OK, seriously: Templars?

I try to make this a history blog rather than a blog about all the other things I like, like Forteana or comic books or games or what have you. But there are times when they interact (we’re going to have to talk about comics one of these days, maybe even tomorrow).

I write, from time to time, book reviews for Fortean TimesIt doesn’t pay, but I get free books and free copies of the magazine, and it’s a lot of fun. A recent issue (possibly even the current issue?) had some interesting stuff about conspiracy theories, and it made me think. 

Now, I know that (or at least, it seems to be the case that) the reason the Knights Templar are such a big deal in the world of conspiracy theory is twofold: firstly because the trial of the Templars is such an odd piece of medieval legal whatever-it-is, and secondly, and perhaps more importantly, because the Freemasons made such a big deal out of them (or, if not the Freemasons, the secret-society community generally). After all, werewolf trial records are equally bizarre, but nobody gets all weird about secret conspiracies of werewolves. That I’m aware of. 

But “because the Freemasons made a big deal out of them” is just one of those questions that punts the question back one. People associate the Templars with conspiracy because the Templars are connected to the Freemasons and the Freemasons are connected to conspiracy. Fair enough, except what’s the Templar-Freemason connection? Of all the many weird organisations in the medieval world, why did they pick that one to get all weird about? Is it just that they had been suppressed and were therefore no longer around in some legacy form? 

I genuinely don’t know, and I kind of never wondered until now – possibly because I read Foucault’s Pendulum early on and therefore just assumed that conspiracy theories naturally involved the Templars. 

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OK, seriously: Templars?

2 thoughts on “OK, seriously: Templars?

  1. Oddly enough, I bought a book on this earlier in the week – Michael Haas, _The Templars: History & Myth_.

    He says the Templars were restored from obscurity by Henry Cornelius Agrippa’s _De Occulta Philthosophia_ in 1531, which lumped them together with witches. You will know more about this book than I.

    They were associated with the Grail Quest in Arturian literature.

    In the C18th when freemasonry was being reinvented a pursuit for gentlemen and aristos (as opposed to a friendly society) Andrew Michael Ramsay, a Jacobite in French exile invented cod rituals and connections with Solomon’s Temple and crusaders – ‘every Freemason is a Knight Templar’. I think the link is no more tortuous than a simple grandification: builders – stonemasons – Temple – Templars.

    Walter Scott used Templars as baddies in a couple of his novels (_Ivanhoe_, of course) and they appeared in various historic novels after that. They were associated with Gnosticism when that became fashionable in the 1960s. In 1982 there was _Holy Blood, Holy Grail_, and we know where that led…

    My own view is that the Templar story was useful in the anti-Romanism that pervaded popular culture in northern Europe from the C16th-C19th. You could take it both ways:

    a) Popes/Cardinals etc are devious and persecute good men out of political expediency, and/or
    b) you can’t trust trust Catholics with their priests, prelates and religious orders because their reliance on tradition, authority and the Magisterium is no more than placing trust on secret knowledge – and look where that leads. (Contrast with us honest English/Germans who get our teaching through reading scripture in our own languages.)

    Sorry for the long reply. It was an interesting question.

    1. That’s an interesting answer, and I should have suspected anti-clericalism in some form would be involved. It also feeds in to the whole Gothic aesthetic, with its creepy abbeys … monks and similar medieval types being seen as sinister.

      That’s really interesting. I’ll have to check out the book.

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