Although there are many theories and traditions concerning the specific nature of the 'secret doctrine' of the
Knights Templar, almost all believe it to have been a form of gnosticism.
Gnosticism is underpinned by the belief that an individual is responsible for his or her own spiritual
development and that anybody can approach the divine though his or her own endeavours. It takes many forms - both
Christian and non-Christian - but, in medieval Europe, any form of gnostic thinking was condemned as heretical by
the Church. This was because of the threat that it posed to the Church's authority, which was based on the
assertion that salvation was only possible within the Church, and that the only way an individual could approach
God was through the intermediary of the priests and bishops.
The theory that the Templars had adopted gnostic beliefs and practices is supported by their use of explicitly
gnostic symbols on their seals.
As a large, diverse, international organisation the Templars used many seals for identification and the
authorisation of documents. The most famous seal - showing two knights on a single horse
- was that of the Order as a whole. The various provinces had their own seal, as did individual officials -
often a set of different seals used for different purposes. Many of these survive today, if not as the actual
stamps, then as impressions on Templar documents in archives throughout Europe.
Researchers have highlighted one particular image used on Templar seals, that of the gnostic deity Abraxas, a
being with the body of a man and the head of a cockerel who was revered by gnostics of the early Christian era.
One of the Templar seals in the collection of the French National Archives bears the Abraxas figure with the
legend Secretum Templi, which has led to the supposition that it was used by a
secret, inner order within the Templars. However, as the French researcher Michel Lamy points out in his 1997
book Les Templiers, ces grands seigneurs aux blancs manteaux (The Templars, the Great Lords of the White
Mantles), this seal was used on mundane documents (for example one dating from 1214, signed and sealed by the
Templar Preceptor of France concerning the division of a certain forest between the Order and the King of
France - as Lamy comments, 'One cannot say that this is a particularly hermetic
text'.) He suggests that the term 'secret' refers to it being a seal used on particularly important
On the other hand, Lamy points out that the Templars must have chosen the Abraxas symbol for some reason:
Nevertheless the Templars certainly did not chose to decorate their 'secret seal' with Abraxas without a special
intent. One might think that it really was linked to a parallel hierarchy within the Order. Moreover, another seal
found in the national archives by [the esoteric writer] Lucien Carny militates in this direction. It is a
counter-seal of the Secret Priory of the Order of the Temple, as indicated by the inscription. Unfortunately much
damaged, it does not enable us to recognise what was represented in the centre. One may just believe that one is
able to distinguish a bird bending over something, but this is far from certain. At any rate, this proves the
existence of an internal and secret organ and confirms the depositions of a certain number of Templars [at their
trial]. Does this Priory have something to do with the mysterious Priory of Sion linked to the break-up of the
Temple at Gisors? It is hard to say. But it sheds light for us on the existence of an interior circle using the
symbols of the gnostics.
Lamy also cites a study of Templar seals by historian Paul de Saint-Hilaire, which found that some 10% of
surviving seals bore gnostic images, including several bearing the figure of Abraxas, all from the period
The Assassin Connection
Occult scholar and historian James Wasserman, in his recent book The Templars and the Assassins: The Militia of
Heaven (2001), suggests that, through their contact with the Assassins, the
Templars has adopted Islamic forms of gnosticism.
The spiritual philosophy that underpinned the Order of Assassins was that of the Nizari Ismailis (who survive
today under the authority of the Aga Khan). The Ismailis originated in the late 8th century from a schism within
Shiite Islam, and they developed a mystical, gnostic philosophy that combined the teachings of the Koran with
concepts taken from other cultures, including European Neoplatonism and Eastern Hinduism. The Nizari Ismailis
(named after their founder, Nizar) were themselves a breakaway movement from the mainstream Ismailis.
As Shiite Moslems, the Assassins were opposed to the dominant form of Islam, the Sunni Moslems, and even at one
stage were prepared to make an alliance with the Christians of the Holy Land against Saladin.
James Wasserman compares the Orders of the Assassins and the Knights Templar in this way:
The Ismailis were innovators who expanded the hierarchical mystical secret society model (composed of
religious ideology, hidden wisdom, special bonds of loyalty, and elaborate ceremonial procedures) and directed it against
the established religious and political world order of Sunni Islam. They were religious revolutionaries, true
subversives and conspirators upon whose secret whisperings kingdoms actually did rise and fall. For over a
century and a half, the Assassins managed to turn the tables on the victimization and powerlessness
characteristic of the Shiite experience in Islam.
The Order of Assassins was reflected in European culture by the Knights Templar. The Templars were similarly
hierarchically structured. Their raison d'être also involved armed struggle in the name of the highest religious
aspirations. A rich tradition of historical supposition maintains that contact with the sophisticated religious
teachings of the Assassin Order was a primary influence in the development of the secret Templar heresy that is
said to have led the Knights Templar far afield from their Christian roots.
Wasserman concludes that, through contact with the Assassins, the Templars absorbed their Ismaili ideas,
concluding that this makes:
a persuasive case for the influence of Ismaili philosophy on
European esotericism. We accept the thesis that the primary source of ingress for the Gnostic-Ismaili
teachings into Europe were those individual Templar initiates who managed to escape the destruction of the
Order. Templar survivors quietly continued to teach the doctrines and mystic techniques they had learned and
developed in the East - the true 'secret teaching' of the Order. These gradually gave rise to the flourishing
of the occult arts in Europe.
The Templars and the
The most widespread gnostic movement in Europe during the Middle Ages was that of the Cathars, who flourished
predominantly in the south of France (although they were also to be found in northern Italy and even Germany). In 1209 Pope
Innocent III called for a Crusade against them, which ended with the siege of Montségur in 1244.
The Languedoc was also the Templar heartland. As the two flourished at the same time in the same place, much
interest has been shown in the relationship between the Templars and the Cathars, especially because of what it
might reveal to us about the Templars' real beliefs. Were they opposed to or supportive of the Cathars?
The question is not easy to answer. James Wasserman condemns the Templars for participating in the genocidal
Crusade. And yet it appears that their support for it was half-hearted. The Crusade was predominantly made up of
soldiers from the north of France led by their own counts and lords. Despite their heavy presence in the Languedoc,
the Templars did not fight alongside these Crusaders as they did with those warring against the Moslems in the
East. Yet neither did they oppose the Crusade.
There is, however, some evidence that they gave support to refugee Cathars. Michel Lamy writes:
Thus, Pierre de Fenouillet, who was dispossessed of his goods as a heretic, withdrew to the Templar house of
Mas Deu in Roussillon. He was buried there around 1242. This did not however
prevent the Inquisitors from exhuming, re-judging and condemning him once more, posthumously, in 1262.
Likewise, Pons III de Vernet, a Cathar, withdrew to Mas Deu. The sinister Dominican Inquisitors exhumed and
burned his remains.
Lamy also notes the Languedocian Templars' close connections with the Cathar Aniort family, who were at the
forefront of resistance to the Pope's Crusaders.
It appears that, while the Templars would not oppose or defy an order by the Pope to root out the Cathars,
neither did they choose to endorse it or to actively aid the Crusaders. And, where possible, they even seem to have
covertly helped individual Cathar refugees.