Knights Templar – A Secret History: Interview with the author Graeme Davis

davisI recently mentioned a great book on the Knights Templar by Graeme Davis that explores the many stories and myths that surround this intrepid order of warrior monks.

Graeme got in touch and I leapt at the opportunity to review his book and connect with the man himself. 

On your behalf, I posed some searching questions and I think you’ll find this a fascinating read. Share your thoughts and views as ever. But without further do – let’s go meet Graeme Davis!

You have a fascination for myth and folklore – where did this come from? And tell us how it’s influenced both your books and work on games.

It started very young. At the age of six or seven, I saw Jason and the Argonauts on my parent’s black-and-white TV, and was fascinated by Ray Harryhausen‘s monsters. A week or two later, the traveling bookmobile brought a children’s retelling of Homer’s Odyssey to my little school, and I was hooked. That Christmas, I asked a rather nonplussed department-store Santa for a book on Greek mythology. For the rest of my childhood, I read Greek and Norse myths, the legends of King Arthur and Robin Hood, and anything else I could get my hands on.
About a decade later I discovered Dungeons & Dragonsand was immediately attracted to its use of creatures and concepts from mythology. I spent hours in the local library ploughing through a multi-volume set of English and Scottish folklore by county – initially to find new monsters for my games, but more and more I became intrigued by the stories themselves and the recurring motifs that seem to be independent of race and culture.

You wrote a compelling book on the Knights Templar – what interests you about the Templars? Why do you think they generate so much interest?

holyI first became aware of Templar conspiracy theories when I read The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail as a college student. I was studying archaeology and learning about the Middle Ages at the same time, and my penchant for myth and folklore had begun to develop into an interest in historical fantasy. The Templars of legend defied the worst that the Catholic Church and the crowned heads of Europe could throw at them, and are still active today, and that is a powerful narrative. Their secrets and their powers are just defined enough to make them intriguing without exposing them to detailed analysis, which ensure that they will always be intriguing.

In the book, you claim the revelations came from a certain Dr Emile Fouchet – am I correct in assuming that he may be an imaginary character? Where did you get the idea of Fouchet from?

Fouchet is completely fictional. My intention was to assemble all the Templar legends and conspiracy theories that I could find and weave them into a single narrative, but that required a framing device. By creating Fouchet and his research, I had a unifying fiction and a single voice for all the speculation that was needed to hold everything together.

The Templars have generated as much fiction as fact – do you think it matters if the boundaries are blurred or do you feel it might be even be impossible to wholly separate fact and fiction?

I think it has been impossible to separate Templar fact from Templar fiction since 1139, if not before. The events surrounding the Order’s dissolution added to the fiction, and with the rise of Templar imagery in Freemasonry that started in the 18th century, the legend grew and grew.

The Templars were accused of some pretty racy stuff back in 1307 – do you believe any of the charges were true?

Most of the charges were pretty standard for a group accused of heresy. Sodomy was a normal part of the package – we  get our word “bugger” from the name of the Bulgarian Bogomils who were accused of heresy in the 10th century. More serious, in many ways, were the charges of secret adherence to Islam, including the Baphomet-Mahomet connection remarked on by many historians. The practicalities of life in the Crusader States – and later, in the shrinking Christian foothold in the eastern Mediterranean – required those on the ground to make certain compromises for the sake of survival, and to the “armchair quarterbacks” who were safely at home in Christendom, this must have looked a lot like defection to the Islamic cause. The accounts of contemporary Arab historians show that the Templars were regarded as anything but allies.
The other charges were partly reiterations of these two – “every imaginable crime and vice,” “defy the authority of the Church,” and so on – and are too vague to shed any light. The story of trampling and spitting on the cross, one of the best-known to modern readers, emerged from questioning under torture, and was not among the formal charges.

What about the stories of treasure found under the Temple of Solomon in Jerusalem – are you sceptical?

I see this story as a continuation of a legend that goes back to Roman times and before. The Temple was said to contain a secret chamber into which a mechanism could lower the Ark of the Covenant for safe-keeping if Jerusalem were attacked; certainly, the Ark was not among the treasures looted from the Holy of Holies by Roman troops in AD 70. It is easy to see how rumours of a secret chamber could grow into a story of hidden treasure, especially taking into account the Islamic view of Solomon as a powerful sorcerer in addition to a wise king.

You mention in the book the possibility that the Templars got to America. Do you think there’s any likelihood that could have happened and why would they have gone there?

