Cathars, heresy and dualism in ArM

Hello all,

I am starting a new saga in Provence at the beginning of the 13th century. As I want the saga to be affected by the Albigensian Crusade I want to decide what the supernatural forces behind this event really are. If we stick to the medieval church paradigm it is relatively easy. The Cathars are manipulated by Infernal forces and it is just to rout them out as well as any who is helping them (a draconian interpretation of the Bible, as was done at the time, would support this view).

From a more modern point of view the Cathars seem very humane, sympathetic and indeed more "good" than the Catholic Church at the time so making the Crusade Infernal and the Cathars divine makes more sense. This also works better with the ArM canon where the people behind the Crusades often are portrayed as evil/Infernal and the Cathar believers good/Divine (see ArM 2, ”A Medieval Tapestry” and ”Mistridge”).

If we do look at the gnostic teachings of the Cathars it is clearly heretic from a Christian point of view. God/Jaweh/Saklas as the creator of the world is an evil deceiver who uses the catholic church to enslave mankind and to stop them to go to the real heaven. The Pope is really Anti-christ. If we accept the Cathars as divine the Church really must be infernal. But that is not true to ArM canon either.

We could say that the Cathars actually belong to the Magic Realm. Indeed, that is what I am supposed to do as they are neither Infernal nor Divine as I see it. The problem with that though is that the dualistic faith of the Cathars is supposed to be about the next life and the existence beyond the material world. The don't seem to believe in miracles – they just want to behave good so that their soul don't have to be reborn to this world. Dragons, ghosts and fireballs seem to be the wrong realm for them and magic (for some reason) is unable to work outside the lunar sphere.

Should we bring back the ”Realm of Reason” from ArM 3 or invent a new one – the Gnostic realm?

A penny for your thoughts and ideas.

Jakob Ryngen

Cathar Perfecti are statted out as a Divine Tradition in "Realms of Power: The Divine" and the nature of the Albigensian Crusade has yet to be touched upon in any of the published 5E supplements. That said, they are quite obviously heretics from a Catholic perspective. The aforementioned sourcebook makes it quite clear that no single faith has carte blanche Divine Sanction to lean upon and indeed both sides of a holy conflict may successfully invoke God's aide and benefit from miracles. Sometimes even simultaneously!

If I were running an adventure featuring the Crusades, however, I'd probably have both sides represented by a combination of Divine, mundane, and Infernal elements. The Divine elements are fairly obvious for both sides and you've laid out a pretty good case for why the Crusaders might qualify as Infernal pawns. I'd add to this that one element of Cathar doctrine - the lack of need to repent of one's sins is exactly the kind of heresya Demon would spread - all the better to secure more souls for the furnace!

Finally, we can't underestimate the lust for lucre that fills the hearts of noblemen fighting on either side...

I think the Ars Magica position is that all the Divine Religions are correct on the nature of the Divine. Jesus was just a (holy) man. Jesus was God. God created the world. God did not create the world, that was the fallen devil who actually made a evil filled world. And so on. If these seem like contradictions to you, I recommend improving your Dominion Lore. :stuck_out_tongue:

And then you somehow have false infernal traditions corrupting the Divine religions sometimes. So you can have Divine Catholics, Divine Heretics, and infernal versions of each as well.

Thank you for your answer. Yes, the Cathars are Divine and can have True Faith in ArM as you said but to me that is a rather weak solving. In Christendom, Judaism and Islam God is the good creator of the world but according to the gnostic belief of the Cathars he is evil - God is in fact the Devil! I just cant see how that would work under the same Realm.

From a game perspective a Gnostic belief can not help your body I any way nor have any affect the material world while in ArM the Divine Realm certainly can and does. Gnostisism/True Belief (as in Catharism) might make give you a resistance vs Mentem effects but that's it.

I know there is a tendency in ArM4-5 to make every "real" religion part of the Divine realm but are we not throwing the baby out with the water here? We still have at least four realms that actually oppose each other.

Yes, that is the new canon but I would prefer to make a stand. Was the Massacre at Béziers a divine event as like Sodom and Gomorrah or not? What realm/force is actually at work and attacking you? It will affect the game.

The Abigensian Crusade and the Cathars featured heavily in the 1st and 2nd editions of the game because Grimgoth and the rest of the playtest campaign was set there. In that Saga, the Cathars were presented as misunderstood good guys, and the Crusaders were presented as either hapless tools, if low in rank, or outright Infernal dupes, if of high rank.

