The Cathar Connection:
An Interview with Sylvia Charlewood
by Deni Gross
My wish is to help, to heal, to comfort and to inspire hope in people who do not understand that Life cannot be extinguished, but continues beyond physical death. – Sylvia Charlewood
D.G. : Sylvia, you live in England and once called your ancestors “social climbers.” Can you tell us a little more about your fascinating background?
Through my father’s “social climbing” forebears, I am related to many of the aristocratic families of England and Scotland, and via Grandma, Ireland. My husband is also well-connected, even to the Bowes-Lyons, of whom the late Elizabeth Queen Mother was the best known member. My father's family arrived with William the Conqueror. In thanks for their services at the battle of Hastings, they were given land in many counties: Wiltshire, Kent, Bedfordshire and Buckinghamshire. Later they accrued lands in Shopshire and Devon and anywhere in England that has the name “Cheney” tacked on to it. Some became barons, some married off their daughters to lesser lords, gentry and rich men. Some sons married upwards. One lady, Elizabeth Cheney, married and became the great grandmother of Anne Boleyn, Jane Seymour and Catherine Howard and thus via Anne, great, great grandmother to Queen Elizabeth the First.
Sir Charles Cheney (also spelled Cheyne, Cheyney, as I have letters addressed to my grandfather with all those spellings) of Cheyne Manor, Buckinghamshire, married Jane, the daughter of William Cavendish, the Marquis (later the Duke) of Newcastle, who was one of King Charles the First’s generals during the English Civil War. I descend from Robert, who was a younger son, so didn't get left much! He was reduced to being a yeoman, a landowner but not a lord. Robert descended directly from Rolf, the war-lord who came to England with Duke William and fought for him with his own retainers at Hastings. Those family members who remained in France also did well for themselves. I have found them amongst the Counts of Foix! Some married into the ducal family of Brittany, and those who remained in Normandy were also quite rich and famous. I, however, am not! My mother was the daughter of a Jewish father whose family came from Amsterdam and an Irish lady, the daughter of the oldest son of an Irish lord and the parlour maid. Grandmother converted to Judaism to marry Grandpa, but died when my mother was only eight years old.
D.G. : You and your family experienced first-hand the Second World War, correct?
I remember my mother being baptized and confirmed into the Church of England when I was about three or four years old. The war was not going well. Although she was married to an Englishman, it would not have saved her from Hitler. I found that all our names were on his “hit list” for extermination when he had won the war. I was once shot at by a passing German plane and thought Hitler personally knew where I was and was out to get me! Because my mother’s family was Jewish and well-known in London, she arranged for us to live in the countryside. Any relatives who had not left Holland died in the “camps.”
D.G. : Sylvia, you describe yourself as a “well-educated and cultured woman, a historian, linguist, poet, story writer, teacher, business woman, good wife, mother and grandparent.” Yet you fail to mention your “gift.” Would you care to describe it for us?
My first encounter with spirit beings which I remember was at the age of about eight months. I had been put to bed at six o’clock, as always, but was wide awake and watching the play of shadows on the wall opposite the window of my parents’ bedroom. Opposite me was my mother’s dressing table in a recess on one side of the fireplace. On the other side, the recess was empty. As I watched the shadow of the trees on the wall, a lady and gentleman in funny clothes billowed through the solid wall in the empty recess. I did not as yet have very many words, but I knew that Mummy and Daddy and Maureen came in through doors, so I was frightened and began to cry. When that did not evoke a response, I began to scream and pulled myself up by the cot bars in order to scream louder. My mother came, put me over her shoulder and tried to comfort me. I tried to indicate the recess and to say “man” and “lady.” I don’t know how well I managed this, but it must have worked, because my mother laid me down and tucked in me so tightly that I could not move.
D.G. : That is certainly amazing! With a gift like that manifesting at such a young age, you must have had some unusual childhood experiences.
I continued to see and hear people who others did not. When I was very young, we used to visit my mother’s father who lived in a tall Georgian house. He and his second wife lived in the upper part of the house, having allowed some relations to live on the ground floor. A friend used to come to play with me when we visited there. She was a little girl of about the same age as me, maybe a little bit older. She had the prettiest dresses, always light colours and frilly like party frocks. I never did ask her name, but we always played very happily together and she knew my name. One day, we were very naughty. We unraveled one of the silk tassels on Grandpa’s chair. We made a spider web all round the room and played at being spiders and flies. It was great fun!
