Good Man...?

So what, then, is the world?

Simply put, hell.

This, folks is the realm of the Devil - you are in the Matrix, trapped on the island like Truman and the only way you are going to break out is to come to the realisation of what you are, where you have come from, what binds you to this world of suffering, and what you have to do to extricate your soul.

And you'd better wake up soon or you are destined to continue to be trapped in ignorance for many lifetimes.

Some very notable comparisons between the Cathars and the Priscillianists can be made here: both groups were vegetarians eating no meat or meat products, although fish appears to have been allowed since fish, according to the Cathars, did not have sexual intercourse to reproduce. Neither group drank wine as it was considered not only intoxicating to the spirit but contaminated with the earth of the material world. I am not sure what they thought about leeks and carrots. But I digress.

Both groups were expected to pray, day and night, but while Priscillian asked his followers to read all books including the Apocrypha it seems more likely that such books were not available to the Cathari who seemed to take much of their doctrine from the Gospel of St. John. This is not to say however, that there could not have been an oral tradition of additional material or perhaps they may even have had one or more of the so-called heretical writings as part of the much-written about "Cathar treasure".

The Cathars had no respect for the cross likening it to "the gallows on which your father was hanged". Instead their symbol was the dove of peace. Scorning the visible opulence in which the clergy, and particularly the Pope lived, they sought voluntary poverty. They denied the Apostolic Succession believing the Catholic Popes to be the Antichrist. The Perfecti aimed to live their lives in purity. Once they had taken the Consolamentum they became quite literally Christs themselves, and it is for this reason that the credentes would worship them, often by prostration, not because of any attempt at worldly glorification on their part but because they beheld the living God.

Friday, 26 November 2010

A World Made in Error...

Following Jesus' perhaps most difficult exhortation, the Cathar perfect once they had received the Consolamentum, were expected to leave their wives, husbands, families. They lived together in houses. When death was close, rather than submit themselves to the decay of the flesh, they would starve themselves to death in fast called the Endura. Not surprisingly, most credentes waited until their deathbed before asking to receive the Consolamentum. In the Roman Catholic church, the rite of Extreme Unction was introduced at about this time to compete with the deathbed ritual of the Cathars.

The Cathars had no doubt that the world and the association with the world was linked with Satan. Jesus could not have died on the cross as what perished was the body, not the spirit. The true world, they said, was spiritual, eternal, immaterial in fact the antithesis of matter. The world eternal was the spiritual renewal of the elected day by day, the knowledge of Christ's kingdom and never of this world. Satan was the king of the world, the visible, temporal world of the named and thus the desired. As Jehovah in the Old Testament he had showed his true colours by pretending to be, or perhaps even believing that he was God, the Creator of all. Satan for the Cathari was the lord of the physical person, the decaying flesh which lusts and covets and makes people sin.

Simply put, for the Cathars - and Priscillian - we are not meant to be here. Humans are the production of the fall of certain angels who followed Samael the Blind One in his fall to earth and were persuaded by him to enter into the bodies of the creatures he made out of sand and dust. When the angels realised the trick that had been played upon them, they longed to escape from their material bodies to return to their celestial selves of pure spirit from which they were taken by false promises and to which they hoped one day to return. The aim of life for the Cathars, then, was to reverse the fall: to re-unite the spirit with the body and in so-doing free oneself from the imprisonment of the soul.

Friday, 19 November 2010

The Cathars...

The Cathars or Albigenses lived, worked and preached in the areas of France from Toulouse to Beziers and from Albi to Foix in the foothills of the Pyrenees. There were, of course, Cathars outside of these areas. There were other sects whose practices were very much alike to Cathar practices such as the groups in Cologne in Germany, and the Bogomils from what is now Bulgaria and associated regions. It has been suggested often that Catharism originated with the Bogomils and was brought to the Languedoc by Bogomil missionaries. While this is indeed a possibility there are subtle differences between the two groups which suggests perhaps another, more home-grown and indigenous dualist tradition was already there. I suggest that perhaps the Cathars had a Priscillianist root system which in its turn, like many similar so called 'heresies' could trace themselves back to the Essenes of Jerusalem among whose members most likely was counted Jesus and most of his followers. It would only take a seed, a contact or contacts from this region to France or in the case of Priscillian, Spain, for this "heresy" to take root. And not only to take root but to spread.

What we have not been able to access in the history of the spread of Christianity, early Christianity that is, is that Priscillianism was widespread in the latter part of the 4th century; there were Priscillianist followers not only in Galicia, but the whole of Northern Spain, into areas as far south as Córdoba, and then into areas such as the Languedoc and Aquitaine of "Gaul": even into the northern part of Italy!

Priscillian's message was a serious threat to the power of the newly established Roman church: it said that priests and bishops were not necessary to understand the world of God. Not surprisingly it had to be stamped out!

But what is interesting is to see Priscillian's message re-emerge, centuries after Priscillian's death, but perhaps not so long after Priscillianism was forced underground in Spain. When we put Priscillian's message and the message of the Good Men side by side, the seams are almost flawless. How could this be? Many have suggested an influence from the Baltic areas, but do we really have to look that far?

Whatever the reason for their being, by 1143, the majority of Christians in the region were Cathar. Bernard of Clairveaux campaigned in the region against their practices but had no success whatsoever. Increasingly, the Popes, not surprisingly, became alarmed.

Like the Priscillianists, the Cathars had two levels of believer: most were the ordinary people who were allowed, though not encouraged, to marry - although strictly as a bond and not a sacrament - and bring up their families. These were the credentes. They were craftsmen and women, hard working weavers, metalworkers and potters. Above them were the Perfecti. It is hard for us to image the status these men and women had. Like their counterparts amongst the Essenes, these were the Pure Ones, those who had achieved perfection and redemption in this life. These Parfaits and Parfaites had renounced the earthly realm by receiving the only sacrament valid for the Cathars: the Consolamentum. To call this a baptism would be highly misleading. The Cathars renounced baptism as being of the material world. The Consolamentum meant baptism with the spirit and through it the supplicant received the Holy Paraclete, the gift of the Holy Spirit in exactly the same way that Christ had received it at the time of his baptism. For the Cathars the water was not only unnecessary but tainted. This was more a symbolic baptism of fire after which the Parfait became a comforter and a preacher of the only true way to the resurrection they had received, in this life. This is in many ways the core of the Gnostic beliefs and there is little doubt that both Cathars and Priscillianists were Gnostics especially when this realisation of the truth is linked to their dualism. Both groups rejected the Trinity, both made the extraordinary claim that redemption flowed from the understanding of the true nature of man's being, as pure spirit trapped in matter through either curiosity, or the machinations of a devilish trickster who wanted us to believe that faith in Jesus` death on the cross was all we needed to know for our salvation after death.

Saturday, 13 November 2010

On Pain of Death...

The church forbade the reading of the Bible. Catholic Christians were forbidden from reading the Bible, or possessing one in any language, including Latin! Theological discussion with Jews was expressly forbidden since there was no such prohibition in the Jewish faith. St. Louis admonished any Christian upon hearing of the law from a Jew to "thrust his sword into the Jew's belly as far as it will go".

