To: All Msg #73, 18-Oct-88 19:31edt THE MURDERED MAGICIANS: THE TEMPLARS AND THEIR MYTH by
From: Geoff Gilpin
To: All Msg #73, 18-Oct-88 19:31edt
THE MURDERED MAGICIANS: THE TEMPLARS AND THEIR MYTH
by Peter Partner
(Great Britain, 1987, The Aquarian Press)
The library of the occult gets fatter every day. Here in the belly of the
New Age, the average bookstore carries "ancient secrets" and "hidden wisdom"
by the metric ton. But literature ABOUT the occult, of the history of
occult ideas and their influence on important people, is skimpy and often
unreliable. It's hard to find an honest scholar among the mystagogues and
Fundamentalists. We have Dame Francis Yates, a gem of a historian who cares
about things that would make most academics turn up their noses. And now we
have Dr. Peter Partner. As we bow three times in the direction of Dame
Frances, it must be said that Dr. Partner is a better writer. An alchemist
would envy his ability to turn the junk of history into gold.
THE MURDERED MAGICIANS starts off on familiar ground. We meet the
historical Templars themselves, fresh from the Crusades, returning to
France, getting rich in the Church market and drawing the wrath of the
odious Philip the Fair. There is the famous midnight arrest and the
subsequent "trial". There are the usual confessions of heresy and sodomy
extracted under torture. Then there is the stake, where most accounts of
the Templars end. In Dr. Partner's history of ideas, though, the stake was
just the beginning.
Jacques de Molay and his cohorts did not rest easily in their graves. As
the years passed, Templar stories and rumors became grander with each
telling. Finally, these illiterate Crusaders from the lowest ranks of the
aristocracy emerged as powerful sorcerers who used ancient magical secrets
for their own mysterious ends. At least that's what everybody thought.
There had been charges of black magic from the start. In the "trial" itself,
the Templars were accused of worshipping an idol called "Baphomet"
-- a French corruption of "Muhammad" -- which they supposedly picked up from
the Muslim conquerors of the Holy Land. (Of course, the idea that ANY Muslim
would worship an image of Muhammad says more about the parochial mentality of
the European Church than anything else.)
In the 1500's, the magical fame of the Templars spread from the pen of Henry
Cornelius Agrippa, a sort of Renaissance Shirley McClaine whose works were
highly popular and influential. In DE OCCULTA PHILOSOPHIA, Agrippa set about
classifying the "good" and "bad" schools of magic. He placed the Templars in
the latter category, along with the Gnostics and folk witches.
The Templar myth did not attain its full potency until the eighteenth century.
If it seems odd that occult gossip would thrive in the Age of Enlightenment,
it must be remembered that Reason was just one part of the Enlightenment
hodge-podge. Alchemy and Cabala seemed just as important to the educated
minds of the day. Also, the new liberal climate produced a lot of nostalgia
for the good old days of noble status and "chivalry". Thus we see Elias
Ashmole, chemist, bibliographer, and one of the founders of the Royal Society
of London, writing sentimentally of the Templars.
At this stage, the Templar myth gets mixed up with Freemasonry. Masons of the
period traced their heritage back to the Crusaders who, they supposed, were
privy to the mystical knowledge of Egypt and Greece. It seems inevitable that
they would bring in de Molay and company.
According to Dr. Partner, "The birthplace of Templarism was Germany, where the
egalitarian and rationalist thrust of Freemasonry was resisted by an
old-fashioned and rank-dominated society, and there was a demand for a version
of the Masonic craft acceptable to conservative doctrine and Gothic taste."
Under the tutelage of such Masters as Samuel Rosa and George Frederick
Johnson, "Provost-General of the Templar Order of the Scottish Lords",
Templarism went far beyond the relatively simple edifice of traditional
"The invention of the Templar myths amounted to a patent to create new noble
titles. ... Johnson and Rosa, as 'Heads' of their Orders, created elaborate
hierarchies with hundreds of such knightly titles." And, incidentally, earned
a tidy living in the process. By the last decades of the century, Europe was
dotted with competing Templar lodges, each claiming to possess the True
The end came with both a bang and a whimper. For one thing, the Templarist
Masons were afflicted by the stagnancy that is the hallmark of the occult:
"The successively unveiled mysteries of the Order had yielded nothing but
boring ritual; the alchemists had made no discoveries; the Templar lands would
never be returned. No one expected to identify the long-concealed Unknown
Superiors. The thirst for mystical illumination remained, but hope of
quenching it at the Templar spring was over."
Furthermore, there was the spectacular scandal of the "Bavarian Illuminati",
the pet conspiracy of that Jesuit-haunted secular humanist, Adam Weishaupt.
Dr. Partner dispels any notions of co-fraternity between the Illuminati and
the Templarists. True, Weishaupt had recruited some members from the
crumbling Templar lodges, but otherwise the two groups had opposing styles and
"There was no direct continuity between the Strict Templar Observance and
the Bavarian Illuminati at all. The aristocratic mumbo-jumbo of the Templar
lodges pandered to the confused conservatism of the German nobles and had a
great deal in common with the mumbo-jumbo of the Rosicrucians, to whose ideas
the Illuminati were absolutely opposed."
