The golden thread of the free spirit – talk by Peter Huijs at the symposium ‘The golden thread of the free mind’


The high intellectual content and certainly also the high spiritual level of people such as Gadal and Garrigou, and many others we talk about in our book, finds its origins in an insatiable thirst for freedom:

    • freedom of thinking, of feeling and acting;
    • freedom of consciousness;
    • freedom also of religious experience and practice.

Gadal remembered a conversation around 1893 with Adolphe Garrigou, already very elderly, that characteristically illustrates this thirst for freedom. Gadal asked the old man why he and his
group met so often in the cave of Lombrives and he reported the following conversation.
‘But of course,’ papa Garrigou, patriarch of the Sabarthez, says to me one evening in answer to my question, as we are together warming ourselves during a long winter night: ‘But of course, it was I who was head of the Carbonari in the Sabarthez, I had to guard the fort, as you know. My grandfather was chosen (in 1789) as a representative of the Tiers-État for the Tarascon district and sent to the National Constituent Assembly. Before his departure to Paris, he had been led with great pomp to the centre of the bridge over the Ariège. There, the dean of the acknowledged grey heads of the city had told him clearly, ‘If you come back from Paris without reforms, we’ll throw you right into the abyss that you see there…’
The delegate Garrigou was not thrown into the water…

‘My father was a justice of the peace. He had a quiet nature, he always advised me to keep far from revolutionary movements, to remain calm on my travels and especially to respect the government of Louis XVIII. One day I was in Brittany. I was arrested by a police commissioner and searched. I have always worn a letter from my father with his enduring and profound good advice. The commissioner had quickly found it in the pocket of my jacket and started reading. When he had finished, he stopped his search, gave me my letter and my freedom back and said, “You have a brave and honest father, young man. Follow his advice, that will be good for you…”’

He had no idea, our commissioner, that I had an extremely important letter for our comrades in Brittany between the sole and a double lining in my boot. Thankfully so, because on the letter stood a name and an address: Authié, in Ax-les- Thermes.
‘Authié? Like the Cathar bishop?’
‘Yes, Authié, like the Cathar bishop. In addition, it was the same family. That is not that amazing at all. He often came to our gatherings in the Cathédrale.’
‘In the Salle des Rohan (hall of the Rohans)?’  ‘No, not exactly there, but in a higher hall, that of the Cascades pétrifiées, the petrified waterfalls. There no one could hear us or surprise us, as in the Salle du Serment [the hall of the vow] or the hall of the Rohans.’
‘What did you do there?’
‘At the moment it would seem pretty innocent, even somewhat naive. But still we were concerned with in-depth spiritual matters… and then, in addition, a greater pleasure
was to “throw” my prayer in the Cathédrale, there in that immense, sacred vault, towards the face of Him, who leads the world!’
‘Your prayer?’
‘Yes, the only prayer that I will never forget to say before I go to sleep: “My father … my father, who is in heaven, your name be sanctified…”’

I have chosen this piece as an introduction because three things come forward, which we still have to discuss at the end of this symposium:
1st – the special condition of the Sabarthez,
2nd – the great urge for freedom of the people who lived here, 3rd – their religion, their own free practice of religion.

    1. The cave of Lombrives in the Sabarthez has a gorge so deep that it reaches to the heart of the earth. And from its peaks, the region is bathed in a cosmic-electrical radiation, which creates a very subtle atmosphere in the valley.
    2. The inhabitants’ desire for freedom was expressed in a strong anti-royalist sentiment. They were traditionally supporters of Napoleon, but they lost and so lost the purpose of the struggle. They had a great aversion to the Bourbon monarchy, established again after 1815, and the repression of both the civil rights acquired and also of their secret movement reinforced their desire for freedom.
    3.  Their religiouss entiment and their freedom of consciousness were based on the pure Christianity of the heart.

