The Sacred Stones of the Sabarthès

A look behind the veil of Otto Rahn’s Grail Quest

[Photo credits: The Heretic Magazine]

This article was first published several years ago in 'The Heretic Magazine', issue nr. 10, written under my nom de plume, Jeanne D'Août. I now think it's time to share it with you. ♥

[French cave paintings, by Jeanne D’Août] 
Since the beginning of time, earth has been hit by meteorites of all shapes and sizes, and mankind has always been intrigued by these ‘stones that fell from the heavens’. Many of these stones created huge craters, depending on their size, so people must have considered them very powerful. Some radiated in the dark; others had such high iron content that, when scratched and wetted, red drops would form. It was as if these stones could bleed, just like humans and animals. Obviously, such stones would have been quite valuable. In prehistoric times, these ‘bloodstones’ were crushed into powder and mixed with marrow to become the red paint for the famous cave paintings of southern France, which - according to the latest archaeological research - were painted by female shamans. The paint represented the living blood of the earth, the soul of the Great Mother. By doing this, the shaman believed she was entering into a magical pact with the Mother Goddess with the intention of animating her paintings, so that she could communicate with the spirits of the animals drawn on the cave walls. They became sacred paintings, drawn with Holy Blood.

[Bloodstones, by Jeanne D’Août]
These ‘bloodstones’ can still be found in the Sabarthès, but they are becoming scarce. Most specimens can be found inside the Fontanet Cave, which is now closed to the public. To understand how these sacred stones of the Sabarthès became the leading objects in a famous 20th century Grail quest, we must first travel back in time to the first century CE.

Immigrants from the East
Two millennia ago, thousands of Jewish refugees fled from Palestine to southern France and northern Spain to escape the harsh Roman rule of terror in their home country. On arrival, they introduced the Jewish culture to the region, including mythology, music, folk tales, customs and religion. Among these refugees were Essenes and early gnostic Christian missionaries, the first to set foot on French soil. These were gnostic mystics, preaching a new faith based on ancient concepts. They mixed the esoteric Hermetic Teachings with new rules, based on old principles. Because they recognized certain aspects of this new religion, the local French tribes - which at that time still mainly consisted of Celtic Gauls who had their own pantheon of gods and goddesses - were open to certain aspects of the new faith. Slowly but surely, after many conversations and joint philosophizing, the influence of these new ideas from the east began to take root in southern France.

[St. Peter’s Basilica, Rome, by Jeanne
D’Août; Popes ruled by the sword]
Gnosticism and Christianity
Fifteen hundred years ago, a previously pagan Europe - where Celtic and Nordic traditions had always been the old and accepted way of life - witnessed with mixed feelings how various eastern religions were cleverly penetrating the established western European cultural and religious societies, its governments and the systems of law and order. When the Romans left their empire to the rule of the Goths and the Franks, Europe had already become a multi-cultural society, divided like a quilt tapestry into hundreds of small realms, dukedoms, counties and princedoms. These were ruled by their own elites, who almost constantly fought among themselves for power, land and the spoils of war. These rulers also took the liberty of pronouncing exactly what kind of religion their people were allowed to follow. Those who lived in towns under their control made sure they obeyed their ruler’s wishes and piously demonstrated their prescribed religion in public. However, in the countryside, the farmers and lumberjacks often remained faithful to the ancient laws of nature and their deities. Hence the use of the word ‘pagan’ (peasant, farmer or woodsman), or ‘heathen’ (people who lived on the heath, like shepherds), words that became invectives and caused division and hatred between townspeople and country folk. These pagans and heathens became the outcasts of society. They were called heretics; freethinkers, non-believers or worse: devil worshippers! So, around 1200 years ago, Europe was plunged into chaos. As a result, the Roman Catholic Church decided to dedicate themselves to becoming the primary remedy to cure Europe, if necessary, by sword, terror and fire. In the year 800, Charlemagne was crowned emperor of the new Holy Roman Empire, with Christianity as its main religion. Under his rule, his armies conquered land after land with just one goal in mind: to unite Europe under Christ.

Of course, there was more than just Roman Catholic Christianity in Europe. Because of its multi-cultural society there was also Judaism, Islam and of course, paganism. There were also a number of small splinter-groups that had created their own rules and philosophies - some more esoteric than others - who had cut themselves off from the main religions and boldly went their own way. Within Christianity alone, several sub-groups had already broken away during the reign of the first Christian Emperor Constantine the Great (4th century CE). Most of these groups had chosen to remain faithful to the original faith, which was mostly Gnostic in origin.

