February 17, 2014

Syncretic Alevism and Catharism

Ishikism (Turkish: Işıkçılık or Işık Aleviliği), also known as Chinarism or Ishik Alevism, refers to the movement among some Alevis who have developed an alternative understanding of Alevism and its history. These alternative interpretations and beliefs were organized by writer Erdoğan Çınar, with the publication of his book Aleviliğin Gizli Tarihi (The Secret History of Alevism) in 2004. The Ishik movement claim that the term "Alevi" is derived from the old Anatolian Luvians (Luwian) people, claiming that the word "Luvi" means "people of light" in the Hittite language, while the term "Alevi" in traditional Alevism is believed to have derived from Ali, as in the Arabic word ‘Alawī (علوي). Some Ottoman documents from the 16th century refer to the ancestors of today's Alevis as "Işık Taifesi", meaning "People of Light". This is, according to Ishikis, a proof of the connection between the Luvians and Alevis.

In the area around the Southern Pyrenees a form of heterodox mysticism took hold, a mysticism that had historical and archetypal roots in the Gnosis and Gnosticism of late antiquity. At precisely this time, and in the same area of Southern France, there came the first flowering of the Troubadour traditions and of the Jewish Gnosticism of Kabbalah. To the south in Spain, the mystical tradition that gave root to a Gnostic school in Islam took form – exemplified by Ibn 'Arabī (1165–1240), the seminal figure in Turkish, Persian and Sufi Gnostic traditions. St. Francis of Assisi (1181–1226) was also deeply influenced by the spirit of this time and this Cathar land. 

Though the term "Cathar" has been used for centuries to identify the movement, whether the movement identified itself with this name is debatable. In Cathar texts, the terms "Good Men" (Bons Hommes) or "Good Christians" are the common terms of self-identification. 

Mavi Boncuk |

The Ishikis also claim that the religious ceremonies practiced by Alevis were practiced as early as by the Hittites and even by the Sumerians. According to Ishikis, medieval Christian sects as Paulicianism, Bogomilism etc. were also Alevis. A good example of this belief can be found in the translation of the book The Cathars: The Most Successful Heresy of the Middle Ages (2005) by Sean Martins. Even though the original English version does not contain the word "Alevi", the Turkish translator has translated the title of the book as Ortaçağ'da Avrupa'da Alevi Hareketi - Katharlar (An Alevi Movement in The Middle Ages - The Cathars). 

Compared to traditional Alevism, the most striking differences of the Ishik movement are their interpretation of history. The Ishik movement claims that Alevis have changed their apparent identity several times in history in order to survive. According to Ishiki belief, heretic sects like the Paulicians and Bogomils were actually Alevis compelled to appear as Christians because of the Byzantine oppression. 

Likewise the modern Alevis have gained an Islamic appearance because of the Ottoman oppression. Ishiki thought is convinced that most heterodox groups are inventions as a result of oppression, meaning that groups like the Ghulat, Ahl-e Haqq, Ismā'īlī, Nusayrî Alawism and Bektashism are in reality separate from real Islam. 

Catharism (from Greek: καθαρός, katharos, pure) [1] was a name given to a Christian religious movement with dualistic and gnostic elements that appeared in the Languedoc region of France and other parts of Europe in the 11th century and flourished in the 12th and 13th centuries. The movement was extinguished in the early decades of the thirteenth century, when the Cathars were persecuted and massacred under the Inquisition. Catharism had its roots in the Paulician movement in Armenia and the Bogomils of Bulgaria which took influences from the Paulicians. 

Paulicians (Armenian: Պաւլիկեաններ, also remembered as Pavlikians or Paulikianoi were a Christian Adoptionist sect and militarized revolt movement, also accused by medieval sources as Gnostic and quasi Manichaean Christian. They flourished between 650 and 872 in Armenia and the Eastern Themes of the Byzantine Empire.

See Also: 
Syncretismes Et Heresies Dans L'orient Seldjoukide Et Ottoman: XIV- XVIII Siecle  Gilles Veinstein Peeters Publishers, Jan 1, 2005, 428 pages 

The Cathars, Fraticelli and Turks, a new interpretation of Berkludje Mustafa's uprising in Anatolia. 1415  by 
 Konstantine A. Zhukov pages 188-95. 

"The study on the rebellion and execution of the above-mentioned preacher  of poverty Börklüce Mustafa by Konstantin Zhukov (“Börklüce Mustafa, was he another Mazdak?”, pp. 119-27), brings to light the diff erent perceptions of 
the heresy and, consequently, our difficulty in combining information in  Islamic and Christian sources on the ways used by diff erent powers to crush syncretist trends." REVIEW

Proceedings of an international conference held at the College de France in 2001, the book is a set of 27 contributions in English and in French of wellknown experts both in Turkish and Middle Eastern history (11th-18the c.) and in the history of Religions. The aim was to draw a large picture of the religious richness and complexity of the Seljuk and Ottoman worlds and to comment on the consequences in terms of heresies and syncretisms, two concepts which are currently revisited by the same token. The influence of the dualistic doctrinal legacy is particularly put in light. Simultaneously the effects of the religious context upon Ottoman society and politics are discussed extensively. 

[1] For those interested in the question of the name Cathar and its connection with the Greek word Katharos (pure), it is an extraordinary fact that in the early third century AD the father of Mani above) had belonged to a Judaeo-Christian sect known as katharioi [Stoyanov, The Other God, p 102].  

Mani, of course, was the founder of Manichaeism[*], a Dualist system of belief which seems to have developed into Bogomilism and thence Catharism. 

The name Cathari had also been used by Novation sects of Anatolia in the fourth century - see for example Epiphanius, Adversus Haereses, (edited by Oehler, Berlin 1859) p 505. Significantly, perhaps, the Novations, well known Gnostic Dualists, were condemned by the victorious party that we call "orthodox" at the Council of Nicea in 325 (Cannon 8 " Concerning those who have given themselves the name of Novations...."). In other words, it seems that self professed Cathars, with fully developed Gnostic Dualist ideas, were already in existence when the first "Orthodox" Church Council met to start the long process of hammering out its own version of orthodoxy.

Cathar Texts and Rituals

[*] Manichaeans: a reference to an ancient Dualist synthetic religion founded by Mani in the fourth century. Aurelius Augustinus, later Saint Augustine of Hippo (354 – 430) had been a Manichaean but he left when he realised that he was not going to advance in the hierarchy. He therefore transferred to the branch of the Christian Church that developed into the Roman Catholic Church - bringing some Manichaean ideas with him, but leaving detailed denunciations of others in his writings. When later scholars read his works and compared Manichaean beliefs with contemporary Cathar beliefs they deduced that Cathars were Manichaeans, and adopted the term to describe them.

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