Such nit-picking hardly mattered, though, especially after the French
Revolution when all secret societies seemed to be part of a single gargantuan
evil. Those days saw the beginning of modern conspiracy theory. Pamphleteers
such as Friedreich Nicolai and Augustine de Barruel offered lurid exposes of
the secret societies. For these zealots, "it all connects": Templars,
Illuminati, Masons, Gnostics, Cathars, Manicheans, and the other enemies of
normalcy and the status quo. The gaps in logic never seemed important; it was
all grist for the mill as one pamphleteer reprinted the wooly ideas of
another. The tradition continues to this day with the intellectual
descendants of Nicolai and Barruel advertising in THE SPOTLIGHT and other
With the suppression of the Illuminati, German Templarism slumbered for a
hundred years. There was a flurry of Templar activity in France under
Napoleon and in the United States with the Civil War general Albert Pike.
But, for the most part, nineteenth century Templarism thrived in its rightful
soil: the land of literature and myth.
The Templar myth could have been made for the Romantic period. It had
everything a Romantic could want: the middle ages, chivalry, pre-Christian
wisdom, wicked clergymen, sex, and plenty of Gothic shudders. Indeed, the
list of nineteenth century artists who contributed to the Templar myth or were
influenced by it reads like a "Who's Who": Balzac, Walter Scott, Disraeli,
Wagner, Edward Bulwer-Lytton, and Gabriel Rosetti, of whom Partner says "He
knew hardly anything of the heresies which had in fact existed in the middle
ages, but he made up for this by inventing new ones on a generous scale."
When Templarism revived in Germany at the end of the century it had come a
long way from the humble actuality of Jacques de Molay.
The modern Templar revival was largely the work of a journalist named Theodore
Reuss and, later on, the British occultist Aleister Crowley. Their Order of
the Temple of the Orient (O.T.O.) continues to this day with chapters in most
of the United States and several European countries. O.T.O. literature claims
a connection with the medieval Order of de Molay and it emphasizes the "sexual
magic" that the Templars supposedly picked up from the Gnostics or Indian
Yogis or whomever. In any case, the popularity of the O.T.O. seems to be
growing, which demonstrates once again the hardiness of this remarkable myth.
Aside from its durability, the Templar myth has been astonishingly adaptable.
Where one group hates and fears the Templars for their purported demonology
and unusual sexual practices, another group rallies to their defense for the
same reasons. (Of course, few people question whether demonology and unusual
sexual practices ever happened.) To quote Dr. Partner:
"The shifting history of Templarism, with its movements from one
interpretation of the Templar story to another, reflects the original Masonic
confusion between the parable and the truth the parable was supposed to
represent. But it also reveals the way in which men fulfill their spiritua
needs in a way which broadly corresponds to an earlier pattern, but which is
nevertheless made in their own image. Nothing is more misleading than the
claim that there is an immemorial esoteric tradition which places antique and
prehistoric wisdom at the disposal of the adept. It is true that some
esoteric principles derive from a philosophical tradition of great antiquity.
But students of the supposed hidden truths are also men of their times, and
they have employed esoteric ideas in the service of interests and concepts
which have changed from one generation to another. The tradition as applied
to the Templar myth has proved to be Protean in its mutability. The Templars
have been benign, rational sages for one generation, demonic Satanists for
another, wise, wealthy technocrats for a third."
In other words, a Rorschach blot.
Does it matter if the Templar myth is true or false, profound or silly?
Apparently not. What matters is that people believe. And the Templar myth
has attracted some very influential believers, often with unpleasant results.
"Secret society myths are usually concerned to suggest the influence of
small, powerful groups which work invisibly. But the political importance of
such myths is their effect on the general currents and atmosphere of public
opinion. It can be shown from the history of Templarism that small, private
groups of people who profess esoteric doctrines with a political flavour, and
sometimes practice eccentric rituals, do from time to time exist. So far as
Templarism is concerned, the political and social effect of such groups has
been negligible. What matters to society is the vague, disquieting effects
either of propagandists who spread alarming reports of secret society
conspiracies, or of esoteric publicists who diffuse ideas of the miraculous
and the marvelous, and give the impression that social change can easily be
accomplished by the workers of wonders."
The fate of the original Templars may be history's best argument against
secrecy. On the other side of the myth, those "who spread alarming reports of
secret society conspiracies" seem doomed to their own sad fate. The moral
might be "Choose well your myths."
In all the hub-bub, it's easy to misplace the historical Knights of the
Temple. When he returns to Jacques de Molay and company, Dr. Partner is as
eloquent as he is sane:
"The unromantic truth is that the Templars of the Middle Ages made not the
slightest attempt to build the Temple of Wisdom, unless that Temple is defined
as that of the Catholic Church. The end of the Templars arose not from the
operation of demonic forces but as a result of their own mediocrity and lack
of nerve. A handful of them measured up to the terrible challenge which
confronted them, but most, including their leaders, at the moment of trial
proved to have nothing much to say. In the Holy Land the Templars had been
brave soldiers but rather short-sighted politicians, who in no way conformed
to the high standards which their nineteenth-century admirers ascribed to
them. The most striking characteristic of the medieval Templars was their
ordinariness; they represented the common man, and not the uncommon visionary.
Mozart's noble Masonic opera, THE MAGIC FLUTE, holds out the vision of a
Temple of Reason and Nature presided over by a ruler- seer, Serastro. If the
Temple of Serastro is ever to be built, and if man is to live in some state of
Mozartian harmony, it may be on principles in which the Freemason ideal has
had a part, but it will not be based on the ideals of the medieval Templars."
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