The Albigensian communities of southern France were exterminated by armies of Crusaders. But individual Cathars manage to escape from Provençe and to carry their Bogomilism to every part of Europe. Apparently less sectarian than many earlier or later radicals, the Manichean Cathars form friendships and in time merge with Humiliati, Waldensians, Joachites, Brethren of the Free Spirit and others with whom they share the distinction of being hunted by the Inquisition. They do not merge with Franciscans, recognizing these pseudo-resisters as kin to the Inquisitorial Dominican police...
The radicals are numerous, many are highly imaginative, their inspiration comes from distant places and times, and they stimulate each other to rethink their commitments and start all over again. They are as varied as human beings can be. They nevertheless share some large commitments, and it is these commitments that make them anathema to ecclesiastical and lay authorities.
The radicals are explicitly committed to freedom and to community. The very names they give their informal groupings, names like Brethren of the Free Spirit, announce both of these commitments. -- Against His-story, Against Leviathan!, Fredy Perlman
Joseph Campbell in Creative Mythology points out that in the 11th and 12th centuries there was a resurgence in the veneration for Love and Beauty across the Eurasian landmass. This ranged from Japanese Buddhist courtly love depicted in Lady Murasaki's writing, to Taoist inner physiological teachings in China, to Tantra and other Bhakti cults in India, to hymns of praise for the Beloved in Sufism, to formulations of the Shekinah in the Kabbalah, and to the troubadour movement and the cult of the Dame in Provence.
Alongside and somewhat in coordination with these groups in Southern France were the much more established Cathars or Albigensians, representing a true parallel or counter-Church in Europe. The Cathars are usually regarded as a form of gnostic-dualist Manicheanism, their roots extending back to the Bogomils and to earlier Gnostic sects of southeastern Europe and the Near East.
However, certain researchers -- like Gabriele Rossetti on the Left and Ezra Pound on the Right -- have speculated that the Cathars were a radical and functioning survival of the Eleusinian Mysteries. In Albigensianism, the argument goes, the esoteric and erotic fertility rites were perpetuated in Western Europe.
In any case, the Cathars posed an existential threat to the official Church's claim of universalism. Accordingly, they were nearly all exterminated in the 1209 to 1229 crusade against them. The anarchist anti-historian Fredy Perlman picks up the thread here precisely where it was dropped by the sanctioned narrative. Many individual Cathars escaped these bloody assaults and formed alliances with other, even more radical, heretical and dissenting groups of that time. Of these one of the most revolutionary groups was the Brethren of the Free Spirit.
Life Immediately Present
Viewed as historical documents, they establish beyond all doubt that the ‘Free Spirit’ really was exactly what it was said to be: a system of self-exaltation often amounting to self-deification; a pursuit of a total emancipation which in practice could result in antinomianism and particularly in anarchic eroticism; often also a revolutionary social doctrine which denounced the institution of private property and aimed at its abolition. -- The Pursuit of the Millennium, Norman Cohn
Academic historian Norman Cohn is no fan of the medieval antinomian and communist groups that he writes about, and Perlman calls him reactionary in his politics. But his distaste seems to keep his depiction of them non-romanticized. The affirmation of "total emancipation" was real. Their doctrine was virtually Tantric, although of an entirely divergent point of origin.
The heresy was as such: As Christ had come and died and rose again for the sake of all humanity, then all sins -- past, present and future -- were forever forgiven and the Fall was reversed without a trace. All of nature was redeemed by the Incarnation. The body was no longer blemished, to be held in scorn, but to be celebrated as being holy along with all of its desires. All authorities, all laws, all bounds had been overthrown. Heaven had once again descended to Earth.
The secular and ecclesiastical centres of control were illegitimate, therefore, having lost all divine justification for their rule. They could be dismissed and ignored and resisted at every turn. The Free Spirits had reentered the Garden, had been restored to sinless innocence, and had become like gods -- partakers of both the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil and the Tree of Life. There was no need to abolish God -- the misguided aim of later revolutionaries -- because they, and all of Nature, were eternally at one with God.
