Chivalry, the Knights Templar, & the Gnostic: A Union of Medieval Mystery & Mysticism
There has been as much speculation on the religious nature of the Knights Templar as there has on the nature of Chivalry and Gnosticism. While it may be understandable that Chivalry is a precursor to the ways of the Knights Templar, both the Templar and the practice of Gnosticism go hand in hand. Considering the fact that the Templar was founded as an order of Christ, I shall explain further. Since all tales, speculations, and points worthy of mention usually have a starting point, I will focus on Gnosticism first.
What is Gnosticism?
Gnosis, a word of Greek origin meaning 'knowledge', started to appear within first century Christianity, though the actual length of time it had been understood stretches far beyond this point in time. It was noted for novel beliefs of Gods; tolerance of different religious beliefs within and outside the philosophies of Gnosticism; and did not discriminate against women.
It may have been regarded as more than a philosophy, more than a religion, but also a form of magic. Essentially the most part of Gnostic documentation had been wiped out by the end of 5th century CE from mainline Christianity. Gnosticism consisted of many belief systems which combined elements taken from Asian, Babylonian, Egyptian, Greek and Syrian Paganism, astrology, Judaism, and early Christianity.
While some Gnostic practitioners worked with other Gnostics, or with particular branches of Christianity, inserting their influence here and there, others worked on their own or in solitary fashion. (Religious Tolerance)
Gnosticism and Chivalry both tied to practice and service of the divine (as I will explain further), equally deserve explanation in relevance to the Knights Templar. There is now an apparent need to address the concept of Chivalry.
What is Chivalry?
The term knighthood comes from the English word knight while chivalry comes from the French word chevalerie, from chevalier (or its later term cavalier) or knight. In modern English, chivalry means the ideals, virtues, or characteristics of knights. Hence, chivalry and knighthood are essentially synonymous. (Velde: Knighthood and Chivalry)
Chivalric Biographies and Handbooks remained as references and literature from which one could draw upon to learn about the ideals and concepts that were held dear under the oath of knighthood. The following is an example of the concept of knights as agents of justice, summing up:
"Trewely to take and treweliche to fyghte
Ys the profession and the pure ordre that apendeth to knyghtes;
Who-so passeth that poynt ys apostata of knyght-hod.
For thei shoulde not faste ne fore-bere sherte;
Bote feithfullich defende and fyghte for truth,
And nevere leve for love in hope to lacche seluer."
Chivalry was a primer for knighthood and for all orders, that would follow the initial dawn of the knight. Since then, there have been many orders that have been marked for holding some
high, nearly spiritual purposes, some of which are still around to this day. The Knights Templar is one of them.
There were apparent connections between the Knights Templar and the practice of Gnosticism. For one, as highlighted above, there was a lack of discrimination against women in Gnosticism, where there has also been that very lack in certain orders of Chivalry, including the Templar. The Knights Templar were not only a holy order of Christ, they were also termed as ‘warrior-monks’. Asceticism in the most symbolic sense took hold as the Templar decided to devote their lives to the service of others, the true service, the service of the Gods, the service of Christ.
Who are the Knights Templar?
"Like parenthood, Knighthood is a state of being attained by the individual concerned. And just as there is a variety of ways in which parenthood may be expressed, so too there are a variety of ways in which Knighthood may be expressed. Thus, whereas several other forms of Knighthood expressed as a drive toward the acquisition of worldly power and possessions, the motivation behind Templar Knighthood was to serve by protecting those on their way to the Holy Land. In fact, if it is one thing which distinguished the Templars from other forms of medieval Knighthood, it was their devotion to the integration of the mundane and spiritual aspects of life, for they knew that it is only in meeting the mundane and spiritual needs of the individual that one renders true service. Fundamentally, Templars were Soldier-Monks and, in this sense, they were one of the purest expressions of Spiritual Knighthood. They were Knights who practiced Spiritual Chivalry." (Templar Research Institute.Org - Grail Quest)
"Rather than limiting the individual to desiring contact with a Divinity external to oneself, the fundamental tenet of Gnosticism is that there is an inherent unity between God and Man. Accordingly, it is the responsibility of each individual to discover, and to experience within himself or herself, this inherent unity with the Divine, for until and unless one becomes enlightened by the fact of this oneness, one will not be able to bring the light of understanding to the transformation of oneself, let alone to the transformation of the world in which one lives." (Templar Research Institute.Org - Grail Quest)
The Order of the Knights Templar was founded by knights who spent long years in the Middle East and some elements of Gnosticism and other unorthodox beliefs may have been absorbed into their tenets and rituals. (Connections Journal: Pagan Mysteries)
"During their extended stay in the Holy Land, they had extensive exposure to eastern religions, philosophy, knowledge, and medicine. Typically badly outnumbered in engagements, they fought with legendary bravery, and often with brilliant insight. Over the centuries, through patriarchy of the Catholic Church, generous donations from wealthy families, and military conquest, they amassed wealth and power rivaling any organization of their age. The Templars implemented the earliest system of banking in the world, using "cheques", where a person could deposit money in one Templar facility and be issued a cheque which could be withdraw far away at another Templar location. They were perhaps the most powerful financial organization on earth during the middle ages, and used it to good effect.” (Knights Templar History)
