by Paul Tice
July 18, 2015
New Dawn No. 106 (Jan-Feb 2008)
has been ordained
as a Gnostic minister and lives in San Diego.
He is the author of
such books as Triumph of the Human Spirit: The Greatest
Achievements of the Human Soul and How Its Power can
Change Your Life; Jumpin' Jehovah: Exposing the
Atrocities of the Old Testamant God; That Old-Time
Religion with Jordan Maxwell and Dr. Alan Snow; and
Shadow of Darkness, Dawning the Light: The Awakening of
Human Consciousness in the 21st Century and Beyond.
Paul is the owner
of The Book Tree which publishes controversial
non-mainstream books. The website is located at
Few people in the modern world have heard of
the Bogomils, who
existed during a seven-century time span in and around Bulgaria.
Although almost forgotten, they represent an important movement that
should be studied by anyone interested in,
For most of their existence, from the mid 900's to the late 1400's
CE, the Bogomils sought to restore the earliest and purest form of
Since their beliefs were considered a threat to the
Church they experienced intense persecution.
Their original home was probably in Macedonia and from there they
spread throughout the Byzantine Empire, ultimately flourishing in
Bulgaria, Serbia, and Bosnia. Their spiritual descendants were the
better-known Cathars, so the extent of their influence reached as
far as Italy and into southern France. 1
Attacked over the centuries with both
fire and sword by Catholic and Orthodox Christians, they finally
surrendered - but to Islam rather than Christianity. 2
Bogomilism was named after its founder, Bogomil, whose name
means "friend of God" or "beloved of God."
He was a village priest who lived in the
Macedonian mountains during the reign of Peter (927-968), a fact
confirmed by two early Bulgarian manuscripts that are still extant.
The Bogomils' long history had actually begun in the previous
century. When Khan Boris I accepted a Christian baptism in 864,
Greek missionaries soon arrived. Christianity spread rapidly, but
many resisted and dissent began to spread.
The Byzantine Empire was familiar with large groups of dissenters
and usually deported them.
As historian Donald M. Nicol explains,
"Where heresy was widespread in a district, State officials would
come and forcibly remove the population of whole villages to other
parts of the Empire, where they would be swamped, or, it was rather
hoped, converted by their new neighbors." 4
Instead of deporting
recalcitrant Bulgarians, however, the Byzantines chose to resettle a
group of Armenian heretics known as
Paulicians on the Bulgarian
frontier in 872.
This was a mistake. Instead of adopting Orthodoxy,
the Paulicians spread their Manichaean doctrines, which espoused a
dualistic struggle between the forces of good and evil in the
Their beliefs strongly influenced the formation of the Bogomils and by about 950 Bogomilism had been born.
Rituals and Beliefs
Instead of having priests a group of elders were chosen by lot to
lead each Bogomil service.
Therefore, all interested believers had
the potential to lead. Their meetings were held in any home or
structure, or even outside, as they believed that God did not
confine Himself to stone buildings designated by humans. The spirit
of God, indwelling in every human heart, could be brought anywhere
and recognized as such.
This was a clear threat to the Church. Its
popularity was also a threat.
Bogomilism spread rapidly because a
portion of the brethren's earnings went to the poor, the sick, and
toward the support of those who travelled and spread the Gospel.
The early Bogomils rejected the Old Testament, relying primarily on
the New Testament. The later Byzantine Bogomils accepted the Psalms
and the sixteen books of the Prophets. Their version of worship was
an effort to exemplify the beliefs of the Primitive Church in its
purest form, before Christianity added to it.
The Trinity was
considered to be an illusion and rejected (overwhelming scriptural
evidence shows this is a false doctrine; the concept never appears
in the earliest Christian teachings).
The cross was considered evil,
having been the instrument used to kill Christ.
someone killed the king's son with a piece of wood, do you think the
king would regard the weapon as holy?"
Using the Sign of the Cross
was also rejected; they preferred the Lord's Prayer because it fails
to support or glorify the murder of a spiritual leader.