But more recent editions of the game have emphasized the Medieval Paradigm, and this has meant that many design choices by early authors have become problematic. In some cases, this just means that authors have to come up with explanations for words like 'Tytalus', which were probably originally chosen simply to sound cool, but now make little sense. The Cathars are a good example of a larger plot-related problem: How do we keep them 'good guys,' because that makes for good stories, but yet acknowledge that, in the setting of Mythic Europe, they'd be heretics opposed to the Divine?

Because the Divine is non-exclusive to Christians in 5E, this problem more or less is solved. Whether or not Cathar are "right" or wrong is sort of beside the point. World made by the Devil? Not the point. The point is: Do you believe in only one god, and do you live a good life. If you do, you are going to Heaven. If you do not, you aren't, regardless of your personal faith. This can apply to Muslims, Jews, Cathars, anyone. This creates a seeming contradiction, but that is a Divine Mystery.

I apologize for going on; I only mean to say that the farther back in the editions you go, the less Medieval the game is and the more modern in theme. And that's a perfectly cool way to run your Saga. AM5 confronts the paradox and solves it by saying, "Only God knows how this works, but it works." If that's not to your taste, and you would rather portray the Church as -- by and large -- the villains, you will find a lot of support for that in other old products, but not much at all in AM4-AM5.

I don't recommend adding a new Realm. Just align your Crusaders to the Infernal Realm, the Cathars to the Divine, and you should be all right.

We should be careful when discussing THE Medieval Paradigm. Cathars and Catholics were both bona fide medieval human beings and obviously had very different views on the issue in question. There was actually much more diversity in thought across 13th century Europe and the Middle East than is often suggested.

(I'm not quibbling with you, Doctorcomics. I think you're accurately presenting the view put across in much of the AM5 material).

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I like your analysis Doc, and you make an interesting point about fantasy RPG's in general. I had a discussion the other day with a friend about fantasy literature and converting other fantasy RPG adventures to Ars Magica. We started talking about how in most RPG's the non-modern medieval setting is just a bit of flavour and as you dig a bit all you find is the modern world. What is interesting about ArM is that its overcome that problem and I was interested in your opinion on the earlier editions of ArM reflecting the modern world problem more strongly than the present. Obviously having the setting in medieval Europe assisted in that process from a design point of view to begin with but what is noteworthy about your opinion is that ArM has been developed and through progressive evolution become less modern. This stands in contrast to some other games which have just devolved into shite.

Jabir, you're right, and I hesitated to even use the phrase "Medieval Paradigm" because it is such a contentious issue in AM debate. I think this may be why AM5 almost never uses those words, talking instead about "Mythic Europe". When Atlas puts out books on "Mythic Europe", everyone sort of understands that this is just one version of Mythic Europe, the 'official' one. But if the same books mention the 'Medieval Paradigm,' everyone starts taking issue with what that means and a flame war results. So I should do the same, and just never use those words in polite company!

Shag, I agree that it is interesting how AM has become more "authentically medieval" in 4th and then 5th edition, and I would even tentatively agree with you that this is in contrast with the trend in fantasy RPGs. While I would not dare to speculate on motives, I do observe that this certainly gives AM a brand distinct from other games in the genre. Just today I was thinking about how the Order is very much a modern anachronism in a medieval setting, and you can see our line authors acknowledging and playing with that, so that, for example, stories set in Coeris are inspired by The West Wing. How long will it be before someone writes a Story Seed inspired by Breaking Bad? And the friction between the Modern Order and the medieval Mythic Europe is, I dare say, the juice that really makes this game.

I won't necessarily agree with you, however, that "authentically medieval" is necessarily a plus. I've really been struck by the number of "author's notes" essays in which an AM author writes -- always in good humor, and always professionally -- how this adventure seed or that other chapter in a Tribunal book had to be entirely rewritten because it wasn't authentically medieval. But it would have made a good story. Personally, as a Storyguide, I feel a real urge for high fantasy AM, and I read 1st and 2nd edition adventures a little wistfully, because there's no way most of them would be published in the current version of the game. I do think that, in some ways, the original kernel of AM -- "lets make a game where wizards are the toughest guys in the world" -- has suffered at the hands of making the line more authentically medieval. The Divine has gotten stronger and more morally-good. Rules like "demons can never plan or cooperate, because they lack the virtue required to do so" are terrible straight jackets that I, frankly, would consider tragic if I didn't ignore them completely. But this trend was not done casually; our editors and authors work very, very hard to make books which are as fantastic (in the sense of fantasy) and imaginative as possible while still being authentically medieval. That's a very tough row to hoe, and its not going to please everyone. Fortunately, GMs can throw out what they don't like. It takes a little more work. You can't use every book as written. But considering the amount of work this game already requires, what's a few more house rules between friends, right?