Like the Tantrics and revolutionary Taoists, such as the Yellow Turbans and subsequent Taoist-inspired peasant revolts, the Free Spirits were not exactly anti-materialists -- Matter was not dead and fallen but instead was blessed and spiritual. The wholly Transcendent had become wholly Immanent. Christ had already wed Heaven and Earth. The Brethren of the Free Spirit were merely those who had realized these things first and fully. It continues to be the most radical heresy or revolutionary doctrine imaginable. The former Situationist Raoul Vaneigem also celebrated these ideas:
All the supporters of the movement of the Free Spirit insisted that life meant life immediately present. There was no hell, no resurrection, no Last Judgment, no divine overseer, no secular power. They were not interested in religious, philosophical or political quarrels; social confrontation interested them only when it opened the door to absolute emancipation. Realizing that God had been created in the image of their alienation, they abandoned the great external, productive subject, whose spirit signified servitude and tyranny, and made themselves earthly gods in the ceaseless flux of a universal attraction they called love. To pass, through love, from the frustrated nature of desire to the untrammeled freedom of re-created nature -- this was the project they shaped during those centuries shut off from the progress of history. -- The Movement of the Free Spirit, Raoul Vaneigem
They "made themselves earthly gods in the ceaseless flux of a universal attraction they called love." And in this they carried forward a great idea that can be traced back through the more liberated of the Christian mystics to the Neoplatonists and their commentaries and meditations upon the doctrines of divine Eros found in the Phaedras and the Symposium. These doctrines are reflected in Gnosticism and earliest Christianity, doctrines which are truly archaic and even Paleolithic in origin -- from the cosmic/chaotic Mother and her consort/son Love.
And stretching forward in history, the Brethren of the Free Spirit and contemporary heretical groups, as Vaneigem and others have traced, went on to engender and inspire anti-authoritarian Reformation sects like the neo-Adamites and the Moravians, the esoterically-focused Rosicrucians, the more radical of the English revolutionaries like the Diggers and the Ranters -- who explicitly named their antinomian beliefs "the Everlasting Gospel" -- and the socially radical Freemasonic fraternities at the time of the American and French revolutions. Yet all of these groups were conscious of a deeper tradition, one that inspired visions of total liberation.
However bizarre it may appear to later revolutionaries and historians alike, this Pythagorean passion seriously influenced the organizational activities of the first revolutionaries. We have seen how the Illuminists made the first halting efforts systematically to use the forms of occult Masonry for ulterior conspiracy -- pointing the way to Bonneville, Buonarroti, and the early professional revolutionaries. But the wild profusion of exotic symbols and higher orders also fed a much broader and more open impulse: the search for simple forms of nature to serve as a touchstone for truth amidst the crumbling authority of tradition. -- Fire in the Minds of Men, James H. Billington
The word "Illuminists" instantly rings warning bells in the brains of millions in these addled and ignorant days, but in fact the Illuminati were extreme foes of the Church and the monarchies that had kept the population of Europe in feudal enslavement for centuries. Whatever excesses they were involved in, to be condemned in themselves, they were at least on the right track.
Yet in contrast to the established authorities of tradition that they and other revolutionary groups of the that period opposed, they affirmed and identified with an underground tradition, nicknamed the Everlasting Gospel here, which they tracked at least as far back as the communal and anti-tyrannical Pythagorean and Orphic brotherhoods. As they toiled to further crumble the existing oppressive traditions, they sought to replace these with the oldest revolutionary faith.
As the devaluation of all values continued apace, however, the authorities did something cunning and diabolical. Knowing that their long stretch of duping the population through strictly regimented orthodox Christianity and feudalism was fracturing, they formed alliances and eventually fused with emergent bourgeois capitalism and its associated ideology of scientific materialism.
It was far better for these authorities to have God removed entirely from the world, to de-animate or de-soul the Earth, than to allow for the spread of an entirely immanental Free Spirit-style affirmation of a decentralized yet universal "Church" of pagan-Christian animistic pantheism.
The real Renaissance, in this regard, ended symbolically in 1600 with the burning at the stake of arch-heretic Giordano Bruno in Rome. Soon after this execution came the devastating Thirty Years War and the expansion of the brutal Counter-Reformation and Inquisition (with equivalent established Protestant institutions), and the subsequent rise of the modern State, capitalism and scientific materialism.
The revolutionary groups of the next two centuries, although still partially aware of their deeper roots, were already becoming watered down through Deism and afterwards atheism. The so-called "Enlightenment" can be seen in one sense as a social and spiritual reaction to the resurgent Hermeticism of the Renaissance.
Jesus I. Christ
Certain visionaries of this later period, inspired by the political and social revolutions of America and France, resisted this turn to Deism and "Natural Religion." The most notable of these was the English poet and artist, William Blake, a direct inheritor and re-activator of the Everlasting Gospel, writing explicitly about the old tradition.
