“In my darkest hour of battling cancer, a ray of hope glimmered in the realm of l’imaginaire.”
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At age 61 on October 5, 2008 my dear sister Barbara passed through “the veils of time” shortly after I kissed her goodbye and as her son and my younger sister were driving me home. Known by many of her friends and colleagues as the silver-haired “White Raven,” she graduated with honors from the Minneapolis College of Art and Design (MCAD) and completed her post-graduate studies at the Royal College of Art in London. She was a highly creative artist, craft maker, poet and writer who served on the State Arts Board and MCAD’s Board of Directors.
She finished her second book shortly before she died. The first one, “Eclipse of Fate: My Healing Journey Through Past-Life Recall,” was published in November 2005 after she was diagnosed with third-stage cancer in January 2002 and rejected standard forms of therapy, and after in September and October of 2003 she journeyed through the Ariege region of southern France to research the ancient communal faith of the Papal-resisting Cathars and her revered “Past-Life” precursor, Esclarmonde de Foix.
After I attended my daughter’s wonderful Sept. 11 wedding at the 16th-century Chateau de Castelbon in the foothills of that beautiful Pyrenees Mountains region, I, Sabrina, three of our relatives and a close friend journeyed to Montsegur, a daunting fortress castle that rests on a rocky 3,959-foot peak. In “Eclipse of Fate” Barbara writes that Esclarmonde de Foix became a Cathar “Parfaite” in 1209 and “inspired” the castle’s reconstruction “to safely house the Cathar initiates, along with their spiritual and earthly treasures.”
Surviving a 40-minute climb on a narrow, slippery path with vertigo-inducing ledges, I securely placed my sister’s Minnesota North Shore stone in a wall of the castle and tearfully read “Eclipse of Fate” passages to my fellow climbers.
After a 10-month siege initiated by Pope Innocent IV and the King of France, over 200 remaining Carthars refused to abandon their faith and were burned at the stake in a field below the castle on March 16, 1244. Our Sept. 13, 2008 journey marked the fifth anniversary of my sister’s “terrifying” journey to Montsegur and the shrine for its martyrs.
On Sept. 15, my last full day in France, I journeyed early in the morning through mist-covered mountains to the small, bustling city of Foix. High above it rests the dramatic 10th-century Foix Castle and its superb museum. For decades Knights Templar and Foix counts protected Cathars from Papal “holy wars.” And from that castle to her Montsegur sanctuary, Vicomtesse Esclarmonde de Foix vacated her royal position and became the last Cathar queen of the Holy Graal.
I climbed to the parapets of the castle’s center tower and stood in the exact place where on Sept. 30, 2003, Barbara had her picture taken for the book. On a bright sunny day with a deep azure sky, our views of the city and the mountains that soar above it were magnificent.
In my last Foix hour I walked from the castle to the city’s “bibliotheque,” and with my limited French was able to explain she would soon die from cancer and wished to donate a special copy of her book to the people and spiritual history of that region. On Page 137 she writes: “Out of all my travels I had finally found my roots in Foix. It was my home at last.” I received a warm hug and “Merci beaucoup!” from the young librarian.
Few people can leave such a legacy; and before Barbara died I was able to describe Sabrina’s wedding and my journeys, and give her mementos of Foix and other Cathar sites she especially cherished.
On October 11 and 12 some of her ashes were scattered near Two Harbors and the Split Rock Lighthouse overlooking Lake Superior, and in a grove of trees above Grand Marais on her beloved North Shore. From one of her last journeys there she brought me her sacred Montsegur stone. And before I left for France, she and her cat “Tiger Boy” gave it a final kiss.
Her remaining ashes will be shared with friends and family members at the November 1 party she arranged to celebrate her life. I’ll recite the “Eclipse of Fate” passages I read on that rain swept day in the haunting ruins of Montsegur. She ends them by saying: “The light never seemed so bright until I was caught within the black web of despair. Life never felt so wonderful until I faced death after the dark night of the soul and remembered. In the divine act of surrender to the Creator there remains one truth of survival in the present time. . . Live each moment as if it is your last. Fin amour!”*
*In the Middle Ages “Fin amour” was a Cathar term for “perfect unconditional love.” The name Cathars originated from the Greek word “cathari,” meaning “pure.” For more on Barbara’s artistry, poetry and “Eclipse of Fate,” please journey to graalqueen.com.
This is an update of the original version published in the Planet on October 8, 2008.