The story of the lost Templar fleet implies that a great Templar treasure went somewhere, and it has not been found in Europe. Scotland, its most likely destination, has yielded nothing, and the next stop is Scandinavia, where the Templar captains could very well have learned of the old Viking sea-routes to Iceland and Greenland, possibly from former Templars who had sought refuge among the Teutonic orders. While it was in decline, the Norse Greenland colony did not die out for another century, and the routes would still have been known in 1308. From there, following clues in the Icelandic sagas, it would be possible to follow Lief Eriksson’s original route and find North America. Did the Templars do so? There is no conclusive evidence, and for all we know the lost fleet – if it truly existed – might just as well have gone into the Mediterranean.

Assassin’s Creed and other works have popularised the idea of a centuries old battle between Templars and the church/Inquisition – why does this idea clearly have so much appeal?

They are perfect for historical fantasy: a secretive organisation with mysterious powers, untold wealth and influence, and a shadowy agenda which can be fitted to almost any storyline for a book, movie, or game. The idea of a secret war that lays behind the events of history as we know it is endlessly intriguing, and whether the Templars are cast as vicious power-seekers or tenacious underdogs, their historical reality and centuries-long pedigree makes them an ideal secret society to use.

Are you planning any further writing or games based on the Templars?

Not at this time, although Templar history and Medieval history in general have informed a lot of my fantasy writing down the years, and this will no doubt continue to be the case.

Here is a list of other publications by Graeme Davis that feature the Templars:

Colonial Gothic Organizations Book 1: The Templars
A sourcebook on the Templars for Rogue Games’ tabletop roleplaying game set in America’s early history.
GURPS Crusades
A mostly-historical sourcebook on the Crusades, including the role of the Templars and the Hospitallers.
“The Knights Templar,” Pyramid #3/86, December 2015
Different versions of the Knights Templar, defined for the GURPS tabletop roleplaying game.
“Templars: The Fighting Priests,” Pyramid #3/19, May 2010.
A discussion of the Templars and Templar-like organizations in fantasy games.
You can join Graeme Davis on his blog (https://graemedavis.wordpress.com/) where he has posted some of the reviews of the book: https://graemedavis.wordpress.com/2013/10/09/knights-templar-a-secret-history/
For those who don’t like Amazon, the book can be ordered directly from Osprey Publishing’s web site at https://ospreypublishing.com/store/osprey-adventures/dark-osprey/knights-templar
The rest of the Dark Osprey line can be seen at https://ospreypublishing.com/store/osprey-adventures/dark-osprey
Last October, Graeme published a curated anthology of early American horror stories set in and around the Colonial era. Not related to the Templars as such but great stuff! It is available via most online booksellers and direct from the publisher at http://pegasusbooks.com/books/colonial-horrors-9781681775296-hardcover

Ten accusations made against the Knights Templar

Templar artworkIn 1307, the Knights Templar were rounded up, imprisoned and tortured under secret orders issued by the King of France. The trials of top Templars would last for years and lead to many being burnt at the stake including the last Grand Master, Jacques de Molay. He was incinerated in public in front of Notre Dame cathedral.

A string of scandalous accusations were made against the Knights Templar to justify smashing the order. I recommend Malcom Barber’s detailed account of The Trial of the Templars if you want to learn a lot more.

MolayHere were some of the most noteworthy charges:

  1. New entrants to the Templar order had to deny Christ, the Holy Virgin and the saints
  2. Templars were told that Christ was a false prophet and there was no hope of receiving salvation through belief in him
  3. Knights were ordered to spit on a crucifix and even urinate or trample on it
  4. The order worshipped a head of some description, possibly that of a cat or with three faces or an idol called Baphomet
  5. This idol was encircled with cords, which the Templars then wore around their waists
  6. The Knights Templar rejected the sacraments of the Catholic church
  7. It was thought that the Grand Master and other leading Templars could absolve sins even though they were laymen and not priests
  8. New entrants were kissed on the mouth, the navel, the stomach, the buttocks and the spine and homosexuality was encouraged
  9. The Templars were only interested in financial gain and pocketed donations for their own use
  10. Chapter meetings and initiations were held in strictest secret with only Templars present and those that revealed any details to people outside of the order would be punished with imprisonment or death

A short film from the Smithsonian includes a reenactment of what the alleged initiation ritual looked like.

Were the Knights Templar heretics?

What heretical ideas might the Knights Templar have adhered to or imported from the east into the very heart of western Christendom?

