Knights of the Temple (Part 1)
By Brian Hoggard
(Originally published at Beltane 1996)
There have been many books written which incorporate the Knights Templar. This article is intended as an introduction to who they were, what was odd about them and what happened to them. The best history of them that I have read is Dungeon, Fire and Sword - The Knights Templar in the Crusades by John J Robinson, which I urge those with an interest in these knights to read. Occult interpretations of certain of their activities should be set within the context of their recognised history as far as is possible, and this book, arguably, is the best source from which to do it. If you want to immerse yourself in the evidence for their more mysterious activities the books by Baignent, Leigh and Lincoln, Pickett and Prince, and Graham Hancock (see references) should be enough to keep you awe-struck for many months after you purchase them. Ready for a bit of head worship and orifice-kissing? Then I'll begin ....
The Founding of the Order
Founded in 1118ce and destroyed on Friday 13th 1307, the Knights Templar, or Poor Knights of Christ of the Temple of Solomon to quote their full title(1), have contributed to modern society the most inauspicious date in the calendar, so that even those who know nothing of them are influenced indirectly by them through superstition. The purpose of forming the Order was to protect pilgrims travelling to the Holy Land from bandits, muggers and Saracens. Unlike most medieval knights, the Templars took vows of poverty (represented on their seal as two knights sharing one horse), chastity and obedience. They were monks, but they were fearsome warriors as well, and their service won them a glorious reputation as pious Brothers dedicated to the Lord and benevolent to pilgrims. It also won them gifts and donations from wealthy Europeans which other religious orders envied, and it ultimately won them the ultimate gift available to any religious order. Pope Innocent II granted them total freedom from every authority but his own. They were answerable to no monarch, law, bishop or archbishop, and they could collect tithes but didn't have to pay any themselves - basically they were above every law and answerable only to the Pope. It was this freedom which also allowed them their own chaplains, churches and cemeteries(2). And it was this that contributed to their aura of secrecy and enabled them to do whatever they liked behind closed doors.
There are some curiosities about their foundation. When they arrived in Jerusalem in 1119, which at that time was a Christian Kingdom after a successful Crusade, they asked King Baldwin if they could have their headquarters on the Temple Mount (the site of the original Temple of Solomon). The King consented and gave them part of the Al-Asqa Mosque adjacent to the Dome of the Rock, despite the fact that his palace was also there. What is most unusual about this is that at this point there were only nine knights, and they remained only nine in number for the first nine years of their existence(3), and there is no evidence that they protected pilgrims during this period(4). The most striking point about this to my mind is that while these nine French blokes were claiming to protect pilgrims and actually doing very little (apparently) for the first nine years of their order's existence, the Knights Hospitaller were actually doing this job and providing food and accommodation for these pilgrims to a high standard. They never received the same freedoms from the Pope as the Templars, but eventually created their own freedom when they managed to acquire Malta for their own personal use (incidentally, this order was the source of what is now the St John's ambulance brigade). It seems strange that this anomaly was not recorded at the time and that all the Templars' benefactors were so easily duped. (.... or were they?)
After the Templars were recognised by the Pope there was a rapid increase in the amount of donations they received. This often included land, which was then turned to profit. When new members were recruited into the order they turned all of their possessions over to the Temple, and because many knights were nobles many estates were acquired for the order throughout Europe. Where they had territory they often set up a preceptory where the Templars lived out their monastic rule, and they sometimes set up a larger church too (instead of the usual small chapel attached to a preceptory). Temple Church in London is the most famous English Templar church, but they had a church at Garway in Herefordshire and also one in Hereford itself(5) to name the only two known Templar churches in Hereford and Worcester. The outstanding feature of Templar and also Hospitaller churches is their round nave (the nave is the bit people normally sit in to listen to services). This was done to imitate the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem which was a symbol of the Holly Land and where the Templars had their headquarters. A round nave has interesting implications. An ordinary rectangular nave focuses attention on the activities of the priest at the altar or pulpit. If the Templars sat, or stood, in a circle the nature of the service would have "felt" more equal and possibly would have been more in keeping with "Brotherhood" than being lectured at by an elevated preacher. If their activities were a occult as has been suggested (I shall elaborate later) then a round nave would have been appropriate in other ways too.