"From their contact with Islam, Judaism, and the accumulated knowledge then existing in the East (which was the most scientifically and medicinally advanced at that time), they adopted different
styles of dress, mannerisms, philosophy, theology, and a great appreciation for the value of math and science. These last two they employed in their military endeavours in sailing, siege warfare, and construction techniques, allowing them to build some of the most advanced fortifications, and perhaps one of the largest shipping fleets of that era. Their knowledge of masonry, medicine, celestial bodies, mapping, and nautical tools was extensive, and increased the efficacy of all of their endeavours, military, mercantile, or otherwise." (Knights Templar History)
"Unfortunately for the Templars, they also created many enemies along the way. The Catholic Church did not at all like the infusion of Eastern philosophy and religious elements into the Templar religious beliefs, while numerous national sovereigns came to resent the Templars as they had often borrowed heavily from them and incurred great debt. Consequently, as time went on they were increasingly often subject to suspicion and hostility both from the Papacy, and sovereign powers. The clergy began to believe (rightfully) or not, that the Templars were beginning to worships pagan beliefs and were performing such "anti-biblical" acts as idol worship, homosexuality, and magic/witchcraft to name but a few. It was also from the Templars however, that the legends of the Grail Knights, King Arthur, Relics of the True Cross, and the Shroud of Turin all encompassed to varying degrees." (Knights Templar History)
From their service they became known to all they had met as true knights. Some of which respected them for their devotion, whereas others had misinterpreted their practices and actions for that of what one would call the ‘black arts’. Much documentation declared the witnessing of strange ritual practices and a head of which they referred to as that of Baphomet. This laid a great schism over the history and myth of the Knights Templar. There have been varying theories on the implementation of the Baphomet into the Templar culture. However, those are not the only bits of documentation used to suggest that the Knights Templar were in fact practicing the black arts. The following excerpt of documentation, the Skull of Sidon, is a tale suggesting the practice of Necromancy, a form of magic involving the dead which has roots in Mid-East lands.
"It is well known that the order of the Templars were monastic in nature and therefore forbidden to have involvement with women (see Templar Rule of Order). The legend of the Skull of Sidon states that one Templar knight had a relationship with a woman who died. He dug up the woman's corpse and consummated their relationship resulting in a most grisly birth nine months later." (The Legend of the Skull of Sidon)
Not for a moment am I suggesting that Necromancy is a practice of light or love, but rather that it is a neutral practice. A practice, which originated in Eastern or Middle Eastern lands, of which many that the Westerners (esp. practitioners of Christianity) had a habit of misinterpreting during this particular time period.
"Probably relying upon contemporary Eastern sources, Western scholars have recently supposed that 'Bafomet' has no connection with Mohammed, but could well be a corruption of the Arabic abufihamat (pronounced in the Moorish Spanish something like bufihimat). The word means 'father of understanding.' In Arabic, 'father' is taken to mean 'source, chief seat of,' and so on. In Sufi terminology, ras el-fahmat (head of knowledge) means the mentation of man after undergoing refinement - the transmuted consciousness. - Idries Shah, The Sufis." (Mysteries of the Templars: The Baphomet)
"Another theory suggests that Baphomet is a compound of the words 'baphe' (baptism) and 'metis' (wisdom). Both theories imply the Templars were worshipping, or at least privy to, a secret knowledge. Several commentators believed this points to the Templars having been Gnostics ('gnosis' meaning knowing). - Encounters magazine, issue 11: 45." (Mysteries of the Templars: The Baphomet)
A severe misconception of ideologies adopted through interaction between various cultures in history further supports the notions that the Church had still confused such a head of knowledge for a devil created by ancient misconceptions of scripture. Whether the head encountered was really of Arabic origin or Celtic (as some accounts describe the head to have wild eyes and wild hair like that of the Celtic woodland god Cernunnos), it is clear that the Knights Templar held in high respects the secret knowledge to which they had been blessed.
It is important to understand the practices of the cultures across Western and Eastern expansions so that they do not fall into a deep abyss of a category unnamed by some and cursed by others…one terribly marked up by misconception. Not to say that all secret knowledge is either light or dark, but rather neutral, and only becomes light or dark after interpretation.
To conclude, The Knights Templar was an order of chivalry whose purpose was of none other than faithful devotion and service to others in the name of Christ with an understanding of knowledge they gained from the Eastern world. I personally feel as though the Knights Templar fell under many dark schisms due to the misinterpretation of the Western world, primarily the Church, some of which are still attached to the very name of the order to this day.
Mysteries of the Templars: The Baphomet. http://crystalinks.com/templars3.html
The Legend of the Skull of Sidon. http://crystalinks.com/templars2.html
Acheson, Richard David, Jr. 2001. Knights Templar History. Acheson Genealogical Society. http://home.gwi.net/ages/Main%20Body/History/Templar%20Origins.html
Merlyn. Pagan Mysteries: Who Needs Them? Connections Journal.
Barber, Richard. 1970. The Knight & Chivalry. Charles Scriber's Sons.
Painter, Sidney. 1974(1964). French Chivalry: Chivalric Ideas and Practices in Medieval France. Cornell University.
Velde, Francois. 2000. Knighthood and Chivalry. http://www.heraldica.org/topics/orders/knights.htm
Robinson, B. A. 2000 (1996). Ontario Consultants of Religious Tolerance. Religious Tolerance: Gnosticism. http://www.religioustolerance.com/gnostic.htm
CIRCES International. 2001. Templar Research Institute.Org: Grail Quest.