They rejected beliefs in the Second Coming, the Last Judgment, and
the resurrection of the dead. They all relate to the redemption of
the material body, and the Bogomils viewed matter as the principle
Like the older Gnostics before them, they believed that the
godly "spark" or spirit of man has been trapped in this evil,
material world. To be united with God, man must avoid contact with
the world of flesh.
Therefore the "elect" abstained from sexual
intercourse, meat, and wine, a practice that was successfully
maintained throughout the greater part of Bogomil history.
While the elect practiced such austerities, they accused the
Orthodox clergy of idleness, drinking, and robbery - which in large
part was probably true. The Bogomils contended that the Orthodox had
forfeited the right to be called Christians because of their
behavior, and saw themselves as the true Christians of the time.
To become a Bogomil required a simple two-part initiation, known as
"the Baptism of Christ through the Spirit" in contrast to the
Orthodox baptism, which the Bogomils rejected as being of St. John
and by water only. 5
The candidate was prepared through prayer,
fasting, and confession of sins. At the ceremony the presiding
authority laid the Gospel of John on the candidate's head; then they
invoked the Holy Spirit and said the Lord's Prayer together.
probationary period of abstinence from sex, wine, red meats, and
food with blood (except for fish) followed. Once completed, the
initiate returned for the second part of the process by coming
before the assembly.
He faced the east, at which point the Gospel of
John and the hands of the brethren present were laid on his head and
a hymn of thanksgiving was sung.
According to at least one scholar,
it is possible that an initiate was declared a Bogomil upon
completion of the first part, and completing part two moved him up
from the rank of "believer" to that of the "perfect" or "chosen."
One of the major differences between the Bogomils and the Orthodox
concerned their views of evil:
The church teaches that God is the source of all perfection and that
the whole world, visible and invisible, is his creation.
does not need to be a philosopher to observe that in this world of
ours moral and physical evil - suffering, cruelty, decay, death - is
How then can God, the Supreme Good, be the cause
of suffering and evil? Must He be held responsible for wars,
epidemics, the oppression of the poor by the rich?…
The Bogomils had
an answer which was at least logical and consistent:
evil and pain
are inherent in this world because this world is the creation of the
Evil One. 6
History and Persecutions
By 1050 the Bogomils had spread to the Byzantine Empire.
Zigabenus, a favorite monk of the emperor, returned from a journey
and found the heresy had infested his monastery. Euthymius set out
to uncover the heresy.
One captured Bogomil, Diblatius, revealed under torture the names of
high-ranking Bogomils, including their supreme leader, Basil, who
had taught for over 50 years.
Basil was approached through
underhanded means. The Emperor Alexius and his brother pretended to
be interested in converting to Bogomilism. As Basil was questioned
in the palace, a secretary hid behind a curtain and took notes,
documenting all that was said.
When a full confession had been made,
Alexius threw back the curtain and arrested him.
Basil's core followers and twelve main disciples were caught. Many
refused to recant, so Alexius announced that all Bogomils would be
burnt alive, but had a choice between being burnt on a pyre with
a cross or on a pyre without one.
Those who chose the cross were
released as having proven their orthodoxy. The others were
returned to prison, where they were subjected to daily
exhortations to convert.
Those who persisted in their beliefs
stayed imprisoned for life, but, Anna adds,
"were amply supplied with food
and clothing." 7
Basil was arrested in 1111 and burnt in either 1118 or 1119.
pyre was built in the Hippodrome where large crowds attended events.
He had the choice of walking to a large wooden cross instead of the
fire. Refusing the cross, he was thrown into the fire.
ended Bogomil influence in Constantinople.
With all the years of conflict between the Bogomils and the Orthodox
Byzantines, it is amazing that there was only one public execution
of Bogomils in the Byzantine Empire.
As Obolensky observes,
to Alexius's everlasting credit that in his dealings with heretics
he used the weapon of persuasion in preference to any
In the late 1100's the Bogomils were badly persecuted in Serbia, but
Bosnia was a safe haven.
