Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Knights Templar : The Mysteries

In greatly abridged form, this is the history of the Knights Templar as writers have accepted and presented it, and as we encountered it in our research. But we quickly discovered that there was another dimension to the Order’s history, considerably more elusive, more provocative and more speculative. Even during their existence, a mystique had come to surround the knights. Some said they were sorcerers and magicians, secret adepts and alchemists. Many of their contemporaries shunned them, believing them to be in league with unclean powers. As early as 1208, at the beginning of the Albigensian Crusade, Pope Innocent III had admonished “the Templars for un-Christian behaviour, and referred explicitly to necromancy. On the other hand, there were individuals who praised them with extravagant enthusiasm. In the late twelfth century Wolfram von Eschenbach, greatest of Medieval Minnesanger or romanciers, paid a special visit to Outremer, to witness the Order in action. And when, between 1195 and 1220, Wolfram composed his epic romance Parzival, he conferred on the Templars a most exalted status. In Wolfram’s poem the knights who guard the Holy Grail, the Grail castle and the Grail family, are Templars.

After the Temple’s demise, the mystique surrounding it persisted. The final recorded act in the Order’s history had been the burning of the last Grand Master, Jacques de Molay, in March 1314. As the smoke from the slow fire choked the life from his body, Jacques de Molay is said to have issued an imprecation from the flames. According to tradition, he called his persecutors Pope Clement and King Philippe 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 Philippe was dead as well, from causes that remain obscure to this day. There is, of course, no need to look for supernatural explanations. The Templars possessed great expertise in the use of poisons. And there were certainly enough people about refugee knights travelling incognito, sympathisers of the Order or relatives of persecuted brethren to exact the appropriate vengeance. Nevertheless, the apparent fulfilment of the Grand Master’s curse lent credence to belief in the Order’s occult powers. Nor did the curse end there. According to legend, it was to cast a pall over the French royal line far into the future. And thus echoes of the Templars’ supposed mystic power reverberated down the centuries.

By the eighteenth century various secret and semi secret confraternities were lauding the Templars as both precursors and mystical initiates. Many Freemasons of the period appropriated the Templars as their own antecedents. Certain Masonic “rites’ or “observances’ claimed direct lineal descent from the Order, as well as authorised custody of its arcane secrets. Some of these claims were patently preposterous. Others resting, for example, on the Order’s possible survival in Scotland -may well have a core of validity, even if the attendant trappings are spurious.

By 1789 the legends surrounding the Templars had attained positively mythic proportions, and their historical reality was obscured by an aura of obfuscation and romance. They were regarded as occult adepts, illumined alchemists, magi and sages, master masons and high initiates veritable supermen endowed with an awesome arsenal of arcane power and knowledge. They were also regarded as heroes and martyrs. harbingers of the anticlerical spirit of the age; and many French Freemasons, in conspiring against Louis XVI, felt they were helping to implement Jacques de Molay’s dying curse on the French line. When the king’s head fell beneath the guillotine, an unknown man is reported to have leaped on to the scaffold. He dipped his hand in the monarch’s blood, flung it out over the surrounding throng and cried, “Jacques de Molay, thou art avenged!”

Since the French Revolution the aura surrounding the Templars has not diminished. At least three contemporary organisations today call themselves Templars, claiming to possess a pedigree from 1314 and charters whose authenticity has never been established. Certain Masonic lodges have adopted the grade of “Templar’, as well as rituals and appellations supposedly descended from the original Order. Towards the end of the nineteenth century, a sinister “Order of the New Templars’ was established in Germany and Austria, employing the swastika as one of its emblems. Figures like H. P. Blavatsky, founder of Theosophy, and Rudolf Steiner, founder of Anthroposophy, spoke of an esoteric ‘wisdom tradition’ running back through the Rosicrucians to the Cathars and Templars who were purportedly repositories of more ancient secrets still. In the United States teenage boys are admitted into the De Molay Society, without either they or their mentors having much notion whence the name derives. In Britain, as well as elsewhere in the West, recondite rotary clubs dignify themselves with the name “Templar’ and include eminent public figures. From the heavenly kingdom he sought to conquer with his sword, Hugues de Payen must now look down with a certain wry perplexity on the latter-day knights, balding, paunched and bespectacled, that he engendered. And yet he must also be impressed by the durability and vitality of his legacy.

