Saunière and the occult
vigorously debated aspect of the Rennes-le-Château mystery is the
possibility of Saunière’s involvement with the world of the
There is certainly physical evidence of his support for a restoration of the Monarchy, confirmed by his anti-Republican sermon.
This is also ample physical evidence of the Abbé Saunière’s devotion to the Sacred Heart in his private domain and church at Rennes-le-Château. The Sacred Heart movement, interwoven with the Monarchist movement, had strong links to, and received support from, Occult and Esoteric Societies.
A socio-political ideology, often referred to as Synarchy, arose from the movements dedicated to the restoration of the Monarchy and Catholic authority; an ideology shared by many of the Occult societies of the time.
But was Saunière involved in secret activities not normally expected of a conscientious parish priest? And if he had been drawn into this secretive world of Occult societies, what was it that had attracted him?
From village records we know that there was more to Saunière than we would expect from a parish priest. His refusal to allow access to his water cistern during a village fire; his nocturnal secret digging in the cemetery; the installation of an upside-down cross; his unusually high financial income and expenditure and refusal to explain it to his superiors; the letter from a colleague endorsing his right to such income; other village gossip; all tend to indicate that Saunière had a hidden side and indulged in mystery.
of Sion documents, published from the 1950s, allege that Saunière
discovered ancient coded parchments during the restoration of his church
and that he took these to the Seminary of St Sulpice in Paris for translation
and decryption. During this visit, he is said to have met the Abbé
Hoffet (at that time only a novice in training but interested in esoteric
studies). Through Hoffet’s connections, Saunière, it is claimed,
was introduced to the Parisian Cultural and Occult circles that included
Mallarme, Debussy and Emma Calve – with whom Saunière is said
to have conducted a passionate love affair.
There is no independent corroboration for any of these allegations that were first published in the early works of Gérard de Sède. However, one more recently established fact could well shed some light on this alleged episode in the life of the Abbé Saunière.
is now known that in 1900, Saunière attended at least three meetings
of a Martinist lodge in Lyons. Pages of the Lodge minute book reveal his
presence as an honourable guest.
Dans la registre de la Très Révérente Loge à l'Orient de Lyon "La haute Philospophie"... sur la liste le présent 'd'honneur' , L’Abbé Saunière.
be invited to a lodge meeting as an honourable guest, Saunière must
have known someone who was already a member of the Lyons lodge; a lodge
that was a considerable distance from Rennes. Who might Saunière
have known and why go all the way to Lyons?
We know that at this time most Martinists were clerics; but what attracted them to Martinism and how could they reconcile occult activity with their Faith?
To attempt to answer these questions it is necessary to start by looking at the nature of Martinism and those involved with it.
Although not known by this name until much later, Martinism developed out of the masonic-affiliated Order of the Elus Cohen founded by Martinez de Pasqually around 1750. In 1768, Louis Claude de Saint Martin, known as the Unknown Philosopher, became his secretary and eventually took over the Order after Pasqually’s death. At this time there was no centralised administration but a number of independent lodges practising his system.
book “Traite de la Reintegration” explains his belief in the
theory of Reintegration. The central belief being that Man can return to
the divine state that he was assumed to have possessed before the 'Fall’;
that is, he can become closer to God.
The system of ritual designed to achieve Reintegration employed a specific style of magic called “theurgy”. Theurgy was the merging of personal Will with God’s Will and was called in authentic Martinism `the Inner Way’ or `the Way of the Heart’. It was believed that the creative power of Man was a gift from God, the ultimate Creator; and that Man can acquire the ability to will something to happen or to manifest.
But as a Theurgist, the initiate would invoke God’s Will to bring about a manifestation or happening. Thus Man becomes an agent of God’s Will.
rejected some of Pasqually’s magical rites, which employed the intercession
of spirit beings, as being medieval, and substituted a more Christ- and
God-centred Theurgy that he called “Magism of God”.
The ultimate aim as stated by Saint-Martin was to “restore order, peace and life in the world”. He further claimed that it was the duty of the individual to work for Reintegration: a reaffirmation of Pasqually’s teaching if not his methods.