There’s an interesting section in the book The Templars History and Myth by Michael Haag on medieval heresy in relation to the Templars that is a good starting point. Let’s look at three heretical movements that could have influenced the Templars:

  1. The Cathars

burning_heretics_02Guillaume de Puylaurens was born in Toulouse some time after the year 1200 and lived to witness the region he grew up in convulsed by a heretical movement called the Cathars. He was in turn a priest, then worked for the local bishop and eventually rose to become chaplain to Raymond VII of Toulouse – who was basically a medieval warlord resisting the authority of the King of France.

Guillaume would spend his closing years freelancing for the Inquisition and sending heretics to the flames. The 13th century saw the emergence, through clerical orders like the Dominicans, of that frightening ecclesiastical phenomenon that would bring so much misery to Europe – the Inquisition or Tribunal of the Holy Office.

Guillaume spotted heretics all over the place in southern France. Arians, Waldensians and Manichaeans were actively spreading their ideas if his chronicles are to be believed. Common themes in all these heresies, particularly the Cathars, were a questioning of the divine nature of Christ, the promotion of poverty as a virtue, a rejection of the material world and a scathing criticism of the wealth and power of a church that falsely claimed it ruled in the name of Christ.

We think of the Middle Ages as a time when the Catholic church exercised total authority over the people of Europe but the truth was very different. Ask a priest, bishop or pope at the time and they’d have listed the many threats out there to church dominance. It would have felt to these men that Roman Catholicism was under constant attack from powerful and evil forces.

The Languedoc region, with its capital at Toulouse, was the centre of the Cathar heresy that led to a papal crusade and the burning of their leaders, many of whom were local aristocrats. It was also a region where the Templars had ties of family, wealth and property. Michael Haag argues that some of the Templar patrons were known Cathar supporters.

It would take forever to detail all the Cathar beliefs that so offended Rome. In short, they continued a dualist tradition that had existed in early Christianity with a belief that the world was so corrupt and evil, it could not have been created by a good God. Therefore, a malign force had conjured up the material world while the true God was calling us all to rejoin him in the spiritual realm.

If this was true, Jesus Christ could not have been tainted by human flesh and was therefore an entirely spiritual entity. Again, an idea that many early Christians adhered to. This meant the Virgin birth story was a lie. This contempt for the carnal led some Cathars to reject meat and dairy products as well as abstaining entirely from sex.

TLSMacCullochThe argument runs that the Knights Templar were noticeably absent from the so-called “Albigensian crusade” launched by Pope Innocent III against the Cathars. That name derives from the town of Albi, a hotspot of Cathar activity. It’s also conjectured that the Templars wanted to carve out their own state in southern France, in opposition to the king, with the help of local magnates and Cathars.

Some have argued that the Cathars were in possession of the treasure found under the Temple of Solomon in Jerusalem. They reputedly hid it down a well in the fortified town of Caracassonne.

The problem with arguing a Templar/Cathar connection is that the knights were repeatedly held up as exemplars of the church militant.  They were protected by the papacy, lauded by Saint Bernard of Clairvaux and fought tenaciously to extend Catholic dominion in the Middle East and the Iberian Peninsula. So surely they were on the pope’s side against these accursed Cathars?

However, the Templars also came to a barbaric and disgraceful end at the hands of that very same church. Their leaders and last Grand Master faced the same flames that engulfed many a Cathar. Both Templars and Cathars endured horrific torture and interrogation from priests and bishops. So can we deduce some kind of link from this?

It’s maybe not so surprising that the man entrusted with crushing the Templars, the King of France’s keeper of the seal Guillaume de Nogaret, was from a family that had fallen in with the Cathars. Possibly, Nogaret felt he had to over-compensate for this unfortunate treachery in his background by being ultra-loyal to king and pope.

  1. The Gnostics

I shudder every time I decide to touch this subject. Gnosticism almost defies description. But let’s have a go. I apologise in advance for the crudeness of this summary if any Gnostics are browsing this blog.

gnosisFirst thing to say is that elements of Gnosticism predate Christianity. You can find some of the basic tenets in Plato and other philosophers as well as the beliefs of certain ancient religious cults.

Basically, there have always been thoughtful people who have looked at the horror of the world around them and thought – this runs counter to who I am and what I should be. This world is false and empty. It’s a distraction. There must be a path back to a better kind of existence in tune with a true God who would not have wanted this to happen.

“Gnosis” = knowledge. Our world is the result of a cosmic catastrophe. We must acquire the knowledge that takes us back to our true essence. That will reunite us with the true God. When the catastrophe occurred, it sent millions of pieces of divine essence hurtling through the universe. Some of us have a piece of the divine within us and our aim must be, through total rejection of everything we see around us, to make our way back to God.