Garrigou was held in high regard in Tarascon. He had been prefect of the Ariège department for a long time, and Gadal is not the only one who considered him as the patriarch of the Sabarthez. This nonagenarian familiarized the young Antoine with the idea that the valley in which they lived was one of the remarkable places from which the history of humanity has developed – and the presentations of Robert Bégouën and Philippe Grosos permit us to know how much this history returns again in time. Just like the caves of the Volp, in all times the caves of the Sabarthez served as shelters, certainly that of Lombrives, the largest in Europe. Here animals were lost, both great and small, but equally refuge was found by the unhappy, the pursued, the persecuted and criminals.

When in 1812 a gang of counterfeiters was discovered in this cave, the men of the 83e Régiment d’Infanterie ci-devant Foix were sent to arrest the gang and restore order. This regiment was a special group of men who also interest us for another reason. This corps was also a breeding ground, in which young officers, often the fine fleur of French youth, debated with veterans, exchanged fresh ideas and came to new insights. Within this regiment, certain members belonged to the Élus Coëns, an extremely secret society. They opposed the cold ideas of the Enlightenment and adopted a purely spiritual approach. The order was founded by Martinez de Pasqually and one of their sparse temples was found in Foix. Later the philosophe inconnu, Claude St. Martin, was a leading figure within that group. We are speaking here about the man who later translated the works of Jacob Boehme, the great German philosopher and gnostic, into French!

The regiment was dissolved when the Bourbons were restored in their old power. But that restoration would not bring peace. The political climate of France was full of intrigues and suspicions and the discontent was flammable. The shock of the revolution had awakened men and women. The image of Liberté, Égalité
and Fraternité that had encouraged citizens to take their destiny into their own hands was far from being achieved and the new bourgeoisie did not intend to let themselves be dominated again.

In the provinces this unrest was concentrated in groups of free citizens and soldiers. So around 1814 we see the emergence of 75 a secret movement of dynamic freethinkers who, among other things, wanted to overthrow the Monarchy of Louis XVIII, or at least to transform it into a regime with a constitution in which the rights of citizens would be recognized. It was understood that it was strictly forbidden to meet for such a purpose; they met in the forest and the caves.

They were not, however, necessarily devoid of spirituality or of religion. Their customs and their rites were similar to those of the freemasons, but their roots went much further back. There was a sort of spiritual like-mindedness with the first trade guilds of charcoal burners, the charcoal burners of Champagne and Franche-Comté. They found an example in the Italian carbonari, from which they took their name. Among them were found not only young French republicans and bonapartistes but also retired army officers, young officers and inactive officers, as well as some directors of the extremist liberal wing of the House of Representatives. All over France, cells – called ventes [in Italian, vendite] – grew like mushrooms in which old hatred and young hope came together and where the members thought up one wild plan after the other. They wanted to govern with self-rule in the departments and towns and were strongly opposed to the political centre of the capital.

In 1819 there were around 20,000 carbonari in Paris. There was a special commission for military affairs, because the army included a great number of carbonari. In this era there were ventes in almost all levels of the French regions. At Foix, such a vente was already active in 1815, after the fall of Napoleon. And Garrigou taught the young Gadal that they formed a long line by which the traditions of the bonshommes, of the cathari, were preserved.

In all the orders created since the century of Light, the same system of three degrees is found: apprentice, companion and master. The level to which these stages could be lived corresponded naturally to the level of the participants. We know that there were also lower and higher grades – generally seven stages or grades – but the threefold principle is always found. It is the reconstruction of the human being as a Temple, and only the Master can enter, or live in, this Temple of the Spirit. At the Élus Coëns were found:

    • the apprentice, one who remembered coming from a perfect universe;
    • the companion, one who became aware of his fall, his sin and his unconsciousness, and cleared his ‘debt’;
    • and the master, who had restored the original unity between God and creation, that is to say, the human being.

Or: formation, reformation, transformation.

And, in contrast to what one would think, it was only at that moment that the path started! Only then could one receive the degrees of the temple. These orders guarded their secrets in their hearts and nothing, or as little as possible, was written down. The oral tradition in France stood at a high level!