It was considered tantamount to proof of heresy that anyone would feel the need to look for proof of the church's teachings by resorting to bible study. In England, William Tyndale was burned as a heretic for translating the Bible into English and anyone owning or reading his translation was treated likewise.

Not surprisingly, the various translations into the vernacular in the Aquitaine and the southern regions of France had to be stopped and toute de suite!

So who were the Cathars and what did they believe?

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

The Hunting of Heretics: The Cathars

The term "Cathars" was never used by those who simply called themselves Les Bonhommes, or Good Christians. While some scholars have claimed the word comes from the Greek Kataroi, meaning the Pure Ones, others, most notably Nicolas Gouzy of the Centre d'Etudes Cathares in France, have suggested that the name was more comparable to an insult deriving from the German "die Ketzerei" meaning "cat worshippers" and indeed in the iconography of the Middle Ages they were almost always accompanied by cats, a symbol of evil for all of Christendom at the time. They have also been often referred to as The Albigenses, after the chronicler Geoffrey of Vigeous in 1181, especially in the scholarly literature. But this too may be a misnomer as the town of Albi was not notably Cathar with the greatest concentration of believers to the south and south east of the Languedoc and towards the foothills of the eastern Pyrenees.

Why were the Cathars (and for ease of recognition, I'll use this term throughout) such a threat to the Roman church that it was deemed necessary to persecute and exterminate them in their hundreds, perhaps thousands?

Notable in the Cathar writings of the 13th century we find this:

"The Roman church is not ashamed to say that they are the lambs of Christ. They say that the heretics they persecute are the church of wolves. But this is absurd. The wolves have always pursued and slaughtered the sheep. It would have to be the contrary for the sheep to be so mad as to hunt down and kill the wolves, and for the wolves to be so passive and patient as to let the sheep devour them."

The early 11th century brought about a crisis of faith. The world had not ended with the Millennium as most expected it to do according to prophecy. The clergy were seen as corrupt, seeking only power and riches; the Latin litany droned on with no-one understanding a word. No-one spoke Latin anymore and comprehension of the mass was reserved only for those who could read and write in that language; this did not even seem to include some of the priests themselves who used onlywell-used psalms and prayer books. In fact, as I shall mention later, the ownership of a bible was a capital offence since it pre-supposed heretical interests! People began to speak openly of the inconsistencies of the Catholic faith and Catholic practices. They spoke out about the usury of the church; of the fees collected by avaricious churchmen and their superstitious rites. The moneys they collected for holy water, oil, and earth for burial. Ordinary people began to move away from the massive cathedrals and abbeys and began to go - as the comedian Lenny Bruce has termed the 20th century spiritual comparison - "...back to God".

What can the world be other than created by the devil, they said. They began to preach detachment from this realm whose prince was Satan and sought ways to "a new heaven, and a new earth where justice will dwell".

Friday, 22 October 2010

"For your own good...!"

By applying this name of heretic, it was a simple step to branding the Cathars as a dualist movement, inspired from the east, and thus led to them being also referred to as "false prophets": heretics for whom the ultimate penalty of burning was appropriate, if they did not immediately recant, "to save their souls". After Constantine the emperor in Rome had "converted" to Christianity, the church achieved the highest power over life and death: those who lapsed from the state religion could be saved from eternal perdition by torturing and if necessary putting them death as cruelly as possible! A law of 407 against the Donatists puts heretics on the same level as traitors to the emperor. The punishment for treason was to be burnt alive. Such extraordinary thinking allowed the Roman church to accuse, and arrange for the torture and murder of those who sought to exercise their "choice" - the true meaning of the Greek word "hairesis", and with a clear and divinely- justified conscience that they were acting in the best interests of the accused! In this way, of course, the Dominican friars in the 13th and later centuries were able to carry out their gruesome and loathsome task with impunity, afterwards handing over the sacrificial victim to the secular authorities for burning.

And so to return to the time of the Cathar persecutions, perhaps what worried the church most of all was the translation of the Bible into the vernacular. In France, this meant Provencal and the Langue d'Oc (quite literally the Language of Yes). Magee, in Heresy and the Inquisition, says that by 1100 educated people were starting to read the bible by themselves, but the Pope was roundly against it. If people could read God's words for themselves they might begin to doubt or to dispute the Catholic practices which were not in line with the scriptures. Magee claims that the Popes wanted to see the power of the church, which was their own power, dominating men's lives. He quotes the novelist HG Wells in saying:

"It was just because many of them secretly doubted the soundness of their vast and elaborate doctrinal fabric that they would brook no discussion of it. They were intolerant of doubts and questions, not because they were sure of their faith, but because they were unsure.".

The Good Men...

In this culturally and spiritually explosive atmosphere there appeared, seemingly in the early years of the 1100's an extraordinary movement whose Christian beliefs were noticeably different from those of the Catholics. It spread like a wildfire and lasted, with its believers living quite comfortably side by side with Catholics, for many years, but as they began to attract the notice of the papal church it became the custom to refer to them as "Manichaeans", just as the charges against Priscillian had also been that he was a follower of the Persian prophet Mani.

Despite what we have read about the throwing of early Christians martyrs to the lions, this was confined to relatively short periods of time and very specific emperors. A far worse fate was exclusion within the church. Early church writers seem to agree that religious liberty up to a certain point was a matter of personal choice. Hence we find Tertullian in the 3rd century in Ad Scapulum writing:

It is a fundamental human right, a privilege of nature, that every man should worship according to his own convictions. One man's religion neither harms nor helps another man. It is assuredly no part of religion to compel religion - to which free will and not force should lead us.

Soon after the adoption of Christianity as the state religion of Rome the persecution of people for holding different religious opinions began. In the year 38 Theodosias, soon after his baptism into Roman Catholicism, issued, with is co-emperors,the following edict which is worth quoting in full:

We, the three emperors, will that our subjects steadfastly adhere to the religion which was taught by St. Peter to the Romans...let us believe in one Godhead of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, of equal majesty in the Holy Trinity. We order that the adherents of this faith be called Catholic Christians. We brand all the senseless followers of the other religions with the infamous name of heretics, and forbid their conventicles assuming the name of churches. Besides the condemnation of divine justice, they must expect the heaviest penalties which our authority, guided by heavenly wisdom, shall think proper to inflict.

For the most part this meant excommunication. This was a serious matter. Ex-communication meant exclusion from God and delivery to Satan. It meant everlasting death, a far worse thing to countenance than simply the taking of life
However, in 381, Christians requested the emperor to strip the Manichaeans of their civil rights. By the end of the following year, the death penalty had been pronounced for all the Manichees. They were accused of magical and obscene practices.

And within five years of Theodosius' edict, the "heaviest penalty" had been enacted on Priscillian, Euchrotia and the others.

After Priscillian...

With the Sueve occupation of Galicia, Priscillianism was more or less tolerated especially since the rejection of the Trinity was shared by both the Sueves who practiced Arianism and the Priscillianists, although initially, in the opening years of the fifth century, the barbarian invasions of Spain threw the whole Peninsula into confusion as the Sueves were for the most part pagan upon their entry into Spain. But those that followed mainstream Christianity were permitted to worship according to their own practices.