[Qumran, by Jeanne
D’Août; the caves where the
Dead Sea Scrolls were found]
Gnosticism was very popular in the Near East and had quickly spread into Europe with the refugees that had come from the Holy Land, two millennia ago. The Dead Sea Scrolls and the Nag Hamadi Library, for instance, found in the mid-20th century in Israel and Egypt, contained ancient Gnostic scrolls that have now given us a wealth of information about this somewhat politically influenced religious philosophy. Early Christianity - before it was changed to fit the visions of the new power state created by Constantine the Great and his successors - was very Gnostic indeed. These new splinter-groups mentioned above wanted to preserve this ancient Christian philosophy and stay closer to what their Master Jesus had taught them. The Cathars were such a splinter-group; a gnostic Christian community with several very basic rules to help them evolve their own beings into a perfect state. Therefore, their highest priest was called a Perfect. Strangely enough, the Cathars got along very well with accepted Christian orders such as the Franciscans and Benedictines. However, the Cathars refused to accept the Roman Catholic dogmas and doctrines, and because they were very popular in southern Europe and did not believe in paying tax money to Rome, they formed a very real threat to the ‘Holy Mother Church’. Consequently, the Roman Catholic Church tried to wipe them all out in the 13th and 14th century. This holocaust cost the lives of almost a million people and, not surprisingly, this act of terror quickly resulted in the creation of underground groups and secret brotherhoods. It was during those dreadful times that relics and scrolls were hidden in caves, forgotten mines, church crypts, secret rooms in abbeys, houses or castles - places now forgotten by mankind. Until perhaps one day, a lucky relic hunter comes along who accidentally looks in the right places...

The Guardians of the Grail
Situated in the south of France, the Cathars are believed to have been the guardians of the Holy Grail, the true cup of Christ, a tangible object that allegedly made its way to France by early Essene or Christian missionaries, Jewish refugees, the Knights Templar or even Mary Magdalene. The question is - could Jesus have had such a cup? This is actually quite possible. In the Near- and Middle East, important families possess a traditional cup, mostly silver or gold, which they use during religious feast days. In Hebrew, this cup is called a ‘Goral’. Obviously, the word could have easily been morphed into Gral or Grail throughout the ages. Did Jesus’ uncle, Joseph of Arimathea, a wealthy tradesman and supporter of Jesus, use this cup to catch Jesus’ blood during the crucifixion? Or is this just a symbolic story in troubadour style, teaching us to look deeper? To look beyond? To look inside? There are clearly many versions of the Holy Grail, so when we remember the saying ‘as below, so above’, perhaps there really is both a material cup and an immaterial, more symbolic cup.

[Crypt of St Michel de Cuixa abbey,
by Jeanne D’Août]
The symbolism of the Grail in paleo-Christianity
Towards the 10th century, Cathar Country - today’s southwest of France - had become a melting pot of cultures and religions and thrived on trade, open philosophy, art, architecture and learning. A new understanding of higher natural science and metaphysics was developed from studying ancient mystical religious concepts. A metaphysical aspect of Mother Mary, for example, the Notre Dame de Sous Terre (Our Lady Beneath the Earth) became an important focal point for the Benedictine Order, an increasingly successful Christian order in the south of France that coexisted peacefully with the Cathars at that time. To the Benedictines, Mother Mary was the embodiment of the Light in the World: the Christ in her womb. She enabled the impregnation and birth of new life on earth, born through her body, inside the cave or crypt. This ancient mystical teaching symbolized the impregnation of the Mother Goddess (the earth) by the Holy Father (God), while Archangel Michael himself became the symbol of the impregnation with his fiery sword; Michael the Light bringer; Lucifer. Here we recognize the sore spot that created the misunderstanding about the Cathar view. Lucifer, of course, is what the medieval Catholic Christians called the devil. It didn’t take long before people accused the Cathars of devil worship, thinking they were focusing only on the extremes: good and evil. According to the Inquisition reports, the Cathars believed that the earth was created by an evil God, Lucifer, while the Heavens were created by a good God. However, knowing what we now know about Lucifer and the Light in the World, we are beginning to understand that the Cathar view was much deeper than a mere black and white - heaven and hell - based religion.

A deeper awareness of the energies that rule the world and the Universe, and knowledge of the Hermetic Teachings, can be recognized when we research the Cathar esoteric philosophy more closely. The medieval view of God and all of Creation had been divided into two extremes: Firstly, there existed an esoteric, mystical and metaphysical study of higher natural laws. Secondly, there existed a much more exoteric, black and white concept of the temporal material world with all its pain and sorrow on one hand, and the eternal realm of Heaven on the other; the source to which we all aim to return to after death. In this view, living souls were considered to be body-trapped light beings; fallen angels who only had one goal: to be returned to the Creator and the Heavenly Realm of the Good God. This is the generally accepted Cathar view. However, in the same period, the Catholic Christian view in their competition with the splinter-groups had no choice but to come up with its own dogma to be able to teach their flock how the Light in the World that creates and sustains life on earth could be explained in a simple way, and while debating this subject, a new question arose: what was this mysterious and holy content of the Grail cup, and what was the complicated mystical truth behind the Grail Lore?

