God is love – talk by Mirjam Duivenvoorden at the Symposium ‘The golden thread of the free mind’


There are places on earth where time and eternity seem to meet; where the boundaries between today, yesterday and long ago disappear – places that fill us with profound peace, joyful wonder, or even a great inner upheaval, because something hitherto unknown in us awakens and now expresses itself in us with remarkable force. Places where we feel small, submerged in something infinitely vast, but nevertheless we feel so ‘at home’ because we recognise a profound connection to its greatness, knowing that we belong, that we have a place in it.

These are places where the Spirit, that breathes when and wherever It will, found an entry into beings or communities who wanted to live and work with this force of the Spirit, even in the most difficult circumstances. Today we are gathered in the region of the Sabarthez, this site where the Spirit breathed and still breathes, and where Antoine Gadal – whose biography we are presenting today – spent most of his life. The Sabarthez – one of the cradles of humanity, where 40,000 years ago prehistoric man left his visible traces; but also, a region, a basin, in which the wisdom of the ages has lingered and left its signs in and on the earth. Gadal’s sensitivity allowed him to be open to these impressions, he was able to read those signs… He himself wrote:

‘I have often kept the silence, sometimes for a long time…! But although I remain silent, I will forget neither the Sabarthez, nor Ornolac, nor the extraordinary atmosphere hovering through there, full of inspiration and immaterial nourishment for those who come and due to a special predestination are receptive thereof.
I won’t forget… On the contrary, I often ponder upon these extraordinary places, and by all the means at my disposal, I probe, I formulate ideas, I try to fathom what our Aquitaine was like a long time ago, our Septimania, our Pyrenean regions, which toponymy speaks to us in an unknown language. […] And it is a surprisingly powerful attraction that prompts me to retrace the principles of the past!’

Antoine Gadal was born in this region in 1877, a region which has always been imbued with a spirit of freedom and at a time of political, social and religious upheavals. As a young lad, he developed a great friendship with his neighbour, Adolphe Garrigou, a leading expert of the prehistory and the past of the Sabarthez. Thus, from a young age, he became acquainted with the history of its region. Having assimilated all of the old man’s knowledge, with his tireless energy and curious mind, Gadal delved into the unique, and then little known, history of this cradle of humanity. First as a young teacher with a strong interest in history and spirituality, then in his free time, and later as a geologist, speleologist and archaeologist, where he was in contact with the scientists of his time. The huge interest he took in the underground world of caves, spoulgas and caverns into which Garrigou first introduced him will not leave him for the rest of his life. He himself writes about this:

‘What a wonderful rapture it is for someone infected with the ‘stone virus’! I admit I always was, still am today and will always remain one of those ‘fools’, so to speak, who becomes passionate about the symbols engraved and drawn onto stone. Disappointed I was at times, but that always
led to further study and lengthy comparisons… Yet what satisfactions experienced on reading these depths entrusted to the rock, it is as if one is re-transmitting the meaning, the memory of an important event happening thousands of years ago, into the future!’

Gadal loved the mountains surrounding him, with their lakes, sanctuaries, small hamlets and the ruins of castles once so imposing. He was thoroughly acquainted with the many caves, large and small, carved into the rock faces and traversed the enormous spaces of the innermost part of the mountains connected by corridors, galleries and chasms. For many years, he was the lessor and manager of more than 50 caves in his region, opening them up to exploration and installing the necessary equipment. He knew the prehistoric cave paintings of Niaux, a stone’s throw from Ornolac-Ussat-les-Bains, but also the holy places of the Druids, the dolmens and the menhirs in the forests or at the specific points in the landscape.

He discovered how early Christianity found its way to this region, where we encounter the same symbols as in the early 8 Christian catacombs. But above all, he demonstrated how, in this region, the pure original line of Christianity culminated in Pyrenean Catharism of the 12th and the beginning of the 13th century, at the time of the culmination of Occitan society. Catharism faded away, after many years of persecution by the combined forces of Church and State, but its Spirit never disappeared from the Sabarthez, the Spirit which blows where it will and which to this day ignites a fire in people’s hearts: an almost inexplicable urge to investigate, to fathom and to be free in body, soul and spirit….

