The Templar Tradition: Yesterday and Today
There is a tendency among North Americans to be suspicious of esoteric organizations or any kind of activity which is secret. Those who have heard of Templar orders frequently associate them with secret societies and Freemasons. There is also the belief that because the Order of the Knights Templar was destroyed by one of the Kings of France and dissolved by Pope Clement V in 1312, there must have been something unsavory about the Templars.
To understand esoteric societies which have European roots, it should be realized that secret societies have always been a part of European culture. In fact, the very reasons which have made secret societies necessary in Europe have been the same as those which made the Pilgrim Fathers leave the Old World to establish a society where men could speak freely and openly live their thoughts. The New World tradition of freedom of speech and expression has somehow created the attitude that any activity which does not avail itself of this freedom must be hiding something dishonorable.
The European with the memory of the past built into his genes, a past in which the State or the Church have tried to control — sometimes brutally — how he worshipped, thought, or behaved, attaches great importance to his privacy. The closer something is to his heart, the more he feels the need to protect it from outside influences. What is closer to a man's heart than his family and his spiritual life? In some European countries like France it is a major event to be invited to someone's home and this privilege, if it is ever granted, is only done after a long acquaintanceship. In Europe, especially on the continent, the idea of keeping what is your own business to yourself is therefore quite natural. In Britain the attitude is that it is no-one's business what people do behind closed doors so long as it is not illegal. The old motto "the Englishman's home is his castle" is partly a reflection of this.
In North America, Freemasonry is much more open to the public gaze. Meeting places of Freemasons are clearly marked and even some of their ceremonies are open to the public. In Europe the locations of their lodges are much more discreet — they are not hidden but at the same time their whereabouts are not advertised. Does this mean that European Freemasons do things in their lodges which are not done in American lodges? Hardly — after all one of the important aims of international masonic lodges is the standardization of their practices.
There is of course a more important reason why esoteric groups (whatever their origins) try to maintain a certain discretion. The symbols, rituals and meetings of a group, when repeated over time, develop an egregore or group mind which binds the members together, harmonizes, motivates and stimulates them to realise the aims of the group, and enables the individual members to make more spiritual progress than if they worked alone. An egregore can be disturbed if people who are not sympathetic to its aims think negatively about the elements which make and sustain it. Therefore, eosteric groups try to protect themselves not so much against exposure of doubtful activities but to ensure that peoples' negative thoughts do not disturb the group mind or egregore.
A Templar order which has managed by hard work and devotion to Templar ideals to tap into the Templar egregore or tradition, will naturally divulge knowledge of its keys only to members. In addition, discretion is one of the principles which have been hallowed by tradition as part of the discipline or training which Templars are required to undergo.
Templar tradition teaches that the essence of the common heritage of man's spiritual experience has been synthesized in a body of practical knowledge which has been kept alive by generations of initiates from the earliest times down to our day. This body of spiritual knowledge is referred to in esoteric circles as the Temple Tradition, and the sum total of the initiates and the structures which have perpetuated this tradition is called the Order of the Temple. The Order of the Knights Templar was one of the manifestations of the Order of the Temple. The Knights Templar believed that their line of the Tradition would always be present at important moments in the evolution of our planet. Modern Templars therefore strive to revive the Templar Tradition today because they believe we are at a capital moment in the history of the Earth. They call this the Resurgence of the Order. They believe that Templars have a role to play in the current transition from the Piscean Age to the Age of Aquarius. Some Templar Orders claim that the souls of former Templars have incarnated in this century in order to continue where they left off in the fourteenth century.
A Brief History of the Order of the Knights Templar
In 1118, almost twenty years after the foundation of the Kingdom of Jerusalem by Godefroy de Bouillon and his crusaders, nine French knights under the leadership of Hugues de Payns arrived in the Holy Land and installed themselves next to the site of the former Temple of Solomon. They came to create an order which was both military and monastic and one of their first acts was to pronounce vows of chastity, poverty and obedience before Theocletus, the Patriach of Jerusalem. Because they had camped on the site of Solomon's Temple, they, and those who joined them, subsequently became known as the Knights of the Temple, or Templars, and their Order the Order of the Temple. The overt purpose of the Order was to protect pilgrims who came to visit the holy places, in particular the route linking Jerusalem and St. Jean d'Acre. Ten years later the number of Templar knights had reached 300 and with them an army of some 3000 men.