[Artist unknown]
Indeed, the Roman Catholic Church soon managed to present its very own adapted explanation: To enable the Divine Light to exist within the material world, Mother Mary - while symbolizing Mother Earth - had to become the Divine vessel. Consequently, Mother Mary became the Mother of God. By this dogma, Jesus’ mother took over the ancient Mother Goddess role, and thus, albeit in its own unique way, Christianity had actually saved ancient Hermetic knowledge from oblivion in a new, changing world.
However, these difficult metaphysical Grail concepts were not so easily understood by all the people who followed the new Christian faith. It is not so easy to lift the veil of Isis and discover the Grail, our own Divinity within ourselves; to recognize the Light - the Divine Spark - that lives within us all. Perhaps Parsifal simply managed to pierce that veil (name related pun intended). For the more exoteric followers of the faith, who struggled to grasp the metaphysical and mystical concepts that exist within the symbolism, new dogmas and doctrines were created, and Biblical stories were adapted and simplified. However, the more these new Christian missionaries evangelized the region, the bigger the demand for tangible holy objects. Also, there was a growing need to anthropomorphize the new deity, to give it a shape everyone could connect with or relate to. People needed relics; remains of saints and Biblical people, pieces of cloth that belonged to Mother Mary, splinters from the cross, etc. and when the tale of Parsifal became popular, there arose a rapidly growing demand for Holy Grails.

[Artistic illustration]
The Pyrenean Grail
We arrive back in the Sabarthès region of southwest France and the sacred extraterrestrial stones that had become part of a 20th century Grail quest; the meteorites called ‘bloodstones’ that were sacred to prehistoric shamans and to the inhabitants of the area we now lovingly call Cathar Country. Being pulled into the Grail lore craze, like everywhere else in Europe, the people of the Sabarthès must have had a similar desire to behold a real, tangible Grail cup. So, what if someone had the idea of carving a cup from a bloodstone to use as a Grail? All you had to do was fill it with water and scratch the bottom to turn the water into ‘blood’. ‘Un vrai miracle!’ It is said that there really is such a cup. Though I have never seen it, locals call this cup the ‘Pyrenean Grail’. Could this be the Passover Cup that was used by the Cathars of Montségur? But the Cathars did not celebrate the Eucharist. They did not believe that a piece of bread could miraculously turn into Jesus’ body, or that wine in a cup could turn into his blood. Thinking of their background - perhaps they gave the Pyrenean Grail cup a different assignment. The mystery of the Passover cup goes back to an ancient Jewish tradition, in which the cup is actually the Cup of Salvation, referring to the Exodus and the great escape from Egypt. Knowing they would meet their death in the flames at the bottom of the mountain the next day, this could have been a reason for the Cathars to use the cup in a ritual to prepare for death - their escape from the physical world and journey to the afterlife.

[Black meteorite and green impactite by Jeanne D’Août] 
Although this in itself would already be an interesting subject to investigate further, meteorites also have another, perhaps even more remarkable quality. The moment they pierce through the earth’s atmosphere, the immense friction sets them on fire, so it appears that these stones are coming directly from the sun. The sun, of course, is God. At least it was, until science reassigned it to be a mere star. In the old days, however, these meteorites and impactites became holy and sacred - the ‘rocks of God’. The most famous of them all can be found inside the cuboid Ka’aba - the ‘House of God’ - in Mecca. It symbolizes the Light in the world...

But there is at least one other stone that has become famous; a stone that has been lost, but not forgotten.

[Sol Invictus, photographer unknown]
The Lapis Excellis is a sacred stone, described by the German troubadour and poet Wolfram von Eschenbach in his version of ‘Parzival’ in the early 13th century. This stone was his version of The Grail, a stone that - according to an old legend - had fallen from Lucifer’s crown, the Corona of the Light Bringer; the sun. Wolfram’s tale had been inspired by the popular tale of ‘Perceval’, written by the French troubadour and poet Chretien de Troyes, who had written the story only a few decades before Wolfram’s. In his turn, Chretien’s tale had been inspired by a song written by the French troubadour Kyot de Provence, so we must seek the origin of the Parsifal story in southern France. Interestingly, this is the same medieval period in which the Cathars, the troubadours and the Knights Templar thrived in that region. Obviously, something very big was being played out in this era, something that was kept safe in myths and legends, so that it would not be forgotten. It was a quest to save the ancient Hermetic Teachings from going into oblivion.