From an early age on, this inner fire of the Spirit glowed in Gadal’s heart and throughout his life he would keep it burning and propel it. He inspired many to probe the depths of the earth and the essence of things, as well as to lift into their lives the lofty heights of the Spirit-a spiritual reality accessible to every human being. Gadal was not a dreamer, but a gifted storyteller and above all, someone who, in and through his life, has become an example to many. He knew the depths and the heights of life and never lost faith in its great significance.

The book Places where the Spirit breathes is divided into seven parts: Genesis – Earth – Man – Hell – World – Heaven – Epilogue. I would like to take you briefly on a tour through this book, a modest trip through the life of Antoine Gadal, by means of five quotes from his hand and two closing quotes about him:


In the huge Pyrenean Mountain range, the high peaks of which are covered with snow and ice for most of the year, lies a lovely valley through which the river Ariège powerfully flows. Over 70 million years ago, when seas flooded the region, the limestone plateau of the Ariège between Bouan and Tarascon was formed. Until 2 million years ago, the granite of the prehistoric rock pierced the layer of limestone and formed the peaks of the Pyrenees.

The interaction of heat and cold created fissures in the limestone mountains, allowing the water to penetrate and erode the limestone, which led to the formation of the caves. Subterranean forces produced a fracture in the mountain about 700 to 800 meters deep, a kind of shaft right through the primary layers and the primeval rock, down to the magma of the earth’s interior. 9 And finally, the colossal movements of the glaciers shaped this valley, in the heart of the Sabarthez, ‘as in a precious vase’, richly encrusted with ores, minerals and rocks.

Thus, the valley is a meeting point, a magnetic focus between heaven and earth, which is, as it were, predestined to receive successive radiation impulses of a cosmic, or terrestrial and magnetic nature. Those who visit this region experience some- thing of this merging in the depths of their own being and so are impelled to search for the aim of life and to the return to the origin of all religion, to the universal wisdom that accompanies humanity through all times.


As a resident of the Sabarthez, to be able to speak freely, to be able to say what was in your heart, you had to find a remote place, a cave that was difficult to reach, in the solitude, the silence and the freedom of darkness. Poor children of the Sabarthez! It was not until 1885 that the separation of Church and State came into effect. […] Then a movement of the Libre Pensée, a movement of the Free Thought, could finally form. I now speak of a group that I knew well: that of 1895… The citizens (of Sabarthez, mainly of Tarascon, the old capital of the Tarusci) gathered to finally be able to speak freely, to think about how the Gnosis – or Cathar Christianity – asleep for 700 years – could unfold freely again.


The horror of war! What pen will ever be able to describe the deepest depths of its horrors? A master sculptor, a genius writer in bronze, created a grand and poignant sculpture, and fate decreed that it was placed along the road to Montréal-de- Sos and to Sem. The artist Bourdelle wanted to portray all that terrible cruelty of the battlefields in three faces: Fear, Suffering, Death. You experience a strong emotion and you feel a deep pity arise when you see these symbolic heads! […]
‘Down with war… never again war…’
Deep peace, my brothers from the four winds. What beautiful words… but unfortunately all too soon faded into thin air…!

Another great world war and other minor wars since then have rocked both the old and the new continent. May we not also – and rightfully – make our voices be heard? It is the soft voice of Balthazar, the sage who brought the incense, the voice of the Christ of love! Let us repeat these words over and over again without wearying, that they may one day reach the hearts of the masters of war, words which all warriors will then repeat with us: ‘Peace, my brothers!’


Galaad, the faithful guardian of the Grail, is the spiritual son of he who for a long time, during three quarters of a century, was able to publish a large number of historical riches of the Sabarthez in the County of Foix, namely Adolphe Garrigou. His name still lives on in the hearts of the inhabitants of Haute-Ariège, although he died in 1897. His modest life, which was all modesty and activity, stands before them as an example.

His successor, like a humble disciple, followed his example, as far as circumstances permitted. It has not been possible for him to make the past visible as he would have liked: by completing the history which expires from the caves and caverns; by, in short, reviving the high spirituality that still rises from the initiation centre of Ussat-Ornolac. Only reluctantly do the underground passages release what they once heard and perceived and there are still sections that remain shrouded in darkness. The ‘port of Pyrenean Catharism’ is very vast. Its complicated history has remained virtually unknown for centuries. The time had not yet come. The laurel had not yet blossomed.