Like the Cathars, the idea of a bodily Jesus being born and dying was complete anathema. Jesus had come to impart knowledge – not drink wine, eat bread and die on a cross. The Gospel of John reads in a very Gnostic manner once you know the basics. “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and God was the Word”. Gnosticism on a plate!

abraxasThose who support the idea of a Templar/Gnostic connection point to the use of certain symbols on their seals, for example the demi-god Abraxas. This entity had the body of a man and head of a cockerel.

Abraxas was one of the Archons – servants of the evil or creator God that had landed us in the mess we find ourselves in today. These Archons, 365 in total, stand between humanity and the true God to whom we must return, though not all of us can.

The Catholic church viewed Abraxas as a pagan god so what is this creature doing popping up on Templar seals?

  1. The Assassins

assassinThose of you acquainted with Assassin’s Creed will view the Templars as diametrically opposed to the Assassins, locked in a centuries old conflict. But there’s a different view.

James Wasserman, in his book Assassins: The Militia of Heaven, writes that through contact with the Assassins, the Templars imbibed Islamic forms of Gnosticism.

Wasserman thinks the Templars were swayed by the occult practices and teachings of the Assassins. They also shared the selfless bravery of this murderous organisation. Templars were always first in and last out of any battle and never flinched in the face of furious Saracen onslaughts. The Assassins performed a ritual where their own adepts were ordered to leap to a certain death from a precipice – which they duly did.

There is also a sense of both the Templars and Assassins being outsiders. The Templars were feted then rejected and crushed by the Catholic church. They had their own organisation, ethos and objectives. The Assassins, who belonged to the Shia Ismaili sect of Islam, killed both crusader and Saracen leaders.

Allegedly off their heads on hashish, the Assassins turned political assassination into something of an art form. They managed to murder Raymond II, count of Tripoli in 1152; Conrad of Montferrat, king of Jerusalem, in 1192 and made an audacious but unsuccessful attempt on the life of Saladin. The Templars justified their killing for Christ by calling it “malecide”, the murdering of evil, not people. These were two groups with very strange morals from our point of view.

The Templars and Assassins were physically based very closely to each other in the Holy Land. Did that proximity lead to a cross-fertilisation of ideas?

Your thoughts on this would be very welcome!

 

 

 

 

 

Templars – timeline to termination!

templar2In 1307, the King of France issued orders to arrest all Templar knights in his kingdom. They were summarily rounded up, tortured in dungeons and confessions extracted. So what was the timeline to termination?

  • 14 September 1307 – King Philip of France issues secret orders to the bailiffs and seneschals in his kingdom to round up the Templars and arrest them when given the signal
  • 13 October 1307 – the signal is given and France’s Templars find themselves clapped in irons
  • 19 October to 24 November 1307 – first round of trials with 138 Templars, most of them confessing to their alleged guilt
  • 24 October 1307 – Grand Master Jacques de Molay makes his first confession of guilt
  • 25 October 1307 – De Molay goes before the University of Paris to restate his confession of guilt
  • 22 November 1307 – De Molay retracts his confessions to cardinals sent to interview him by Pope Clement V
  • 22 November 1307 – Pope Clement V gives up trying to resist the French king and demands that all Christian rulers in Europe follow the French example and arrest their Templars as well as confiscating their property
  • May 1308 – a letter arrives at Cyprus from Pope Clement V calling for the arrest of Templars on the island
  • 28 June to 2 July 1308 – about 54 Templars tried at Poitiers where the pope was in residence
  • August 1308 – the Chinon Parchment, revealed in recent times, appears to show the pope absolving the Templars but as a puppet of the French king there was little he could realistically do
  • 13 September 1309 – Two inquisitors arrive in England to question Templars there
  • December 1309 – Pope Clement V authorises the use of torture to gain rapid confessions
  • 1310 – papal commission into the trials of the Templars
  • 12 May 1310 – 54 Templars are burnt at the stake
  • May 1310 – the Archbishop of Sens takes control of the trial process until 1316
  • 22 March 1312 – Pope Clement V issues the papal bull Vox In Excelso suppressing the Knights Templar
  • May 1312 – Pope Clement V issues the papal bull Ad Providam transferring the assets of the Knights Templar to the Knights Hospitaller
  • 21 March 1313 – the Knights Hospitaller pay enormous compensation to the king of France most likely saving their order from the same fate as the Templars
  • 18 March 1314 – Jacques de Molay and the preceptor of Normandy Geoffroi de Charney retract their confessions saying they were extracted under torture. They are burnt at the stake before Notre Dame as heretics