[The Fontanet Cave,
by Otto Rahn, 1931]
Interestingly, Wolfram von Eschenbach is the only one of the three troubadours who speaks of a stone when talking about the Holy Grail, and it is this particular version that inspired the German relic hunter, author and poet Otto Rahn to investigate the facts behind the story in the early 1930-s. He literally left no stone unturned in his quest for the Grail and explored many caves, including the Fontanet Cave (photo, taken by Rahn) in a region called the Sabarthès in the heart of Cathar Country. One of the most famous sites in this region is the Cathar stronghold of Montségur. Rahn called it the Grail Castle Montsalvat, where, according to a legend, the Holy Grail was last kept before it disappeared. One legend says it was carried off the mountain by several escapees during the two week truce. According to the story, this truce was granted so that the besieged inhabitants of the castle of Montségur could celebrate Easter in peace. The legend tells us that at least three people were able to escape the besieged castle, just before the Cathars surrendered to the French troops. The next morning, on 16th March 1244, over 200 people of all ages were burned alive in the flames of a giant stake. After this black page in history, the elusive Holy Grail of the Cathars disappeared into the realm of lore. Until one day, some 700 years later, our curious researcher Otto Rahn on his Grail quest suddenly saw ‘the light’.

[Montségur, by Otto Rahn, 1931] 
Rahn’s passion with the Parsifal story and his search for the Holy Grail acquainted him with the story of the Cathars, the Bons Chretiens or good Christians, who were massacred just for having a different, albeit Christian belief. This story ultimately gave him enough inspiration and details to write his first book, ‘Crusade Against the Grail’, in 1933. What a strong title! It was this book that brought him to the attention of the Reichsführer SS, Heinrich Himmler, who gave the author a job in the Allgemeine SS (note: not the Waffen-SS). He did a lot of administration and Ahnenerbe (ancestor heritage) research and traveled a fair bit through Europe on a paid salary. However, some of his best friends were anti-Nazi, so - consequently - Rahn was closely watched by both anti-Nazi spies as well as Gestapo spies. However, by then he had forever lost his heart to the Grail castle of Montségur and wrote in his private correspondence, sent from Germany, that he longed for the Sabarthès.

After joining the SS in 1936, it must have been difficult for Rahn to travel alone as he had done before 1933. Nevertheless he managed to travel around Europe and write a second book, which was given the interesting title of ‘Lucifer’s Court’ when it was published in 1937. It appears to be a travel journal of collected articles, written in the years when he traveled through Europe. However, there are several clues that make the reader realize that he understood very well the connection between Lucifer, the sun, the Light Bringer, Sophia, the Holy Grail, Apollo, Sol Invictus and all other sun-connected deities and their metaphysical and mystical concepts.

[The Ariège River, by Jeanne D’Août]
It would not surprise if Rahn had done the math, adding sun worship to the presence of meteorites and impactites in the Sabarthès. These extraterrestrial fragments were found all over the area; some could be found on mountain slopes, others had been washed into the local caves in prehistoric times, when the Ariège river was as broad as a lake and as high as a sky scraper.
If you were one of the three escapees from Montségur on the eve of 16th March, 1244, with the sacred task of taking a certain object to safety, where would you hide a Grail stone? Where would you hide a pebble? Perhaps Rahn was simply looking for a lost Grail that had been hidden in plain sight, some 700 years before.

Through writing his books, Rahn made it possible for the world outside Cathar Country to become aware of the atrocities and horrific crusade against the heretics of the 13th and 14th centuries. He empathized with the Cathars, and had become angry with the Church of Rome for the medieval holocaust it had started; a mass murder against heretics, Jews and others who were not following the Christian dogmas; a black page in history which has been kept out of the history books. Surely, he must have felt he had to play his part in stopping it from happening again. Little did he know what horrors would come to pass in the years that followed and God only knows what this man went through when he found out.

[Otto Rahn, ca. 1936,
photographer unknown]
There had been a time when Rahn really believed he could change the SS while being inside this infamous order, but he found out too late that one tree could not possibly stop the avalanche that was already halfway down the slope in 1936. When Rahn was confronted with the atrocities of the Buchenwald concentration camp in 1938, he decided to quit his job in the SS. Then already in too far and knowing far too much, he must have become paranoid about being followed and watched, 24-7. Little is known about the last days of his life, but - according to the historical records - he was found frozen to death in the Austrian Alps in the spring of 1939. Next to his thawing body were the almost empty phials of sleeping tablets and half a bottle of French cognac.

Much has been said about Rahn, but after researching what we know about him and dismissing the speculations, I have become aware of the complexity of his situation and the harsh post-mortal judgment that must be tormenting his ghost. He was a poet, a writer and a relic hunter, searching like the famous archaeologist Heinrich Schliemann for ancient and forgotten places. Perhaps he had even found a forbidden relic. According to Rahn himself, he never found the Holy Grail, but he said he would have loved to find it. Still, he did mention possessing a stone from Montségur in his second book, ‘Lucifer’s Court’. “The stack on the left makes up this book.” he writes in the last chapter, “I will put them away, along with the stone I found at the heretical castle of Montségur.”

