Author: Oleg Cherne
In Issue No. 8 of Code de Vino, we presented a wine from Languedoc, but we found it inexcusible to leave aside the history of this region, a very special part of Europe. Today, some people adopt a somewhat simplified view of history, and analyze it through the number of symbols dominating it in each specific period. However, I believe that each historical era is rather determined by the quality and specific details of people’s lives, their view of the world, and their own development. To be painfully honest, popular symbols tell us very little about the true life of the people of the past, especially when it comes to how many different processes and events were actually taking place in the culture of those days. That is why we can’t hope to discuss history seriously unless we understand the mind and lifestyle of the people from a certain era.
«It is crucial to learn more about our past, and we do our best to stick to our roots… We try to understand what our ancestors were feeling, how they were living their lives—and then take a step forward. Otherwise, it would be impossible to grow. Without knowing your past, progression is impossible,» David, Metropolitan of the Alaverdi Monastery, shared his thoughts with Code de Vino.
In the Medieval Period, Languedoc offered a peculiar alternative to the European colonialism, with an ideology in service of political needs. Thanks to the proximity of Spain, which was controlled at that time by the Arabs, with its colorful blend of cultures, flourishing medicine and philosophy, poetry and mathematics, Languedoc became a testing ground to try and alter all of European culture through perfecting certain favorable states of mind. And wine had a very special role assigned to it in this process. If you want to find out more about these states of mind, what helped this historical period flourish, and what wine has to do with all this, then continue reading our traditional column by Oleg Cherne.
Describing the connection that the Albigenses had with wine is a sacral process, comparable only to writing Zoroastrian hymns. To do so properly, you must either experience a state of revelation, or have a nice bottle of wine from Languedoc, the region where both wine and revelation merged to give birth to the Cathars, or Albigenses.
I must confess that this isn’t going to be a well-reasoned article, so in case you want a more feasible argument, I suggest turning to Avesta or the Goddess Apas, whom the ancient Hindus worshiped no less than I do myself, for instance Chateau Pontet Canet 2005 or Cabernet Sauvignon Carmelo Patti 2002!
Now our primary concept here is drinking, and it is up to you to decide how to manifest this—by drinking milk, plant juice, soma or wine. What matters most is that liquid is the only natural substance that represents a three-dimensional space both in motion and at rest. Liquids exist in three dimensions at all times, and also undergo transformations called fermentation that change their properties. Thus, in certain manifestations liquid can represent two elements at once — water and fire, since fermentation is a fire process.
Indeed, wine is a fiery manifestation of liquid, and it symbolizes a process the Hindus refer to as Agni and Zoroastrians call Atar. This fire used to have its own servants and worshipers. Wine expressed the idea of a combination of fire and water, also known as Soma. Zoroastrians called this concept Asha.
In order to connect with this concept and experience it, one had to carry out a certain action: drink soma. Sustaining this state was difficult, and included «tuning» your mind to the same wavelength as the space around you and understanding the processes of transformation and fermentation. To Zoroaster, wine was an incarnation of Asha, and drinking it meant strengthening your connection to god. Here we can highlight one very important concept—the ability of a person to get in touch with god and thus improve themselves and change their nature. This process was known as Mithra, and allowed Zoroaster to create an immortal body and work on his soul — Urvan.
As you can see, it is a very curious cult, which gradually transformed into the idea of being the ideal version of yourself. Its basics were influenced by the Babylonian and Hebrew interconnections, as well as Zoroastrian and Biblical traditions. Even before the appearance of Christianity, it set in motion certain conditions that later formed Manichaeism — an elaborate syncretic religion known as religious Gnosticism (from the Greek «gnosis» — knowledge), founded on the belief in cosmic knowledge and dominant role of space and its power.
Despite its strict hierarchy, the teaching was not passively esoteric, as it often occurs these days, and didn’t blindly follow some «incognizable entities»: its followers instead learned to tune in to the supreme forces, and also ascend to their level for this experience. The ability to enter a controlled ecstatic state was called «drinking cosmic wine,» and indicates that the teaching stems from the cult of Dionysus, unlike the cult of Bacchus, where reaching ecstasy was uncontrolled.
Therefore, it can be said that this teaching blended together Zoroastrian, Persian, Hebrew and Christian elements. The process of fusion and syncretism was focused in Edessa, an Assyrian city located in the southeastern corner of today’s Turkey.
The resulting teaching is sometimes known as «the Bardaisanite School» after the famous gnostic and philosopher Bardaisan. This school is said to have introduced Christianity to the rest of the world, as well as opened the gates for Manicaeism. Interestingly, the process of ecstatic experience is known as sofia («wisdom» or «craft» in Greek) and determined as an experience of the psyche, or soul/mind, thus separating it from bacchanal experience, yet in a way related to the Orphic state of mind (stemming from Orphism, an ancient set of mystic beliefs that highly praised and revered Dionysus). In addition, it also lays the foundation for Bulgarian Bogomilism, a truly fascinating anticlerical sect of Medieval Christianity that influenced the teachings of the Albigenses.
