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Theosophical Encyclopedia

Templars, Knights

A religious military order during the time of the Crusades in the Middle Ages that aimed to protect Christian pilgrims going to Jerusalem. It was founded by a group of knights led by Hugues de Payens in 1119. Their rule of life was written by St. Bernard of Clairvaux. It grew to become the most powerful chivalric body during its time, having up to about 20,000 knights at its peak. The knights wore a white surcoat with a red cross on it. It acquired so many properties in many countries that it virtually became an international banking network in Europe through whom royalties and commoners send funds. In 1307, almost two centuries after its founding, the Templars became the object of swift and intense persecution from King Philip IV of France, who seized all the properties of the Templars on Oct. 13, 1307 (a Friday, from which originated, it is said, the belief that Friday the 13th is an unlucky day). On Nov. 1307, Pope Clement V gave the order to arrest all Templars. Its Grand Master, Jacques de Molay, was burned at stake in 1314. The main charge against them was heresy, such as the worship of the goat Baphomet. According to Helena P. Blavatsky, this was a wrong accusation because Baphomet meant “baptism” or initiation into Wisdom (TG “Baphomet”).

The fame of the Templars became legendary even after their suppression, such that many later organizations sprung up calling themselves successors to the Templars, including many Masonic degrees. They claim that the Templars were unjustly persecuted and that the knights were innocent of the charge of heresy.

H. P. Blavatsky, in her Isis Unveiled, states that the Templars, from the point of the view of the Church, were indeed heretical. The efforts of Masons and later writers to declare them innocent of the charge of heresy are in fact a disservice to the memory of the true Knights Templars. She wrote that one anonymous author published a book in 1751 which “represents the innocence of the Templars of the accusation of ‘heresy,’ thus robbing them of the greatest title to respect and admiration that these early free-thinkers and martyrs have won!” (IU II:384).

It is a mistake to state that the Order became only later anti-Catholic. It was so from the beginning, and the red cross on the white mantle, the vestment of the Order, had the same significance as with the initiates in every other country. It pointed to the four quarters of the compass, and was the emblem of the universe. When, later, the Brotherhood was transformed into a Lodge, the Templars had, in order to avoid persecution, to perform their own ceremonies in the greatest secrecy, generally in the hall of the chapter, more frequently in isolated caves or country houses built amidst woods, while the ecclesiastical form of worship was carried on publicly in the chapels belonging to the Order. (IU II:382)

Blavatsky states that modern versions of Templarism, including those connected with Masonic degrees, were developed under the influence of the Jesuits who tried to Christianize the teachings of the Templars.

V.H.C.

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