[Medieval drawing of Esclarmonde,
artist unknown]
Throughout the ages, the dove has become the symbol of the Cathars. Many believe it stands for freedom of thought and belief; others believe it represents the true ‘Holy Spirit’, the Divine Spark that is in each of us, our personal Covenant with God.
In his book ‘Crusade against the Grail’, Otto Rahn wrote about the Cathar Dame Esclarmonde, a name that roughly translates as ‘the Light of the World”. Esclarmonde was a legendary Grande Dame Cathar, a great public speaker and defender of the Cathar faith and rights, who was among the victims of the tragic fall of Montségur in 1244.

However, according to a shepherd’s tale that was recorded by Otto Rahn, she managed to escape from Montségur on the eve of 16th March, 1244; not as a mortal woman, but in the shape of a dove and holding the Holy Grail in her claws. She was seen ascending into the sky, flying high above the highest tower of the castle. Then, suddenly, the mountain beneath her opened up its rocky top, like a volcano ready to burst. She then dropped the Holy Grail into the mountain’s belly, after which it immediately closed again with a resounding thunderclap. In doing so, the Mont Ségur, the legendary Mont Salvat, locked and sealed the Holy Grail, the true Cup of Salvation, deep inside its bowels for all eternity. Esclar Monde, the Light of the World and at the same time the Holy Godflame, personified by Lucifer the Light Bringer - a concept that had been celebrated since prehistory, but which had been condemned to hell by a new faith - had chosen to return forever to the interior of the earth. It is only a shepherd’s tale, but perhaps, if we read between the lines, it contains the only truth.

For more on sacred stones, the enigmas of Rennes-le-Château, The Knights Templar, Otto Rahn, the Hermetic Teachings, the ancient Egyptian sacred stones and Akhenaten’s Aten-Ra mysteries, read my books written under the nom de plume of Jeanne D'Août: “The Forbidden Relic” (a.k.a. “White Lie, the Quest for the Forbidden Relic”) and “The Eye of Ra”, two fast moving esoteric adventure thrillers, available on Amazon. All the direct links can be found on www.jeannedaout.com or visit my blog page 'My Books'.


Take the Time to Smell the Roses of Camon

When driving through the borderlands of the Ariège and Aude districts, you may come upon a charming little village called Camon.

In Gallo-Roman times, the meander, formed by the river Hers, was an ideal spot for a fort. It was called "Cambo Dunum", meaning: 'Fortress of the Meander".

In 778, Charlemagne, ruler of the Holy Roman Empire, was on his way back from Spain to Germany, when he ordered the construction of many abbeys, chapels and convents in these parts. It is said he himself founded the abbey of Camon in 778. For sure, we can say that the abbey already existed in the year 923, as it is mentioned in an act. The abbey was following the very popular rule of St. Benedict.

In 943 it was subject to the abbey of Lagrasse (Aude). Around this period, the abbey also started to develop agriculture in the nearby countryside, and the monks of Camon, who owned quite a lot of land, offered protection to their villagers. They started to cultivate vines and various cereals. The income was important, because the abbey of Lagrasse demanded royalties from the abbey of Camon.

Rose hedges were often planted as an early warning system to protect the well being of the grapevines, because early detection of disease on the roses could alert winemakers to take necessary action to protect the vines from damage. Roses also provide food for bees and offer habitat for beneficial insects preying on those other insects that can damage the grape. Also in Camon this ancient method is still used.

Camon was a productive and happy little village, but on June 18th, 1279, disaster struck when the dam that was holding Puivert Lake broke, and the entire region flooded. Along with all the other villages in the area, Camon was very badly damaged. The villages and fortresses were rebuilt between 1280 and 1316, adapting to the architectural fashions of that period.

A crenelated enclosure was erected around the abbey of Camon during the 100 year war between England and France, which actually lasted 116 years (1337 to 1453). But even this new protection was not enough to keep the abbey and the village of Camon safe, for in 1494, the church and abbey were almost destroyed by highwaymen, who set fire to Camon.

For 8 years the village was all but deserted; even the monks had abandoned Camon Abbey. Fortunately, Philippe de Lévis, Bishop of Mirepoix, decided to rebuild the village (1503-1535). Most of the town we see today dates from this period, but when you walk around the ancient walls of the old abbey buildings, you can spot some of the ancient walls and fragments of buildings from a much older period, perhaps even the remains of the late Carolingian era, creating an almost unreal, enchanting atmosphere.

Philippe de Lévis decided to live in the large rectangular tower, now called 'the castle', and secured the safety of all the villagers of Camon by building a large, stone wall around the village.