The Cathar's theology was far from unified, and that's actually the most extreme view. They did believe in the dualism of the world of the flesh, inherently evil and created by Satan, and the world of spirit, inherently good and created by God, and were trying to do enough good in this world to ascend to the other (instead of being reborn in the world of flesh). However the view that the God worshiped by the Church is the "wrong" one and that the Church (as a whole) is serving the Devil was a minority one (not that the Church found it funny). Most of them would probably have said that the Church was at least trying to worship the right God, the God of good, and just got helplessly corrupted in its secular work by the Devil.

I share the analysis of the paradigm development from ArM1 to ArM5. ArM1 was basic roleplaying with a medieval flavour while the later editions have a much higher ambition on authenticity. I do think that ambition has brought some problems of its own though. One of the is as we are still playing with realms and powers rather than a historically correct setting.

I think it is still valid to say that the altar area of St. Peter's Basilica at Christmas Eve Mass with the Pope present has a Divine Aura of 10. If you would ask Cathar Perfect it would in game terms have an Infernal Aura as the basilica is just a fraud meant tie our souls to the earth and the Pope is in fact Antichrist. In ArM a magus could actually check which version is true and if we go by ArM5 the Cathar Perfect is wrong even tough he/she might also project Divine Power. And the Pope, celebrating Christmas Eve in full regalia, is also be equally wrong when declaring the Cathars infernal heretics even though he has full support for this idea from the Bible, from the Church Fathers, from his cardinals and from an estimated 95% of Christianity.

The Cathar heresy do present us with a bigger problem than Islam and Judaism as the latter beliefs share the idea with Christendom the creation of the world is good and is done by benevolent being. If the Cathar Perfecti can say that God is evil and still be Divine and the Pope can order a massacre on the mentioned heretics and still hold Divine power, if these ideas can exist within the same Realm – what is the need for an Infernal Realm? Indeed, doesn't this wreck the idea of opposing realms altogether? If a magus ”believe in only one God and live a good life” why can't he magically heal someone inside a Church?

You recommended aligning the Crusades to the Infernal Realm and the Cathars to the Divine. That would be a solution but just how far has the devil corrupted the Catholic Church if that was true? The vast majority of it's believers would at the time say that burning heretics who won't repent was necessary. Are they all Infernal? An still easier solution would to make the Cathars Infernal... they are good and sympathetic but they are corrupted by a very intelligent demon who finally found the perfect way to waste the souls of nice people. Baphometh strikes again and the Crusade is just. A bit boring as the magi/players will not face any moral dilemma of shutting their gates to fleeing Cathars. If they open them they know that the SG will start making demons popping up in their sanctums.

I am still thinking...

I am aware of that but I would say that extreme view would be the correct one at the time if you look at dualism/gnosticism from an scholarly rather than a popular perspective. You might say that Chatholisism at the time was somewhat dualistic too as they did acknowledge the power of Satan but that is another story. I would say that you can actually regard Pope as Antichrist, the Church corrupted and just meant to turn us away from salvation, and still be a Cathar Perfect trying to do good deeds. But what will that make you in game terms?

Given what I read so fare about Infernal in ArM5 I would say they love nothing more then corrupt people with a deep belive in god.
What bether place for sins are there then the field of war and so they always wisper voices of mistrust about the neighbours who are different then you.
And what bether neighbour to build mistrust in then the one of a different faith as this one will then also seduced to sin.

I would recommend making both mainstream Christianity and Catharism Divine.

This would mean that for any supernatural powers each have, both are positively affected by Divine auras, etc. Which is something that can be detected or inferred by Hermetic magi, and perhaps some other spell-casters/supernatural creatures. But it doesn't need to be explained out of character, as the Divine is ineffable. You only need an explaination for this if, in your saga, there is some realistic prospect of the PCs confronting God, with an expectation of answers, about what exactly He is up to.

In-character, the Cathars and Rome, of course, have very different and largely incompatible theological beliefs. Which means that there is plenty of in-character scope for theological debates/arguments, crusades, stake-burnings, etc. Just like there is, in-character, between Islam and Christianity.

Finally, although both mainstream Christianity and the Cathars are Divine, individual priests/perfecti/crusaders/etc can be infernally corrupted, possessed, tempted, or merely politically ambitious or mad/bad in a mundane sense.

Problem is that the mainstream of Christianity wants to burn the Cathars as they are "justly" considered heretics; Deuteronomy 13:12-18

So, why does this make both being Divine a problem? The key is that neither mainstream Christianity nor Cathars believe in the Divine as it actually is in Mythic Europe (nor do Muslims, Jews, etc). Mainstream Christians believe what they believe, Cathars believe what they believe; both believe that the other is wrong.

