Knights Templar Also known as The Order of the Temple, the knights Templar began with lofty ideals of chivalry, crusades and Christian faith, as practiced by an exclusive club of monastic knights. It was founded between 1119 and 1188 by Hugh de Payens of Champagne, France, and a small group of knights, who dedicated themselves to protecting pilgrims to the Holy Land and routing out the infidels from the same. The order accumulated great wealth and power, which two centuries later brought about its downfall amid sordid accusations of heresy, Devil-worship, blasphemy and homosexuality.
After its inception, the knights Templar quickly gained in reputation and respect. Their banner, a white flag with a crimson cross, became symbolic of the Christian war against the infidels, and of the highest ideals. Groups were organized throughout Europe and England, but France remained the stronghold. All members pledged their complete allegiance to a Grand master. knights took vows of poverty, humility and chastity, which were strictly enforced. As a religious order, the Templars were not taxed by the Crown and were not subject to the laws of the land; they were answerable only to the pope.
Despite the poverty of the individual knights, the order solicited donations to finance its holy war. money poured in, and the order grew in power. The rites of the order were kept in deep secrecy. Over time, this gave rise to much curious speculation and rumor about what really went on in Templar strongholds. For generations, stories were told of blasphemous rites in which Christ was renounced as a false prophet and the cross was spit, urinated and trampled upon. Further, Templars were rumored to engage in homosexual rituals and to worship the Devil, who appeared in the form of a black cat, which they kissed beneath the tail (see Kiss of Shame). They were also said to worship an idol named Baphomet, in some versions a stuffed human head, in others a skull or an artificial head with three faces. The Templars, it was said, roasted children and smeared their burning fat upon this idol. For years, no one acted upon these stories.
In the Holy Land, the order used its immense wealth to enter commerce. It lent money and transacted business with the enemy during times of truce. The order’s financial power, as well as its immunity to secular law, incurred increasing resentment among the nobility—in particular, king Philip IV of France, who was himself one of the order’s debtors.
The collapse of the Crusades did little to harm the order. By the 14th century, it was at its peak of power. Then Philip, coveting the order’s vast wealth, set out to seize its riches and lands by accusing the knights of heresy. The king’s willing accomplice was Pope Clement V.
On October 13, 1307, Philip arrested Grand master Jacques de Molay and 140 knights in the Paris temple. more arrests followed throughout France. The Templars were subjected to torture en masse. many confessed to the blasphemies and Demonic crimes of which they were accused, though the confessions were so varied that little conclusive proof was amassed. Nevertheless, Philip pursued his wholesale persecution of the order.
On November 22, Philip persuaded Pope Clement to issue a bull ordering all Templars to be arrested and all of their properties seized. Not all countries obeyed as zealously as Philip desired; it took a second papal bull to force king Edward II of England to torture Templars in his dominion. In other countries, leniency was shown toward the Templars, some of whom were acquitted or allowed to join other orders.
In 1310 the public trials of the Templars began in Paris. Those who had survived the brutal torture were brought forward, charged with a long list of crimes and interrogated. Some knights defended the order. Fifty-four who refused to confess were ordered by Philip to be taken to the suburbs and burned to death. Still, there was no definitive proof of heresy. Accounts of the idol Baphomet varied widely. many Templars said only that they had heard of such a thing but had never seen it. Nonetheless, opponents of the order claimed the idol was proof that the Templars had adopted the mahometanism of the infidels. Throughout Europe, Templars were convicted of sorcery and heresy and burned at the stake.
Clement officially dissolved the order in 1312. The pope specified that all assets were to be turned over to a rival order, the Hospitallers, but this was not universally followed. Assets in France and England were seized by Philip and Edward, both of whom used them for personal ends or lavished them on friends. Elsewhere in Europe, other orders took the assets.
Grand master de Molay remained in prison for seven years. In 1314 he was placed on a scaffold in Paris and ordered to make a public confession. In exchange, he would be imprisoned for life instead of being executed. To the surprise of the authorities, de Molay angrily denounced his persecution and said he had been tortured into lying. He was, he protested vigorously, innocent of all charges. Enraged, Philip ordered de molay burned alive. He died at sunset the same day, slowly and painfully in the flames.
According to legend, the dying de Molay declared that as proof of his innocence, Philip and Clement would be summoned to meet him before the throne of God within a year. Both men died within that time.