Between 1560 and 1570, Cardinal Georges d'Armagnac, then prior of Camon, strengthened these fortifications, enlarged the battlements and drilled loopholes. The Cardinal also created a small round tower at the west corner of the village wall. All these measures were taken to protect themselves against the hatred and violence during the Religious Wars (1562–98), an epic battle between Roman Catholics and Protestants that raged throughout Europe. Because of this horrible and violent period, many towns and villages in southern France were forced to create extra fortifications to keep its inhabitants safe.

During the 17th and 18th centuries, the priors who were living at Camon Abbey added many elements of decoration and wealth to the abbey and the church. This symbolic Athena mural with the 'John Gesture' of Divine inspiration, probably Freemason, dates from this period.
In these 200 years, Camon blossomed economically and its population grew to 860 inhabitants.
However, when the French Revolution happened and Church and State were separated here in France, the monks abandoned the abbey without any resistance.
In 1791, the abbey was sold as a national property, and today it is still privately owned and kept in a wonderful state as a luxury Chambres D'Hôtes, restaurant & wedding venue (www.chateaudecamon.com).

Nowadays, the village of Camon is especially popular during the Spring and early Summer months, when the roses are in bloom. Not having a proper front garden, people started to grow climbing roses right in front of their houses. People come from all over the world to enjoy the roses of Camon during the annual Rose Festival (late May or early June, depending on the weather).

It was on a wet Spring day that I had the chance to walk around the village of Camon and take a few photos of the roses, which are now in full bloom. The air was pregnant with the gorgeous smells of old roses and wet earth.

The countryside is so green that it almost hurts your eyes. This is a very wet Spring indeed and you can see that the roses have grown very fast. Long branches, weighed down by heavy, rain-soaked flowers, are bending over deeply, almost breaking. Being a lover of roses all sorts, I have been tying up my own rose bushes at home to save them from the effects of the wind and rain.
Other roses with smaller flowers are courageously reaching for the skies; they can keep themselves upright. It is amazing to witness how even the roses that are drooping and hanging down are magnificent in their presence, colour and grace.
A wise lesson in accepting circumstance, whatever the proverbial weather.

Halfway through the village it started to rain again. After the drought and heatwaves of 2017, the wet Winter and Spring is so very beneficial for nature, and it is obvious that also the roses enjoy the abundance of water. The tourists I met didn't seem to mind the weather much, for they walked up and down the picturesque streets, photographing one rose after the other. I covered my camera with my scarf, but refused to go back to the car just yet.

The best way to discover the streets of Camon is to just get lost. Go around a corner; if it's a dead end you won't have to walk far to get back to where you came from. Half-timbered houses are hidden in alleys and the closer you get to the abbey, the older the buildings. Explore the area behind the town, where it ends, and where the fields begin.

Walking back to the car park I passed the Rue Charlemagne, remembering the amazing story of this legendary ruler of Europe, who was crowned Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire in Germany in the year 800. His empire was huge, and he and his ancestors tried to keep Europe from being overrun by the growing Arab Empire, which had already spread to Spain and the Pyrenees in the 8th century. There are many heroic stories about Charlemagne and his Frankish military leader, Roland, fighting the Moors and pushing them back over the Pyrenees, but Charlemagne was also a man of honour and it must not be forgotten that he often tried to solve matters by debate, rather than force.

Back in the main street, and happy to have taken the time to smell the roses of Camon. So, next time when you head out towards Chalabre and Mirepoix, do not forget to stop briefly in the village of Camon with its rich history and gorgeous roses. Get lost. Walk around the abbey and stroll through the medieval streets. Give yourself an hour, and do not forget your camera.

© Anneke Koremans


25th Anniversary Special!

This month I am celebrating my 25th Anniversary as a certified travel agent! ♥
It all started in the early 1990s in Dordrecht, where I lived and worked at that time. Tired of boring office work I decided to change my profession to become a travel agent, and I really went for it!

In May 1993 I passed my exams and from that moment on, my new career in the travel business took off.

I worked 5 years in travel agencies in Holland and have very happy memories of the agency I worked for longest, Star Travel. I worked there until 1996.

In 1996 I had the opportunity to work with Peter van Deursen, who was my boyfriend at that time, to start a company around writing travel information booklets for large tour operators. By 1997 our biggest solid client was OAD travel (Holland). We worked for several tour operators, building up a huge data base as the years went by. We were hard working and very successful, and in the year 2000 we were able to buy a small cottage in our beloved Occitania, one we could rent out during the Summer months. The house was lovely, but after a few years we found that the location was a little too high up in the mountains for comfort, so we decided to sell it and buy another house in the high valley of the Aude. After a long search we found our perfect home, stretched our budget to buy it and moved from Pradelles-Cabardes to Belvianes in 2005.