The Templars were supported by one of the most powerful figures of the time, St. Bernard of Clairvaux, head of the Cistercian Order. At a very young age he had founded the abbey of Clairvaux on lands donated by Hugues de Champagne, who later abandoned his family and possessions to join Hugues de Payns in founding the Order of the Temple. St. Bernard was the closest confidant of Pope Honorius II, and obtained the backing of the Pope in giving the Church's official recognition to the Order of the Temple.
In 1128 a Council of the Church was held at Troyes in France to prepare a constitution for the new order. St. Bernard, despite ill-health, was one of the driving forces at the Council and participated actively in the drafting of the Rule which would govern the order and the life of the Templars. The order based on these rules turned out to be a very closed brotherhood restricted to men of noble birth. The brotherhood itself was composed of knights, chaplains, and sergeants to whom a large number of artisans and manual workers of all kinds were attached. The head of the order was the Grand Master, and next in rank was his deputy, the Senechal, followed by the Marshal, and the Commander. The order was divided into provinces and commanderies each run along the same hierarchical structure.
The Rule granted the Order virtual sovereignty vis-a-vis local government and ecclesiastical authorities wherever it was located, with the right not only to be exempted from taxes but to impose its own. The Order also enjoyed judicial immunity with authority to exercise justice within its territories. In its relationship with the Church, the Order was responsible only to the Pope and was given the power to appoint its own clergy.
A candidate for entry to the Order had to undergo severe tests before he was admitted. He had to endure a long period of probation, when he was tested for his sincerity and force of character by being asked to perform many types of unpleasant tasks. The battle standard of the Order was a red eight-pointed cross on a background of black and white squares called the Beauceant. The battle cry of the Templars was "Vive Dieu, Saint Amour," and their device "Non nobis Domine, non nobis, sed Nomini Tuo da gloriam," (Not for us, Lord, not for us, but to Thy Name give glory). The seal of the Order displayed two horsemen on the same horse signifying poverty and service.
In less than a century the Order became a power to be reckoned with both in Europe and the Middle East. Its influence and wealth, which developed during the Crusades, came about because in contrast to other armies in the Holy Land the Templars were disciplined and their organization and life style completely adapted to Middle East conditions. Because the fortunes of the Templars were intimately linked with those of Christendom in the Holy Land, the failure of the Second Crusade marked the beginning of the end for the Templars. Jealousy, the rivalry of the Hospitallers — the Knights of St. John — and a gradual decline in their purity and idealism further contributed to their decline. The capture of Jerusalem by the Moslems in 1244 and the fall of St. Jean d'Acre in 1291 ended European presence in the Holy Land, and the Templars and their rivals the Hospitallers left the area; the Templars returning gradually to France through Cyprus and Sicily.
In France they enjoyed a brief period where they lived and exercised their privileges unmolested. This came to an end when Philip IV, known as Philip the Fair, short of money and realizing that the Templars had lost their popularity, adopted a plan conceived by one of his advisers, Guillaume de Nogaret. The idea was to discredit the Templars in ways which would force Pope Clement V, who owed his election to Philip, to suppress the Order, leaving the way open for the King to acquire its wealth. On October 13th, 1312, Philip seized the Templar strongholds and arrested all the Templars he could find. During the seven years that followed there were endless trials in which the Templars were tortured and forced to confess all kinds of alleged wrongdoings. On April 3rd of that same year, in a Council held in the town of Vienne in France, the Pope announced the abolition of the Order, and on March 18th, 1314, after terrible harrassment and torture, the 22nd Grand Master, Jacques de Molay, was burnt at the stake.
In other European countries, although there was less torture and killings, the Templar movement also went into decline. As best they could the kings of Spain and Portugal resisted the pressures placed on them by Philip and the Papacy to abolish the Order. They managed to solve the problem by creating new orders so that Templars who integrated themselves into the new orders could be protected. These orders were the Order of Montesa in Spain and the Order of Christ in Portugal. They still exist today but as purely formal institutions conferring honorary titles, and have very little in common with the original orders.
Purpose, Authenticity and Legitimacy
The above are the simple facts of Templar history. What the Templars really were and what their real mission was, has and will remain the subject of discussion and controversy. The Templar tradition has its version and academic historians have others. A list of publications covering different sides of the debate is given at the end of this article and readers will have to draw their own conclusions. After practical experience in the Temple Tradition, I am convinced that the role of the Templars was not just to fight battles and obtain wealth and temporal power.
According to Templar tradition, there were two levels of the Order, a secret Council on the one hand, and a formal hierarchy and organisation on the other. The purpose of the secret side of Templar activities was to carry out the designs of its real founder — St. Bernard of Clairvaux. St. Bernard had obtained secret teachings which were known to the original Church fathers, and undertook to integrate these teachings with knowledge from other sources and to consolidate this spiritual capital so that it could be assimilated by initiates of his time for transmission into the future.