In France this legacy is particularly powerful. Indeed, the Templars are a veritable industry in France, as much as Glastonbury, ley-lines or the Loch Ness Monster are in Britain. In Paris book shops are filled with histories and accounts of the Order some valid, some plunging enthusiastically into lunacy. During the last quartercentury or so a number of extravagant claims have been advanced on behalf of the Templars, some of which may not be wholly without foundation. Certain writers have credited them, at least in large part, with the building of the Gothic cathedrals or at least with providing an impetus of some sort to that burst of architectural energy and genius. Other writers have argued that the Order established commercial contact with the Americas as early as 1269, and derived much of its wealth from imported Mexican silver. It has frequently been asserted that the Templars were privy to some sort of secret concerning the origins of Christianity. It has been said that they were Gnostic, that they were heretical, that they were defectors to Islam. It has been declared that they sought a creative unity between bloods, races and religions a systematic policy of fusion between Islamic, Christian and Judaic thought. And again and again it is maintained, as Wolfram von Eschenbach maintained nearly eight centuries ago, that the Templars were guardians of the Holy Grail, whatever the Holy Grail might be.

The claims are often ridiculous. At the same time there are unquestionably mysteries associated with’ the Templars and, we became convinced, secrets of some kind as well. It was clear that some of these secrets pertained to what is now called ‘esoterica’. Symbolic carvings in Templar preceptories, for instance, suggest that some officials in the Order’s hierarchy were conversant with such disciplines as astrology, alchemy, sacred geometry and numerology, as well, of course, as astronomy which, in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, was inseparable from astrology, and every bit as ‘esoteric’.

But it was neither the extravagant claims nor the esoteric residues that intrigued us. On the contrary, we found ourselves fascinated by something much more mundane, much more prosaic the welter of contradictions, improbabilities, inconsistencies and apparent “smoke-screens’ in the accepted history. Esoteric secrets the Templars may well have had. But something else about them was being concealed as well something rooted in the religious and political currents of their epoch. It was on this level that we undertook most of our investigation.

We began with the end of the story, the fall of the Order and the charges levelled against it. Many books have been written exploring and evaluating the possible truth of these charges; and from the evidence we, like most researchers, concluded there seems to have been some basis for them. Subjected to interrogation by the Inquisition, for example, a number of knights referred to something called “Baphomet’ too many, and in too many different places, for Baphomet to be the invention of a single individual or even a single preceptory. At the same time, there is no indication of who or what Baphomet might have been, what he or it represented, why he or it should have had any special significance. It would appear that Baphomet was regarded with reverence, a reverence perhaps tantamount to idolatry. In some instances the name is associated with the gargoyle-like, demonic sculptures found in various preceptories. On other occasions Baphomet seems to be associated with an apparition of a bearded head. Despite the claims of certain older historians, it seems clear that Baphomet was not a corruption of the name Muhammad. On the other hand, it might have been a corruption of the Arabic abufihamet, pronounced in Moorish Spanish as bufihimat. This means “Father of Understanding’ or “Father of Wisdom’, and ‘father’ in Arabic is also taken to imply ‘source’.””’ If this is indeed the origin of Baphomet, it would therefore refer presumably to some supernatural or divine principle. But what might have differentiated Baphomet from any other supernatural or divine principle remains unclear. If Baphomet was simply God or Allah, why did the Templars bother to re-christen Him? And if Baphomet was not God or Allah, who or what was he?

In any case, we found indisputable evidence for the charge of secret ceremonies involving a head of some kind. Indeed the existence of such a head proved to be one of the dominant  running through the Inquisition records. As with Baphomet, however, the significance of the head remains obscure. It may perhaps pertain to alchemy. In the alchemical process there was a phase called the “Caput Mortuum’ or “Dead Head’ the “Nigredo’ or “Blackening’ which was said to occur before the precipitation of the Philosopher’s Stone. According to other accounts, however, the head was that of Hugues de Payen, the Order’s founder and first Grand Master; and it is suggestive that Hugues’s shield consisted of three black heads on a gold field.

The head may also be connected with the famous Turin Shroud, which seems to have been in the possession of the Templars between 1204 and 1307, and which, if folded, would have appeared as nothing more than a head. Indeed, at the Templar preceptory of Templecombe in Somerset a reproduction of a head was found which bears a striking resemblance to that on the Turin Shroud. At the same time recent speculation had linked the head, at least tentatively, with the severed head of John the Baptist; and certain writers have suggested that the Templars were “infected’ with the johannite or Mandaean heresy which denounced Jesus as a ‘false prophet’ and acknowledged John as the true Messiah. In the course of their activities in the Middle East the Templars undoubtedly established contact with johannite sects, and the possibility of Johannite tendencies in the Order is not altogether unlikely. But one cannot say that such tendencies obtained for the Order as a whole, nor that they were a matter of official policy.

During the interrogations following the arrests in 1307, a head also figured in two other connections. According to the Inquisition records, among the confiscated goods of the Paris preceptory a reliquary in the shape of a woman’s head was found. It was hinged on top, and contained what appeared to have been relics of a peculiar kind. It is described as follows:

a great head of gilded silver, most beautiful, and constituting the image of a woman. Inside were two head bones wrapped in a cloth of white linen, with another red cloth around it. A label was attached, on which was written the legend CAPUT LVIIIm. The bones inside were those of a rather small woman.

