The Language of the Birds
Before focusing directly on the subject at hand, let us review the history.
On October 13, 1307, the king of France, Philippe le Bel, ordered the arrest of the members of the Knights Templars. In the afternoon of March 19, 1314 the order of the Temple was definitively eliminated with Jacques de Molay's death at the stake on the l’Ile aux Juifs in Paris. It was on this critical afternoon that the masters of the builders' fraternities launched what the Companions traditionally call the Strike of the Cathedrals.
In three weeks the word spread over all the construction sites in provinces controlled by the king. All the workers, from master to apprentice, put down their tools and either left France or returned to their families. Medieval sacred society died in this strike and the emigration that followed. No church or chapel would ever again be built according to the rules of sacred construction, that art which uses stone to magnify the telluric forces of the wouïvre and confer this energy on the believers within. For Europe this signals the beginning of the Inquisition and the dictatorship of the church.
Those who stay on must leave their fraternities and, if they want to remain alive, melt into the anonymity of civil society.
Those who leave go for the most part to northern Italy, where they will generate the Renaissance in their work for the princes. Some fraternities go yet farther away: one from Poitou went as far as the Middle East, in the last Frankish (Christian) kingdom that still resisted Islam, that of the Lusignans of Cilicie, wedged between today's Syria and Turkey.
A small kingdom pledged to the Romano-Germanic emperor, Cilicie disappeared under the blows of the Marmelukes in 1375. The sons of those who participated in the cathedral strike returned to Christian lands, to the effervescence of Northern Italy where, known as "Sarrasins" they invested their knowledge, like a bottle thrown into the sea, in the tarot.
So when we speak of the "language of the birds" we must articulate two periods: before the Strike, when this "tongue" is spoken in the language of goth* art and is expressed in words and images on all the cathedral building sites, and after the Strike, when it goes underground.
The language of the birds functions through spontaneity and direct comprehension. A classic example, though late – probably 17th century – can be found in the names of old inns on old roads in France. There are many roadside inns bearing signs « au lion d’or » (at the golden lion), or « au cochon d’or »(at the golden pig).
What does the image mean? Nothing in particular; just a golden lion, often badly drawn, or a golden pig. Why then give such a seemingly stupid name to an inn? Because once "au lit on dort " (in bed one sleeps), or at the place where the coach stops (au coche) "on dort" (one sleeps). Coche was the name in old French for pig.
We find ourselves in the play on words which characterises this "language of the birds". Of course the people of this time did not just focus on such foolishness. Their jargon, as sons of Mother Goose*, subjects of the Queen Pédauque*, as men "pattés*" was that of baby geese (oisons) and not birds (oiseaux). We are in the tradition of "Maitre Jacque's children." For these magicians, as for certain Sufis of today, what counted above all was the creation of that magic instant of suspended time, this astonishment by which we are all connected with the divine. Their word plays must literally "take your breath away". The cagots of Southwestern France bore the last vestiges of this culture and wore, until around 1730, a goose's footprint in red cloth sewn on the left shoulder.
The language of goslings dating from the first period is perfectly direct, meant to be taken literally, at the instant.
At the Romanesque-Byzantine abbey built by Eléonore d’Aquitaine at Souillac (department of Lot), the capital of the 8th ambulatory pillar depicts doves putting their beaks in an owl's ear. This is Athena's owl of course, and represents access to knowledge. At Talmont in the Charente, it is a heron which relates to the owl. >
During one of my visits to Souillac I calmly pursued my labyrinth while paying special attention to the different images sculpted on the capitals in the choir. Coming to the 8th pillar and not understanding the image, I put my back against it and closed my eyes, creating as much stillness as I could, and waited. I was not disappointed. After some minutes of waiting and meditative idling, my ears were literally ripped apart by a terrible noise. Emerging from my torpor with a powerful shock and opening my eyes, I found that I was alone except for a tourist who was standing at the entrance in the process of putting a postcard in an envelope!!!
It was this infinitesimal sound which had, from sixty meters away, literally blown my head away. Since it was the third time that I had heard a sound of this type, I immediately understood that this was the sound's second harmonic, audible only from that specific spot. That is why the birds unstop the owl's ears and offer you access to what the ancients called the "third ear".
That is the language of the birds. Expression is direct: you are told to stand up against the pillar in order to have your subtle ear unblocked. If you try and fix on a "symbol" which explains this image you risk getting caught up in verbiage and entirely missing the event itself, and it is only this experience that interested the ancients.
Many are the images of this sort, and many are the astonishing experiences at our disposal if we manage to not analyse what we see; but just experiment. All European Romanesque churches and chapels are loaded with these images. It is up to you to see them and let them live within you. Back against the pillar, let yourself be "bewitched": that is goth* art.
Thus we see this language of the goslings already expressed on two levels: a game of words and images, a game of image and experimentation.
When the engraver Nicolas Conver places three dots on the breast of arcane XV, The Devil, one must read his message as simply as possible: Freemasonry is a Devil. That's all! All further explanation is superfluous.
After the Templars' extermination and the arrival of the Inquisition, the social life of Europe slipped back into the repression of the old sciences. Tens of thousands of fires were lit. Only certain professions retained their traditions over the centuries: doctors, apothecaries, builders and a few others. The language of the goslings, flown to other skies since March 19, 1314, becomes the language of the birds and goes underground to become the language of initiates. Its word plays become increasingly savant, even employing Greek.
As for the alchemists' image games, some are still understandable, but many must be approached with considerable erudition.
From time to time we meet individuals whose freshness and spontaneity of language create, like a blow to the plexus, that moment of astonishment. Each of them is, at that instant at least, The Fool who reactivates the language of the birds.
January 6, 2004 at Sainte-Suzanne
art goth* : the least bad definition seems to stem from the Greek origin of the word goth: art of light, art of spirit
My Mother Goose*: traditional collection of oral teachings, later re-worked by Perrault.
Queen Pédauque* : legendary queen of the Romanesque people
pattés* : having the goose footprint in red cloth sewn on the left shoulder, as the Jews wore the yellow star