As is well known the Knights Templar were accused of heresy and surpressed by the Catholic Church, under pressure from various European monarchs, and ever after this a string of accusations has been leveled them. This article is an examination of Templar heresy and the possible truth behind it.
1) The original charges:
a) Unspecified heresy.
b) Vague accusations: They had abandoned God and sacrificed to demons, they worshiped idols and behaved like beasts (perhaps related to the popular medieval phrase ‘to drink like a Templar’, to get very, very drunk!). Their character was bestial, irrational and insane. They lacked wisdom and prudence.
2) Results of investigation following arrests:
a) Carvings were found on the walls of Templar inner sanctums of an astrological, alchemical, geomantic (sacred geometry) and numerological nature (in other words evidence of Hermeticism).
b) A gilded silver reliquary was discovered in the shape of a woman’s head. Inside were the bones of a small woman.
c) Some identified this head with the mysterious story of Yse, or Yses (perhaps Isis), which described how a Templar made love to the dead body of his lover (Yse). The dead woman later mysteriously conceives a ‘child’, in the form of a skull (found lying across her crossed leg bones, the origin of the skull and crossbones) which becomes the protecting genius of the Templar and gives him great power and wealth.
d) It was later observed that the shield of Hughes de Payen (The Pagan), founder of the Templars, carried a shield decorated with three black heads. His own head was preserved said some.
3) Confessions under torture:
The worship of an idol called Baphomet (variously described as a bearded head, a female head, a gargoyle-like pagan deity or a black cat).
This idol ‘made the land germinate’, ‘made the trees flower’, ‘could make riches’, ‘could save them’.
They wore magic cords charged with power from the idol.
In Templar initiation Christ was denied three times as a ‘false god’, and even called a ‘false prophet’.
The cross was spat on, and the crucifixion denied as a form of salvation.
They took part in illicit sexual activity: including ‘the five fold kiss’ and buggery.
They rejected the ‘true God’ for a god called Yahallah (though this is apparently Jehovah + Allah).
4) Later medieval accusations:
The Templars were also said to have fraternized with Moslems, particularly the Assassins, and to have made contact with heretical sects in Palestine. At home they were said to have sheltered Cathars and witches from the authorities. They were sometimes suspected of a sacrilegious devotion in their favoured saint Mary Magdalene.
Many historians regard the charges as trumped up and the confessions unreliable, but these cannot be ignored entirely.
Some of the elements such as sacrificing to demons, worshipping idols and keeping magical black cats are identical to charges against witches. And may have been stock accusations used by those wanting a heresy charge to stick. However there does seem to be a unique pagan form of religion in these accounts which is not found elsewhere (particular the head connection). This would not be surprising however as many aristocrats in the lower nobility (the class of most Templars) are suspected of retaining a lot of their ancestral paganism long after their families conversion to Xtianity (even today some aristocratic families preserve ancestral relics ranging from magical ‘totems’ to ‘lucky heirlooms’). In early times even the upper aristocracy, from the Plantagenets to the first Norman kings, are suspected of involvement in pagan cults.
Given this it would be more surprising if there wasn’t some pagan element in the cult of the Templars.
The illicit sexual activity is another stock accusation leveled usually against Gnostics. Though it was also descriptive of common practices in all male monastic orders. There is also some indication of Gnostic belief amongst the Templars (the denial of the role of Christ within a Christian context in particular, though that could also be a Judaic stance, and the importance of Mary Magdalene), or at least Hermeticism as described in (2a), itself a form of Gnosticism.
It could be reasonably concluded that the Templars preserved pagan notions (like many in that age), and were at least receptive to Gnostic ideas (including Hermeticism), but that the details are unreliable. This makes them sound in some ways like the Celtic Church (though in Templar times this had been officially surpressed for centuries), who preserved deeply held pagan beliefs amongst their grassroots congregation, while turning them towards a form of Xtianity that preserved several Judaic elements (including the denial of original sin, and even a non-divine Christ in a few cases). Some of whose churchmen were also highly influenced by Gnostic writings (preserving their texts in Irish monasteries). It thus seems quite possible that there was some survival of Celtic Christianity (or something close to it) at the root of the early Templars. This is would be supported by the strongest cases for Templar survival in Portugal, Scotland and Ireland, all of which were the last ‘heretical’ strongholds of the Celtic Church (which had once dominated the British Isles and regions on the Atlantic coast of Europe).
Baphomet and the magic heads seem unique beliefs however. The term Baphomet was once thought to refer to Mohamed but this is now known to be false. The most common derivation is that the term is either from the Greek ‘Baph Metis’ – ‘Baptism (or perhaps Baptiser) of Wisdom’, the Arabic ‘Abufihamat’ – Sufi term for enlightened being, the ‘Father of Wisdom’, or the anagram of the Latin ‘TEM OHP ABI’ – short for ‘The Father of the Temple of Peace of all Men’. More recently the Kabbalistic Hebrew Atbash Cipher was applied to the name to reveal ‘Sophia’ the Gnostic ‘goddess’ of wisdom (Atbash was also used in the Dead Sea Scrolls).