It is possible that some of the accusations against the Templars had some basis in fact, though no doubt the stories were quite exaggerated. With their exposure to other religions in the Holy Land, the Templars may have absorbed some rites and beliefs into their own system. Some scholars believe they may have adopted aspects of Gnosticism and may have ritualized homosexuality. many of their secrets will never be known.
- Hall, Manly Palmer. Masonic Orders of Fraternity. Los Angeles: Philosophical research Society, 1950.
- Russell, Jeffrey B. A History of Witchcraft. London: Thames and Hudson, 1980.
- Tuchman, Barbara. A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous 14th Century. New York: Ballantine Books, 1978.
Order of the Knights Templar Military arm of the Catholic Church during the Crusades and one of the most powerful monastic societies in Europe. The Order of the Knights Templar symbolized the holy struggle of Christians against the infidels. But the knights’ enormous wealth, jealously coveted by kings and popes, and their secret Rituals brought about their spectacular downfall and the establishment of Sorcery as evidence of heresy.
In 1118, about 20 years after the founding of the Kingdom of Jerusalem by Godefroy de Bouillon and a group of crusaders, French knight Hugues de Payns (“of the pagans”) led a group of nine other French noblemen to the Holy Land, where they encamped next to the alleged site of King Solomon’s Temple. Vowing to protect Christians traveling to the holy places, especially between Jerusalem and St. Jean d’Acre, the knights pledged chastity, poverty, and obedience. They called themselves the Order of the Knights of the Temple, or Templars.
Although led by de Payns, the real power behind the order was St. Bernard of Clairvaux, head of the Cistercian Order of monks and supported by Pope Honorius II. The Pope officially recognized the Templars as a separate order in 1128, giving it unheard-of sovereignty: It was exempt from local taxes; it could impose its own taxes on the community; it was immune from judicial authority; it could appoint its own clergy; and it answered only to the pope. Membership was restricted to men of noble birth who had to undergo various probationary periods and initiation rituals before acceptance. Attached to these noblemen were various artisans and manual laborers. The head of the order was the Grand Master, followed by his deputy the Senechal, the Marshal, and the Commander.
The Order’s battle standard was a red eight-pointed cross on a background of black-and-white squares called the Beauceant, with the cross on a plain background of white as the official symbol. Their battle cry was “Vive Dieu, Saint Amour” (“God Lives, Saint Love”), and their motto was “Non nobis Domine, non nobis, sed Nomini Tuo da gloriam” (“Not for us, Lord, not for us, but to Thy Name give glory”). The Templar seal showed two knights sharing one horse, a sign of poverty and service.
By the beginning of the 14th century, the Templars had become one of the most powerful organizations in Europe and the Middle East, with branches in Scotland, England, Aragon, Castile, Portugal, Germany, and the Kingdom of Naples, all headquartered from the main temple in Paris. They had amassed huge wealth, and unlike the Order of Hospitalers of Saint John, supported no charities. They also lent money at rates lower than the Jews or Lombards.
For years stories circulated about the Templars’ secret rituals and whether they were Christians or had become “Mahometans,” or followers of Muhammad. The Templars had always maintained close ties with the Sufis, the mystic sect of Moslems, sharing their esoteric knowledge of Alchemy and the Kabbalah. The Templar battle cry, “God Lives, Saint Love,” closely parallels the Sufi search for the Beloved as the symbol of God. The father of founder Hugues de Payns was a Moor from southern Spain and perhaps was heavily influenced by Sufi thought. Both Templars and Sufis admired each other’s spiritual dedication and monastic determination.
Superstitious lore about the Templars claimed they worshiped a devil named BAPHOMET who appeared in various forms, including a huge black cat. These Witchcraft rituals supposedly included kissing the cat’s behind, bestiality, sodomy, kissing the Grand Master’s genitals, roasting children alive, idol worship, denunciation of Christ and the Virgin Mary, intercourse with DemonS and overall loss of their souls to the devil. All these rumors had been around since the Order’s founding, but no one gave them much currency until 1307.
At that time, King Philip IV of France, called the Fair, was in debt to the Templars and was increasingly irritated at their protection from secular jurisdiction. He decided that the Templars’ wealth was his last source of funds. On October 13, he seized the Temple in Paris and arrested Grand Master Jacques de Molay and 140 Templars, as well as every Templar his soldiers could find throughout France. Charged with heresy and blasphemy, the victims were hideously tortured to extract confessions. Needing the church’s support, Philip bullied a weak Pope Clement V, the first Avignon pope, into signing a papal bull authorizing the Templars’ trials and seizure of their properties.