A curious relic especially for a rigidly monastic, military institution like the Templars. Yet a knight under interrogation, when confronted with this feminine head, declared it had no relation to the bearded male head used in the Order’s rituals. Caput LVIIIm -“Head 58m’ remains a baffling enigma. But it is worth noting that the ‘m’ may not be an ‘m’ at all, but U, the astrological symbol for Virgo .

The head figures again in another mysterious story traditionally linked with the Templars. It is worth quoting in one of its several variants:

A great lady of Maraclea was loved by a Templar, a Lord of Sidon; but she died in her youth, and on the night of her burial, this wicked lover crept to the grave, dug up her body and violated it. Then a voice from the void bade him return in nine months time for he would find a son. He obeyed the injunction and at the appointed time he opened the grave again and found a head on the leg bones of the skeleton (skull and crossbones). The same voice bade him’ guard it well, for it would be the giver of all good things’, and so he carried it away with him. It became his protecting genius, and he was able to defeat his enemies by merely showing them the magic head. In due course, it passed into the possession of the Order .

This grisly narrative can be traced at least as far back as one Walter Map, writing in the late twelfth century. But neither he nor another writer, who recounts the same tale nearly a century later, specifies that the necrophiliac rapist was a Templar.Z3 Nevertheless, by 1307 the story had become closely associated with the Order. It is mentioned repeatedly in the Inquisition’s records, and at least two knights under interrogation confessed their familiarity with it. In subsequent accounts, like the one quoted above, the rapist himself is identified as a Templar, and he remains so in the versions preserved by Freemasonry - which adopted the skull and crossbones, and often employed it as a device on tombstones.

In part the tale might almost seem to be a grotesque travesty of the Immaculate Conception. In part it would seem to be a garbled symbolic account of some initiation rite, some ritual involving a figurative death and resurrection. One chronicler cites the name of the woman in the story Yse, which would seem quite clearly to derive from Isis. And certainly the tale evokes echoes of the mysteries associated with Isis, as well as those of Tammuz or Adonis, whose head was flung into the sea, and of Orpheus, whose head was flung into the river of the Milky Way. The magical properties of the head also evoke the head of Bran The Blessed in Celtic mythology and in the Mabinogion. And it is Bran’s mystical cauldron that numerous writers have sought to identify as the pagan precursor of the Holy Grail.

Whatever significance might be ascribed to the ‘cult of the head’, The Inquisition clearly believed it to be important. In a list of charges drawn up on August 12th, 1308, there is the following:

Item, that in each province they had idols, namely heads... Item, that they adored these idols .. . Item, that they said that the head could save them. Item, that lit could] make riches .. . Item, that it made the trees flower. Item, that it made the land germinate. Item, that they surrounded or touched each head of the aforesaid idols with small cords, which they wore around themselves next to the shirt or the flesh .

The cord mentioned in the last item is reminiscent of the Cathars, who were also alleged to have worn a sacred cord of some kind. But most striking in the list is the head’s purported capacity to engender riches, make trees flower and bring fertility to the land. These properties coincide remarkably with those ascribed in the romances to the Holy Grail.

Of all the charges levelled against the Templars, the most serious were those of blasphemy and heresy of denying, trampling and spitting on the cross. It is not clear precisely what this alleged ritual was intended to signify -what, in other words, the Templars were actually repudiating. Were they repudiating Christ? Or were they simply repudiating the Crucifixion? And whatever they repudiated, what exactly did they extol in its stead? No one has satisfactorily answered these questions, but it seems clear that a repudiation of some sort did occur, and was an integral principle of the Order. One knight, for example, testified that on his induction into the Order he was told, “You believe wrongly, because he [Christ] is indeed a false prophet. Believe only in God in heaven, and not in him.”zs Another Templar declared that he was told, “Do not believe that the man Jesus whom the Jews crucified in Outremer is God and that he can save you.” A third knight similarly claimed he was instructed not to believe in Christ, a false prophet, but only in a “higher God’. He was then shown a crucifix and told, “Set not much faith in this, for it is too young.”

Such accounts are frequent and consistent enough to lend credence to the charge. They are also relatively bland; and if the Inquisition desired to concoct evidence, it could have devised something far more dramatic, more incriminating, more damning. There thus seems little doubt that the Templars’ attitude towards Jesus did not concur with that of Catholic orthodoxy, but it is uncertain precisely what the Order’s attitude was. In any case, there is evidence that the ritual ascribed to the Templars -trampling and spitting on the cross was in the air at least half a century before 1307. Its context is confusing, but it is mentioned in connection with the Sixth Crusade, which occurred in 1249.

Source : The Holy Blood And The Holy Grail.