The first great ruler in Bosnia was
the "Great Ban" (ban was the title given to local representatives of
the Hungarian kings). His reign, from 1180 to 1204, was known for
Bogomilism was hugely prevalent, involving many
nobles and landowners. They formed a "Bosnian Church" of their own,
headed by a "bishop" and served by a semi-monastic body of devotees
who acted as missionaries. 9
The biggest surprise was when Kulin
himself and the Roman Catholic Bishop of Bosnia became Bogomils,
shocking the Roman church.
The papacy and the Catholic king of
Hungary pressured Kulin to recant (under threat of war), which he
did in 1203. In spite of Kulin's "change of heart," Bogomilism
continued to grow and flourish.
When Kulin died in 1204 the worried Pope appointed a Roman Catholic
A group of missionaries arrived to convert the Bosnians. The
result? The Roman Catholic Ban converted to Bogomilism and Bogomil
churches spread like wildfire - not only in Bosnia, but in Slavonia,
Croatia, Istria, Dalmatia and Carniola.
As for the papal
missionaries, by 1221 there were no other priests in Bosnia except
In 1222 Hungary invaded in what was to be the first of at least
three crusades against the Bogomils, fashioned after the Albigensian
Crusades in France. The Bosnians immediately threw the Roman
Catholic Ban out of the country and appointed a Bogomil leader named
The war continued for years as a stalemate. Ninoslav
received the same pressure to convert to Catholicism as Kulin did
and complied, but the entire country saw through the same façade
from before and continued being Bogomils without batting an eye.
warfare smashed up the countryside but whenever the invaders
withdrew, the Bogomils went back to their faith, backed by the
strength and prosperity of the people.
By the late 1200's, after more failed attempts, Hungary chose not to
invade Bosnia. Frustrated voices in Rome began grumbling that
Hungary herself should be the object of a crusade.
In 1322, the powerful Subic family was toppled and
Stephen Kotromanic, a Bogomil, was elected as ban. He successfully acquired
the principality of Hum (later called Herzegovina) in 1326, foiling
Serbian and Hungarian attempts and giving Bosnia access to the sea
for the first time in its history.
Its prosperous farms and mining
operations now had a direct sea route for export.
This was a hugely
successful country, teeming with heretics.
It was only a year
earlier that the Pope had written to Kotromanic saying,
that thou art a faithful son of the Church, we therefore charge thee
to exterminate the heretics in thy dominions,… their speech crawleth
like a crab, and they creep in with humility, but in secret they
kill, and are wolves in sheep's clothing," etc.
Let's read this again.
Who was, in actuality, the one trying to
"kill in secret," by sending a letter to the king, asking that he
"exterminate" his own people?
A close study of the papacy and its
history will expose almost as much corruption as the mafia. Those
familiar with papal history will not find these tactics to be of any
The Bulgarian Tsar Boril, who ruled from 1207-1218, detested the
He had usurped the throne, having driven the rightful heir,
John Asen II, out of the country and into Russia. Anti-heretical
laws were issued and carried out in 1211, making these events almost
simultaneous with the Crusade against
the Cathars in the West.
Many heretics were tried and went to prison.
Followers of John Asen II dethroned Boril in 1218 and blinded him,
restoring the rightful heir to the throne. Asen, who ruled from
1218-1241, is considered the greatest of all Bulgarian monarchs, and
under his reign Bulgarian civilization reached its peak.
During Boril's reign the Bogomils had supported the absent Asen, and
John never forgot it. They now enjoyed complete protection and
freedom under him, suggesting a link between Bulgaria's greatness
and the protection and support of the Bogomils.
Pope Gregory IX
complained to the king of Hungary (of which Bulgaria was a satellite)
about the kind treatment the heretics were receiving. A crusade was
attempted in 1235, but failed miserably.
It was no coincidence that under the rule of John Asen II Bulgarian
civilization reached its peak. Bosnia achieved similar greatness
while allowing the Bogomils to flourish.
These were immensely
successful nations that were Gnostic in character and belief.
gives any foreign country or pope the right to dictate what a
certain nation's beliefs should be when they are at the height of
their civilization and quite happy internally?
