The Secret of the Templars

Western occult tradition has long held that behind their façade of the protectors of Christendom, the Templars The Templars play a key role in the Western mystery traditionwere the guardians of a great secret. The Order holds an important place in the 'Western mystery tradition' - the chain of secret societies and adepts believed to underpin the history of European esotericism. The Templars were, so it is claimed, the vehicle by which certain arcane and magical knowledge, mainly drawn from the Middle East, was transmitted to later generations.

More sensationally, it has long been suggested that it was not simply forbidden knowledge that the Templars guarded, but that the Order of the Temple had adopted heretical - perhaps even non-Christian - religious doctrines and beliefs. Such claims are encouraged by the charges levelled at the Order at the time of its suppression.


The Inner Order

According to some traditions, this secret role of the Templars was part of the plan from its foundation - the The Templar sealOrder being created specifically to acquire and preserve knowledge, whether it be practical, religious or esoteric. Others believe that it happened by chance, as the Templar leaders encountered new ideas and teachings from their contact with groups in the Middle East.

However, both viewpoints assume the existence of a secret, inner order at the heart of the Templars. It is clear that the vast majority of knights - let alone the many thousands of lay members and ancillary workers - were no more than they appeared to be. At its height, the Order is estimated to have had 15,000 members; their secrets could not have been known to all of them.

However, it has been noted that knights made up probably no more than 10% of the total membership, and effective control was exercised by a handful of knights in this rigidly authoritarian organisation. The Grand Master had absolute control over the Order - and he himself was elected by a conclave of just 13 knights. So it is, in theory at least, Illustration from a medieval medical treatiseentirely possible for a very small group to have used the Order to acquire - and disseminate - knowledge and information.

Some see the Templar seal, famously showing two knights sharing a single horse, as a reference to the secret order within. The seal is supposed to symbolise the vow of poverty (the knights being too poor to have a horse each) and brotherhood. However, some believe that it really shows that real control of the Order lay behind the scenes - in modern terms, a back seat driver.

Is there any truth in these traditions? Or are they, as historians maintain, simply the result of the mythmaking and fables of later centuries?

Lost Knowledge

The Templars were certainly in an ideal position to acquire and develop 'occult' knowledge. It must be remembered that in the medieval world there was no clear distinction between 'scientific' and 'magical' knowledge - the study of even practical disciplines such as medicine and architecture involved a degree of understanding of magical principles.

Medieval Europe had been isolated from ideas and developments in learning in the rest of the world. The Church held a monopoly on education and the dissemination of knowledge, and for doctrinal reasons was hostile to any attempts to expand the horizons of man beyond the limits of Christian dogma.

The Templars studied medicine and healing - an obvious requirement for a military organisation, with the need to restore wounded brothers to health. They had hospitals, both in the Holy Land and in Europe, for this purpose. Medieval medicine often shaded into what would be regarded today as magic.

One of the Dead Sea ScrollsThe Moslem world was then far more advanced than Europe in learning and science. As we have seen, the Templars sought to understand the Moslems, forming diplomatic relations and alliances within the complex world of the Middle East, in which many sects existed that held a variety of beliefs. They would have been familiar with ideas and concepts that would be considered 'occult' today.

In fact, there is specific evidence that the Templars did come into contact with Middle Eastern sects that had existed in the region for a very long time. This was discovered by the celebrated New Testament scholar Hugh J. Schonfield after reading The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail.

Much debate has centred on the name of the idol that the Templars were accused of secretly worshipping: Baphomet. Schonfield decided to apply a coding system known as the Atbash Cipher to the word. The Atbash Cipher is a system of letter substitution used - specifically to conceal names - in the Middle East in the late centuries BC and the early centuries AD, particularly by some of the groups connected with the origins of Christianity. It is, for example, used in some of the Dead Sea Scrolls.

Schonfield was surprised to find that the Atbash Cipher decodes 'Baphomet' perfectly - turning it into sophia, the Greek for 'wisdom'.

As Baigent, Leigh and Lincoln comment in The Messianic Legacy:

This could hardly have been coincidence. On the contrary, it proved, beyond any doubt, that the Templars were familiar with the Atbash Cipher and employed it in their own obscure, heterodox rites. But how could the Templars, operating in the twelfth century, have acquired such familiarity with a cryptographic system dating from a thousand years before, whose practitioners had apparently long vanished from the stage of history? There is only one plausible explanation. It would seem obvious that at least some of those practitioners had not in fact vanished at all, but still existed at the time of the Crusades. And it would seem obvious that the Templars had established contact with them.

So it is not impossible that the Templars learned of matters in the East that the leaders considered prudent not to advertise too widely in Europe. But what of the idea that they went further, and that the inner Order actually held beliefs that were at odds with the faith that the Templars were created to protect - in other words, that they were heretics? Are there any clues as to what their heresy might have taken?

Many suggestions have been put forward, including the old pagan religions of Europe and even that they adopted a form of Islam. Most commentators, however, agree that, whatever the specific sect or religion was, it was a form of gnosticism

One of the most surprising suggestions, at least on the surface, is that one of the secrets of the Templar inner Order was that it venerated the Feminine - that they were, in effect, Goddess-worshippers.

However, it may not be a question of the Templars adopting one particular set of beliefs rather than another. If the inner Order was concerned first and foremost with learning anything of value, they may have explored many different religious and esoteric philosophies. Scholarship is not merely about the acquisition of information or ideas, but also their comparison and synthesis.

The Guardians

Grail knightOne of the best-established links between the Templars and the world of mysticism and the arcane concerns the Holy Grail. There is much evidence to show a connection between the Order of the Temple and these strangely heretical tales that reached the height of their popularity at the time of the Templar ascendancy. This has naturally led to speculation that the Templars may have been the guardians of the Grail itself.

Other theories have the Templars as protectors of other sacred or magical artefacts, such as the Ark of the Covenant, the Philosophers' Stone of the alchemists - and even the enigmatic and controversial Turin Shroud.

The Johannite Tradition - Part 1 of 3
by Lynn Picknett
Click here for The Johannite Tradition - Part 2 of 3
Click here for The Johannite Tradition - Part 3 of 3


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