When they founded their kingdom in Galicia in 464, Arianism was the State religion rather than Roman Catholicism. There is nothing to suggest that the Arian bishops at this time were active in suppressing paganism. Priscillianism was tolerated as many of its beliefs were similar in fact to the state religion, and it was not until St. Martin of Braga (not to be confused with St. Martin of Tours), the Apostle of the Sueves, that Priscillianism is seen to be driven back underground. It is only after Recared the Visigoth's conversion to Catholicism in the mid 7th century that we cease altogether to hear anything about the Priscillianists.

But where did they go? Did they simply die out, or be absorbed by the Catholic church, a church notably antipathetic and entirely different to their views?
Or did the movement go underground, only to re-appear as a synthesis somewhere else, somewhere where Priscillianism had had a distinct foothold 800 years before? Did Priscillian survive in the guise of the Good Men?

A monstrous deed...

Going directly to meet with then new emperor was clearly a grave mistake as the charges against Priscillian now included witchcraft as well as heresy, and witchcraft was a capital crime. The Priscillianists had estates, money; Maximus needed to pay his war debts. He had no need of further difficulties with his bishops and even less interest in church matters. Instead of receiving the fair hearing they expected, their case was handed over to the secular arm for judgement. Priscillian's execution could only benefit the Emperor who was seriously short of cash. He made no move to stop the court proceedings.

and his followers, including Eucrotia, the widow of a Roman noble with estates at Elusa in southern France, was beheaded at Trier in either 385 or 386, the first Christians martyred by those who were Christians themselves. Ambrose of Milan, Pope Siricius, and Martin of Tours protested against Priscillian's execution. But Priscillian had, fatally, presented his case outside of the ecclesiastical court for “justice”; his persecutors had made a case for witchcraft and sorcery as well as heresy; and the former was a capital crime. For us today, the charges themselves may seem innocent enough: Priscillian had more than likely participated in some age old ritual common in the countryside which had clung to the old ways. Perhaps he was observed by someone for whom this was interpreted as a direct threat to the newly formed Roman Church. Perhaps that person or persons had an agenda of their own. We simply cannot determine truth from falsehood at this point.

Priscillian’s “confession” was extracted under torture. He confessed to "magical" practices, meetings at night with women, and praying naked. All of these were likely true. But it was the demonic interpretation put upon them by the Catholic inquisitors which were to lead to the death penalty. Priscillian and six of his closest followers, including Euchrotia were executed according to the Roman law.

However, Priscillianism, despite the very strict measures taken by Maximus to contain it, continued to spread in Gaul, especially on both sides of the foothills of the Pyrenees, as well as in Spain in general, and northern Spain in particular. For at least another hundred and fifty years we hear of synod after synod convened with the express purpose of dealing with the still existent Priscillianists. In 405, The Synod of Carthage, for example, endorsed use of force by the state if persuasion failed to convert the heretics. These were not exclusively Priscillianist as there were many deviations from the state religion of Roman Catholicism by this. Some simply vanished, some were absorbed into mainstream Catholicism.

Priscillian was long honored as a martyr, not as a heretic, especially in Galicia and what is now northern Portugal, where his body was reverentially returned from Trier. Prof. Chadwick and others, including myself, have made the tentative claim that the remains found in the early 9th century at the site rededicated to Saint James the Great— Santiago de Compostela - belong not to the apostle at all but to Priscillian. This, of course, is the mainstay of the historical thread of Pilgrimage to Heresy.

The Priscillianists...

The decapitation of Priscillian and some of his followers in Trier was the first case of capital punishment through the Catholic "inquisition" in the history of the Church.

Priscillian was clearly influenced by some sort of doctrine, or perhaps, as I have suggested, a book of some kind. He was visited by a woman who called herself Agape, and a man named Elpidius, who had come from Egypt. These two purportedly had become friendly with a man named Marcus of Memphis, who had connections with Gnosticism.
When I first read Professor Chadwick's book, I knew that this story was too good to remain in theological and scholastic obscurity. It was the stuff of best-sellers and I knew I would have to write it myself. The result was Pilgrimage to Heresy which has now been translated into Spanish and published as Peregrinos de la Herejia.

Priscillian gathered an immense following. His message brought men and women from all walks of life to his gnostic message of salvation, and not only from Galicia but throughout Spain, specially the north, into the south of France and even the northern states of Italy. For the Priscillianists, friendship with the world was friendship with the devil and thus enmity with God. He who called himself the Creator God was deluding himself since he had originated in a lie; however, humankind could not blame the Devil for his sins as he did retain free-will and had an obligation to extricate his soul from its earthly bondage by the practice of true Christianity and the reading and study of the Bible, `day and night`. Merely nominal Christianity was not enough. The resurrection of the body, Priscillian taught, was achieved by the realisation of the spirit. Thus, by implication, there could be no bodily resurrection of Christ in the literal sense. The material world, he wrote is `short-lived and evil`. Finally and perhaps most importantly, the true God would eventually reclaim all spirits back to his bosom and this earthly realm, and the false, blind trickster Samael would cease to be.

The Priscillianists were vegetarians, abstained from wine, and practiced voluntary poverty and celibacy. Priscillian said that men and women were equal as their spirits were equal and that slavery was horrific and must be abolished. We are talking 1700 years ago here!

Not surprisingly, he had enemies. Priscillian's most notable opponents were Hydatius of Emerita Augusta (present day Merida), and Ithacius of Ossonuba (present day Faro in the south of Portugal). Between them, they petitioned Gratian, the then Emperor (soon to be killed by Maximus “The Usurper”, who denied any involvement in Gratian’s death), and a Synod was held at Saragossa (Zaragoza in Spain) in 381. The Synod was not well attended, however, which begs the question as to whether Hydatius and Ithacius’charges were of much interest to the rest of the Iberian bishops, and neither Priscillian, nor any of his followers attended. A late message from the Pope absolved the Priscillianists of all possible charges since they had not been there to defend themselves. They were most certainly not, as I have read on the Internet, “ex-communicated” at this Synod, as was put about by Priscillian's accusers.

It was well known that Hydatius had a wife and likely one or more children. He kept himself surrounded with a mafia-like protection unit. Many of his congregation had refused to take communion with him. But he was clearly disturbed at the Priscillianist presence and wrote to his Metropolitan Ithacius to complain. After a Priscillianist delegation by Bishops Instantius and Salvianus to Hydatius in Merida was turned away - and in which, the bishops were bodily thrown out of Hydatius’ presence - they appointed Priscillian Bishop of Ávila. Appalled and likely worried for their own survival, Hydatius and Ithacius appealed to the Emperor Gratian, who issued a rescript threatening the Priscillianists with banishment. Consequently, the three Priscillian bishops went in person to Rome, to present their case before Damasus the Pope. Despite being refused an audience with either pope or emperor, some exchange of what was likely a considerable amount of money to the imperial questor secured the restoration of their churches.