In the Templar tradition Jerusalem is a place of great symbolic importance. Templars believe that the integration of the different streams of the tradition — Christianity, Islam and Judaism — stemming from the patriarch Abraham was successfully effected there by the Templars, and that the richness of today's Western esoteric tradition is due to this work. The Templars were given the task by St. Bernard of finding and reuniting the hidden and dispersed parts of these streams. This was not easy because until modern times most of these teachings were oral. The nine founding knights could not have seriously believed that their small band could defend the pilgrims. They were in Jerusalem for completely different reasons. Legend has it that they unearthed various documents and sacred objects in the area around the site of Solomon's Temple and sent these discreetly to their secret chiefs in France.
There is much similarity between Templar teachings and many aspects of Sufism — an esoteric branch of Islam. Although often at war with each other, it is well known that there were very close and friendly contacts between Templars and Moslem secret societies. According to Templar tradition, the Templars obtained knowledge of Sufi practices from the Arabs. The Middle East was considered the birth place of alchemy and it is known that several Templars were secret alchemists. For example, a sculptured chest found at Volterra in Italy depicting alchemical processes is believed to be of Templar origin. The esoteric side of Judaism based on the Qabalah was also known to the Templars. The Templars worked closely with builders known as the Compagnons, who knew secrets in the art of building and were responsible for the construction of some of the great cathedrals in France. The Templars protected the Compagnons and in return obtained their services and knowledge. One of St. Bernard 's dearest wishes was to build churches which were esoterically functional, and which would be monuments in stone of the Temple Tradition.
Templar Tradition claims that it is only against this background that the behavior of the Templars can be understood, especially in the period just before the end. The secret chiefs of the Order knew that the outward activities of the Order were no longer justifiable and it was allowed to die. There was therefore no reason to overthrow the French king to defend a structure which was no longer appropriate to contemporary spiritual needs. In the same way that soldiers die for their country, it should not be so difficult for us today to accept that a group of men who were soldiers of the Christ were prepared to follow in his footsteps by sacrificing themselves. After all, many Templars would have been believers in reincarnation and expected that their souls would one day reincarnate to continue the Templar tradition. The spiritual warriors in the Samurai Tradition of ancient Japan thought nothing of sacrificing their lives for the abstract concept of honour.
The Order of the Temple believed that it had carried out its mission to the best of its abilities and that there was no longer any need to preserve the Templar Order in its traditional form. Those who doubt whether the Templars were a spiritual force probably think of spiritual force as something which has to develop some kind of a permanent public organization. Rather than risking a confrontation with the Church and the State, the Templars no doubt realized that their teachings, at least the popular versions of them, could be transmitted in other ways: for example, by setting a tradition of noble behavior, by perpetuating their spiritual tradition through cathedral building, and by consolidating the wisdom of the past for the future. If the Templars were not a spiritual force, why is it that the spiritual revival of esotericism in the West has tried so hard to prove Templar associations and origins? Highly respected writers such as Rudolf Steiner and Manly Hall are convinced that the Templars were the synthesizers and transmitters of teachings which are being given today in many lodges and groups. Why is it that six hundred years later people are talking of Templar revival and remain fascinated by the ideals of these warrior monks? A spiritual force is not an institution or a religion. It is a power which pushes people into trying to live an ideal which brings another dimension of meaning, reality and nobility to their lives.
There have been many claims and versions about the truth of the Templar succession. For lack of space only a few will be mentioned here. For example, it is said that in the year of de Molay's death, Geoffroy de Gonneville, one of the dignitaries of the Order, brought a message from de Molay to a group of Templar knights from various countries meeting somewhere in Dalmatia, announcing that there would be a resurgence of the order in 600 years. The story goes on that at the end of this meeting, or convent as such gatherings were called by the Templars, the Supreme Council of the Order travelled to Corfou where it remained for three years before its dissolution. According to this story it was this Council which launched what was to become the Order of the Rose-Croix and the grades of the Scottish freemasonry.
Another version was that after the death of de Molay, the provincial Grand Master of Auvergne in France, Pierre d'Aumont, fled with two commanders and five knights disguised as stonemasons to one of the Scottish islands, to be taken in by a local Commander of the Order, one George Harris. Along with some other Templars it was decided to continue the order and d'Aumont was appointed Grand Master. To avoid persecution the revived Order borrowed symbols from masonry and called themselves Freemasons. According to this version, in 1361 the Grand Master removed his headquarters to Aberdeen, where under the guise of Freemasonry the Order expanded to other European countries.