Formation, reformation and transformation. In the imagery of Gadal: the development of the caterpillar, the transition to the pupa and the transformation to the butterfly. That was his vision and his ideal: to make known and comprehensible to humanity the values of the Christianity of the Cathars.

    • Formation: freedom of conscience and thinking, free communication with the higher, which is so close by here in the Sabarthez;
    • Reformation: the open heart, full of love for each living being;
    • Transformation: melting with the divine as a pur, as a parfait…

The spirit that left its mark on France after the Restoration in 1815 and played an important role in the Revolution of 1830 inflamed the young Napoléon Peyrat. This Revolution also found other adherents: in new and autonomous citizens, men and women of good education. Remarkably, they also had to come to terms with the proletariat that traditionally clung onto the old model. And it took a long time before free thinking – the intellectual climate of a bourgeoisie who wanted to form France
to this ideal – would succeed in overcoming that resistance. The movement lost its influence when the most important leaders were executed and many members, especially in Italy, were expelled from the church, which was still no small thing at that time.

It is the old Adolphe Garrigou that managed to fuel the fire of aspiration in the young Gadal. When he could no longer read himself, he had read to him the books that he had written himself, about the presence of the Celtic-Iberians in the Pyrenees, about politics in his youth, about the history of his own region, and of course the Histoire des Albigeois by Peyrat. As Gadal says:

Garrigou’s investigations brought him the certainty of an original Christianity in the Pyrenees dating back to Montanus of Phrygia (2nd century AD) and Priscillian
(4th century B.C.), Felix of Urgell (9th century) and others. Thus he criss-crossed his birthplace during more than half a century searching for the trail of the last Cathars.

Adolphe Garrigou died in 1897, almost a hundred years old. Antonin Gadal was then only twenty years old but he accepted the task of preserving this spirit and transmitting it to others.

1895-1900… It’s the time that Gadal is in the middle of his studies to become an instituteur, a teacher. His first job is as railway station master in Tarascon. Shortly afterwards he settled in Montceaux-lès-Provins, where he married and taught être et avoir to the village youth until the Great War (1914-1918). Then he fought at the Somme, at Arras and Verdun, at Saint-Michel; it is a miracle that he could return alive to the valley of the Sabarthez and the Ariège afterwards.

In the 1920s, about a hundred years ago, Gadal and two associates acquired the concession for the cave of Lombrives. He started making it more accessible and installed electricity. He also took over the management of about 50 other caves in the municipality of Ussat-Ornolac. In those years, foreigners started coming to the Ariège:

  • Otto Rahn visited and here wrote his famous book Crusade against the Grail, which he dedicated to Gadal;
  • Karl Rinderknecht, a Swiss journalist and writer, came to help Gadal and later wrote a children’s book about the caves and a mysterious treasure;
  • Paul Ladame, renowned writer on the Renaissance and the Rosicrucians visited him, as well as many others;
  • In 1937 boastful Rolf Wheeler appeared on the stage, a charlatan and crook who had fled his native America because his name was mentioned in a murder case, looking for the Grail on Montségur.

Gadal shared confidences with each of them, sharing the secrets that the caves contain, and hoping that each of them would recognize the Mystery of Man.
Then, in the years before the war, a young Englishman arrived in southern France. It is Walter Birks, a child of theosophy; the mystic Dion Fortune was his teacher and he was sent to the Sabarthez by his spiritual leader, White Eagle, to assist Gadal. He shared the same spiritual goal with him. Together Gadal and Birks embarked on a threefold project:

  • exploring the baths, which had been established a century and a half earlier by Louis Napoleon;
  • unveiling the mysteries of the caves, making them accessible to a larger audience;
  • restoring the spiritual values of the old brotherhood, the spiritual legacy of the bonshommes and parfaits.

