Friday, 15 April 2011

Vestige d'Occitania

Ships of Bugaresh:
John Redhead©

We had talked a lot about the Cathari whilst in Nant Peris and had considered that the Pays du Cathars region could be an interesting place to look for property. We had also discussed Rennes le Chateau in the Aude department of Languedoc. The area is now popular with conspiracy theory tourists and those seeking all manner of a divine knowledge, spaceships and ufo’s since the publication of The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail and The Da Vinci Code. Regardless of the hype and the hoaxes and the drama I feel there is something connected with the land here that is meaningful. Talk of sacred geometry, monuments and temples certainly fire the imagination and Henry Lincoln in The Holy Place calls it the eighth wonder of the ancient world. ‘A natural and perfect pentacle of mountain peaks surrounded by a titanic, man made temple’. I have spent time here and feel an affinity to the land, to the energy of whatever went on here, or continues to go on here. I feel like I have entered the mystery, the mountain, the tomb and without knowing it absorbed the signs and symbols of an ancient story. With these feelings came the realization that I had already started working here! I felt like the mountain had accepted me and invited me to work. I started a project called Remains of Occitania and started researching and sweeping the terrain for sounds.

I recorded first on the pog of Montsegur and the grail castle that clings to its rock pinnacle. It was the last stronghold of the Cathari. Just below the pog at Camp de Cremat, the field of the stake, is where 225 martyrs walked into the flames by refusing to renounce their faith. I then took the same tape and recorded sounds in Edinburgh’s Rosslyn chapel. This was supposedly a third Temple of Solomon for the Templars and a Grail chapel and is mysteriously connected to whatever ‘sacred’ was salvaged from the crusade. The Templars were ‘brother’ Christians to the Cathari in seeking the spiritual path. I then went back to the cone of Bugarach, close to the turbulent river Agly that throws itself down Galamos Gorge. This shapely, dormant volcano with its labyrinth of limestone caverns stands as a gateway to the Corbieres and for some, the lost Kingdom of Agartha! I was particularly interested in the sounds emanating in a rock feature that gave the Voie de Fenetre its name, on the upper flanks of Bugarach. I sat within this small window in the rock listening to all manner of ‘voices’ coming from one side or the other and let the DAT roll… Listening to the mountain whilst falling asleep is a divine luxury.

Back in the quiet, quaint bar of Bugarach a couple of locals were asking our intent. “Ah, you have been up the Pech de Thauze, the crossroads of the four winds! They say that in 2012, a spaceship will emerge from the mountain and take away the chosen ones.” The bar lady who was Finnish said that the 200 occupants of the village were made up of 13 different nationalities. I asked her what brought her here and she just shrugged, “I don’t know, must be the energy of the mountain?”

My intent is a loose-fun-wandering and broad, objective glance. As words become bald and the images played out, they take cover as the sounds take over, as Cosmic Karaoke! Sleep dances with me through the slaughter and images and stellar soundscapes appear and Occitan voices seep from the rocks of Bugarach. Biblical texts implode into shattered ribs and the Devil seeks a shoulder. Is there a whispering underground? The landscape reveals a supernatural audiovisual library – flashes of total ecstasy and multiverse belonging and a gaping hole of hellfire, where even the grass seems to think “shame”. Thought! Joy! Where is the truth in this labour of beliefs and symbolism and pain – in this trance of light, starships and cruelty – this theatre of Heaven!

Reading between the rocks I listen for fragments of riddle and fact across the landscape of the Albigensian Crusade. The mountain terrain of what is now Languedoc, Southern France, was the area chosen by the Cathari, ‘The Pure Ones’, to practice their dualistic faith. The Pure Ones were possibly a Manichaean, early Christian, Gnostic religious sect, separating from the Jewish Jesus and Paulician strands. The hilltop settlements became the fortresses against Catholic oppressors. Bringing the ‘Book of Love’ from the east, they became an heretical power that forced the Pope to send a crusade to rid them from the land. This is a land steeped in legends connected to whatever ‘The Book of Seven Seals’ and ‘The Holy Grail’ is.
I throw a few questions into the soup. Do we not all have an innate need to feel and try to understand our nature within our surroundings? At what point do the surroundings, the landscape, become irrelevant in this task? The Cathari worked for direct initiation and transcendance from the Earthly, the procreative and the bodily, through the ritual of the Consolamentum, believing the world is a subterfuge of ‘the devil’. As there is no omnipotent God, the problem of evil is fought for within the person, a battle between the soul and the body, between light and dark. The incorruptible soul is however under the domination of a foreign power…
Is it easier to conjure ‘the divine’ in an area of utmost passivity, tolerance and tranquility, or within the ‘active’, troubled world…? That the rocks are our home is an easy connection as regards the Cathari – not only for protection in the physical form but also, seemingly, as a medium for enlightenment and exploration in the metaphysical.
What progress have we made in seven centuries? Are totalitarian tactics still being used to force a belief on those who choose otherwise…?
From field recordings of Montsegur, Bugarach and Rosslyn, I hope an impossible music will emerge, a textural song, as part of a forensic that informs the words and images.
Zarathushtra sent a Gnostic-dual-carriageway west to greet the sun in Aragon, transporting the written word from ‘The Big One’. The vortex sent, the Stargate established, the Mary’s built their station. Tantric! With diamond hearts they spiralled jade-fire into the Cosmos. Heresy! But in 1244 the big boy Catholics interceded with their own story and genocide buried the book of love. Was the Cathars only crime that of hope and peace and transcendence? ‘Le Tresor Cathar’ went down and the Pope and feudal France ‘Killed them all’. Death to civility, chivalry and tolerance. French was imposed on Rousillon in 1700.