There is yet another account according to which there is a document which proved that a certain Dr. Bernard Fabre-Palaprat, who was declared Grand Master of the Order of the Knights Templar during the reign of Napoleon I, had formally inherited the succession which had continued in an unbroken line since the death of Jacques de Molay. This document was supposed to have been some kind of a Charter of succession prepared by Jacques de Molay before his death designating one Jean-Marc Larmenius as his successor. There is much controversy in Templar circles concerning the authenticity of this document. Fabre-Palaprat's detractors say that he was merely a pawn manipulated by Napoleon for his own designs.
Fabre-Palaprat died in 1838 and was succeeded by an Englishman, Admiral Sydney Smith. By 1860 virtually nothing remained of the order and its documents were handed over to the French national archives. Subsequently various people have claimed that they were the successors of Palaprat.
In the 18th century the belief that the Order of the Knights Templar was the origin of Freemasonry seems to have been prevalent. This belief was particularly associated with Scottish freemasonry, because, as was mentioned elsewhere, some members of the Order had taken refuge in Scotland after the Order was abolished. As is well known, the Templars were great builders and welcomed many masons to help them. It is not unlikely that those who worked with the Templars would have been marked by the experience and would no doubt have reflected this contact in the development of operative masonry. It is also believed that as the nine founding knights spent much time near the Temple of Solomon in Jerusalem, during which they were initiated into secret teachings, the origins of freemasonry could be traced to them. No one can be sure of the truth in all this, but while this task is of great import to an academic historian, to someone who is a seeker the important thing is that later groups such as Freemasons, Rosicrucians and others have somewhere obtained bits of Templar teachings and have kept the esoteric tradition alive.
In France and other countries there is a plethora of orders claiming to be part of the Templar Resurgence. In the United States there are several Masonic Orders with Templar overtones, which seem to be more interested in the romantic, mythical and fantasy side of Templarism, providing no real spiritual content in terms of living a Templar life. This situation is not confined to Templarism as there are many groups which play at spirituality, admittedly with less accent on regalia. Who can condemn such people? After all they do at least aspire to some vague notions of chivalry and nobility even though their day-to-day lives may not live up to their ideals. In terms of what we have indicated as Templar ideals, it should be relatively easy for those who feel attracted to the Templar Tradition to see whether any order claiming to be genuine is playing at being Templars or is the real thing.
What common sense conclusions can one come to about all this? There are two approaches which can be followed. The first is that of the pure historian. The whole story of the Templars will continue to keep historians busy for a long time. No one has so far managed to prove to everyone's satisfaction that his version of Templar history is the correct one. There continue to be, especially since the late 1960s, various groups claiming to be the true heirs of the Templar succcession. None of these have managed to go any further than earlier generations in solving the question of succession in a definitive manner.
If one is interested in joining a modern Templar order and would like to be sure of its authenticity there is another approach. In my opinion, authenticity should first of all be related to whether the order in question not only advocates but practices the ideals of the founding fathers of the original Order. Unless one is interested in pure historical research, what good would it do to know that a particular order has a genuine parchment showing that it descended directly from Jacques de Molay if the order in question was only a benevolent society or a group of men whose main interest was to dress up from time to time with capes and swords? A real seeker would not care two hoots as to whether there were old documents in a library somewhere, but would want to know whether the order was a living embodiment of the Templar spirit, or at least was trying to be in words and deeds. Is it a group in which people practice a spiritual hobby or is it an activity where service to humanity and to the planet is the main interest in the life of its members?
To go further, it can be said that the authenticity of a Templar order is dependent on the degree to which that order has been able to link up consciously with the egregore or group mind of the Eternal Order of the Temple. This, like true nobility, has nothing to do with old parchments or honorific titles of knighthood. Any group which manages to live the Templar tradition will discover the keys which will enable it to contact the egregore of the Order of the Temple as it has been expressed through the original Templars and through all who have followed in their tradition, whether or not they have called themselves Templars. This is not an easy task because to build up sufficient energy to make the contact, a dedicated group must live the Templar life in a very intense way, with all the allied sacrifices of time, money and personal ambition which a genuine warrior of the spirit has to make. This is particularly true for the initial group who begin the attempt.