At the beginning of the Second World War, when Gadal is seventy- two years old, he thinks that the time has come to transfer to Birks and Rinderknecht the assignment that he himself had received from Garrigou half a century before. However, the war forces them both to quickly return home. Birks must go to the Near East for the secret service. Gadal is too old for active service; he will, however, focus on the resistance on several fronts. His hotel served as a refuge for Polish soldiers and at the same time as a storage location for the ammunition of the resistance. Also passeurs, smugglers, left from the hotel on the roads and paths through the mountains to lead entire Jewish families or their allied friends to safety in Spain via Andorra.

The attempts in Ussat to revive the economy after the war had failed. The time of the thermal baths was over. In the mid-1950s, 79 the Dutch recognize Gadal’s efforts. At the age of 74, he met Jan van Rijckenborgh and Catharose De Petri, the successors for whom he had been waiting for so long. They had founded a school for spiritual development, the Lectorium Rosicrucianum, in which many were interested in the hidden lineage of Christianity
and Catharism. In the years that follow, Gadal crowned his life’s work with the construction of a conference centre ‘Galaad’ and a small museum for all the discoveries that he had gathered in the course of his life. Now this collection has found a home in the Salle Gadal, here in Tarascon.
Thanks to their help, he was able to publish his book On the path to the Holy Grail, in which he explains what initiation means for him, using his ideal representation of the caves as he described in 1948.

He knows that after the fall of Montségur in 1244, small groups of Cathars came to the Sabarthez. He points to the working community that formed; he refers to the complex of the three Églises of Ornolac, with their Ateliers, l’Ermite and the cave of Bethléem, natural shelters in an impenetrable area. He had long and often considered how to put in writing what he considered as a vision.
Formation – Reformation – Transformation.
Apprentice – Companion – Master.
The principle of man, the principle of becoming, the principle of all creation.
Thus understood, it was also the fundamental principle of the Cathars. It is not surprising that Gadal found it again in the valley of the Ariège. In the subtle atmosphere of the Sabarthez, his native land, he perceived it: three ritual caves – Kepler, Mès-Naut, Ka.

Kepler = Osiris N = green Osiris
Mès-Naut (always higher)
Ka = Osiris parfait, the black Osiris
Kepler is the beginning of the path that leads through successive transformations by way of the celestial ladder into Ka, perfection.
The first cave, Kepler, represented the abandonment of matter: the caterpillar.
The second cave, Mès-Naut, expressed the pentagram, the Spirit-man: the chrysalis.
And the third cave, Ka, symbolized the soul-light: the perfect insect, the butterfly or scarab.

The lower nature dies in Kepler (the funeral chamber of the Egyptians, of Lazarus); it is the liberation from matter.
In Mès-Naut, always higher, the pupil becomes a servant, after which a spirit awakens consciously, as a master soul.
Ritually purified, knowing only pure motives, that is Ka, the Man of Greatness.

Ladies and gentlemen,

I come to the end. I would like to point out that the steps we discussed can be found in wisdom systems throughout the ages. Martinez de Pasqually, Claude de Saint Martin, all knew this; the Rosicrucians, the Freemasons, The White Eagle Lodge, the Order of the Temple. The crowning of this course was the Consolamentum of the Cathars. It meant actual freedom – not just freedom of thinking and consciousness, but that of spirits who resume their path of freedom, that of becoming soul-lights, and personalities that devote themselves completely.

I sing of the Ariège!
It is possibly only a small department on a long road between Toulouse and Andorra. It is perhaps not very rich, there is some industry, many cars driving south and there are hard-working people and loving families, their roots in a far distant past. However one who can perceives the past of humanity in the depths of her caves and caverns and tastes the mystery of his own existence. In the overtones of her valleys, a spirit of freedom 81 sings, calling tirelessly with all the sounds of humanity: A – E – I –O – U! A touch of rapture carries the hearts of sensitive nature to unprecedented heights. The old brotherhood watches.

Peter Huijs studied art history and archology, he is author of the books Called by the World Heart, 2009 and 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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