It is only characters like Hermetic magi (and some others) who can observe that both Catharism and Christianity (and Judaism and Islam) are associated with Divine auras, etc. Only such characters believe/know there is some coherent Divine realm that connects these religions and somehow makes them all totally or partially true. And there is no suggestion that magi understand why this is so, or how it works; magi are not privy to the will of God, either.

It is actually the whole idea of the Divine realm that is a heretical (and largely non-authentic) belief!

Allow me to elaborate with an example; the Crusaders have arrived to a small city in Provence. Their accompanying priests have been told that the people inside are harbouring heretics [true] that do not worship God as is mentioned in the Bible and by the Church [true]. The Crusaders demand that the inhabitants of the city expel the heretics from the city to be questioned by the monks. If they renounce their heretic beliefs they will be spared. The city refuses and the monks start praying and chanting to encourage the Crusaders as the siege ensues. The monks are devout believers in their just cause and good Christians and happen to have relics with them. They have given the heretics a chance to repent but they stubbornly refuse. Will the chanting invoke the Crusaders with a Divine blessing, an Infernal fanaticism or will nothing happen? What powers with oppose a magus (other than the Quasitori and the Hoplites) trying to intervene?

The answer is "depends", of course. But, sure, the priests and crusaders can use any Divine supernatural powers they might have (the blessing sacrament, if nothing else) and their relics will be normally effective.

Likewise, anything that the Cathar Perfecti are doing will have its normal effect.

Both sides will presumably interpret anything supernatural that benefits them as God's aid (or whatever the equivalent would be for Cathars) and will interpret anything that benefits their opponents as either a punishment from God and/or their opponents receiving aid from some sort of devilry/magic.

Not clear on which side the magi are trying to intervene. In either case, a normal Hermetic magus trying to cast in a Divine aura will be penalised as usual (even a magus fighting a demon is penalised by the Divine aura if he is fighting that demon in a Divine aura; although the demon is penalised even more). Otherwise, if something supernatural is aiding either side (an angel or a saint or something) and a magus attacks that side, then that supernatural thing will presumably oppose the magus to the best of it's capability.

It doesn't need to be difficult. If a Tremere and a Tytalus magus fight each other, there is no question about which will be supported by the magic realm. Both can use their magic powers with normal effect.

Same thing if a Cathar and a crusader fight one another. Any Divine powers each has, will have normal effect.

I don't think the gnostics actually believed in miracles so if we are to follow "gnostic paradigm" they would have no power except perhaps for a divine aura. If the Crusaders are helped by the monks you can say that some there is actually some divine intent in the following burning of the Cathars (given that the Crusaders win). I can accept that if the Cathar faith is Infernal or at least not divine but if let us say the Crusaders burn someone with True Faith you are confronted with a Divine Realm that acts very weird. Will the just Crusaders be more inspired to fight in the Divine Aura of a hypothetical Cathar holy place? It is not the same thing with two magi fighting each other in a magical aura as magic is supposed to be a raw force rather than the will of a divine being. Or are you really saying that in ArM5 the divine realm is just a mindless aura manipulated by saints and priests imagining themselves to carry the will of a God who unknowing to them really doesn't exist? I would rather split up the Divine Aura.

Edit: Reading "Realms of Power - The Divine" it seems that you can actually invoke God's Aid when you burn a Cathar with True Faith given that you actually believe he is a heretic. It seems that the "belief defines reality" is back. So, again, if the main manifestation of the Divine is the Divine Aura how will a Cathar Perfecti be affected in a St. Peter's Basilica (Divine Aura 10) if he by the definition of his beliefs thinks this is really the place of the Antichrist (Infernal Aura 10)? And if he happens to be visiting the Pope with a maga friend will her magic suffer from an Infernal or a Divine Aura?

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I think what you seem to be angling towards is a Divine Realm with aspects. So there would be Divine (Gnostic), Divine (Islam), Divine (Judaism), and Divine (Christian). Other heretical groups might also have aspected Realms.

These Realms would react to Infernal, Faerie and Magic in the usual way, but they are also hostile to each other; use the Infernal Realm modifiers.

You don't need me to tell you this is non-canon. In canon, the Divine cares if you are a good person and are a monotheist. The Divine does not care what book you read, or even if you think God is the evil creator of the world. If you are a good person and are a monotheist, you go to Heaven.

But that doesn't work for you, and that's cool. Maybe aspected Realms will.