Their property outside of the Holy Land was used for money-making, sending disabled or injured knights to rest, recruiting, training and doing the religious business that has proven so mysterious. All of this was geared towards maintaining a military presence in the Holy Land which included building huge castles and doing battle with Saracens (and occasionally other Crusaders; see Dungeon, Fire and Sword) . Donations were received at these places too and often the Templars acted as feudal Lords over large estates which needed to be managed as businesses. It is worth noting that the first windmill ever recorded in England was on a Templar property; it is thought they brought the idea over from the Middle East (see Temple Balsall by Eileen Gooder).
The wealth and power of the Templars was massive. The scale of their buildings in the Holy Land was equally massive. Chastel Pelerin (Castle Pilgrim) had an outer wall 6 metres wide and 16 metres high, and two of its towers were more than 34 metres high. Add to this that it was built on a spit of land in the sea and that it had its own harbour and an impressive picture emerges. This castle was the Templars' most important base in the Kingdom of Jerusalem(6) and was the point from which the last Crusaders left on 14th August 1291 when they were ousted by Muslim forces.(7)
The Fall of the Templars
After the Holy Land was lost and it became clear that it would not be regained, the real power of the Templars became evident because it was not being focused abroad. They owned almost as much land in France as the king did, which rather annoyed him. In England, King John (buried in Worcester, where I live) pawned the crown jewels to them for six years because he was broke.(8) This type of financial power, coupled with a highly disciplined and effective army of warrior-monks on an international level, caused some tinges of jealousy, greed and fear in certain European nobles. Notably King Philip IV of France.(9) This king has the added feeling of humiliation after being rejected when he asked to join the order. He eventually managed to engineer a candidate of his choosing to the position of Pope (Clement V) who then owed the king a favour. Philip plotted the mass arrest of the Templars and tried to get the Pope to add his weight to the proceedings - he was very reluctant but Philip began a public character assassination campaign against him until he crumbled into submission and supported the dissolution of the Templars. On Friday 13th, at dawn, all Templars in France were seized and arrested. Envelopes containing orders were opened simultaneously by French Sheriffs which gave them the element of surprise in the endeavour.(10) The property of the Templars was mostly turned over to the Hospitallers but the great "Treasure of the Templars" managed to evade the dawn strike. It is now known how their rumoured secret source of wealth disappeared and, equally mysteriously, the entire naval fleet of the Templars (which was considerable) disappeared.(11)
The trial, though highly corrupt, revealed the truth behind some of the rumours of heresy in the order which Philip had used to legitimise this attack. In France the Templars were promised leniency is they confessed to charges of heresy, sodomy and obscenity, and promised death if they refused. The full trial did not begin there until April 1310, "and by May 54 men had refused to withdraw their repudiation of initial confessions and were handed over to the secular authorities to be burned at the stake."(12) Templars travelled far and wide over their territories and it is reasonable to assume that many French Templars were abroad at the time of the arrests. Nowhere were they so harshly treated as in France. In Scotland and particularly in Portugal there was no serious effort to suppress the order. In Portugal they became the Knights of Christ and in Scotland they are thought to have fought at the Battle of Bannockburn and to have been the source of certain Masonic traditions.(13) Anyway .... in October 1307 King Philip of France send a letter to Edward II in England (who had only been king for a couple of months and who was Philip's future son-in-law) asking him to arrest the Templars in the same way as he had done. Edward refused. In fact, he sent several letters to other European monarchs asking them to ignore the charges against the Templars, saying that they were inspired by greed and jealousy. Pope Clement V ended up having to tell Edward to begin proceedings against the order. On 20th December Edward wrote a letter to all his Sheriffs, as the French king had dome, and on 9th, 10th and 11th January 1308, the English Templars were placed in safe custody.(14)
On their arrest an inventory of their property was done. In England this showed that many once prosperous Templar manors and preceptories had fallen into serious disrepair. In some instances this could be attributed to the Templars doing a runner. It was several months after the arrests in France that the English were arrested - plenty of time to arrange a "holiday". In many cases, however, the property was dilapidated through old age and some people regard this as evidence of the order's weakness in its latter stages.(15) The loss of the Holy Land and the realisation that another Crusade was not likely would have depleted morale somewhat, and it is not exactly fuel to the fire of enthusiasm in a new recruit. They weren't attracting as many new members and they had nothing to work for because their military activities were over (other than their "securicor" activities as pawnbrokers and bankers). The final battles in the Holy Land left many disabled and injured knights as well as all those who died, so all of this is bound to have placed an enormous strain on the order and helps explain the state of decay on some of their properties.