If it were not for the Poetic or Prophetic character the Philosophic & Experimental would soon be at the ratio of all things, & stand still, unable to do other than repeat the same dull round over again. -- “There Is No Natural Religion,” William Blake
The "same dull round" potentially means several things for Blake here. In its most basic sense it means the quotidian dose of largely senseless toil and exertion that most of us, under present economic and social conditions, suffer perpetually. This includes the non-stop alienation of commuting, working, consuming and worrying about the financial well-being of ourselves and those we love. The serfdom of the daily grind, in other words, is still as soul-deadening for us as it was for Blake and his contemporaries.
In a deeper sense, though, it refers to the "natural religion" of rational philosophy and materialist science. It is Blake who best articulated in poetry and prose and in the visual arts how the so-called "Enlightenment" and its legacy was really a Disenchantment; how "single vision and Newton's sleep" had devalued the senses, debased the body and its desires, transformed nature herself into a endless grey and smoky series of "Satanic mills," and in particular had suppressed and strangled the Imagination, which before had provided a spiraling staircase to the gods.
Henceforth only rationality and the experimental method of mechanistic science, presided over by a new yet equally exclusive priesthood of scientists and technicians, would be accepted as providing an effective path to Truth. "Art" became mere entertainment, even in its most "radical" form now only reflecting the nihilism of its culture, no longer a means of transcendence in immanence.
Blake attempted to break out of this prison of "the ratio of all things" by creating his own mythology, in conscious continuance of Gnostic and Hermetic myth, and succeeded in keeping the light of the Everlasting Gospel from being extinguished in the 19th century, allowing it to keep burning in the 20th century and beyond.
But the same dull round also refers to the cycle of revolution, which Blake came to call the "Orc" cycle. Orc is the young and fiery spirit of revolution who nonetheless, as he grows older and more established, hardens his revolt into a new oppressive authority. Inescapably he transforms into his arch-nemesis, Urizen. This is what Blake, a friend of the revolutionary Thomas Paine and an associate with the anarchist writer William Godwin and his early feminist wife Mary Wollstonecraft, witnessed happening during the course of the American and French revolutions.
The same deadly and soul-smothering Order just returns again and again, usually in an even more violent and insufferable form. The Orc cycle provides the clockwork mechanism for the entire nightmare of history, entirely in lockstep with "natural religion." King and priest, the Archons of Space and Time, are merely reproduced under different titles and dress. To cut through this cycle or round, however, something far deeper needs to occur. Revolution is not sufficient, it must lead to Revelation. Each revolt must provoke a revealing. But a revealing of what?
All laws must be overthrown, without and within. The extermination of the national tyrants of this world is incomplete unless the shackles which bind our own imagination are shattered. For Blake, a very conscious torch bearer of the Everlasting Gospel (a term which critic A.L. Morton explains Blake consciously adopted from the communist radicals of the English Revolution, who in turn took it from the Bible), it is through Christ alone that this may be accomplished.
Blake calls Christ, "Jesus the Imagination" and in his poem "The Everlasting Gospel" he writes that the highest teaching available is the personal forgiveness of sins. Through Jesus the Imagination, always fully present within our own imagination, we are able to both forgive others and to be forgiven. All codes, restrictions, hierarchies are, through this, split right through. They are negated, circumvented, ignored and the forgiving power of the Source attained directly.
In this way, Blake is overtly invoking the Third Age of the Holy Spirit, pronounced by Joachim of Fiore, in which Christ's Incarnation and Resurrection has already liberated the entire world from Sin and Death so that all existing authorities have been made obsolete. As we have seen, this is also the central belief of the Brethren of the Free Spirit and their successors. Blake carries this medieval antinomian heresy forward, a heresy which becomes central to the Romantic era.
And ultimately this heresy also implies that ending the "same dull round" can be equated with liberation from saṃsāra, the cosmic wheel of birth and rebirth, an Indian doctrine which Blake might have had some familiarity with. Though as in Mahayana Buddhism, where the final realization is that saṃsāra is nirvāṇa, Blake also held that the radical and imaginative alteration of perception is the key to the realization that this world, with its endless beauty and mystery, is already Paradise.
The Pewless Church of Poetry
From Valentinus through the German Romantic poet Novalis, the French Romantic Nerval, and the English William Blake, Gnosticism has been indistinguishable from imaginative genius. I venture, after a lifetime’s meditation upon Gnosticism, the judgment that it is pragmatically the religion of literature. There are, of course, nonheretical Christian poets of genius, from John Donne through Gerard Manley Hopkins on to the neo-Christian T.S. Eliot. And yet the most ambitious poets in the Romantic Western tradition, those who have made a religion of their own poetry, have been Gnostics, Shelley and Victor Hugo on to William Butler Yeats and Rainer Maria Rilke. -- Genius, Harold Bloom
Harold Bloom -- another imperfect messenger; Hermes Quicksilver may take on any semblance or guise -- extends the line further ahead to Blake-inspired Romantic writers to the Modernists and beyond. Gnosticism is the secret religion of literature.