Ithacius, Priscillian's main accuser, fled to Trier fearing that he would answer himself for his charges against a fellow bishop. But the die was caste. What had essentially begun as a church matter, now attracted the attention of the secular arm. It was ultimately to prove Priscillian’s downfall.

The murder of Emperor Gratian in Lyon and the accession, at Trier (Trèves, in Germany) of the usurper Magnus Maximus (383) was to cause the tide to turn against the Priscillianists. Maximus was a soldier who had no interest in church matters, but he was bound to listen to Ithacius' - who was now returned from exile - complaints. In consequence of his representations a new synod was held (384) at Bordeaux. The Priscillianists had dangerous enemies in the Aquitaine and faced a hung jury. Instantius was sent into exile in the Scilly Isles. Salvianus had died while the Priscillianists were in Rome and so was spared the questioning.

Priscillian, knowing that his protestations would meet with no sympathetic hearers, appealed directly to Maximus, but the Emperor had other concerns to deal with, not least of which building up his coffers after an expensive war.

Wednesday, 13 October 2010


With the publication of Pilgrimage to Heresy, and before, I have been asked many times why I decided to walk the Camino de Santiago and to this day I can't give a definitive answer. I like the one given by Jack Hitt in his wonderful book Off the Road". When as he is about to get his Compostela at the cathedral he is asked his reasons for walking the Camino de Santiago he replies: "To find out my reasons for walking." I would have to say those were mine too.

Along the Way of St. James, I met a man from Salt Lake City, Utah. We walked and talked about the nature of pilgrimage in a secular age. "You know, Tracy,": he said, "the chances are that it is not St. James buried in the cathedral anyway."

I was a bit miffed. "Whad'ya'mean?" I said, stopping. "If old Santiago isn't there, why am I walking 760 kilometres to see him?"

Lance Owens, who I was later to find out was a priest of the Gnostic church as well as an M.D. and teacher of Jung at the University of Utah, mentioned this name beginning with a "Pru-" something adding that he had been written about in a scholarly book by an Oxford professor, and I can remember very clearly a sensation that said: "That's it! That's what you have been waiting for." Unfortunately, I forgot the name immediately and it wasn't until a year later that I decided to begin my investigation. I wrote to Dr. Owens.

Priscillian, he wrote back: Priscillian Bishop of Avila.

Who was Priscillian of Avila?
Very little is known about Priscillian’s life. Most of what we have comes from various Catholic sources, and not surprisingly, they are not sympathetic. Sulpicius Severus wrote about Priscillian, and also wrote the earliest biography of St. Martin of Tours. Martin, while a follower of the traditional Roman church of the time, was severely critical of the judgement meted out to Priscillian and his followers, and petitioned Maximus the Emperor to call off the inquisition sent to Spain after Priscillian’s execution. This, not surprisingly, led to accusations that Martin was secretly a Priscillianist sympathiser himself. Severus goes to great lengths to disassociate his hero from Priscillianism and from the serious charge of Manicheanism. Quite rightly as Martin of Tours was merely a concerned but sympathetic bystander, not a Priscillianist himself. Pity that Severus couldn´t have been a bit more open-minded about Priscillian himself because in many ways, even today and through the Catholic Encyclopaedia (published by the way over a 100 years ago) what you will read even today has the taste of Severus' distaste...

By far the best contemporary source of information about Priscillian’s thought and writing, and what little historical detail we do have, comes from Priscillian of Avila: The Occult and the Charismatic in the Early Church (OUP 1976) by Prof. Henry Chadwick, Regius Professor of Divinity at both Oxford and Cambridge. It is this book that Lance Owens had mentioned to me. In the last ten years, information about Priscillian has increased tenfold on the Internet although unfortunately much of it is still taken from Catholic sources such as the 1906 Catholic Encyclopaedia which is hardly sympathetic.

Pilgrimage to Heresy does not claim to give an accurate account of Priscillian’s life; it is a work of fiction written to entertain, and hopefully encourage questions. However, Priscillian’s religious views, by and large, are taken from the Wurzburg Tractates discovered by Georg Schepps in 1885 and published at the Vienna Corpus in 1886, and which are covered in some depth in Prof. Chadwick's book. More recently, Mario Conti's translation into English was published February 2010 as The Complete Works of Priscillian of Avila(OUP) and is gaining a good deal of notice as this is the first time scholars have had the chance to read Priscillian's words in anything other than Latin or German.

Since he was, and to some extent still is, especially venerated in Galicia, and since it seems highly likely that he was brought there for burial - which of course is the main thesis of my novel - I believe that there are some grounds for claiming this part of northern Spain as his birthplace and I am by no means alone in this. That he was executed in Trier in either 385 or 386 CE is beyond doubt, although it is worth mentioning here that at a visit to the cathedral in Avila while I was researching the book, I approached a priest there and enquiring about information about Priscillian I was told that “no such person ever existed”! Now there are only two explanations for this. Either this priest was ignorant of the history of his own church, which I very much doubt, or, he was lying through his Catholic teeth.

More on Priscillian and a very tentative Cathar link to come...

Sunday, 10 October 2010

A Child´s Garden of Gnosticism, Part 2

Rather than give up, I began to read the bible independently. One of the first things I encountered was the bit in Genesis where Adam and Eve slink off to the Land of Nod, procreate, struggle with their unfortunate lot, and eventually watch their children find their own wives.


Where did they come from? Even a teenage brain can do process of elimination. a/ God created some more people? Doesn't say that anywhere, b/ Cain and Abel married their sisters? Ditto. Scandalous and forbidden too, c/ Cain and Abel went off somewhere and came back with their brides. Red light, red light...does not compute.

I began to read of a vengeful, vindictive and by his own admission "jealous" God (of whom?) who appeared to set up poor Adam and Eve - and especially Eve - right from the beginning just to make sure that they were stupid enough NOT to use the intellect he had somehow given them, and then had a temper tantrum when they did. I read of other gods... Wait a minute, haven't they been ramming down my throat that there is only one? Most of all I read that God was everywhere, all powerful, all knowing...all good.

Not the one I had been reading about.

I dropped God like a hot potato. And Jesus the revolutionary too.

Many, many years later, while working in a bookshop, I unpacked a box of books that had come in that morning. Out came a slim volume called The Gnostic Gospels. I sat back on the carpet and opened it up. I began to get the idea: Jesus actually said far more than what we had read in the New Testament. Many new "gospels" had been discovered years before and now they had only recently been translated into English. They included, Peter, Thomas, Mary even. I took the book home that night and read it from cover to cover.

Now I would like to say that my life changed from that moment, but it didn't. Pagel's book, however, did alert me to the fact that there was more to Christianity than I had so far been taught, that what was contained in these books helped to explain more about what I had rejected. In fact, Jesus DID seem to have a message that fitted in with my spiritual cravings. Like Mary Magdalene, I wanted to be the woman who knew the all.
This took me to philosophy where I learned to ask the right questions. But it wasn't enough.

I slipped back to my agnostic state. It would be a while before I met someone who challenged me to truly move forward on my spiritual quest.

Thursday, 30 September 2010

Priscillian, the Cathars and Me

Hey! I'm back. Canada was wonderful and I had an opportunity to meet many old friends, some of which I haven´t seen in 20 years. I have written elsewhere that true friendship knows nothing about distance or time.