But now the call of the Holy Grail has resounded in all parts of ancient Europe. The Sabarthez has awakened to new vigour: exalted is the rapture of the purs (pures) on the path of love, of the beautiful and the good, the eternal and immortal Path of the Holy Grail.

What then is that Cathar body of thought, how can we characterise it? For the men and women we now call Cathars, it was very simple. They considered themselves ‘good Christians’, according to the tenets of early Christianity. They rejected the 11 then excesses within the ecclesiastical hierarchy, which were also sung with sharp derision by the troubadours. For them, the Gospel of John, the gospel of love as it is also called, occupied an important place. They lived a life in which they shed every form of selfishness, focusing on the kingdom of God within them and in service to their fellow man. ‘God is love’, John says, ‘and he that abides in love abides in God, and God in him.’

‘God is love,’ these three words briefly summarise the essence of Cathar Christianity. And this love can be active in the human soul. Love is the starting point of being human, love makes everything grow, including the human soul.

The Cathars were not only of purely evangelical lineage, but also of purely orthodox origin through the Apostle John, and through his Gospel, the pearl of the Bible. And yet they broke away from this orthodoxy through a great spirituality and through their passionate pursuit of the loftiest Christian ideal. They lived according to the spiritual gospel in the sense of the highest realisation: that of the spiritual man. Christian as it is, but in essence older than Nicene Christianity, it accepts neither the Jewish-inspired Gospels, nor the symbols of the outer church, nor the pagan pomp of Roman theocracy. It turns away from the Christian branch by following the branch of John that proceeds from it, and forms, as it were, a new Christianity through the fertilising doctrine of the Paraclete, the Comforter. Because of this bold development, Catharism can be regarded as a new religion, which broke away from the church, like a butterfly from its chrysalis.


You know, dear friends, that I remain completely faithful to Mr Gadal. And in the name of that fidelity, I have chosen as motto the same as his: Freedom of thought is the supreme good. And, in the name of that freedom, to never constrain the freedom of others. In addition, Mr Gadal listened to everyone, truly everyone. Even those who were not in direct spiritual kinship with him, because he said that everyone should follow their own path and that it is not necessary for everyone to be in the same group. Each in his own group, works in service of the Universal Brotherhood. And this is the real spirit of Catharism. And in the name of this spirit, I will endeavour to show the same openness of mind to all.


Antoine Gadal has shaped his earthly life of eighty-five years in the service of a higher inspiration. It is with emphasis that we use the word ‘inspiration’ here, and not ‘ideal’. An ideal floats before your mind as something you want to achieve, an inspiration is an active force that pushes through you. He was a teacher, but he taught more than the compulsory framework of reading, arithmetic and language. He was an archaeologist, but his findings tell more than just ancient stories. He was a speleologist, but in his view the caves he explored were not dark, dusty walls of rock. He knew them like his heart, he read them as ‘the Bible of mankind’, as he phrased it eloquently. They were sacred spaces for him, and therein he would wake up in an atmosphere filled with serenity. He embraced the peace of the caves, in which he experienced le souffle de l’Esprit, the breath of another existence, another world – the breath of the Spirit, which blows where it will…

Ladies and gentlemen,

From an early age, Antoine Gadal devoted his life to the transmission of that wide, inner freedom that seeks the well- being of all people. At the same time, in his thinking, his life and writings, he broadened the view to the horizon of the spiritual. In that respect he is the guardian of the tradition of a religion of the heart, which is universal and spiritual. With his great openness and understanding of every person he met, he let them share in the fullness of his experience and instilled in all that so simple yet all-encompassing knowledge of Cathar Christianity – ‘God is Love.’

We have thus opened the first pages of the book Lieux où souffle l’Esprit and given a first impetus to the symposium ‘The Golden Thread of the Free Mind’. It only remains for us to wish you all an exciting and inspiring symposium weekend!

Mirjam Duivenvoorden, curator of the Gadal Archives in the Bibliotheca Philosophica Hermetica in Amsterdam and co-author of 13 the book Plaatsen waar de Geest waait. De Sabarthez als Spiegel van de mensheid (Places where the Spirit breathes. The Sabarthez as a mirror of humanity), 2021



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