When my mother came to call me for tea, my friend had gone but the spider web had not. I tried to explain that my friend had suggested using the tassel, but my mother was cross. She asked where the friend had gone. I said I didn’t know. When my mother said that she could not have gone out by the door because my mother would have seen her, I said that perhaps my friend had jumped out of the window. We were, of course, already upstairs, but I had forgotten that. I was soundly spanked. I had to clear up the silk, apologize to Grandpa and have no tea. Years later when the house changed hands, I heard that a trunk full of very pretty Edwardian little girl’s clothes was found in the attic.
Another day, my sister was at school, my mother was having a nap, Granddad was working at the other end of the garden and I was playing by myself on the cottage lawn. A man leaned over the garden gate and asked me where he was. I told him the name of the lane, but he pretended not to hear and asked me to come closer, which I did.
As soon as I was near enough he grabbed me, and put me on his bicycle (there were very few cars about during the war). He took me a long way from home into the fields. I was very scared but I could still see the church spire, so I knew that I would be able to find my way home. He began to touch me, and I didn’t like it. I didn’t like him either, as I felt that he was a bad man. So I asked him if he could see the blue sky up above, and he said that he could. “God is up there in the sky,” I told him. “If you do anything bad to me, God will see you and he will be very cross with you.” He took me back to the cottage and dropped me over the garden gate. It was only a little gate, so I landed softly.
In the single local police car available, having combed the lanes to find the criminal, my mother and I sat in the back with him. The policeman in the passenger seat leaned his arm over the seat-back and asked the man, “Why didn’t you rape and strangle this one then?” The man answered, “She told me God was watching, so I took her home.” It transpired that this man was a rapist and murderer who liked very young girls and had escaped from an institution. God’s arms were beneath me and around me, and something outside my own experience told me what to say. How else would an innocent little girl know how to prevent a crime?
D.G. : And as an adult, you’ve decided to use your gifts as a “Spiritualist” to help others.
I do what I do for no fees, just for love of humanity. If offered money, I suggest that it be given to charity. If someone insists on giving me money, I give it to charity. I have never kept any money made from working as a medium. I regard my gift as a gift from God, given so that I can offer people comfort. It is all about Love, you know! I am sure that there are many who would take issue with the Spiritualist way of thinking, but to me it is a religion, God-based, and which preserves the seven principles that were handed down from Robert Owen, a great humanitarian. These include:
1. The Fatherhood of God;
2. The Brotherhood of man;
3. The Communion of Spirits and the Ministry of Angels;
4. The continuous existence of the Human Soul;
5. Personal responsibility;
6. Compensation and retribution for all the good and evil deeds done on Earth;
7. Eternal progress open to every human soul.
In Great Britain, the Spiritualists' National Union (SNU) is recognized as a religious body, our Ministers are recognized by the Home Office, and we worship legally, usually in a building which we own. In Cheltenham where I live, our church was built in 1927 by a local Justice of the Peace and social reformer and is run under the auspices of the SNU.
D.G. : You have said, “With God, all things are possible, and God’s love allows the children of God to communicate with each other, even after one of them has passed on.” What do you say to those who believe that this is not possible – that you are simply communicating with the “shells” of those Beings who have passed away?
I have met many people from many walks of life including members of the Royal Family, and no one has ever been offended by my being a medium. I certainly don't talk to the “shells” of any people. They are always fully awake and aware when they speak with me. They are as intelligent as when they lived in a body. What they say via me to their loved ones may sometimes seem trivial to others, but it always means a great deal to those who come searching for comfort.
At the age of 14 when my father wished me to be confirmed in the Church of England, I told our Vicar that I was too wicked to be confirmed. He eventually got out of me that I saw and heard people others did not and told me that I was not wicked – I was a medium. He explained it as a gift from God. He told me: “So long as you always use it to help people and not to make money, you will do no wrong.” I have done as I was told to do by that good man and my gift has helped the police to catch a murderer, forestall another murder and armed robbery and, I believe, over some thirty years, to bring comfort to many grieving people.
D.G. : Sylvia, there is another aspect of your fascinating experiences which I wish to address. Let’s call it your “Cathar Connection.” It is my understanding that you vividly recall an incarnation as a member of the Cathars, a persecuted religious sect in Europe in the Middle Ages, and that this recollection came about rather unexpectedly one day when you wrote some poetry and prose about the Cathars.