The Charges and the Trials
On Tuesday, 21 October 1309 the trial began in England. It was held in London with the Bishop of London, two Papal Inquisitors (probably Dominicans of the "inquisition" fame), the Pope's Chaplain and three public notaries.(16) Internationally there were many different confessions, but here are the principal heresies quoted from John J Robinson's book:
At the Paris Temple, "a silver head was found with small bones inside, which appeared to have been made to house holy relics".(18) This is one of the few pieces of material evidence to support the Templar association with heads. In England a Templar named Henry de la Wolde confessed to kissing on the mouth at initiations, but to no other parts of the body. And preceptor Simon Streche said that he thought receptions everywhere were the same as in the "chief convent", meaning the Paris Temple where a head was found. A knight named Robert de Hamilton, when asked about the use of idols attached to the girdles that the Templars wore over their vests, said that the use of the girdle was honourable and called it the Girdle of Nazareth, and said ".... it was touched on a certain column" and that they all carry what girdle they wished.(19) An interesting piece of evidence against them was a Franciscan who said that "... about 20 years ago the Grand Preceptor had some relics that he wanted to show the Brothers at Wetherby. At dead of night there was shouting in the chapel, and the Franciscan got up and looked through the keyhole, and saw a great light. The next day he asked a Brother about the night's events and the Brother told him to go on his way and never speak of it for fear of his life".(20) An interesting quote in Crusader Castles , by Hugh Kennedy, is a report by Imad-al-Din of what he thought of the Templar castle of La Feve after it had been conquered in 1187 by Saladin, the Saracen leader. He says, "It was a place where they met and received people, a place where they guarded their horses, a place where the torrents of their men flowed, a meeting place of their brethren, the residence of their devil and the place of their crosses, where their masses assembled and their fire was kindled."(21)
What are we to make of these? The reference to idols attached to girdles probably relates to a sacred cord which the Templars are supposed to have kept next to their flesh. This may have been something adopted into the Templars from the Cathars who lived in the Languedoc region of France.(22) They were "heretics" according to the Pope and the Albigensian Crusade ordered by him and carried out largely by the Teutonic Knights slaughtered most of them (there is not space to go into their tragic history here). What about Baphomet? The worship of an idol in the shape of a head was one of the most persistent accusations levelled against them. Intelligence gained by royal spies who had infiltrated the order prior to the raids also reported the name Baphomet.(23) In The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail by Baigent, Leigh and Lincoln, the possible meaning of this name is explored. Early examiners of the issue often thought that Baphomet was a corruption of Muhammad. The authors mentioned above point out that if Baphomet was merely God of Allah, why bother renaming him Baphomet? The name could also be a corruption of abufihamet which means "Father of Understanding" of "Father of Wisdom".(24)
The Templar Head Cult
A good explanation for the Templar head worship covers another bunch of heretics from the East. The Johannite or Mandaean heresy denounced Jesus as a false prophet and acknowledged John the Baptist as the true Messiah. In The Holy Blood ... the authors assert that "In the course of their activities in the Middle East the Templars undoubtedly established contact with Johannite sects ..."(25) John the Baptist was decapitated - hence the worship of a head. In Turin Shroud - In Whose Image ... , where Lynn Picknett and Clive Prince effectively demonstrate that Leonardo da Vinci created the shroud, this link is re-affirmed. The reason the head of the shroud is not quite connected to the unreasonably long body is partly because Leonardo, as Grand Master of the Priory of Sion, wanted to allude to John the Baptist in the image.(26) The Priory of Sion still exists today and is historically linked to the Templars.(27) The Mandaean heresy connection seems to me to be the most likely explanation of the head worship of the Templars.