But then in 2006, after 10 years of hard work, OAD Travel decided to cancel the booklets and put all the information online on their website. With this decision, we were suddenly almost out of work. Having already bought the house in France with a heavy mortgage that was based on the income from OAD Travel, and being unable to sell it again so soon after the purchase (which is heavily taxed in France), Peter and I decided to leave Holland and emigrate to France in 2007. It wasn't a decision taken lightly, for we left behind our family and friends and were about to plunge into an unknown, insecure future, but once we had our heads and hearts set on it, we really went for it!

Our French adventure
And so, in June 2007, Peter and I got married, and two weeks later we emigrated to France. Within 6 months we had not only moved to another country, but we also renovated the double garage into a holiday cottage, so we could generate some income. This renovation, however, had taken up all our savings, and in January 2008 we started the new year with absolutely no money in the bank, so we sold our car. We taught ourselves to create websites, so we could generate some income while helping others in this region build up their business marketing. I became the marketing manager and created our own websites. We even looked after dogs, whose owners were on holiday, just to be able to pay for the firewood for the winter.

I created a holiday info website based on our database that actually generated some much needed money in the first few years, and, following the advice of a friend, I started doing guided tours for a fee, rather than for free.

In 2010 we had our first group tour and finally we could do what we are good at, where I have a certificate for, and where Peter had 20 years of experience in: tour managing and tour guiding!

In 2011 I also started writing my first novel under the nom de plume of Jeanne D'Août, hoping it would be picked up and generate some income as well, while at the same time attracting more people to this mysterious region. And it worked! (www.jeannedaout.com / books)

While Peter and I continued to build up Barinca Travel & Tourism year by year - promoting the Occitan culture worldwide - I wanted to stand out as an all-round guide, so I studied a lot, created an archive and I still learn new things each year, because I never stop studying. And during my tours here in this incredible region, I am trying to make people think, while explaining the different layers of the rich local history. Each place we visit is like a PowerPoint presentation in itself.

People often think that I am specialized in the Mary Magdalen legends, and that I only do tours around that subject, but that is not so. I am a passionate and serious historical guide, all-round, and available on demand to guide any person or group on any specific topic of this region. I am a fact-hunter, and I share the local legends and theories with caution, for people often think that every legend and story around certain topics is a 100% proven fact, which is not so. But I will be able to explain the underlying layers of a legend, and share with you what I have found interesting and illuminating (see: reviews).

I am learning all the time, especially to think for myself. With my theories and shared knowledge I am hoping to inspire others to think for themselves too and to do their own math, for that is everyone's Birthright. To be able to respect and cherish individual philosophies, ideas and beliefs is the very heart of a tour guide, for we are all on our own individual path. That, and having a good sense of humor and the flexibility to adapt to the wishes of the client. And I have learned all that in those 25 years. Come and discover the rich diversity of Occitania, with its stunning natural beauty, its spa and wellness possibilities, its countless historical sites, its mysteries, and - last but not least - the fabulous wines and fresh French cuisine! I would be honoured to be your guide. ♥
Anneke Koremans


The Benedictine Abbot Oliba's Quest for Peace

Over a thousand years ago there lived a man in Catalonia who was one of the most influential political figures of his time. Catalonia was in those days at the frontier between the Christian and Muslim worlds and the city of Ripoll was one of the most important centers of learning.

Unfortunately, the nobility was behaving violently; there was much aggression and warfare. It was time that the two cultures learned from one another, worked together for a peaceful world, and stopped fighting over land. Around 1010, someone finally stood up to make this happen.
His name was OLIBA.

Starting out as the count of Berga and Ripoll, abbot of the monasteries of Santa Maria de Ripoll and Sant Miquel de Cuixà, and bishop of Vic, Oliba decided to abdicate his secular possessions to his brothers in 1002, when he took up the Benedictine habit at the Monastery of Santa Maria de Ripoll. Within 8 years after joining the Benedictine Order, Oliba was named abbot at Santa Maria de Ripoll and Sant Miquel de Cuixà near Prades.

Oliba was a great promoter of Romanesque art and architecture, learning and conduct. Especially to the latter cause, Oliba had begun to promote a movement called "The Peace and Truce of God". His aim was to establish certain days in the week on which it was not allowed to commit violence among Christians. In the beginning, this only applied to Sundays and Holy days, but soon the rule applied to most days of the week. The rule also insisted that fugitives and refugees could find shelter and protection behind the walls of churches and other holy places. The rule protected all people, not just the clergy, from harm by violent behaviour. If this rule was broken, the guilty person or persons could face excommunication.

The amazing results of this Benedictine Movement of Peace and Truce, thanks to abbot Oliba's efforts to create a new, peaceful world based on learning, kindness, compassion and love, soon became famous throughout this part of Europe and the rules were set in stone at the Council of Toulouges (Roussillon) in 1027, two years after Oliba had founded the monastery of Santa María de Montserrat. Oliba also translated Arabic manuscripts into Latin, and wrote many works that can still inspire us today.