The Cathar Legacy
Bogomilism entered Russia, but its biggest influence was on the
Cathars of southern France.
Cathar origins have been traced to Bogomil missionaries who are believed to have passed through the
Dalmatian coast and northern Italy to reach France in the tenth and
eleventh centuries. 11
Most serious researchers consider Catharism a
direct legacy of the Bogomils. A lesser camp contends that the
Cathars were formed independently by long-established Manichaean
schools in France, then connected with the Bogomils at the end of
the eleventh century.
According to the late Romanian scholar Ioan Couliano, this
difference stems from two distinct Cathar groups that existed,
that was simply Bogomil, and another one that preached a radical
dualism of intellectual origin, made up of a concoction of Origenism
The two types of Catharism may not share common
doctrines but they have similar ethics, stemming from Bogomilism."
Couliano reveals how this second Cathar group, in his view, also
originated in the Balkans.
Bogomilism directly influenced the Cathars by the twelfth century.
In his book
Aion - Researches into the Phenomenology of
the Self, C.G. Jung mentions a heretical document that was
found in the Archives of the Inquisition at Carcassonne, France.
This work, he says,
"concerns an alleged revelation which Christ's
favorite disciple John was vouchsafed as he
'rested in the Lord's
Jung notes that this Latin text contained the Old Bulgarian
word osob, which means something like "individuality" or "personality."
He also mentions how the Cathars, like the author of this text
(hinting at two distinct persuasions), regarded the Devil as creator
of this world and of man. 13
Jung's account clearly resembles Obolensky's description of the
Cathar Secret Book, also known as the
Liber Sancti Johannis or the
"…a dialogue between Jesus Christ and
disciple John the Evangelist. At the Last Supper St. John leans
on the breast of his Master and questions him on the origin of
the world, the spiritual life, and the end of all things."
To the Bogomils, the books of John have always been the most revered.
Moreover, on the Carcassonne manuscript the Inquisitors had written,
"This is the Secret Book of the Heretics of Concoresso, brought from
Bulgaria by Nazarius, their bishop, full of errors." 15
The Cathar Secret Book thus is a Latin translation of a Slavonic
work (only parts of which survive in the original) brought to the
West by a high-ranking Bogomil named Nazarius.
Hence the Bogomils,
if not directly responsible for the Cathars' teachings, at least
provided a strong influence on them.
This resemblance extends to similar initiatory prayer ceremonies and
a number of doctrines, including an exclusive preference for the
Lord's Prayer, the disavowal of marriage, a rejection of the
doctrine of the physical Incarnation, an emphasis on asceticism,
opposition to the instituted church, and belief in the Devil as a
son of God who is the unjust ruler of this world, and more.
During the Albigensian crusades many Cathars reportedly found refuge
Reniero Sacconi, an Italian Inquisitor, stated that the
Church of the Cathari extended from the Black Sea to the Atlantic.
The Black Sea flanks the Balkans, where no official Cathar
settlements had ever been established. He made this statement at
least four years before the Cathar crusades began, so it reflects
contact not only in time of need, but out of long-standing spiritual
The Cathars were brutally attacked in the Albigensian crusade
By 1244 more than one million Cathars had been
slaughtered in France. In 1209, for example, the Catholic bishop of
Citeaux ordered the entire population of Beziers, a Cathar city of
20,000, put to death and their city destroyed.
A minority of
Catholics died because the papal legate ordered his soldiers, who
wanted to save them,
"Kill them all; God will sort them out."
Balkans murders did occur but the mass extermination of entire towns,
including women and children, was not considered.
The greatest time in the nations of Bosnia and Bulgaria was when
this form of heresy was allowed to thrive, without outside
interference. The Languedoc area of southern France, home of the
Cathars, was equally prosperous before the Church launched its
This wealth and success may have been what drew their
Most of the nobles were Cathars, upper class children
attended Cathar schools, literacy rates were the highest in Europe,
citizens were the most educated in France, there was less class
distinction, and Christians and Cathars lived peacefully together
without considering themselves enemies before
hawkish gaze upon them.