One of the orders that absorbed the Templars' lands was the Knights Hospitallers, or the Order of the Hospital of St John of Jerusalem. I am mildly surprised that the order's obvious reverence for St John has not been fully researched in an esoteric light by the very capable authors noted above - especially considering that St John's right hand is one of the relics owned by the order, preserved in the private chapel of the Winter Palace at St Petersburg in Russia.(28) An upward pointing right hand is a characteristic of some of Leonardo's paintings and it is noted in the Turin Shroud - In Whose Image ... as one of the clues which he left relating to the John the Baptist connection with the Priory of Sion (and hence Templars(29)), but the order's ownership of this relic is not mentioned in this otherwise mind-blowing book (I liked it).
Aleister Crowley, the infamous Great Beast, was very into the Templars. He wrote a play about them,(30) he was very familiar with the Templar orders in Freemasonry (as self-styled "Inspector-General" of Masonic rites(31)) and he took the name Baphomet for his position as Grand Master of the Ordo Templi Orientis .(32) He explored the meaning and numerology of the name and says it could mean "baptism of wisdom" (furthering the John the Baptist links) or that it is a corruption of a title meaning "Father Mithras". He says that this latter interpretation shows why the Templars gave that name to their idol. "Baphomet was Father Mithras, the cubical stone which was the corner of the Temple." (relating to the headquarters of the Templars on the site of the original Temple of Solomon).(33)
Other sources connect Baphomet with Cernunnos, the God of the witches, and say that the Templars preserved the deeper aspects of the old ways in their inner rites. Eliphas Levi, who also showed an interest in the Templars, equated Baphomet with the Goat of the Sabbat(34) - incidentally, Crowley believed he was Levi in a former incarnation. There are many lines of enquiry into Baphomet in the field of Magick - too long-winded to detail here.
The Cathar Connection
The supposed attributes of the Templar head are interesting in that they are very similar to the qualities given to Bran's head and to the Holy Grail. That is, making the land fertile, enriching the people and basically being pretty darn groovy. In Parsifal , Wolfram von Eschenbach describes the Grail as a stone. He also describes the guardians of the Grail as Templars and Wolfram himself was a contemporary of the Templars(35) - could this mean that Crowley was right? Some people say that (even though Wolfram called them Templars) the Knights in Parsifal are not necessarily Templars. Primarily because the Templars' sign is a cross pattée, not a turtle dove (as in Parsifal) and because the Knights in Parsifal go forth to quest in a manner now concurrent with what history knows of the Templars. Another point made is that if Wolfram had really wanted to portray the Templars, he undoubtedly could have made a better job of clarifying their identity.(36) To my mind, naming them Templars in the story is clear enough, and a dove is sometimes associated with the Cathars(37) who the Templars certainly mixed with and maybe got their "treasure" from, and indeed it was no less than John the Baptist who saw a dove descending as the holy spirit.(38) So these "errors" make sense if Wolfram was trying to hint about a connection between the Templars, Cathars, John the Baptist and the grail (or treasure) which has been successfully shown in The Holy Blood and The Holy Grail anyway. That all this occurs in an Arthurian context, linking it up with older tales like that of Bran's head perhaps, suggests that Wolfram wanted to allude to that too. The similarities between Baphomet and Bran's head/the grail are striking anyway, so to have Wolfram linking these up through the Templars prior to their trial is certainly an interesting coincidence if nothing else. In The Sign and The Seal , Graham Hancock shows how Wolfram could have known all of this. If what the Templars were up to with Baphomet was anything near as weird as the Bran's head stuff, or even the Orphic traditions from Greece, the could our Franciscan friend's "great light"; and the silver head from the Paris Temple be evidence of this?
