JANUARY :: We share more of our favourite haunted locations, further frightening experiences, and some possible fascinating evidence of the paranormal.

Monday, 15 September 2014

A Case in Point :: Reincarnation & the Cathar Perfect

The Cathars were a Christian sect that lived in Europe between the 11th
and 14th Centuries, and who held a  strong belief in reincarnation, one of the
many facets of their religion that made them so unpopular in Rome, and which
would ultimately lead to their demise.

"Kill them all. God will know his own."
- Arnaud Amaury, Cistercian Abbot, 13th Century

In our last post, Recycled Souls, we considered the Hindu and Buddhist belief in reincarnation and past lives. It is not particularly surprising to hear of cases of reincarnation amongst societies such as the Hindus of India, the Buddhist Sinhalese of Sri Lanka, or even the Dalai Lama of Tibet. These are, after all, present, existing religions and cultures, and if we were to consider the "evidence" for past lives from these alone, there'd be undeniable proof of it.
Yet, that is not how we consider the world, or the people in it. One's willingness to accept, well, anything is strongly influenced by one's cultural impressions and societal pressures. Perhaps it is no wonder, then, that in a non-Hindu, non-Buddhist society, reincarnation and past lives remain on the fringe of what is considered acceptable belief. The claims of same are few and far between, and those that are brought to light are generally viewed with caution and suspicion.
However, there are some (in)famous reincarnation claims. Take, for example, the case of reincarnation made by Dr Arthur Guirdham in the 1960s and 1970s. Dr Guirdham, a British psychiatrist, was working in a mental hospital in Bath when he encountered a female patient suffering the terror of a recurring dream that Dr Guirdham was astonished to discover resembled his own - one that had haunted him for more than thirty years.
Upon further investigation - and without the aid of drugs or hypnosis, it is said - the woman went on to reveal to Dr Guirdham the details of her past life as a 13th Century Cathar, a life which she had shared with Dr Guirdham, when he was known as Guilhabert of Castres, a Cathar Perfect.
Over time, Dr Guirdham came to know other patients in Bath who also claimed to have lived past lives as Cathars, with Dr Guirdham supposedly substantiating their claims through historic references. Dr Guirdham went on to write and publish a series of books that spurned a cult following, inspiring many from the UK to travel to the Languedoc in south-west France, lands that were once home to the Cathars. Previously a forgotten medieval Christian sect, Dr Guirdham's claims of reincarnation thrust the Cathars into the spotlight more than 800 years after their annihilation by the Church in Rome, and not necessarily for all the right reasons.
But who were the Cathars, and what were their thoughts on reincarnation?
In his book The Perfect Heresy: The Life and Death of the Cathars, Stephen O'Shea writes about the Cathar Christian beliefs, and why they were so at odds with the Christian Church in Rome:
"The god deserving of Cathar worship was a god of light, who ruled the invisible, the ethereal, the spiritual domain; this god, unconcerned with the material, simply didn't care if you got into bed before getting married, had a Jew or Muslim for a friend, treated men and women as equals, or did anything else contrary to the teachings of the medieval Church."
What was important to the Cathars was how one chose to live their life. The consequence for failing to follow 'the good' was plain and simple:
"It was up to the individual (man or woman) to decide whether he or she was willing to renounce the material for a life of self-denial. If not, one would keep returning to this world - that is, be reincarnated - until ready to embrace a life sufficiently spotless to allow accession, at death, to the same blissful state one had experienced as an angel prior to having been tempted out of heaven at the beginning of time. To be saved, then, meant becoming a saint. To be damned was to live, again and again, on this corrupt earth".
So, the Cathars, although Christian, had a strong belief in reincarnation. Whether or not they believed one could remember the details of a previous life is unknown; however, there is the distinct impression that a Cathar, no matter their status, had no control over whether, or how, or when they might be reincarnated, which begs the question: How was it that Dr Guirdham and his Cathar patients all came to be in Bath at the same time? Even if reincarnation is possible, the chances of this occurring seem remote at best.
So, why then, the Cathars? Dr Guirdham and his patients could have lived previous lives in a multitude of cultures, societies, and religions stretching right back to the first humans, but they didn't. Was it pure coincidence that the doctor's claims of past lives were rooted in a religion that harboured a core belief in reincarnation? In this writer's opinion, probably not.
What is most interesting about reincarnation, from my perspective at least, are those cases that appear from time to time outside of those societies, religions and cultures from which we expect it. It poses the question that if one has no previous knowledge or belief in past lives, and has no comprehension of what it means to be reincarnated (such as in children), then where does this sensation of having lived before (and all the ideas and memories attached to it) actually come from?

Curious to know more about the Cathars? Try these links:
Cathars & Cathar Beliefs in the Languedoc
Cathar Country

Or read this book (highly recommended):
The Perfect Heresy: The Life and Death of the Cathars by Stephen O'Shea

Dr Arthur Guirdham's Cathars:
Reincarnation: Fact or Fallacy?
UK Mind Manipulation: Research Update - Bailbrook
Books by Dr Arthur Guirdham at


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