My paper at the Brock University Conference on Gnosticism was entitled "Priscillian, the Cathars and Me". If you have been following my ongoing research into the Camino de Santiago, you will know that I have written quite extensively about Priscillian of Avila in my book Pilgrimage to Heresy: Don´t Believe Everything They Tell You
But what was that "heresy"? And how does it affect today´s walkers on the Camino?

We are told that the Cathedral in Santiago de Compostela houses the mortal remains of St. James. But how true is that? To find out more, I invite you to look at my blogs over the last 14 months or so.

In the meantime, I thought you might like to share in what has become a personal journey towards Gnosticism.

Here is the first part of my paper:

A Child's Garden of Gnosticism

When I was four, I dreamt I met Jesus outside of our local village pub. He was nice, but neither meek, nor mild; quite stern in fact. I remember waking up with a sense that Jesus was telling me somehow to be very wary of what I as going to be taught.

As I grew, I devoured the Narnia chronicles of CS Lewis, which were just then being published, never once considering that Lewis was providing my thirsty young mind with allegory. It didn't matter. To this day I maintain that I learned about honour, valour, love and nobility from the children in the books and their mentor, Aslan. He made more sense to me than Jesus.

Skip forward to age 12 and my first year of secondary school. In divinity class we had to write a composition about Jesus' visit to Jerusalem as a young boy. I decided to use a bit of licence and described the excitement of the young boys at the vanguard of the group of parents who followed behind. Just imagine, I thought, how they might have behaved each one vying to be the first to see the "spires" of the city. "I saw it first," says one; "No, I did," says Jesus. I was really proud if it when I handed it in and waited for the high grade I knew must come.

Now I've always written well; it comes naturally to me and so I was excited when the teacher handed back all of the compositions with the exception of mine. I can remember to this day the exact seat I was in, waiting with great anticipation to hear what a remarkable insight I had had into the everyday life of Jesus.

I was to be not only disappointed but roundly embarrassed in front of 25 other girls all of whom had their papers on the desk in front of them.

"But," said the teacher, "there is one that I simply must read out to you all," and picking up my composition began to tell my story. I was thrilled. At last, acknowledgement for my hard work and imagination.

Then she finished. And turned on me in such a fashion as I had never seen. How DARE I treat the Lord Jesus as though he were a normal child, what BLASPHEMY was this in her own class...she went on and on.

One part of me just wanted to slide under the desk and stay there for the next five years. But you know, the other part of me wanted to scream: "You are SO WRONG!"

To be continued...

Monday, 30 August 2010

Camino Odyssey 14

Conspiracy theories? Probably not. But there is no doubt that the following message was tampered with enough to make it almost unreadable. Anyway, I have fixed it up now and hope that it remains that way.

Prepare to read about the mass before the Mass...

What is the Mozarabic Rite ?
In Galicia and in fact- many parts of Spain, the Roman mass was not heard. Instead, the liturgy was the Mozarabic, Visigothic or as it is sometimes called, the Hispanic Rite. By 1085, however, it had been suppressed in fravour of the mass most of us are familiar with today, though in Latin , of course.

The term Mozarabic Christians refers to those who were living in parts of Spain occupied by the Muslims. But in fact, it dates from before the Moorish invasion to the Visigoths who occupied all of the north of Spain, Galicia included. Some scholars believe it could be even older and that it may have been one of the earliest forms of the mass. There is every possibility that it is this that Priscillian would have celebrated as Bishop of Avila. This ancient rite has its own form of chant before Gregorian chant which postdates it by at least 300 years . You can you hear it on You Tube here: .

The visual quality isn't the best, but in some ways it adds atmosphere to the early church. .It's hauntingly beautiful, Perhaps even more so because there is almost no-where in Spain now that you can hear it. This is from the Church of the Holy Martyr Santa Eulalia in Merida.

We have the earliest evidence for the rite from Isidore of Seville who died in 636. As the “Reconquista” began to take back more and more parts of Spain. , so the Mozarabic Rite gradually was taken over by the Roman one. In fact, by the end of the 8th century, it was already used in Catalonia , But it was not until 1071 that it was adopted in Navarra and Aragon. At this time , the Cluniac order was beginning to move into Spain with these monks. In 1076, it was adopted in Leon and Castile, and when the capital of Toledo was taken by Alfonso VI in 1085, the future of the Roman mass as the only one to be used seemed almost certain.

This was not immediately accepted by everyone, and Galicia, being the most north western kingdom did not want it at all. As I mentioned earlier in these posts it´s levying on the Gallego people may have caused real rebellion and bloodshed , and most likely , the deposition of a bishop, Diego Pelaez himself .

But what Pope Gregory VII said ewhat had to be, came to be, and what had to go, went. A French archbishop was appointed to the see of Toledo by the king and henceforth , it was the Roman mass Christians were expected to make their responses to. Everywhere. Officially .Whether they liked it or not.

In the late 15th century, Cardinal Cisneros of Toledo begin to restore the Mozarabic Rite in the historical cathedral of Toledo. By the late 19th Century, there were missals containing the new rite although scholars are not in agreement on how much of the original rite is contained in these.

In Toledo Cathedral, the Visigoth Mass is celebrated in the Mozarabic Chapel every day . There are a few more churches in Spain who have been given permission to hold this ancient Hispanic mass, but few do so .

I had hoped to be lucky enough to attend this mass. My pilgrim friend, Juan Frisuelos , had applied for, and got, permission from the archbishop to hold the mass at the closed convent in Escalona just to the north east of Toledo. His cousin "Paco" was an ordained priest and invited to officiate. Many members of the association of the Friends of Santiago were looking forward to this most unique opportunity.

However, it seemed was not to be.

Rivalries exist everywhere, and it appeared that the local priest was not too keen on the idea and said at the last minute special permission had to be applied for. So on the day the regular Catholic mass - though pilgrim with very distinct overtones - was celebrated. I have to admit I was rather disappointed, even though I found the crisp Castillano very easy to understand. During the blessing of the Eucharist I had some sort of epiphany as I suddenly realised the Gnostic Significance of the transubstantiation of bread and the wine. But I will not write of it here .

Afterwards we - Juan and his family and priests - not one but two - and me - all trooped back to Juan´s housewhere Maria, his mother , put on a veritable feast of the best paella I have ever had, topped off with a perfect home -made flan to die for. Me, and two priests! And I behaved myself admirably . I've never had after- church lunch with the vicar before! The talk was of food and practicalities and theological discussion was not entertained. Quite right too .

We watched the TV news item from my Toledo interview and there was not a fish in sight. I think I made sense, but I had never realised that I spoke Spainish with such an appallingly English accent! Though about the Mozarabic Mass, Juan was disappointed , and knew that I was disappointed. And so the next day ( Sunday ), we decided to drive to Toledo where we would be sure to catch it .


As it was the Feast of St. James it had been decided to hold a special "pilgrim mass". And that , of course , could not include anything which was not specifically Roman Catholic, even if the Visgothic Rite predated the Catholic one by hundreds in Galicia and most of the Way in general.

