“Lyon has a past—an alternative spiritual background,” our French friend who was born there said significantly, as we were preparing for the visit to this second-major city in France.
Lyon certainly does have a past. To begin with, it was the capital of Three Gauls that housed major shrines both to the Great Mother, the supreme deity, and to the Celtic God of Light, Lug. The hill where the shrines were located has been considered sacred since remote times. And at its foot developed le Vieux Lyon with its remarkable “past.”
In the 2nd century there thrived Gnosticism, the esoteric undercurrent of Christianity. In the 4th century, the worship of the Great Mother was transformed into the cult of the Black Madonna (which continues to this day). During the Middle Ages, the Old Lyon was honeycombed with traboules, narrow passageways that connected parallel streets through houses. In that way, when the Church launched religious raids, the alchemists could quickly escape through the warren of passageways not visible from the streets.
Lyon was also one of the major centers of the Knights Templar, followed by Egyptian Freemasonry. The first lodge was created in 1782 by controversial and mysterious Count Cagliostro. Finally, in the 20th century, the Theosophically-inspired Catholic Liberal Church taught the doctrine of reincarnation and the occult science.
But it wasn’t all alchemy and esoterica in the Old Lyon. As economic tides moved south, the Old Lyon became impoverished. A period of acute poverty set in and lasted until fifty years ago. And that was the first thing I picked up while walking through the warren of narrow streets—an underlying energy of angst and hopelessness.