by H. Spencer Lewis
extracted from 'The ROSICRUCIAN FORUM'
April, 1935, Vol. V. No. 5.
Because of the recent civil war activities reaching into northern Spain, there has been much in the newspapers regarding the strange people living in the foothills of the Pyrenees and known as the Basques.
The name has seemed rather new to a great many, and even newspaper editors and magazine writers have turned to encyclopedias and other sources of information trying to find some facts about the Basque people. The more one searches into their history or their origin, the more mysterious they become.
A great many of our members have written to us about them and we are glad to give whatever information we have.
For many centuries they have been known in our records and other similar records as a very mystical class of persons, or deriving from a very early mystical race or group of individuals. The information available to us does not throw any light upon their real origin, but we have some facts regarding their present day and immediately past activities, customs and habits.
Most of the telegraphic news coming to our Western World at the present time regarding the war activities comes from the city of St. Jean de Luz. This name, literally interpreted as St. John of the Light, always arouses some interest in the minds of mystics because the name is quite symbolical. To see such an old and mystically named city mixed up in war affairs seems so incongruous and so sacrilegious that many of our members want to know more about the city itself.
Some years ago my wife accompanied me on a special tour into the Basque country, and naturally we made St. Jean de Luz our headquarters for an extensive investigation. We found it one of the coast towns in the foothills of the Pyrenees right at the mouth of the river Nivelle. At the time we visited it, it had a population of about six thousand.
It is a very ancient port of considerable importance, and a home for mariners and fishermen. In fact, it was from this city that vessels first set out for Newfoundland back in 1519 and 1520. A number of great national conventions or congresses have been held in the city, and in 1660 the Treaty of the Pyrenees was signed in this city. Strange to say, at that time the population was fifteen thousand or more.
One of the interesting things which we especially wanted to see in the city was a Thirteenth Century church believed to have been built around 1210, according to some old mystical records, or around the time of the Crusades in France, and it was built as a principal secret meeting place for Knights of the Temple and the Rosicrucian Knights, both of which organizations were united, and of which Columbus was a member; and even his father had been associated with these knighthoods. In this old church, which has a large gallery around it that distinguishes it from other strictly Roman Catholic cathedrals, there is a wonderful organ, one that is larger in many respects than any other organ in Europe, and which rises from the ground floor high up above and beyond the gallery.
We were fortunate in securing the cooperation of an organist connected with the church who was a descendant of the old mystical brotherhood, and he played the organ for us and its tones were simply marvelous. We found carvings and markings and symbolical inscriptions in this old cathedral showing that it had been used very seriously and regularly by the knighthood, and was originally not intended to be a Roman Catholic cathedral but, we might almost say, a non-sectarian cathedral.
We found many other mystical things about the city, showing that it had been really a headquarters of the knighthoods for a number of years, and that they had taken rare records to the place and had a secret archive in the crypts or cellars beneath the cathedral and in the fortified building in another part of the city, of which only a few ruins remain. But there are a number of sacred shrines in the city still standing which are truly sacred to Rosicrucians and mystics of all kinds.
Descendants of these knighthoods still live in St. Jean and hold secret meetings there.
We found the natives in the city and around the countryside typical of the Basque people, very friendly and intelligent, rather religious and certainly very spiritual and mystical, with distinct costumes and many original and distinctive customs and habits. They were happy, more or less carefree, very musical indeed, and we enjoyed a musical performance in one of their own strange kind of theaters where we found their costume dancing, their singing, and forms of entertainment very enjoyable but quite different from anything else we had ever seen or heard.
The Basque people have always had a very wonderful reputation as mystics and as pious people without hypocrisy or insincerity. Fundamentally, they are an unusually honest race of people devoting themselves mostly to agriculture, although they manufacture some artistic types of unique clothing or dresswear. The Basque hats have become quite well known throughout the world and are imported by many countries and especially France and England. They are typical of the beret type of headwear.
The women are charming in their appearance and complexion, in their magnetic personalities, sweet voices, pleasant mannerisms, and extreme cleanliness. The men, of course, are very industrious, and as a race the Basque people have fought very hard to maintain their own provinces as independent and neutral in all worldly affairs.
Many nations have respected their independence and contributed toward a protection for them against the inroad of other nations, politically and socially. Today they are victims of circumstance and victims of warring conditions around them, much as Belgium was in the great World War.
It is horrifying to think, however, that these people are losing their homes, their lands and everything that has been dear to them for centuries through no attitude of their own. Undoubtedly it is a Karmic condition which they earned sometime way in the past, and we hope that when the present Karma is paid or adjusted the Basque people will again arise to the same glorious —though certainly not materialistically wealthy— status in which they have existed during the past centuries.
To think of these sacred shrines and cathedrals and other things in their city being bombarded or razed through warfare is discouraging indeed.
Because of their method of living and their mystical qualities, there was a popular idea for many years that the so-called gypsies who tour around the world were from the Basque country and were really members of the Basque people. Some investigation has shown, however, that while many of these so-called gypsies did depart from the Basque countries on their tours throughout Europe and even to America, they did not originate in the Basque country, but passed through it and remained there for a time because they found the Basque customs and habits, and even style of clothing, easily adaptable.
The so-called gypsy whom we see in musical comedies, plays, paintings, and of whom we read in stories, does appear in dress costume and personal adornment much like the people of the Basque country.
Undoubtedly the gypsies of the past fifty or a hundred years have purchased and used the costumes and clothing of the Basque people because they found them so colorful, so ornamental and distinctive, that the wearing of them helped to identify them in their journeys throughout the world.
But the so-called and reputed bad habits of many of these wandering gypsies, especially the reputed or alleged dishonesty and unreliability, would prove that the gypsies were not really descendants of the Basque people and had not adopted the Basque habits along with the Basque clothing. Probably the gypsies also learned or acquired their wonderful singing and dancing abilities and love for music from the Basque people.
St. Jean de Luz is near the city of Biarritz, the famous Southern France fall and winter beach resort, but it is also near that very wonderful city of Pau, which is situated up on a high plateau of the foothills of the Pyrenees. Pau was the location of the wonderful chateau of Henry IV, King of Navarre. He later became leader of the Huguenots, and was one of the representatives at an international Rosicrucian convention. He was a very great leader of the Rosicrucian Knights and the Knights of the Temple, and it was unfortunate that his non-Roman Catholic position led him eventually into the religious wars, which was not typical of the Rosicrucian spirit.
Strange to say, when the various castles and chateaus of eminent lords and kings of France were seized because of their participation in the protection of the heretics or the non-Catholics, the wonderful castle of Henry IV at Pau was overlooked. It was not taken over by the church. It therefore remains intact today and, being upon a high plateau, the view from its gardens overlooks the nearby Pyrenees and is one of the most scenic places in Southern France.
My wife and I have spent many days in the shadows of that chateau and have been through every one of its rooms, and have taken photographs in it. The old original furniture, including the original beds, chairs, tables, dining room and kitchen equipment, rugs, ornaments, pictures, and armor remain intact.
The whole section of Southern France between Pau and St. Jean de Luz is spotted with Basque influence and Rosicrucian mysticism and Rosicrucian ideas. Any of our members ever visiting Southern France should certainly visit Pau and St. Jean. The best way to reach it is by train from Paris to the city of Bordeaux where a few hours or a day or night can be spent, then taking the train for a very short ride either to Pau and then St. Jean, or St. Jean and then to Pau.
The climate is very warm in the
summertime but the months of September, October, and April and May are
delightful, and even the winter months are