Opinions on The Priory of Sion - True Lies?

Opinions on the Priory of Sion fall into three categories.

The first is that it is exactly what it claims to be: a powerful society that has existed in the shadows for over 900 years and which guards great historical, religious and occult secrets. It was behind the creation of the Knights Templar as well as many other key events in European history, in addition to playing an important behind-the-scenes role in modern European politics.

At the opposite extreme, other commentators dismiss the Priory of Sion as a hoax. According to this view, the organisation was invented in 1956 and its membership only ever consisted of Pierre Plantard and a handful of confederates that included Philippe de Chérisey (perhaps even that pair alone). Similarly, the information in the Dossiers secrets was put together by Plantard, de Chérisey and their colleagues. The exact purpose of the hoax, and who directed it (whether Plantard was the mastermind or simply the front man), is uncertain, although the main thrust of the Dossiers and other Priory-related material was to confer status on Plantard and build up the image of the Priory of Sion as a secret society to be reckoned with.

A third view is that the situation is not so clear-cut, and that it is not a question of either accepting or rejecting all of the Priory's historical claims: fitting the complex - and at times almost playful - nature of the organisation, it could be part hoax and part genuine.

According to this view, the Priory of Sion is a modern creation, but it has incorporated traditions and historical information inherited from older groups. It is effectively a 'front' organisation set up by other, more secretive, societies to enable them to carry out certain activities in the public arena.

This was the conclusion reached by two teams of British researchers, Guy Patton and Robin Mackness, authors of Sacred Treasure, Secret Power (AKA Web of Gold), and Lynn Picknett and Clive Prince.

Picknett and Prince discerned a number of older esoteric traditions within the material issued by the Priory of Sion which place it within a specific grouping of European secret societies.

For example, the Priory of Sion uses a secondary title: Ormus. This name is known from legends that have been current in the esoteric and Masonic world since at least the early 18th century. It was supposedly the name of an Egyptian priest who was converted to Christianity by St Mark and who founded a society called the Rosicrucian Brothers of the East.

The Ormus story is first recorded in connection with a German Rosicrucian and alchemical society called the Order of the Gold and Rosy Cross, which was founded in 1710. However, in 1770 this Order adopted the doctrines of a form of Freemasonry called the Strict Templar Observance, and it was at the time of this transformation that the Ormus legend appeared. The Gold and Rosy Cross claimed that it was the descendant of the Rosicrucian brotherhood founded by Ormus.

 Baron von Hund

 Baron von Hund

The Strict Templar Observance had been founded some 30 years earlier by the German Baron von Hund und Alten-Grotkau (Karl Gotthelf), and claimed to be the legitimate continuation of the medieval Knights Templar who had survived in secret in Scotland.

Descent from Ormus's Rosicrucian Brothers of the East was also claimed by another occult Masonic system founded in France in 1838. This was the Rite of Memphis, one of the 'Egyptian Rites' of Freemasonry that was established by Jacques-Étienne Marconis de Nègre, and which survives today as the Rite of Memphis-Misraïm. The appearance of the Ormus legend in this Rite is not particularly surprising as Marconis de Nègre was also an adherent of the Strict Templar Observance. (Marconis de Nègre also belonged to the same family as the widow of the last lord of Rennes-le-Château, whose death in 1781 seems to have been a key event in the development of that mystery.)

The Priory of Sion's use of the Ormus theme therefore links them to the Strict Templar Observance, as does another piece of evidence unearthed by Baigent, Leigh and Lincoln.

The Dossiers Secrets include a list of the Grand Masters of the Knights Templar from 1118 to 1188 (until which time, it is claimed, they were also Grand Masters of the Priory of Sion). The authors of The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail were intrigued by the fact that this list disagreed with those found in the standard history books. Their own research, however, convinced them that the Dossiers list was, in fact, the most accurate available. (Because of gaps in the historical record historians have been unable to draw up a definitive list of the Templar Grand Masters and much remains speculative.) The trio concluded that the list had used, in their words, 'some repository of privileged or “inside” information' - presumably the archives of the Priory of Sion, which tended to support its claims of a long historical pedigree.

However, the list did not receive its first publication in the Dossiers secrets, but was part of the evidence given by Baron von Hund  in support of his claim to possess the true inheritance of the medieval Templars. The accuracy of the list does not therefore support the Priory of Sion's claims, but those of von Hund regarding the Templar survival in Scotland (something for which there is much additional evidence). But, once again, it places the Priory of Sion in the sphere of the Strict Templar Observance and its later offshoots.

The network of groups, traditions and doctrines upon whose myths the Priory of Sion draw includes an important esoteric philosophy called Martinism, after its founder, Louis-Claude de Saint-Martin (1743-1804), also known as the 'Unknown Philosopher'. Again, this is not surprising, as Martinist doctrines were adopted by the societies that emerged from the Strict Templar Observance. (Strictly speaking Martinism is an esoterically-based philosophical movement rather than a society; although a Martinist Order was founded in the late 19th century there is a dispute over how faithfully it reflects Saint-Martin's ideas.)

Other groups included in this network - all of which are developments or spin-offs of the Strict Templar Observance - are a form of Freemasonry called the Rectified Scottish Rite and a related system named the Benificent Knights of the Holy City.

Patton and Mackness place the Priory of Sion within the same network, writing:

Access to the heart of the Priory has proved impossible; master of disinformation and used to operating in the world of shadows, it remains an apparently nebulous organization with little discernible form. Some sources show it to be composed of initiates from the highest ranks of other occult and neo-Masonic groups, such as the Martinists, Memphis-Mizraim, Grand Orient, the Benificent Knights of the Holy City, and the Knights Templar.

Ultimately, the Priory of Sion remains elusive - the masters of trickery and, as Patton and Mackness write, disinformation. While it is hard to take some of their historical claims seriously, it is also difficult to dismiss the Priory as a pure and simple hoax - even less to give a satisfactory reason why such time and energy has been expended on perpetrating it.

It is clear that this elusiveness is a deliberate move on the part of the Priory itself. As Baigent, Leigh and Lincoln write in The Messianic Legacy:

Insofar as we, in our researches, have come to know the Prieuré, we have encountered an organisation which, in full consciousness of what it is doing - and, indeed, as a matter of calculated policy - activates, manipulates and exploits archetypes. Not only does it traffic in familiar and traditional archetypes - buried treasure, the lost king, the sacredness of a bloodline, a portentous secret transmitted through the centuries. It also, quite deliberately, uses itself as an archetype. It seeks to orchestrate and regulate outsiders' perceptions of itself as an archetypal cabal - if not, indeed, the archetypal cabal. Thus, while the nature and extent of its social, political and economic power may remain carefully veiled, its psychological influence can be both discernible and substantial. It can convey the impression of being what it wishes people to think it is, because it understands the dynamics whereby such impressions are conveyed… we are dealing with an organisation of extraordinary psychological subtlety and sophistication.


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