All the conditions described above give us grounds to raise a very interesting point: were those syncretic gnostic beliefs of the new era (Manichaeism, Bardaisanites, etc.) the determining factor in the development of Thracians, the nation that later inhabited the Balkans?
If this is true, we can also come to further thought-provoking conclusions. For instance, that the Thracian god of wine Zagreus appeared as an antagonist of the Roman Bacchus. That would mean that the cult of Dionysus gradually died out and split into two branches: the cult of Bacchus and the cult of Zagreus, the latter based on ecstatic experiences and studying certain states of mind rather than winemaking itself.
The invention of modern winemaking came to be due to the desire to reproduce the Sophia state I mentioned above. With time, when the followers of Bardaisan decide to concentrate on materializing the mental processes of ecstasy into certain patterns of behavior (we can find traces of this in Manichaeism), a schism starts to cause dissension in their teaching. Thus appeared the doctrine of the Christian theologian Marcion, one of the first people to write the New Testament.
Marcion extended and explained the teachings of Paul the Apostle, and technically formed Bogomilism in Bulgaria. Here we can summarize and analyze the ideas and facts expressed thus far: on the one hand, there was a split in gnostic teachings (into three branches if we count Manichaeism), and on the other, we find the amazing manifestation of Manichaeism in the Balkans, where some schools of thought worship the idea of quite real, physical wine, while others operate on the idea of spiritual wine and experience.
In this article, we will not delve deeper into the minute details of these religious cults, but we will mention that the two gnostic schools that existed in Mesopotamia in fact gave birth to the idea of Mani, the teaching of the Perfect Man.
This teaching absorbed certain concepts from its predecessors, but is in fact a distinct, separate original school of thought based on the Hymn of the Pearl. Here the Pearl is wisdom, or knowledge that Christ acquired in Egypt (according to Mani) and thus achieved perfection. In other words, the Prophet Mani treated Christ as an example of a Perfect Man. Later, the Cathars adopted this idea, most likely from him. Mani believes that the meaning of life is to find this Pearl and consume it, like Chirst did, to become a Perfect Man as well.
Now we’ll come back to the Tracians and ask ourselves one question: is it possible that the cult of Zagreus, who was also searching for this Pearl, and wine and potassium bitartrate (byproducts of winemaking, also known as «wine stone» in some cultures) be its prototype? How did wine became part of the Holy Communion? Perhaps this implies that pearl and potassium bitartrate are essentially (at least in some aspects) the same thing.
Indeed, in the past, pearl and potassium bitartrate were the first crystals discovered and used by man. Plus, both of them form in liquids and can also be dissolved. In ancient times, water wasn’t even a compulsory attribute of Baptism; instead they used special ale, which in essence is a crystal dissolved in water or alcohol. In the end, we arrive at the concept of the «water of life,» which can come in multiple manifestations and forms. Unfortunately, we can only make assumptions and educated guesses about its initial idea.
If we consider the fact that in the process of spreading across the world Christianity acquired a certain knowledge of Mesopotamia, it is possible to suggest that the wine cult of Marduk served as the basis for most further variants (Marduk was the patron deity of the city of Babylon; in the middle of 1,000 BC all Babylonian deities were treated as Marduk’s incarnations). If we dig deeper, we can also find links to the ancient Epic of Gilgamesh, who was also looking for some sacred crystal of the so-called «herb of life.»
Finally, we can also find evidence that connects the rite of baptism to the process of binding something, or putting things together. The very rite of baptism is based in the idea of establishing a divine connection (which later gave birth to Mandaeism, a gnostic religion that has survived until modern days as well). The Madaeans revered John the Baptist and associated baptism with the concept of emanation and sacred link. We apply all this information to the ritualistic function of wine, as drinking it as an act of binding, or stitching space together, as well as bathing and purification.
Origin of the concept of the Perfect Man
All the different gnostic religions of Mesopotamia have one characteristic in common—they attempt to unite various ideas and concepts together, and bind them to one another and to Christian values to create a singular holistic approach. This is in fact how one of the most influential people in all of human history appears—the Prophet Mani, who establishes the basics of Manichaeism (which is, by the way, younger than Mandaeism).
In its essence, his teaching was a formula aimed at transforming a person into a better being through a particular lifestyle, rites, psalms, and religious services. By the mid-300s, this gives rise to the concept of the Perfect Man, which was later developed by the Cathars.
We cannot help but wonder: what pushed this teaching so far away from Jerusalem into the Balkans, Italy, and France? Mind you, location was an important aspect in the formation of a Perfect Man. So did they truly believe that southern France was more fit for this purpose than Jerusalem? The answer lies in the village of Rennes-le-Château and the Templars, who were the first to build a castle there. Later, the Cathars settled here and chose this place as their headquarters.