The writings and poems started to arrive about September 1997, when I was recovering from cancer. I always sleep with pen and paper handy. One morning I woke up to find 18 foolscap pages of writing, both sides of each sheet, full of information about how someone ate, dressed, worked, their religious beliefs, and how they carried out healing. I knew nothing of the Cathars at that time. I had never heard of them, but my friend, Jay, had. When I showed her what I had found (written in something which was not my usual script), she recognized it and said, “You were Bertrand, my companion in the old days.” I then recognized her as Guillielm, from our far memories as Cathars.
D.G. : And over time you began putting together the mysterious pieces of this past life you had shared with your friend Jay?
I had vaguely heard that a strange religious group had been persecuted somewhere in France in the early years of “modern history.” I woke one morning, not having had any dreams that I recalled, but with the name of a person and a place clear in my mind, a definite memory so strong that I researched the name of the place. I have never been to Normandy, and the place is a tiny hamlet around a small ancient castle. My name was Bertrand.
I remembered playing in the fields around the castle with the little boys from the village. I was the youngest son of a little Norman warlord. I knew that I had two older brothers and at least one sister. My oldest brother would inherit our father's lands, the next brother was married to an heiress, and my sister would get our mother's dowry when she married. There was nothing left for me. One day my father told me to ask my nurse to tidy me up. When I went back to him, he put me in front of him on his horse and we rode a long way. We came to a gatehouse and rode in. It was a monastery and we rode right up to the Abbott's lodging, where my father took me in. A man was sitting at a big polished table. My father pushed me forward, laid a purse in front of the man and said, “Father, here are 12 marks, and here's my son. I have nothing else to give him. You can bring him up as a monk.” He told me to mind my manners and left. I never saw any of my family again.
I became a good scholar. Eventually I was asked to write to a man, a well-known scholar, much my age and make sure that he did not leave the Roman Church, turning towards heresy. My job was to ensure that he “returned to the arms of mother Church.” We developed a friendship by letter. I found there was much hypocrisy in the Roman Catholic Church, while my new friend Guillielm (my current-day friend Jay) was clearly a decent man, God-fearing and with some revolutionary ideas and ideals. I absconded, met up with him and eventually became a Cathar along with him. Then after training, I became a Parfait, a Cathar leader and priest.
D.G. : But you, along with Guillielm and over 200 other Cathars, met a tragic demise at the castle of Montsegur in 1244 at the hands of the Inquisition, who sent you all to the stake as heretics. This must have continued to affect you even into your present incarnation.
Guillielm and I worked together and eventually were together at Montsegur when the castle capitulated, and we went together to the flames. As a child, I always had a strange thing happen when I was sick and running a fever. A shape would emerge right in front of me, which looked like a castle on a big hill. I described it as “growing out of my tummy.” I also suffered a recurrent nightmare in which I had to go up an extremely steep path to enter the same castle. I was terrified of wells, but in my dream, I had to pass between two deep wells, one on either side of the castle gate. When I did finally visit Montsegur, I recognized the castle on the mountain as the one that “grew out of my tummy.” I later discovered that the original castle had two deep wells, one on either side of the entrance. There is no actual spring within the castle, so these were to catch rain and melt-water from the very deep snow up there in winter.
D.G. : In 2004, you published a book of poetry called Greening the Laurel, which you dedicated to the Cathars who had been put to death by the Inquisition. Below is one of the poems, called Holy Bread, from that book.
I did not know they kept our crusts
when we had shared their simple fare –
those people we could truly trust;
whose wish to have us there
was greater than their greed:
fortunes were offered for our lives,
and these were folk in need!
We were secure from lies and knives –
our secret safe with them –
and many women carried books
hid by their garments’ hem!
And so by wisdom and by stealth
our ministry we plied,
helping sick ones into health,
Consoling, when they died.
Teaching always the simple creed
by which we lived –
for which we died.
And, after many years, I learnt
that men had heard it said
they kept crusts left by those who burnt
and called them Holy Bread!
D.G. : Your poem is a touching tribute to some very special people.
The most lovely thing that I have found is that at Minerve, where one of the early mass burnings took place, a sculptor called Jean -Luc Severac has carved a dove flying upward. It is a dove-shaped hole in a slab of rock, so the effect is of a dove of light. He said that the only way to commemorate the Cathars is with Light, because they were Light!
D.G. : Sylvia, do you feel there is any connection between your having been a Cathar at one time and your current involvement in TRIUNE OF LIGHT?
Being a member of TRIUNE sits well with the Cathar tenets of service to God and mankind, the spiritual contact and connection with like-minded souls, and to esoteric work for good.
D.G. : Not to mention the fact that I, too, (and perhaps many others) have a far memory of having been incarnated as a Cathar! But that’s another story for another day.