We were, however, allowed to enter into an area behind the rood screen which Juan told me was not normally open to the public.

What astonished me was the message of the liturgy: Pilgrims were from "all over the world, from all religions or none , the road did not end in Santiago but continued on to Finisterre and the end of the trail , and the best of all surprises : It did not matter who was buried in the cathedral because what mattered was what in pilgrim’s hearts.

Well , knock me down with a feather !

"But of course ", I hear you saying .

But this church has never taken this line and the reason why I am pretty well persona non grata in the Cathedral is because I have written and continue to speak about this. What this elderly priest in red was saying was exactly what I had been saying in newspapers, on TV and on the radio in the days leading up to this, the 25th of July the Day of St. James, the Patron of Spain (and not, by the way, the Patron of Compostela: that is San Roque, Santa Susana whose graffiti -covered church in the Alameda park is a disgrace, abandoned and forgotten.

I cast a quizzical eye at Juan. Afterwards, He said: "It is the way of the Catholic Church Bureaucracy. They will do anything to save face. "

Well , well ...Did I touch a clerical nerve or two?

I do hope so.

This will be my last blog post for a month as I am off again on book promotion for Pilgrimage to Heresy in Canada, but I'll be back in September ready to take up again the story of how the Way came to be, so I do hope you will drop by. In the meantime there are more than 100 posts about the Camino and related items here and I am sure you will enjoy a browse.

Until then, "goodbye".

Thursday, 19 August 2010

Camino Odyssey 13

Friday 23rd July: Another couple of days and then I'll be all up to date.
Then I have to leave you all for a while while I go to Canada and another book tour...

If mornings didn´t start so early, I am sure I might learn to enjoy them.

To compensate for my extra day’s stay at the monastery, I had to set my alarm at five for an early start. It was still full dark when I left at six. Having complained about Simone’s arbitrariness regarding the air con, I now found myself with ice cold feet. I was retracing the territory I drove through during the thunderstorms but although it was a green line road, I still didn’t get to see any of it.

But it doesn’t take long in northern Spain for the sun to make his appearance and the “rosy-footed dawn” over Zaragosa was simply splendid. I spent the next few hundred kilometres exhausting my stock of music – all on tape. I have a CD player (and 12 speakers!) but I play my CD’s at home, whereas the tapes rarely get an airing. You know that feeling when the DJ plays your favourite song? Even though you might have it on an old album or whatever at home, you feel like it is a special gift – just for you, and you crank the volume up. This is what I did to Pat Metheny, and Elton John, and even a bit of old folk music, since I now belong officially to the Old Folk.

At one point about 50 kilometres north east of Madrid, just as I was playing Peter Gabriel´s Solisbury Hill “Winds were blowing, time stood still; eagle flew out of the night…”, an eagle did just that. Not the night as it was a good 10:30 by now, but it flew less than a metre away alongside my window, and almost into it for a good five incredulous seconds. This is the second time I have had the same experience.

Whether we have a totem or a “daimon” or angels around our shoulders I don´t know. The older I get (oh dear, there I go again), the more I am prepared to entertain the possibility: perhaps a “good journey guide” as my friend Lance Hurst believes.

One thing I have noticed though is that I seem to attract hawks, falcons and eagles. I find them beautiful and graceful in the extreme. Creatures in a total world of their own where only they exist. For a few moments on this ever-increasingly hot summer morning, this eagle and I shared “a moment”.

Madrid is never easy to negotiate but I found my way around the ring road easily despite the weekend traffic and soon I was approachingToledo.

There are a few cities in the world which from a distance just don´t seem real. Granada is one with the high Sierras behind it, snow trimmed even on a July day. San Francisco is another, especially when it is glimpsing the Pacific out of a summer fog. Toledo is one such: a wedding cake of a city from all sides, ringed by ancient walls and the gentle (here) Tajo river. I was lucky enough to drive right into a parking spot (Goddess Gladys again) and then all I had to do was find the tourist office for directions to the radio station for my first interview of the day.

One thing I like about central Spain is that the Castellano is generally very easy to understand. I was able to respond well to the questions about Priscillian, Diego Gelmirez, the Camino de Santiago and my own retrospective trip. I haven’t the faintest idea what I said (I never do); I only remember myself rambling on as usual, and as the day wore on I was to repeat it several times.

Before the last interview I decided to pay a visit to the cathedral but balked at paying seven euros. Our holy places are little more than museums these days. I was not there for a mass, but neither was I there for a cultural visit: I wanted to experience the grandiloquence of a thousand years of Catholic might. I really should not have been such a skinflint but as I expected to be attending the Mozarabic Mass the next day, I thought I would wait until then.

Instead I fell prey to the posters around town inviting me to an “exhibition” on the Templars. This loudly-touted display consisted of a poorly-done film presentation much limited in scope, and several wall displays with little more than a bunch of propaganda and nonsense about the Order of the Knights of Jerusalem which I already knew. It was almost worth the 4 euros entry fee, however, just to see the mannequins dressed up in what someone thought would fool the public as “Templar Garb”. Shame no-one thought to check whether Templars were required to grow their beards and hair though (they were). The visit took me all of 5 minutes as the heat was enough to produce fainting spells (I wonder if that’s another thing the poor Templars were accused of, or maybe even Priscillian: Feinting Spells…but I digress).

So as the sun was turning the lovely shadows of Toledo a little longer, I met with the TV interviewer and cameraman under the clock in the main square. By this time I was so hot and exhausted that I completely forgot their names and for that I deeply apologise.
It was decided that the riverside would be a good place for the interview (for a short news item actually, though it took much longer to record). I had the sun in my eyes and the river was surprisingly noisy so I had to both squint and shout (Well Shake it Up, Baby Now…). This I handled with my, by now, professional aplomb.

However, what completely unglued me was The Man With The Fish.

Behind me at the river´s edge there was one of those long cylindrical fishing nets. You know the one: you can buy something like it at IKEA to put your kids’ teddies in. As I was speaking, a man came right behind me and pulled it out of the river. He then proceeded to plonk it down a couple of meters away from me and empty out its contents. Out flopped a couple of pretty hefty fish of some variety I didn’t know (I don’t know many!) And flop they did, covering themselves in a layer of river sand and dust. Fish Man ignored them completely while he put his nets back in the river. I tried initially to carry on as if nothing had happened, but as you can imagine, that didn´t last for long.

By the time he came back, I was helpless with giggles (a bit like Felix in Pilgrimage to Heresy) The filming, of course, had to stop as by now my total lack of control had affected both men.

Fish Man, meanwhile, took no notice of any of us, not camera, microphone nor

Instead he simply picked his fish up out of the dirt, opened up a wooden basket, and throwing them into it wiggling away (the fish) he walked off into the sunset! This made me completely lose the plot in two languages and we had to start all over again.

Now you don´t see that every day, do you…?