This successful way of life was virtually
the same blueprint, passed down from the Bogomils.
By the fourteenth century Bogomilism was in decline, partly because
of what Obolensky calls the "general moral decline of the age,"
partly because of the influence of
The name comes
from a Syriac word meaning "those who pray."
Their primary belief
was that all are born with an indwelling demon that can be driven
out only through prayer (rather than through baptism, as Orthodox
Christians believed). For those who had expelled their demons, sin
was no longer possible, so many Messalians indulged in sexual
excesses that were frowned upon by their Orthodox opponents.
lived in strict poverty, did no manual labor, and women were allowed
to teach among them.
The Messalians entered Bulgaria during the eighth and ninth
centuries and influenced Bogomilism strongly when it arose. The two
sects existed separately up to and during the eleventh, but a fusion
began to occur in the following century to the point where the two
sects were fused completely together by the fourteenth century.
influence of the Messalians, with their extreme sexual indulgence,
caused the Bogomils to lose their strongly puritanical streak.
Hungary finally defeated Bosnia in 1408. 126 of Bosnia's wealthiest
and most influential noblemen were beheaded and thrown into the Bosna River from the rocks of Doboj.
Remaining nobles like King
Sigismund's chief Bogomil opponent, Hrvoje, surrendered in early
As a reward he was allowed to retain his former acquisitions, along
with his title of Duke of Split, and he was appointed by Sigismund
as his lieutenant in Bosnia.
He also received possessions in
Hungary, namely Pozega together with its county and its seigneury of
Segesd in Somogy. 17
This arrangement didn't last.
In 1413 Hrvoje, whose outpost was in
southern Bosnia, attacked Herzegovina, a neighboring Hungarian
protectorate. Sigismund immediately confiscated all of Hrvoje's
lands and declared him a rebel.
The extensive lands of Hrvoje
accepted their direct Hungarian seizure without a fuss, but Hrvoje
did not. His protest to Hungarian barons went on deaf ears so Hrvoje,
now an outcast, turned to the Turks.
The Turks had made their first invasion into Bosnia in 1386 and from
then on continued with raids and invasions. They took a permanent
foothold in part of southern Bosnia around 1414, about the same time
Hrvoje recruited them.
In the winter of 1413-1414 combined forces of Bogomils and Turks took a number of castles back from the
Hungarians. A larger merged force then went after the Hungarians. In
1415 they crushed the Hungarian army a few miles from the rocks of
Dojob, in the battle of Usora.
Most of the Hungarian soldiers were
killed; those who survived were ransomed for a huge sum.
battle devastated Hungary so badly that their influence in the
region was reduced to almost nothing, and it took more than a decade
for them to successfully return and restore some influence.
Throughout the fifteenth century the Turks continued their
expansion. Constantinople fell in 1453, Serbia, which had briefly
regained its independence, was retaken in 1459, and a final invasion
of Bosnia occurred in 1463.
The last Bosnian king, Tomasevic, was
the first and last to have been originally crowned with the approval
the Catholic Church.
He was beheaded along with many of his
supporting nobles in 1463.
Many Bogomils welcomed the invasion. Having suffered continual
persecution by both the Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches,
"they preferred to be conquered by
the Sultan than converted by the Pope." 18
The new rulers encouraged their subjects
to convert to Islam; those who did were allowed to retain their land
and feudal privileges.
Some enjoyed even higher status:
who converted to Islam became free peasants.
On the other hand,
Christians who did not convert became serfs without rights of
property or citizenship under Moslem law.
As one source puts it,
"In Bosnia and Herzegovina
Christians were crushed and exploited both by Turks who became
landowners and by their own converted upper classes." 19
Who were these converted upper classes? Often they were Bogomil
Retaining their own language,
"they displayed the customary
zeal of converts and out-Ottomaned the Ottomans in their religious
fanaticism," becoming, at times, "keener in the cause of Islam than
the Commander of the Faithful himself." 20
By the end of the
fifteenth century the Bogomils had merged into the general Muslim
If the Church had made a deal with the Bogomils as had been done
with Islam, allowing them spiritual freedom within the Christian
fold, things might have been different. Hungary was continually
manipulated as an invading force in Bosnia when everyone
(Hungarians, Bosnians and Rome) could have fought against the
Ottomans rather than fighting against each other.
