Friday, July 29, 2011

Another History of the Knights Templar, Part 1

The Templars have burst back into the Memestream, mostly due to the senseless Norway massacre. The Templars have been the topic of endless conjecture and speculation over the years and there's no shortage of groups claiming to be the true remnant of the old order. Umberto Eco went so far as to write a novel on European Templar mania, Foucault's Pendulum.

An undercurrent of darkness has followed Templar revivalism even before the recent events in Norway and the emergence of another Templar order (in the form of a drug cartel) in Mexico. The cult known as The Order of the Solar Temple inspired a series of mass suicides/murders in the 90s. Death and tragedy seem to be inextricably linked to this powerful meme.

In light of all of this, I wanted to pull this piece out of my archives. In it I trace the prehistory of the Templars, their links to the mysterious Normans and the survival of Templar memes in Freemasonry and into popular culture today. Modern mass media controls our understanding of complex historical issues by divorcing them from history and excising any truths seen to be inconvenient to the manufactured consensus. I hope this work will put it all back in perspective.

The idea of the Knights Templar is a very powerful meme and has a nearly tidal pull over some very powerful-- and dangerous-- people. Hopefully, this series will shine some light on the subject for you...

The Cult of Constantine did not save the West.
The New Jerusalem never came from the clouds and saved Europe from the disease, death and ignorance left in the wake of the Fall of Rome. Those Romans who believed that the sack of Rome was divine retribution for the Empire’s abandonment of the old gods would find much evidence to corroborate their suspicions in the centuries following the disastrous reign of Theodosius. Roman art, science, medicine, architecture and education were all set back hundreds, if not thousands, of years with the rise of this new faith. A entity that men called ‘Rome’ would continue in the East, but it was a merely an Imperial vestige whose fall was long and gradual, rather than sudden and catastrophic like that in the West.

The Byzantine Empire, as this remnant of Rome has come to be known, soon became nothing but a relentlessly shrinking Christian island in the middle of a new religious tide rushing forth from the Arabian peninsula called Islam. Founded in the Seventh century by an Arabian merchant turned warlord named Mohammed, Islam lived up to its name (Islam means "submission") and soon brought most of the Middle East under its boot. The Islamic campaign would then spread like wildfire and conquer most of North Africa by the middle of the Eighth Century. Islam’s swordsmen were relentless in seeking to fill the vacuum left by the collapse of the Roman Empire. Its colonizers would spread so far as southern Spain, which became a major Islamic center in the Dark Ages.

As wielded by the mighty nation of the Turks, the sword of Islam would reach deep into Central Europe, until the tide turned in the early 15th Century. A key figure in the repulsion of the advancing Turks was a particularly horrific sadist named Vlad Tepes of Wallachia. This Romanian warlord delighted in impaling his enemies, often by the tens of thousands. And his list of enemies was not limited to Turks and Muslims. It also included thousands of his own subjects, many of whom were ethnically German Christians. Vlad the Impaler is known to us today through his ceremonial name, Dracula.


In the Eighth Century, a petty Frankish warlord named Charlemagne labored to reunify Europe. The resulting conglomeration- made of mainly Germanic central European kingdoms- became known as the ‘Holy Roman Empire’. Historians today delight in pointing out that Charlemagne's ‘Reich’ was neither Holy, nor Roman, nor an Empire. It soon began to fall apart, but Europe remained more or less reunited under the banner of the Roman Church. The wheels of Charlemagne’s Empire were greased with the blood of tens of thousands of Saxons, who resisted the State Cult in favor of their native gods.

They would not be the only martyrs of the old Northern faiths. For it would be the sword-- not the Word-- that would bring the peoples of the North to their knees before the cross. The Eighth Century also saw the rise of the Reconquista in Spain, where the Islamic colonists were eventually expelled by a confederation of Gothic and Frankish kings. Norman armies were also busy expelling Islamic occupations from traditionally Roman territories like Sicily and Sardinia.

In 1074, Pope Gregory issued a call for Christians to go to Byzantium to the Eastern Empire in their struggles against the Turks. Gregory was unsuccessful, but Pope Urban II had better luck in his call for a crusade against the Islamic occupation of Jerusalem. His motivations were not purely spiritual. Europe was plagued by infighting, as recently converted warrior tribes in the hinterlands had little to do except fight one another. Urban sweetened the pot by informing his subjects that unlike dirty, crowded, miserable Europe, the Holy Land was one of endless riches and sunshine. Needless to say, his words had a singular effect on the oppressed peasants of Europe.


Thus began the First Crusade. And it was a disaster. A monk named Peter the Hermit raised his own army of peasants to aid the Byzantines at Constantinople, which came to number 100,000. This army bumbled their way through southeastern Europe, and spent most of their time either starving half to death or engaging other Christian armies in battle. The Byzantines were nothing but bemused by this ragtag army and sent them off to Asia Minor. There the would-be Crusaders were mowed down en masse by the fierce Turkish army.