Some final interesting points. When Jacques de Molay (the last Grand Master of the Knights Templar before the trial) and Geoffrey de Charnay (the order's treasurer) were burnt at the stake, Jacques is reported to have issued a final curse. "He called his persecutors - Pope Clement and King Philip - to join him and account for themselves before the court of God within the year. Within a month Pope Clement was dead, supposedly from a sudden onslaught of dysentery. By the end of the year Philip was dead as well, from causes which remain obscure to this day."(39) As evidence that the Templars remained close to certain French hearts in more recent times (probably through Freemasonry) the scene of the execution of King Louis XVI in 1789 (French Revolution) needs a brief review. After the guillotine had fallen and the king's head lay in a basket "... an unknown many is reported to have leaped onto the scaffold. He dipped his hand into the monarch's blood and flung it out over the surrounding throng and cried 'Jacques de Molay, thou art avenged!'"(40)
So many different things have been affected by the Templars that squeezing like their travels to America (!)(41) and their quest for the lost ark of the covenant(42) simply was not possible in this comparatively tiny article. Enquiring minds should consult the list of references for this article and do much further reading. Happy Crusading ... or head hunting .. and less of that orifice-kissing!
References1. Hancock, Graham - The Sign and The Seal - a quest for the lost ark of the covenant , BCA 1992, p92
2. Robinson, John J - Dungeon, Fire and Sword - The Knights Templar in the Crusades , Michael O'Mara Books Ltd, London, 1991, p42
3. Robinson, ibid , p36
4. Hancock, ibid cit, p93
5. 'St Giles Church and Hospital, Hereford'. Hereford and Worcester Sites and Monuments Record no 4409
6. Kennedy, Hugh - Crusader Castles , Cambridge University Press, 1994, p124-127
7. Robinson, op cit , p403
8. Elliott, Paul - Warrior Cults - A History of Magical, Mystical and Murderous Organisations , Blandford Books, London, 1995, p67
9. Walker, Charles - Atlas of Secret Europe, Dorset Press, New York, 1990, p22
10. Baigent, Leigh and Lincoln - The Holy Blood and The Holy Grail , Corgi Books, London, 1982, p71
11. Hancock, op cit , p165
12. Gooder, Eileen - Temple Balsall - The Warwickshire Preceptory of the Templars and Their Fate , Phillimore and Co Ltd, Chichester, 1995, p87
13. see Hancock and Baigent, Lincoln and Leigh amongst others
14. Gooder, op cit , p88
15. Gooder, op cit , p81-86
16. Gooder, op cit , p90
17. Robinson, op cit , p429-440
18. Robinson, ibid, p435
19. Robinson, op cit , p100-102
20. Gooder, ibid, p109
21. Kennedy, op cit, p56
22. Baigent, Leigh and Lincoln, op cit . p82
23. Elliott, op cit , p80
24. Baigent, Leigh and Lincoln, op cit, p79
25. Baignet, Leigh and Lincoln, ibid, 064. Quoted in Turin Shroud - In Whose Image - The Shocking Truth Unveiled , by Lynn Picknett and Clive Prince, 1994, p180
26. Pickentt, Lynn and Prince, Clive, Turin Shroud - In Whose Image .... BCA 1994
27. see Holy Blood and the Holy Grail by Baigent, Leigh and Lincoln for more on the Priory
28. Fincham, H W - The Order of the Hospital of St John and its Grand Priory of England, London, second edition 1993, p6
29. Picknett and Prince, op cit, p180
30. Crowley, Aleister - The Confessions of Aleister Crowley, Arkana Books (Penguin), London, 1989 (first published 1979) p656
31. Crowley - ibid , p696-697
32. Crowley - ibid, p832
33. Crowley - ibid, p833. See also Crowley's Magical Record of the Beast 666 1972 p68
34. Levi, Eliphas, Transcendental Magic , Rider Books, London 1984 (first published 1896), p242
35. Hancock, op cit p57
36. Nicholson, Helen - Templars, Hospitallers and Teutonic Knights - Images of the Military Orders 1128 - 1291, Leicester University Press, 1995, p94
37. Walker, op cit, p12
38. Jones, Alison - (The Wordsworth) Dictionary of Saints , Ware, Herts, 1992, p152
39. Baigent, Leigh and Lincoln, op cit , p76
40. Baigent, Leigh and Lincoln, ibid , p77
41. Sinclair, Andrew - The Sword and The Grail
42. Hancock, op cit