There is of course no formal Gnostic religion. Even during its heyday in the Hellenic period there existed dozens of, at times, rival Gnostic sects but no single all-encompassing Church. The rites and doctrines of these sects differed from one another, but a defining similarity was the application of essentially Platonic/Neoplatonic philosophy to Jewish, Christian and creative-syncretic mythologies.
"Gnosticism" has come to represent a spiritual ideology which is dualistic at core, one that reveres the purity of the Spirit and reviles the body, the Earth and the realm of Matter in general, to the extreme that the Creator God of this material universe is denied and denounced as a cosmic tyrant. Likewise, for the Gnostics, the authorities of the Church and State, deriving their power from this false God, were rejected as being illegitimate and worthy of derision. The Gnostics were the original an-Archon-ists, anarchists. "No gods, no masters" was their slogan long before it was anyone else's.
But "Gnosticism," in its entirety, was not in fact a simple dualism. Certain Gnostic sects, resembling the later Free Spirits, believed that the sparks of the True God were to be found in this world, and especially within the hearts of human individuals.
Accordingly, certain sects like the Orphites and Phibionites celebrated the senses and practiced a free eroticism. They were Gnostic in the most appropriate sense of possessing or seeking to possess gnosis, an intuitive and direct apprehension of Godhead, either as individuals or in small groups and in defiance of any priestly mediation.
The authors mentioned by Bloom, and there are many, many others that might have been included, are "Gnostics" in exactly this sense. They may have been directly influenced by elements of the original Gnostic doctrines, as Blake certainly was, but they belonged to no formal Gnostic "Church," and adhered to no defined dogma. They are Gnostics because they experienced, or at least sought the experience of, gnosis. Once again this meshes entirely with the Everlasting Gospel.
At this stage in the present essay, this "tradition" might appear to be so diffuse that it has ceased to have much use as a political concept, if it ever did. The figures that Bloom mentions could be placed, alternately, on the Left or the Right of the political spectrum. Yeats, for example, would be rejected in total by the Left. This is unfortunate. Yeats's politics are without a doubt unsavory, but the sparks of gnosis can be discovered throughout his work. And to find these sparks, to release them and to add to their brightness, is a revolutionary strategy of Everlasting Gospel.
Why should the fascists get Yeats? Why should they get Jung or D.H. Lawrence or Nietzsche?
Instead of rejecting certain authors and artists completely because they hold reactionary values, why not adopt a strategy of revolutionary deconstruction, one that liberates the sparks, streams and shamanic traces that channel as far back as the original "primitive" communism of the Paleolithic.
In other words, act to eliminate the dross of priestly obfuscation, bogus rites and dogmas, patriarchal domination, bigotry and class division that has, over centuries of State rule, encrusted itself on our tradition. The Everlasting Gospel was always, and continues to be, ecological, feminist, anti-authoritarian, antinomian, communist.
But the great misfortune is that this cannot be simply said without the inclusion of yet another "disclaimer." It should go without saying that this tradition is not represented by either the current nationalist or the current globalist ruling-class ideologies. Nonetheless, all of the adjectives above have been twisted against us. Though we might attempt a rectification of names.
"Ecological" means merely to be in dynamic balance with the other creatures of this planet and with the planet itself, not an advocacy of Agenda 21 nor Agenda 2030 nor Agenda 2061, no matter how paranoid and divisive these are designed to make us. "Feminist" means promoting an equal partnership between all sexes and genders, not a female version of the patriarchy. "Communist," again, means a stateless and classless society, not the gulag nor an extreme authoritarian capitalism overseen by a so-called Communist Party.
It's Good Enough For Me
According to the research of French anthropologist, Pierre Clastres, tribal societies, far from being innocent "noble savages" -- free from even the notion of a centralized State -- function in continual and even structural resistance to the formation of a State. They are in resistance to the privileging, to the monopolization of violence, of an elite group within their societies over the rest of their members.
This they were able to accomplish and sustain for millennia because these societies actively broke up any accumulation of power, be it wielded by the chiefs, or the shamans, or the strongest hunters, etc. At all times the emphasis was on the need to release trapped flows, build-ups of mana and wealth of all kinds. The States of the ancient world that did form and persist, therefore, were in those societies that for various reasons anti-authoritarian vigilance had lapsed.