Next to take up the Cross and the Sword were a band of more experienced warriors from the German territories. However, this band of thugs could not have been too experienced because they went north towards the Rhine instead of south towards Jerusalem. The so-called 'German Crusaders' then decided it would be easier and more fun to slaughter thousands of unarmed Jews in leafy green German cities than fight seasoned Muslim warriors in the burning sun of Canaan. Urban's glorious war wasn't getting off to a great start. Perhaps the Church's burning all of those pagan libraries and its policy of mandating illiteracy and superstition among the peasantry was ill-advised.

Another wave of crusaders was soon launched, led by a band of French-speaking Norman princes. They dragged an army of peasants in their wake, some of whom were veterans from Peter's ‘People's Crusade’. This pack of Crusaders made it to Constantinople, but Byzantine King Alexius wasn't too thrilled to deal with a bunch of Norman warlords, since the Normans had spent the past few hundred years harassing the Byzantines. However, Alexius was successful in wresting a loyalty oath from the Normans and lent them a Byzantine army escort. This conglomeration made it to the Turkish stronghold of Dorylaeum, where the Crusaders would eventually defeat the Muslim army of Kilij Arslan. Then they marched to Antioch. The Crusaders laid siege to the Islamic city-state, but were eventually laid low by infighting, an outbreak of Typhus and a lack of supplies.

Their numbers greatly diminished, the ‘Prince’s Crusade’ finally made it to Jerusalem. On July 15, 1099, the Crusaders then began a massacre were they proceeded to annihilate every man, woman, and child within the city walls. Jews, Muslims and Christians all fell beneath the sword, until the blood ran in the streets up to the Crusader's ankles. A Norman government was then instituted with Godfrey of Boullion at its head, and the Holy Land was officially open for business.


The late Eleventh Century was a great time to be a Norman. Thirty three years prior to the conquest of Jerusalem, the Normans had conquered Anglo-Saxon Britain as well. The Norman shadow also looms large over the formation of an order of Crusaders officially known as ‘the Poor Fellow-Soldiers of Christ and of the Temple of Solomon.’ This group was founded in 1119 by Hughes De Payens and a group of nine knights. Their original commission called on them to safeguard the passage of European pilgrims to the holy city of Jerusalem. But under the patronage of St. Bernard of Clairvaux, their reputations, ranks and treasuries grew. This once-obscure band of military escorts soon came under no one's authority but the Pope himself.

As the order grew, the Templars graduated from their duties as escorts to becoming a full-fledged military order. Yet these knights were also monks, and were required to take the usual oath of poverty, chastity and obedience required of monastic orders by the Church of Rome. Templar knights made their headquarters on the Temple Mount in the so-called Stables of Solomon. They were known by their distinctive uniforms which featured the so-called ‘Cross of St. George’, the red on white cross known today in the flags of both England and the International Red Cross relief agency.

However, the Templar cross was not the same type as the more-familiar ‘Latin Cross’. It’s form is known as the Cross Patee - an equilateral cross with wings at the ends of each point and if often depicted in a circular form. In truth, the Templar cross is an ancient Assyrian Sun Cross. Another pre-Christian symbol was seen in the Templar seal. The famous two knights on horseback image associated with the Templars dates back to ancient Mesopotamia, birthplace of the Shemsu Hor. The Hittites associated this image with Astarte, whose Egyptian equivalent is Hathor.

The Templars soon became renowned for the ferocity on the field of battle. One of the oaths required of Templars was that they never surrender on the field of battle. It was promised that if they died in battle against an unbeliever, their place in Heaven would be instantly assured. How familiar that sounds to us today. Indeed, Templar knights were pivotal in the victory of the Christian King Baldwin IV over the Saracen army of the legendary Muslim warlord, Saladin. The military prowess of the Templars was such that only 80 Templars along with 500 knights and a few thousand foot soldiers were able to decimate Saladin's 30,000 strong army. The Muslim generals fearsome bodyguard of Mamluks were annihilated entirely.

If all that weren't enough, the Templars soon became entrusted with the treasuries of the pilgrims. This added to the already unimaginable wealth donated to the Templars by nobleman and initiates. Indeed, the entire concept of branch banking began with the Templars, as well as did a sort of credit system. A pilgrim was able to deposit his money in a Templar bank in Europe and then withdraw an equivalent sum at the end of his voyage. This system was instituted to safeguard the wealth of those traveling to the Holy Land, since they were subject to the predations of pirates, thieves and enemy soldiers. The Templars then used their wealth to institute a massive building program, consisting of fortresses, churches and public buildings. In addition, they founded a massive naval fleet which policed the Mediterranean on behalf of the Church.