Eglise de Bugarach:Redhead Collection©

Simon de Montfort was the cruel and barbaric captain general of the French forces in the crusade, wiping out the whole of civility in Occitania. He became the biggest landowner in the region. His son of the same name became an ally of Llywelyn ap Gruffudd in the thirteenth century struggle for Welsh independence. I can see him brewing up in the Dolbadarn, plotting the schemes for an Independent Wales with his Welsh mates.

The Hunters.

The February St Laurent bear festival, Fete d’Lours, is the closest to a pagan carnival I have witnessed. Originally, the young men of these mountain villages would attempt to prove their bravery by capturing a bear. February being a good time for this task as the bears were weakened by hibernation. Nowadays however this task is purely symbolic as the proud men of the Pyrenees hunted them to extinction! Personally I think if the bear had been respected as part of the land here, then a wise and seasonal ritual of fertility and acceptance would be truly traditional. Bravo!

However, ceremonially speaking, the bear comes out of his lair, captures a young girl and takes her back to the forest. The villagers then begin to hunt the bear which is eventually captured and is led by a chain through the streets. The meneur or leader recites a Catalan poem that denounces the animal and praises the hunter. After a short dance the bear starts to escape, is brought down by the brave meneur and is ritually shaved before dying. ‘After death’ the bear leaps up with a human face, chooses a young girl from the crowd and the dancing begins! The ‘devil’ is dead! Long live the man!

In the procession there is a monster with two heads symbolizing the end of Winter and the beginning of Spring who terrorizes and chases young girls. There are men in prams dressed as babies who daub ‘pancake’ mixture over the girls! There are also two men dressed as an old kind couple who carry a copper bowl of burning pig’s hair. They then attempt to push this unpleasant smelling receptacle up the skirts of any girl or woman they pass!

Last year I saw the local butcher dressed as a woman, bulging out inside a pink tube skirt, legs wide open on the bonnet of a Land Rover. He was stroking a huge vaginal wig between his legs. Would you buy sausages off this man? The deputy Maire himself sucking a dummy in a pram tossing off the pancake mixture onto the face of any girl who ventures too close to see baby!

It certainly is an alcohol-fuelled fuckfest of manhood! As the fake sperm dripped off the girl’s bodies and the empty beer cans rolled down the street, my thoughts were with the brown bears and the ‘devil’ that is macho man who hunted them to extinction for reasons of ego. I rigged up a sculpture in the window of the gallery. It was the papier-mache torso of belly and breasts and vagina that I used to use in my Serious Clowning’ performances, the Belly-Ocean. I put a sheepskin over her gross head and lit her up with fairy lights. It looked quite hideous and implied the bears had fucked and bred with the Catalan women and produced ‘monsters’! I think it was appreciated that I was getting into the spirit of the thing? I invented a twelfth century quip that went – ‘the hunters killed them all, but the bears had already spread their seed into the bellies of the women’.

The hunting association is a powerful lobby here. They seem to rule the roost. If you fall out with a hunter you may as well leave the village. Even the Maire plays second fiddle. Geoff and Susan briefly fell out with the hunters over some trees the hunters had cut down on their land to make a bridge over La Muga into Catalunya. A complaint was issued to the Maire of Coustouges over this ‘illegal’ border crossing! It seems that the hunters are not enamored of the Maire who is a Parisienne. They didn’t take a telling off too well and next day threateningly gathered around Geoff and Susan’s house firing their guns like cowboys! Best to be on the side of the men with guns as they quickly found out. A previous occupant of our house was a hunter who somehow fell out with the fraternity and according to his friend and neighbour he was forced to sell the house and move on. The hunters are a macho race but generally I don’t have a problem with them. They are of the hill. No matter what land you may think you own the hunters are all over it! There is just so much forested land here that ownership is purely on paper. Nobody seems to be possessive. The land around here is generally not farmed apart from smallholdings here and there. People collect fruit, nuts, mushrooms and logs and just wander where they like. Sometimes you see bergers and nomadic shepherds with herds of sheep or goats. The hunter is a totally different fish to the farmer as there is no ownership of land involved and no commodity. They monitor and cull the wild boar. I am sure that they may encourage breeding to keep up stocks for the ‘sport’!

Whilst driving on the piste one day I came around a corner and saw a hunter asleep, slumped on a stool against a tree with his rifle pointing my way. I stopped the car. His finger was on the trigger! From a distance I shouted, “Salut!” He awoke with a start and with friendly gestures beckoned me over to join him with a bottle of Pastis! Pissed as a newt and gun in hand, this old Catalan hunter would get five years for this in Llanberis!

Bugarach Church: Redhead Collection©

John Redhead 2011©