The trials and tortures lasted for seven years, while the king and the pope bickered over jurisdiction and disbursement of the property. Few Templars could hold up under the severity of the tortures, and many went mad. Even de Molay at first denied Christ and confessed that the temple was seduced by Satan.
Philip’s charges of heresy and witchcraft, supported by the tortured confessions, gave the Inquisition new evidence in its hunt for enemies, especially ones with valuable property. Such powerful arguments, preying on the deepest fears of the medieval mind, contributed to the eventual deaths of hundreds of supposed heretics and witches by the mid-1700s.
Pope Clement V officially abolished the order and all its branches in 1312 at the Council of Vienne, transferring the property to the Hospitalers. They, in turn, paid Philip IV money which he said the Templars had owed him. A great deal of the assets were seized directly by Philip and King Edward II of England for their own use or as gifts to friends. Resisting papal pressure, the kings of Spain and Portugal transferred the remaining assets into new orders, allowing Templars to obtain membership.
In 1314, de Molay, completely broken during his seven years in prison, was promised life in prison instead of death if he confessed his crimes in public. In March, soldiers led the broken man and his chief lieutenant onto a scaffold in front of a packed crowd of clergy, nobility, and commoners. But de Molay, who had been Philip IV’s friend and godfather to the king’s daughter, frustrated the king’s triumph by proclaiming his innocence and that of all the Templars. De Molay announced,
“I admit that I am guilty of the grossest iniquity. But the iniquity is that I have lied in admitting the disgusting charges laid against the Order . . . to save myself from the terrible tortures by saying what my enemies wished me to say.”
Enraged, Philip IV sentenced the Grand Master to be burned alive over a slow fire on March 14, 1314. As the flames took his body, de Molay supposedly cursed Philip’s family to the 13th generation and called for Philip IV and Clement V to join him before God’s throne within a year. Clement died within a month, Philip died in November, and Philip IV’s Capetian dynasty withered within one generation, to be replaced by the Valois.
Although the truth probably died with Grand Master de Molay, temple tradition maintains that the order did not go with him. One persistent story says that some of the survivors of the persecutions fled to Scotland disguised as stonemasons. As a disguise, the Templars borrowed masonic symbols and called themselves Freemasons, giving birth to that secret society. The Templars were always known as builders, going back to the founding of the Order on the site of Solomon’s Temple. One of the dearest wishes of their mentor, St. Bernard of Clairvaux, was to build cathedrals which would esoterically transmit the secret teachings that he carried from early church fathers. Sufi tradition also uses buildings as permanent repositories of esoteric knowledge.
Other lore holds that Geoffroy de Gonneville, a Templar, brought a message from de Molay before his death to a group of Templars meeting in Dalmatia, telling them of a resurgence of their order in 600 years. At the end of this meeting, or “convent,” as it was called, the Supreme Council of the order remained in Corfu for three years and then dissolved. But before disbanding, the council supposedly launched the Order of the Rose-Croix, or Rosicrucians.
Later accounts insist that the 18th-century adept, the COMTE DE ST. GERMAIN, was a Templar. The comte also participated in Rosicrucian and Freemasonic rituals, and some Masonic scholars believe that he was attempting to reintroduce Templar secrets into those two organizations. Some believe that COUNT CAGLIOSTRO, another 18thcentury occultist and a student of St. Germain’s, was a Templar agent.
Regardless of whether the Knights Templar actually founded these organizations, their spiritual power lives on in the traditions of all secret societies and esoteric organizations.
See also Curse; Freemasonry; Rosicrucianism.
- Delaforge, Gaetan. “The Templar Tradition Yesterday and Today,” Gnosis, No. 6, Winter 1988, pp. 8–14.
- Gordon, Stuart. The Book of Curses: True Tales of Voodoo, Hoodoo and Hex. London: Brockhampton Press, 1994.
- Hall, Manly P. Masonic Orders of Fraternity. Los Angeles: The Philosophical Research Society, 1950.
- Mann, William E. The Knights Templar in the New World: How Henry Sinclair Brought the Grail to Arcadia. Rochester, Vt.: Inner Traditions, 2004.
Back to Secret Societies