To some extent, this might be due to the fact that the area was situated at the intersection of various paths by which holy crusaders traveled to the Holy Land and back to Europe. Thus, it became a focal point of everything sacred and could be perceived as a location protected from evil and dark forces.
Some hypotheses also suggest that it was modeled after Avalon, the sacred land of the Celts, but one fact remains beyond doubt: Cathars have the tendency to settle in areas particularly advantageous for winemaking. They stay away from Glastonbury, the presumed location of Avalon, but instead remain on the same longitude, just farther to the south in the land with a favorable climate and fertile soil.
Sure enough, there has never been any success in finding direct evidence of Cathars drinking wine, but it is a fact that their idea of purification through bathing and washing demonstrates parallels with Mani’s teachings of purity. So what liquid did they use in their rites?
Albigenses as offspring of the cult of Dionysus
Similar to Manichaeism, Cathars practice a syncretic belief system, but unlike the former, they did not center around a single person or concept. A strict hierarchy (consisting of commoners, officers, priests and Perfect Men) defined their view of the world and behavior as a whole. For example, Perfect Men were permitted to live by different rules than simple laymen, who were not allowed access to things that could potentially avert them from the righteous path.
Their society was indeed divided in a similar way to that in Manichaeism, i.e. on the lines of the ability of a person to understand the Holy Spirit and communicate with it. While for some members of the community wine was a harmful substance, for others it was an intrinsic component of their everyday lives. Today, we can’t say for sure how much wine there was and when exactly it was consumed, as this knowledge was sacred and guarded heavily.
However, we can look for clues in the gnostic treatise titled Pistis Sofia (approx. 200 CE, although only a later translation into Coptic survived), which states that the entire world is defined and shaped by its Creator. In other words, Perfect Men are allowed to do anything if the Holy Spirit tells them so. The pinnacle of its teaching is to exercise your spirit, which was brought to the extreme during the crusades and caused numerous knight orders to plunge into heresy.
We can see that up to the assumed year of the Apocalypse (around 1,000 CE), the religion was focused in the East, and then it shifted to the north and was developed in Paulicianism, with its idea of the evil god, proposed by Mani.
Finally, in this turmoil, the cult of Zagreus, Mani and the ideas of Paulicianism give rise to Bogomilism in the Balkans with its ideas of achieving perfection and, what is more interesting for us in the framework of this article, of good and bad wine. Mavrud, a grape variety cultivated in Bulgary, becomes the symbol of sacred wine, or so-called Cahor.
The purpose of this long description of what I can’t define as anything other than the «Albigensian mess» is as follows: I’m attempting to reveal the connection between wine and architecture, and thankfully, I know just the place to do so — the city of Orleans, perhaps the most vivid example of Templar architecture (and also the center of Bogomilism, where its followers moved from Flanders in the early 11th century). Here we can see that all future Cathars are more accepting of wine, unlike in Languedoc, where only those in higher circles were allowed to drink it.
It is possible that Cathars, followers of Paulicianism, considered the body of Christ a sacred treasure not belonging to our earthly world, and thus unable to be represented by physical objects. Thus, the teachings concluded that those who did not have the ability to know Christ through bread and wine were not allowed to consume it, while those who could eat and drink without producing bodily waste were granted the sacred right to experience Christ’s body in the form of wine and bread.
In the Albigensian doctrine, the Perfect Men were ideal in all aspects, including their physical and mental abilities. If that is indeed the case, then the connection between Cathars, wine, and Perfection is clear, and we can see why the Cult of Zagreus was created and how it is different from the cult of Bacchus: while the former deals with the rite of sacred transformation, the latter is but a mere cult of booze. It is simple logic that man can learn of the divine only through faith and religious effort, not through thoughtless indulging in wine, which is more likely to be a distraction.
The Cathars divided all believers into the following titles: layman, junior son, senior son, priest and Perfect Man. Only men with the title of priest and above were allowed to drink wine, as only at this stage were their bodies and minds primed to establish this connection.
Meanwhile, laymen were not yet true believers; they were «on their way» to faith, and had to work hard to achieve a higher status. This concept gave the Cathars common ground with the Templars and distinguished them from the Catholic Church. A Perfect Man is a person that shines with Holy Light and is able to experience the Divine, represented by the Holy Grail. Their Eucharist was different, perhaps even closer to the true interpretation of this concept than the other option.
On the whole, the teaching of the Albigenses or Cathars and their understanding of wine is closely connected to the laws of achieving Perfection, and as you can imagine, even being burned at the stake was not perceived in the same way as we see it today. Once a person reached this state of emanating Sacred Light, all minute earthly matters bothered them very little. Who knows, perhaps when the Cathars were burned during the Crusades, they saw it as a path to get even closer to God, along with drinking wine — as part of the bigger plan of becoming Perfect Men.