As was mentioned earlier, an egregore is a kind of group mind which is created when people consciously come together for a common purpose. Whenever people gather together to do something an egregore is formed, but unless an attempt is made to maintain it deliberately it will dissipate rather quickly. However if the people wish to maintain it and know the techniques of how to do so, the egregore will continue to grow in strength and can last for centuries. An egregore has the characteristic of having an effectiveness greater than the mere sum of its individual members. It continuously interacts with its members, influencing them and being influenced by them. The interreaction works positively by stimulating and assisting its members but only as long as they behave and act in line with its original aim. It will stimulate both individually and collectively all those faculties in the group which will permit the realization of the objectives of its original program. If this process is continued a long time the egregore will take on a kind of life of its own, and can become so strong that even if all its members should die, it would continue to exist on the inner dimensions and can be contacted even centuries later by a group of people prepared to live the lives of the original founders, particularly if they are willing to provide the initial input of energy to get it going again.
If the egregore is concerned with spiritual or esoteric activities its influence will be even greater. People who discover the keys to tap in on a powerful egregore representing, for example, a spiritual or esoteric tradition will, if they follow the line described above by activating and maintaining such an egregore, obtain access to the abilities, knowledge, and drive of all that has been accumulated in that egregore since its beginnings. A group or order which manages to do this can, with a clear conscience, claim to be an authentic order of the tradition represented by that egregore. In my view this is the only yardstick by which a genuine Templar order should be measured.
Whether or not a particular order has done this cannot be proved by words in a book, or by a piece of paper inscribed with the names of previous Grand Masters. A potential knight should not be sheeplike or scared of his shadow. Like all warriors he should not be afraid to take the risk of making a wrong choice, but he is less likely to do this if he has an open mind and common sense, with his head in the clouds and his feet firmly on the ground. With this kind of baggage he should be able to know fairly quickly whether the order is authentic and whether he has made contact with the living tradition of the Temple.
One of the allegations made against some modern orders, especially in France, is that they have meddled in politics. Indeed a number of orders have allowed themselves to be infiltrated by people wishing to manipulate them for political ends. Of course Templar orders are not the only groupings which have fallen into such traps. Any grouping which binds people together in the modern world has to be on the alert for such eventualities. Any contemporary Templar order which knowingly involves itself with politics has not understood the mission of the Order of the Temple today. A modern templar order has no other role but to exhort its members to live a spiritual life which will assist our planet to pass successfully through the present critical phase of its evolution. [For more on this role see Chapter XVIII of the author's The Templar Tradition, Threshold]
The fact that nearly 600 years later the Knights Templar still invoke passionate partisan or dissenting sentiments is clear evidence that they have left their mark. The main tenet of the Templar tradition, that the Order had concealed its spiritual mission in its outer activities, cannot be proved in ways which would satisfy academic historians and others who are more interested in the form rather than the content of spiritual traditions. There are historians who can demonstrate all kinds of negative elements and stimulate doubts about the veracity of Christian, Moslem, Hindu or any other beliefs. The point is that these spiritual currents continue notwithstanding. Spirituality is something which is of the soul. If a man does not know within himself that he has a soul how can one convince him intellectually?
Only someone who has a spiritual vocation and experience can know whether a group is spiritual. A living tradition must be able to change its adherents and to make them more aware of the spiritual in daily life. Someone would have had to try out the practical side of the Templar tradition and see whether it works or not before he can say that it is just myth or fantasy. In my view, the tradition of the Order of the Temple is a living force and it will continue to influence the more evolved members of the species as long as we exist. It is something which appeals to those who are ready for it and there is no point in trying to convince those who are not. There will always be people who spend their lives living a fantasy and there will always be those who find that there are spiritual realities. How can we tell who is living the fantasy and who the reality? Perhaps at the end of day we can only take refuge in the old saying "it takes one to know one."
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Gaetan Delaforge is the author of the book The Templar Tradition in the Age of Aquarius, Threshold Books, RD 3, Box 1350 Putney, Vermont, 1987.
Barber, Malcolm, The Trial of the Templars, Cambridge University Press 1978.
Burman, Edward, The Templars, Knights of God, Wellingborough: Crucible/Aquarian Press, 1986.
Charpentier, Louis, Les mysteres templiers, Paris: Robert Laffont, 1967.
D'Ares, Jacques, Au dela du Christianisme, Encyclopedie de l'esoterisme. Jean-Pierre Delarge, editeur, Paris, 1976.
Delaforge, Gaetan, The Templar Tradition in the Age of Aquarius, Putney, VT: Threshold Books, 1987.
Howarth, Stephen, The Knights Templar, London: Collins, 1982.
Partner, Peter, The Murdered Magicians, Wellingborough: Crucible/Aquarian Iress, 1987.
Steiner, Rudolf, Inner Impulses of Evolution, The Mexican Mysteries, The Knights Templar, Spring Valley, NY: Anthroposophic Press, 1984.