There was a Gnostic dimension summed up by the belief that Man’s wisdom (Sophia) blossoms when the individual recovers his `sensitivity’, that is his spirituality which is normally submerged in his inner darkness. Thus with the progress towards Reintegration came increased spiritual knowledge: a greater understanding of Man’s divinity and God’s purpose.
died in 1803; there were a number of attempts to reform and although many
other Rose-Croix and esoteric orders were formed at this time, it wasn’t
until about 1890 that Martinism itself underwent a major revival in the
form of the new Ordre Martiniste. The Grand Council based in Paris included
such notable occultists as, Papus (Gérard Encausse), Stanislas de
Guaita, Sedir, Maurice Barres, Georges Montieres and Josephin Peladan.
Appointed Grand Master, Papus began to unite the various Martinist lodges creating a more structured movement.
a young man, Encausse spent a great deal of time at the Bibliothèque
Nationale studying the Qabalah, the Tarot, the sciences of magic and alchemy,
and the writings of Eliphas Lévi ". Papus also studied material
that came from Charles Nodier, writer, occultist and chief librarian of
the famous Arsenal Library in 1824. Papus became aquainted with a circle
of Gnostics, Rosicrucians, and 'older' Martinists, all students of the late
His meeting with M Philippe from Lyon c1886 upsets his vision of the world. From this time on Papus becomes the propagator of Christian Mysticism and "the Way of the Heart", which Saint-Martin called the "Inner Way". The core of this philosophy, as described by Papus, is published in his The Cardiac or Mystic Path '. Papus deals in this publication with the importance of simplicity and the purification of body, soul and mind in one's spiritual quest. Another text of Papus which reflects the philosophy of the 'Inner Way' is appropriately called 'the Way of the Heart'.
the purpose and aim of the Martinist Order Papus wrote:
"...the Order, as a whole, is especially a school of moral knighthood, endeavouring to develop the spirituality of its members by the study of the invisible world and its laws, by the exercise of devotion and the intellectual assistance and by the creation in each spirit of an all the more solid faith as it is based on observation and science."
Papus actively sought an alliance between the clergy and occultists to restore the forces of tradition against the trend of modernisation that he considered was responsible for a loss of social order.
So far we have not encountered anything that could be considered contradictory to the Faith of a traditionalist priest. And certainly the socio-political message would have been equally acceptable to the Catholic Church. But could there have been another aspect that may have attracted the Abbé Saunière and other priests to Martinism?
Spiritualism, popular in America, had taken hold in Europe in the second half of the nineteenth century and had become a key feature of Martinist ritual. We know that Papus himself held seances for contacting spirits. One can easily see how attractive such activity would have been to a questioning priest. Despite being outlawed by Rome, direct contact with the dead would have held a fascination to those whose lives were dedicated to preparation for the afterlife.
Papus and his involvement in esoteric movements became widely known amongst those with an interest in occultism. In 1905, Papus was summoned to the court of Tsar Nicolas II to hold a “Spiritual Seance” at which the spirit of his son Alexander III was raised. The Russian Court had been witness to many seances arising from the interest of Tsar Alexander II and his wife in occultism. In fact as early as 1861, the Scottish medium DD Home, accompanied by the French writer Alexander Dumas, held seances at the Winter Palace, St Petersburg for the Tsar, his Courtiers and other Russian aristocrats.
is during this episode that we become aware of the notorious Protocols of
the Elders of Zion. Allegedly the minutes of the World Zionist meeting that
took place at Basle in 1897, they caused quite a stir at the Russian Court
where they were used to cast a slur on certain political factions.
Contrary to popular belief, they are not a forgery, nor a fiction; but neither are they of Zionist origin. In fact they formed the basis of a Martinist plan for Synarchic government. Papus himself wrote of such a plan as a necessary counter to what he saw as creeping anarchy. Aware of their political potential, they were used by a faction of dissident Russian exiles to discredit Russian noblemen involved in Freemasonry who were believed to be involved in a conspiracy to influence the Tsar.
This Martinist document was then seen by Sergei Nilus; who confused the Martinist symbol - a six-pointed star - with the Zionist Star of David. He immediately interpreted the document as being a Zionist plan and part of a Zionist conspiracy. The Martinists were duly attacked as belonging to this illusory Judeo-masonic plot. Anti-Semitic tendencies of the time greatly helped to fuel this confusion and added to its propaganda value that continues even until today.
the indefatigable Papus had other interests and beliefs.
In 1896, he published the Tarot of the Bohemians. A look at the preface to the book reveals some of his other occult beliefs.
