Medieval Albigensians: Bath’s reincarnated heretics

My mother says that when she lived in Bath in the 1960s, a few women living there were convinced that they were medieval Albigensians reincarnated. Can you tell us any more about this?

This article was first published in 2010

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This concerns psychiatrist and author Dr Arthur Guirdham (1905–92), who wrote books on extra-sensory perception and reincarnation. In the 1960s he was a consultant at an NHS clinic in Bath, but in his spare time he was becoming increasingly fascinated by the Cathars – Albigensians – the heretical Gnostic sect which flourished in medieval France.

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In his book The Cathars and Reincarnation (1970) he described how a patient, ‘Mrs Smith’, a housewife in her 30s, told him about terrible nightmares she had been suffering since her teens. Guirdham became convinced these dreams were of a past life as a peasant girl in medieval Toulouse. He further believed that he himself had been a Cathar cleric, and that he and Mrs Smith had been acquainted in their previous lives. Mrs Smith, he said, provided some impressive detail of this past life, things she could not possibly have known or learned at school, including the words to a song in a medieval French dialect.

Guirdham later claimed that he encountered others who also had memories of lives as Cathars. While he was a scientist whose methodology appears meticulous, sceptics say it’s all wishful thinking, and that Mrs Smith and others allowed their memories to be ‘suggested’ by the doctor.

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Answered by Eugene Byrne, author and journalist.