I had been invited by Juan Frisuelos – who we have met before at the refugio of Acacio and Orietta—to stay at his house for a couple of days. I think I mentioned that I had met Juan through his publication El Correo Camino when I sent in a correction to an article he had picked up from syndication which had stated very wrongly that I never walked with a backpack not more than 5 kilometres a day. Juan is a member of the Amigos del Camino de Santiago de Toledo and he had arranged a special mass, a Mozarabic (Visigothic) Mass to be celebrated on the 24th in the church of a closed order of nuns in his own town, Escalona. I was very excited because the loss of the MOzarabic Mass features as a reason for rebellion in Compostela, as you will already know if you have been following my research here.

I arrived at Juan’s hot and sticky and tired. It was lovely to see Juan again and he wanted us to eat straightway; but Maria, his mother, understood that women have priorities which men don’t always place first. “She wants a shower first,” she said and hustled me off to her bathroom, towel in hand. Bless her.

I was a bit nervous to begin with. After 14 years in Spain I have still only been invited into a Spanish home three times. It is not that the Spanish are anti-social, far from it. It just isn’t the custom here to entertain, other than family, at home. You meet friends away from the house in a bar or restaurant either on the coast (a “chiringuito”) or inland (a “venta”) in Andalucia, or probably in the Plaza in most parts of Spain.

So this was a new experience for me, and the bullfight on the TV didn’t do anything to make me feel many more at home initially. Juan explained that his mother loved the corrida and that in this part of Spain it was a very much ingrained part of the tradition. He even had ancestors who were famous matadors. I decided that it was OK as long as I kept my back to the telly and soon Juan’s friend Maite arrived from Madríd, so I had someone I could talk with. I liked her immediately. Here was someone with the same sense of fun as my own.

Dinner was wonderful Spanish fayre, the mattress was latex, the night was quiet, the fan was welcomed. After my sunrise start and all the excitement, I slept like a baby.

How on earth does Angelina Jolie do it?

Camino Odyssey 12

I was so enchanted with the peace and quiet of the Monastery of Leyre that I couldn’t quite decide whether I should stay another night. It wasn’t expensive (42.50 for a single with bath is a bargain for such a lovely spot) and even though the menu de la noche was a bit disappointing (for 16.50), the Rumanian waiter was very friendly and I even learned to say Note Boona, or something like it.

So I said: “Go for it. You deserve it.”

The next morning, of course, was pouring with rain. In fact the thunderstorms in which I had arrived had been circulating ever since. Never mind. A good day to catch up with my diary and explore a little. I took the “tour” at 3 o´clock (in Spanish) and saw the crypt, Virila´s burial place, and the interesting story of how this monastery was abandoned in 1937 only to come back to life just a few years ago. I even learned that Diego Pelaez, (see earlier blogs for lots about him) had been present at the consecration of the monastery church in 1098, which was only a few years after he was released from Alfonso VI’s prison, and just a few before his death.

Then, the clouds having receded and the sun venturing a glipse through, I decided I would follow the marked trail to find the Holy Fuente of San Virila.
It was lovely; every now and then there would be a rock with a bible verse or something similar. But it was also farther than I had thought, and when I finally got there I almost missed it: a little dribble out of the mountains high above the monastery.

And then I lost the trail on the way down!

Normally, if you do up a mountain, then down is the obvious way back and this was the direction I took. But the foliage was so thick that at many points I thought the only thing to do was to turn around and try to climb back. That didn´t look too easy either. No wonder Virila disappeared for 300 years. For a while, as the sound of distant thunder added to my dilemma, I had visions of turning up at the bottom of the hill to nothing but ruins of an old monastery, and the far-rusted remains of what looked vaguely like a Volvo C70!

And then I got to the bottom, exactly where I had climbed up. A woman with a child asked me if the spring was very far. “Yes,” I said, and wanted to say “about 300 years!”

I had picked some lavender along the way. The woman decided to take my word for it and turned back towards the herb garden. I noticed that she was accompanied by a child of perhaps eight with Down´s Syndrome. I said hello and was greeted with a delighted and delightful smile. I gave him my lavender which he put immediately to his nose and smelled it, laughing because he said it tickled. I was to see them later in church at the 7 o´clock service. The child was fast asleep on his father’s shoulder. After Laudes, I plucked up the courage and asked if I could sing. The couple and the child were still there (I usually wait til everyone has gone). The child slept right through, but the parents thanked me and asked me if I were professional.

“No,” I said. “I am just an acoustic collector!”

And these echoed with 900 years of faith and mystery.

What a lovely spot.

Monday, 16 August 2010

Camino Odyssey 11

Once upon a time (because all the best stories start that way) there lived a man whose name was Virila. Virila was a holy man, but a curious one. His holiness had made him the Abbot of the monastery of Leyre high in the mountain; but his curiosity sometimes led him to question parts of the bible where his fellow monks simply accepted them as God’s word and then went back to their work.

One fine spring morning, Virila was pondering the words of the 89th psalm which says that God is ever-lasting and his Glory transcends even time. Virila set out to walk in the herb gardens but while he was wondering how it could be that one day in the presence could seem like a thousand years, he found himself some way from the monastery in the orchard. As he continued walking up the mountain he began to think: “Wouldn’t someone get bored with such a long stay?”, and the idea of celestial eternity tired his brain so much that he sat down on a rock by a natural spring to ponder on it, twirling his ring round and round on his finger as he contemplated temporal infinity.

Just then, a nightingale flew into the orchard and settled on a tree just above the aged abbot. Virila paused to listen to the bird’s song and became so entranced that time seemed to pass without him ever noticing it at all.

When he finally realised where he was, it occurred to him that the day was well past and he had walked here after Matins.

“I had better get back,” thought Virila anxiously, “The monks will be worried about me.”

And he began to make his way carefully back down the mountain.

But when he arrived back at the monastery, everything seemed to look different. Some parts of the building looked as though they were in need of some repair, and others were new and not something Virila had ever seen before!

A man came out of the main door. He was wearing the black robes of the Benedictine Friars, Virila’s own order. But his face was unknown to the abbot.

“Good evening, Father,” said the monk. “You have come far today I think, and you are welcome here.”

“Who are you?” said Virila, rather pointedly. “I don’t remember news of any new novices arriving today.”

“Novice!” said the other, “Perhaps you have not noticed. I am no novice; I am the Abbot of the Monastery of Leyre and have been for nigh on 50 years now following my master the old abbot.”

“That is nonsense,” snapped Virila, “because I am Virila, the Abbot of Leyre. And I have never met you before in my life!”

By this time, a group of monks had gathered to find out what all the fuss was about. One monk, old and grey-bearded with barely any hair on his head suddenly said:

“Wait a minute…there once was an abbot called Virila here. When I was but a young lad fresh from the seminary, the oldest monks remembered a story about him because the strangest thing happened. One morning, after Matins, this abbot went out on the mountainside to take the air, and was never seen nor heard from again!”

“Surely not!” said the “new” abbot. “And when was this fairy tale supposed to have taken place?”

“Three hundred years ago, Father.”

At this, all the other monks laughed and turning prepared to get back to their work.

And then something special happened. Out of the sunset there flew a nightingale. He swooped low over Virila and dropped something at his feet. The new abbot bent down and picked it up.

It was an abbatial ring, the very ring missing from Virila’s finger.