The spread of
Islam could have been thwarted or diminished.
Rebecca West summed it
"Had it not been for the intolerance
of the Papacy we would not have had Turkey in Europe for five
hundred years." 21
Deunov and Aivanhov
In more recent times we have had two Bulgarian-born mystics, Peter Deunov and his disciple
Omraam Mikhael Aivanhov, who claim a
spiritual descent from the Bogomils.
They cannot be strictly
classified as Bogomils, but could have been blood descendants, and
their teachings clearly carry on in the same spirit.
Peter Deunov (1864-1944) received a doctorate in theology in America
before returning to Bulgaria, where he became a venerated saint. By
the time of his death he had over 40,000 followers despite being
accused by the Bulgarian clergy of corrupting the people.
teachings are still practiced in at least 26 countries worldwide.
Deunov's student, Omraam Mikhael Aivanhov (1900-1986), left Bulgaria
in 1938 to settle in France, but remained a devoted disciple for his
Author Georg Feuerstein states,
"Through Peter Deunov,
who resuscitated the ancient gnostic heritage of his homeland,
Aivanhov was in touch with a powerful lineage going back to the
Bogomils of the tenth century A.D. and earlier gnostic schools."
Aivanhov shared a similar interpretive style with the Bogomils,
looking at the Bible in a deeper, more mystical sense. He spoke of
many ancient truths, previously lost, that he felt were expressed in
Feuerstein calls him,
"a master at the task of
interpreting the ancient esoteric lore to his contemporaries who
have all but forgotten their own heritage of wisdom." 23
The Bogomils are gone today.
Their achievements have never been well
known in the West, but remain an important part of Gnostic and
religious history, showing us how one group with determination can
not only survive, but flourish for hundreds of years in the midst of
Dmitri Obolensky, The Byzantine
Commonwealth: Eastern Europe, 500-1453 (New York: Praeger,
1971), pp. 125-6.
Will Durant, The Age of Faith (New York: Simon & Schuster,
1950), p. 769.
James Hastings, ed., Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics,
vol. 1 (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1928), p. 784.
Donald M. Nicol, Church and Society in the Last Centuries of
Byzantium (London: Cambridge University Press, 1979), pp.
Dmitri Obolensky, The Bogomils (London: Cambridge University
Press, 1948), p. 215.
Obolensky, The Byzantine Commonwealth, p. 122.
Quoted in Obolensky, The Bogomils, p. 203.
Ibid., p. 205.
H.C. Darby, R.W. Seton-Watson, et al., A Short History of
Yugoslavia (London: Cambridge University Press, 1966), p.
Obolensky, The Bogomils, p. 234.
Ioan P. Couliano, The Tree of Gnosis (New York:
HarperCollins, 1992), p. 41.
C.G. Jung, Aion: Researches into the Phenomenology of the
Self, trans. R.F.C. Hull (Princeton: Princeton University
Press, 1959), pp. 145-48.
Obolensky, The Bogomils, p. 227.
Steven Runciman, The Medieval Manichee (Cambridge, England:
Cambridge University Press, 1947), p. 108.
The Bogomils, p. 264.
Pal, Engel, The Realm of St. Stephen: A History of Medieval
Hungary, 895-1526, trans. by Tamas Palosfalvi, (I.B. Tauris,
Hungary, 2001), p. 234.
Phyllis Auty, Yugoslavia (New York: Walker and Co., 1965),
Darby, Seton-Watson, et al., p. 64.
Rebecca West, Black Lamb and Grey Falcon: A Journey through
Yugoslavia (MacMillan & Co., London, 1942), p. 301.
Georg Feuerstein, The Mystery of Light: The Life and
Teaching of Omraam Mikhael Aivanhov (Sandy, Utah: Passage
Press, 1994), ms. p. 318.
Ibid, p. 334.