It is impossible to say which of these is correct, one might be or a complex pun involving any combination might be. The key feature is a possibly androgynous, archetype of wisdom, perhaps associated with the Temple and baptism. The androgyny would be supported by the tales of two heads, male and female. The later two associations point to a Judaic origin (though if there was a language mix in the name an attempt to combine Catholicism, Judaism, Islam, Gnosticism and Greek Orthodoxy and/or even Greek Paganism (baptism originating here) may be indicated). Some connect the bodiless head and baptism motifs with John the Baptist (and this may be possible see below) but this narrative is just a local recreation of Greek Orphic/Dionysian mythos in a Judaic context and is compatible with the above. There are also other compatible interpretations as well (such as sexual euphemism regarding the term ‘head’! See below). Eliphas Levy had a facinating interpretation of this, as wisdom being the ambiguous (androgynous) absolute reality beyond all dualism, attainable only through Gnostic initiation, which may have included baptism. The head myth is an ancient one going back to shamanism, where capturing the decapitated head of an enemy brought power, psychic power if the head belonged to a shaman. This survives in the Odinic myth of Mimir. Such heads also represented fertilizing and protective deities (probably from a derivation of the previous connection) see (3b) above, something preserved in the Celtic myth of Bran’s head buried at Tower Hill in London as protector of the land. Dismemberment also relates to Osiris, an archetype even more associated with fertility (key members being his phallus and head), and perhaps linked to the Yse legend in (2c) above. In more sophisticated form the head of Orpheus, that great demi-god, seer, poet and healer, torn off by the Maenads, preserved his oracular and healing powers (again ultimately the head of the shaman, something also apparent in the Salome / Baptist version). The head also enters into a binary dualism with the phallus, twin poles of sexuality and spirituality, body and mind, apparently separate but really entwined. Some form of Gnostic sex magic may have been involved here. The dismemberment myth might also take on Freudian significance in this context!
Certainly Agrippa later claimed the Templars were not only secret Gnostics but also worshippers of the phallic Priapus and wild Pan. An unsupported claim, but one that might have been based on certain received rumours (both these gods were companions of Dionysos, a was Hermes, of course).
Sources of Templar heresy beyond its irregular founding are also implied. But it is unlikely that the Templars were converted to some new doctrine in the Middle East, as they were so highly motivated on arrival. A few may have been impressed enough by new ideas to change their worldview but it is not really conceivable that the organisation changed on mass. However they were looking for something (as evidenced by contacts with various non-Christian groups and archeological projects at the Temple Mount, and later in other regions around Europe and the Near East. It is likely that they augmented whatever they originally thought with new material here. This most likely related to their openness to Gnosticism. Candidates for influence, all of which are known to have had contact with the Templars at some point, are
Kabbalistic Jews, Johanite Gnostics (or Mandeans), centered on a cult of John the Baptist, Hashishans (and other Ishmaeli sects, like the Yezidis) and possibly an Egyptian Christian Gnostic cult centered on Mary Magdalene - identified by Gnostics as Sophia and Isis, and believed to have figured in mysterious rites of sexual magic (those that reject any notion of Templar interest in sex rites, based on their status as a celibate male only order, forget the crucial facts that the order maintained a support service consisting of many people outside their vows, including serving women, the fact some actually married into aristocratic families, and that celibacy seems to have been a temporary, methodological practise, as opposed to a permanent lifestyle, in some contexts (such as in the Celtic Church). They also forget the effects of temporary celibacy!). Elements of all or any of these would have probably had some influence on Templar belief if relevant to their original aims.
The final link in the chain ‘heresy’ is said by some to be the Cathars, who do seem to have found sanctuary in Templar precincts, though this was often given to any ‘heretic’ or non-Christian who asked it, and a common Gnosticism may have made this protection more likely. The only evidence of Cathar influence was the magical cords mentioned under torture (3c), which were also associated with the Albigensian Cathari. On the other hand something similar is also said of Sufi and Yezidi mystics
The precise details of Templar heresy remain mysterious but it does seem there was a basis of truth behind the claims for a highly irregular inner teaching within their outer Catholicism.
Templar traditions are said not only to have passed to (speculative) survivors but also to groups supporting the order, such as craft guilds (from whereFreemasonry is said to derive by some. And the Templars do seem to have built many churches and cathedrals with a secret geomancy in mind), and to those sponsored, such as certain circles of alchemists (say Templarist Rosicrucians) and artists (from where the Troubadour tradition arose) and perhaps to the writers of the Arthurian legends, whose knights combined ‘Christian virtue’ with ‘Pagan mythos’ and a strain of ‘Holy Grail’ Gnosticism.