A similar type of resistance, however, can be waged at this moment within the arts. Once again, the sparks of the Everlasting Gospel can be liberated. Ezra Pound provides a good example. Pound's anti-Semitic, pro-fascist, pro-Nazi Rome radio broadcasts during WW2 are abhorrent and disgusting, and the whole of Pound's ouvre should be scoured and scrutinized to determine just where the rot set in. But to throw away Pound entirely, to leave him to Italian neo-fascists and U.S. alt-right followers of Eustace Mullins, is a huge mistake.
Pound, all throughout his career and even in the darkest and most fetid craters within it, had a profound sense of the archaic tradition which he called Eleusis. This shines and rings out beautifully in much of his work, and subsequent generations of poets -- many members of which were/are firmly on the Left -- sensed this in Pound's writing. The best of Pound can be liberated from Pound. And so with all artists.
Literature, and in the arts in general but especially within poetry, harbours one of the last remaining pockets of archaic animism. In poetry, in its opposition to modern utilitarianism and reductionism, each verse is still charged with meaning, is still conscious of the fact that every word emanates from a god, that etymology tells and retells the story of theogony.
In poetry the old correspondences between language, animals, plants, mountains, rivers, winds, stars, seasons, stages of life, elemental spirits, demons and gods retain their potency within an open web of metaphoric circulation. Within it the primal systems of correspondence and magic are reanimated and reactivated through verbal rhythms, symbols and images.
The Book of Orpheus adds on to itself slowly, almost imperceptibly, word by word, verse by verse. And it is these few words that shine, their sap running back through roots and rhizomes down into the deepest and blackest and most fertile loam of the Earth, that are solely meaningful. The life of the author, and his or her whole body of work, may be nearly irrelevant in comparison to a single image or metaphor, somehow providing a conduit for that which resounds both in the furthest depths and in the outermost spheres.
By these words or Word, Spirit and Matter -- dynamically conjoined within primitive communism -- are reunified once again. The visionary goal of all religions, although actively outlawed by the dominant priesthoods, is already accomplished, yet most do not "read" with the hope or even the awareness of finding it.
Through these flashes of recognition all ecclesiastical and secular hierarchies are bypassed and we are instantly transported back inside our own bodies to the dawn of the world and the mind. Reason may eventually take us, by a gradual and winding course, to the summit and threshold of the Earthly Paradise, but only through faith, synonymous with the imagination, can we be rocketed to the stars.
This imaginary Book of Orpheus acts as an unofficial Bible of the panoriginal religion of the Earth, a "faith" that is tribal and decentralized but also fully universal. And this religion was once present within every ethnic grouping across the planet, from Japanese pre-imperial Ko-Shintō to Siberian shamanism to Old European heathenism to the "primitive" and psychedelic animism of Africa and indigenous Australia and Amazonia.
All things are full of gods; and one feminine creative/procreative principle pervades throughout all of internal and external nature, a foundationless foundation that can be expressed by no fundamentalism. Words are no slaves to their "definitions." Verse is never truly sentenced to any fixed grammar. Neither is this the infamous One World Religion of active post-Bircher paranoia and paralysis. No control centre is possible within this jungle of spirits. It is by nature, as nature, uncontrollable and free.
Yet what does any of this have to do with revolutionary praxis in a "concrete" sense? Why waste our time on mystical or poetic tradition at all instead of the "realistic" goal of social revolution? Once more, following Blake, revolution in order to be fully successful must become revelation.
This tradition, when entirely shorn of its priestly accretions, exemplifies the radical values of liberty, equality, fraternity, sharing, the holding of all possessions in common, in fact the expansion or re-appropriation of the commons to include the entire cosmos. The creative imagination within this tradition is identical to solidarity, to compassion, to love.
And while within technocratic capitalism, here in agreement with its orthodox Marxist critics, imaginative vision is either banned or marginalized or profitably exploited, for the Everlasting Gospel it becomes both democratized and all important. The generation of meaning becomes liberated and this, in turn, is the first and crucial step towards social revolution.
The realm of Matter [and I should add, much of our dreaming as well] is saturated and overrun by Capital. The primitive/post-historical anarchist communist guerillas stage their attacks of sabotage, subversion and liberation from the one great remaining inexplicable wilderness of the Imagination.
And I saw another angel fly in the midst of heaven, having the everlasting gospel to preach unto them that dwell on the earth, and to every nation, and kindred, and tongue, and people, Saying with a loud voice, Fear God, and give glory to him; for the hour of his judgment is come: and worship him that made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and the fountains of waters.