During his years, Oliba reformed, consecrated and patronized many other churches and abbeys and became a treasured adviser to Count Berenguer Ramon I of Barcelona. He even reconstructed the cathedral of Vic with support of the Countess Ermesinde, the mother of Count Berenguer Ramon I. In the year 1046, Oliba died at his monastery in Cuixà and even today he is remembered as one of the spiritual founders of Catalonia. At the abbey of St. Michel we find an inscription of his name, scratched into the altar stone; a reminder of his presence, his greatness and his influence.


The Prehistoric Wonders of Occitania

This mountainous region of Occitania in the deep south of France is very ancient. Many millions of years ago, this part of the world was the realm of dinosaurs and many other prehistoric creatures that are now extinct.
Some of their remains have been found in the Aude Valley, well preserved in the soil, only to be discovered by a French geologist at the end of the 19th century.

The Dinosaur Museum in Esperaza offers a real journey back in time to the origins of life on Earth almost 3.5 billion years ago; a showcase of biodiversity through the great geological periods. It is aimed at all generations: from the youngest who meet their favorite dinosaurs, to the adults immersed in the heart of this long history of life on Earth. The museum opened in June 1992, three kilometers from the largest French dinosaur deposit. Since 2007, and after some work, it now offers a permanent exhibition area dedicated to dinosaurs and other fossils of reptiles, mammals, invertebrates and plants found around the globe.

The Dinosaur Museum is managed by the DINOSAURIA Association (non-profit). Website: www.dinosauria.org
Throughout the millennia, the weather and the environment changed. The landscape was ground out by ice and water, creating valleys and ridges, and fast flowing, giant rivers carved out deep caves. About 950.000 years ago, the first human immigrants from Africa arrived on the Iberian peninsula. They only left us their tools to find, until in July 1971, after 7 years of methodical excavations, Professor Henry de Lumley's team discovered a skull
(one face and one frontal) in a cave near Tautavel. This cave at Tautavel is one of the largest prehistoric deposits in the world. Since then, annual excavations have revealed more than 100 other human fossils (visible at the Tautavel Prehistory Museum). These remains made it possible to reconstruct the life and the environment of these groups of Homo erectus and suggest that this place was frequented by nomadic hunters who lived there between 690.000 and 300.000 years ago. Some 600.000 years of climatic variations have also been archived. The activities of the excavation site are managed by the European Center for Prehistoric Research. Being about 20 years old, the man of Tautavel was 1 m 60 (ca. 5 ft 3 inches) tall. This Homo erectus had all the characteristics of the first Europeans.
Although he did not master fire just yet, he turned out to be an excellent hunter. One might think that he would have chosen the site of the Caune de l'Arago for his privileged situation, for here he could dominate the valley, its source of water, and therefore his prey.

Visit the Prehistoric Museum at Tautavel and dive back into this incredible history!
Website: www.tautavel.com.

Also the Neanderthal people were here around 100.000 years ago, and finally, between 60.000 and 30.000 years ago, the Cro-Magnon people appeared. They were the ancestors of the modern Europeans and are known for their (cave) art and advanced hunting techniques. At the Prehistoric Museum in Tarascon-sur-Ariège, one travels back in time to a world that was still very empty; with nature ruling the planet; with mighty rivers and long winters, and with migrating herds of bison. While people stayed in caves during the winter months, working together with other clans to survive, they built summer camps in the valley, where they slept in tents like yurts and wigwams.

In that same period, symbolism appeared, e.g. circles and dots; a language perhaps? Sometimes we see phallic symbolism. The first Venus figurines (e.g. the Dame de Brassempouy, ca 25.000 years old) and handprints on cave walls appeared around the same time as the cave paintings, as well as incredibly fine artwork (made of e.g. ivory, bone and antlers) and there is evidence of travel. Similar objects and symbols have been found throughout a vast territory, giving the idea of traveling, intermingling, perhaps even trade among the various clans in southern and central France. This was the era of the fire makers, for to enter the
deeper parts of a cave one needs light. Only when humankind had found out how to create and contain fire, they could go further into a cave and sense the silence, the sacredness, and the idea of being in the belly of the Mother Goddess. That dark, quiet space became their first cathedral. A holy place where shamans used the cave walls to create their sacred art. Today we can visit several prehistoric caves in Occitania, such as Lombrives (photo), Niaux with its original cave paintings, and Bedeilhac, which is particularly sacred and special, for it contains both paintings and symbols. This underground realm is very ancient with its giant halls and thick columns, and one can only speculate how long ago it was, when those first brave souls finally dared to enter this sacred space, holding onto a torch which, after all, only has a flickering, temporary flame...

For more information, visit the website: www.grottes-en-france.com

Guided Tours: Anneke Koremans (anneke@panoccitania.com).