“The Tarot pack of cards, transmitted by the Gypsies from generation to generation, is a primitive book of ancient initiation. …The uninitiated reader will find in it the explanation of the lofty philosophy and science of ancient Egypt…”
Papus further states that the wisdom of the Caballa, the Freemasons and the ancient Egyptians had been kept alive by the Tarot of these nomadic gypsies.
Very influenced by Freemasonry, Papus evidently believed in the transmission of sacred wisdom and occult science from the times of antiquity that stretches back as he saw it through the gypsies, Rosicrucians, Templars, Christ, the Old Testament, ancient Egypt to the Garden of Eden and the Fall of Man. His quest was to discover and reveal the Synthesis that in his words “condenses in a few simple laws the whole of acquired knowledge.”
very precisely confirms the element of Gnosis found at the heart of Martinism.
We can now more easily understand the role of Cathar enthusiast, Jules Doinel
in this esoteric world and its connections to the Abbé Saunière.
In 1888, while working as archivist for the library of Orleans in France, Jules Doinel discovered an original charter dated 1022, which had been written by Canon Stephan of Orleans, a schoolmaster and forerunner of the Cathars who taught Gnostic doctrines (He was burned for heresy that same year). Doinel had a vision in which the "Aeon Jesus" appeared, who charged him with the work of establishing a new church. Doinel was a "Grand Orient Freemason" and a practising Spiritualist. "In May of 1890, Jules Doinel attended a séance in the oratorie of the ' Duchess of Pomar (The Countess of Caithness)…. It is said that the disembodied spirits of ancient Albigensians, joined by a heavenly voice, laid spiritual hands on Doinel, creating him "Valentinus II, Bishop of the Holy Assembly of the Paraclete (Holy Ghost) and of the Gnostic Church".
Thus the EGLISE GNOSTIQUE was founded by Jules Doinel in 1890. In 1892 Doinel consecrated Papus as Tau Vincent, Bishop of Toulouse; he also consecrated other Martinists, such as Paul Sedir and Lucien Chamuel. These three men formed the 'nucleus' of the newly built Gnostic Universal Church.
Doinel, Patriarch of the Gnostic Church entered into Papus’ Martinist
lodge in 1891. As we saw he made Papus Gnostic Bishop of Toulouse and in
1893, he founded the Ordre Gnostique de la Colombe du Paraclete. In 1896,
he was appointed Archivist/Librarian at Carcassonne and two years later
became Secretary to the Society for Arts and Sciences in Carcassonne: at
which time he is thought to have visited Rennes-le-Château. This becomes
an even more credible possibility since Saunière’s colleague,
the Abbé Boudet, Cure of Rennes-les-Bains, was also an erudite member
of the Society.
But most interestingly in 1900, the year when Saunière attended Martinist meetings in Lyon, Doinel became Gnostic Bishop of Mirepoix – which include Montsegur, and of Alet les Bains – which included Rennes-le-Château.
is not known if Saunière continued his interest in Martinism or whether
he ever became a full member. However, the inextricable link between the
Gnostic Church and Martinism offers some interesting possibilities.
"In 1908 a schism occurred within the Gnostic Church: the branch at Lyon under Joannie Bricaud took another name; 'Église Gnostique Catholique' (EGC); later changing again to the EGLISE GNOSTIQUE UNIVERSELLE (EGU). The EGU would later change its name once more to "EGLISE GNOSTIQUE APOSTOLIQUE".
In 1911, the E.G.A. headed (since 1908) by Joannie Bricaud, Patriarch of the Gnostic Church, became the official church of Papus’ "ORDRE MARTINISTE".
Furthermore, Joannie Bricaud himself was later to become head of this MARTINIST Order.
But were Martinist’s beliefs, or those of the Gnostic Church, in conflict with the doctrine of the Roman Catholic Church?
Jules Doinel, the founder of the first Gnostic Church had dreamed of a church that would give back to Christianity its gnostic dimension. But gnosis needs to be defined so as not to confuse the very holy gnosis which, as Clement of Alexandria said, does not oppose faith but perfects it, with the “gnosis whose name is a lie” denounced by Saint Irenaeus in his treatise against heresies in the 2nd century.
Many of the Gnostic Churches can be considered heretical, but those that have remained true to Doinel’s tradition are not.