Western occult tradition has long held that behind their façade of the protectors of Christendom, the Templars
were 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
Order 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, entirely 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?
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
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.
The 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
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.
One 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.