“Forgive me, father, for doubting you!” the new abbot said. “Please come and join us. We have a lot to tell you about this great monastery. Are you hungry?”

St. Virila carefully placed the ring back on his finger as the nightingale flew back into the dying sun:

“After 300 years, I should think so,” he said.

This is my version of the St. Virila story. I heard it years ago and it was a joy to stay at the monastery where the great saint lived and died. There are versions of this story all over Europe. I love it.

For more information about the Monastery of Leyre this is a good site to visit

Friday, 13 August 2010

Camino Odyssey 10

Like all camping folks, I woke up early, to find myself not in a tent by a mountain lake - as was planned for this part of the trip - but very stiffly propped up in the passenger seat, with my feet on a backpack in the "foot bit" part of my car. Huh?. Stretch and ..oh my God... Don't you think you are getting a wee bit old for this type of thing?

Ok Where the %&$=& am I this time?

The dreadful message on the gate from last night gives no signs of monks.In fact, there is no sign of anything at all. The building looks completely deserted. I make an attempt to hide myself behind Simone's door for a call of nature and then take a better look at the building behind the gates. Finally, and it takes a while at this time of the morning, it dawns on me.

I am in the wrong place.

This a hotel; waymarked Monastery de Leyre, but it is something else evilly disguised for disoriented pilgrims to find and have to reject in the darkened night, and, in the light of day, following the torment of the night, an obvious metaphor for the .....

¡Oye!Tracy! Get back to the story!


Now in the cold light of dawn (obvious cliche; it was actually quite warm)the answer is clear. This is the remains of what was intended to impress and endorse pilgrims in the late 12th century. They did as they were told to do.They had no other option. People who opposed the King died. They had land taken away from themselves and their descendants - forever. Is it it any surprise they capitulated?

This for those of you who failed your English High School Exams, is known as a Rhetorical Question: no answer is needed. There is no charge for this service...

Having realised this, I heave my sleeping back into the back seat and get Simone pointed a bit more mountainward. Only 2 klms as it turns out.

A few turns upwards, the Monastery - sans storm - is pretty bloody obvious. In the daylight that is.

But not yet open for visitors.

It is 6:45.

I decide to explore.

The last thing I expected was for the abbey church to be open but it is. The portico is gorgeous - loads of detail: some supicious and some salacious -and I remember reading that it may have been the work of Esteban who left Santiago with the expulsion of his patron, Bishop Diego Pelaez (remember him?). If not you'll have to go back a few months or you will have "lost the plot" entirely!)(Go on. It's worth it. Are you a seeker after truth or...?), and went to work on the cathedral at Pamplona with the blessing of the King of Navarre, (no friend to Castilla or Leon), only a short distance away from Leyre. (Diego Pelaez was present at the consecration of the Abbey in 1098). Just for you purists.(Otherwise too many hated parentheses!)

Strangled by early morning parentheses at this point, I wander into the church.

It is far larger than I had expected and the one feature which really stands out - visually certainly - is the statue of the virgin, outlined, slightly off-centre, against the opaque window. What I see is simply stunning. It is early morning, and I am all alone.

I track back to the doorway. The mist is still coming up from the valley below and continues to cling to the mountains above, as though afraid to move the day forward. There is a space in between which shows the clarity of the cliffs which surround this eagle's refuge. I imagine that I must dwell in this space as there really is no other.

I am drawn back in to the abbey church. I sit on the end of a row at the very back.
I had not anticpitated what followed as, at that surreal point, I felt that all of it belonged to me. I was alone, among shadows, remember...

First, a door opened on my far right and five men in normal clothing walked through to settle themselves on the front pews. Then 19 monks, all dressed in black robes with hoods attached, made their way through, Noah's Arc fashion, to seat themselves on either side of the choir.

I was transfixed at this point way back, at the back by the door and the sun's tiny sliver of appearance.It was too occupied with what lay to the east and down below at the reservoir...

The monks began to sing. This is Gregorian Mass. This is no ordinary singing. This is for the glory of God and none other, and it was just by coincidence that one other - namely me - had the immense good fortune (see how bad fortune - the storm and an uncomfortable night - can result in good fortune? Life is a question of getting the perspective right)to be able to participate in their worship in a peripheral, and entirely hidden way. But I was at the back. This is a big church.

The light is in semi-darkness. I am completely hidden, forgotten,unimportant:unncessary. I recognised some but not much. It was clearly a Gregorian Mass. And for whom? Not themselves. Not me. Only God.

One of them got up to speak. I was too far away and too awe-struck anyway so I missed all.

Then they all rose, and in the same fashion as they had entered, they left. Through the same door, with the followers coming lately.

I ended as I began. Alone. But with a look of complete beatification and stupistification on my face. Not a single one of them had noticed that I was there. I had witnessed a secret, of sorts.

I love secrets.

Bet you do too.

Just think. Clear now? Think again.If you devote your life to this, it will follow. It will.

Eight o'clock (to be kind to the receptionist), I checked in. I was told not until 12. Ok. I'll be back then.

My plan on this trip was, at the very least, Somport to Finisterre, or vice versa. Circumstances had made me opt for Vice Versa, I headed for Somport, the former border post high in the Pyrennees (and stunningly beautiful) on the lesser known Camino Aragones, and where I started my second Camino in 2000.

I took photos of Simone going into France then I took photos of Simone coming back into Spain. Beyond these photos are stunning views of the pass between France and Spain - not always visible as I have found out before.

Then I went for an incredibly expensive breakfast at the only restaurant at the border - how much? Oh come on...! - and photographed myself in the window, in the cold, and the wind. Not the best but all for aesthetic atmosphere - Belgians love it (joke!).

After this all the day has to be an anticlimax. But my room turned out to be a bargain with this atmopsphere. Recommended. Certainly would go back.

The room has a great view of the mountains and is recently simply furnished in beige and white. I set up my computer and books: I open the window to the courtyard. I am at home.

Dinner was a bit of a disappointment, in that the ordinary and not very well-cooked fayre relied perhaps too much on the atmosphere. But Nicky, my waiter from Romania, was everything a waiter should be: it could not have been better.

He was Sartre's Pierre. The last time I met him he was in a remote spot in Cuba in 1987.

I met with Claudia: she is a German studying at Simon Fraser Univ. We talked about Europe, Canada, and then we agreed to meet for breakfast in their motorhome next day.

Now, anyone who knows me will know that I was born under the sign of the turtle, and that the motorhome is my totum. This was not just any motorhome. It was Buckingham Palace. But it made me realise how big my modest apartment was, and how I would love something to drive like this but something unimpressive and perhaps with 4-wheel drive so that I could hitch my wagon to any star down whatever beach road I took a fancy to, no matter how small.

Honestly, in the great scheme of things: am I really asking to much of whoever is in charge of Logistics up there? The rest I will take care of by myself...

I am in Sophie's World but making Sophie's Choice: but what do I REALLY want?

Galicia and my pilgrim destiny or... Benahavis and my wonderful view; Malaga and my gorgeous granddaughter? Maybe there are ways to incorporate both? I think - I hope..... I have five years to think about it.