SECRET SOCIETIES - the Roots
Once again, the complexities of Islamic history will be dealt with very briefly. The Shi'ite branch of Islam had a number of schisms, the best-known being between the Seveners and the Twelvers, who believed that the seventh and twelfth imams respectively were the concealed and later-to-return Mahdi, or saviour-leader, who would restore Islamic purity. The Seveners, or Sabiyya, were Ismailis, named after the eighth-century Muhammad ibn Ismail, who died before becoming the seventh imam; a related Ismaili sect were the Nizari, named after the unsuccessful attempt to establish Nizar as the caliph or leader of the Ismailis on his father's death in 1094.
Hasan-i-Sabbah was a Persian Twelver who converted to Ismailism and became an enthusiastic missionary for its cause, and a supporter of Nizar. In his youth he studied alongside the future tentmaker, astronomer and poet Omar Khayyam, and the future prime minister of Persia, Nizam ul-Mulk, whom he later had murdered. In 1090 he took control of Alamut (Eagle's Nest), a Sunni fortress high in the mountains of northern Persia, and established it as the centre of his operations.
Hasan's followers were named Assassins by the Christian Crusaders who encountered them. They were utterly dedicated to Hasan - sometimes known as the Old Man of the Mountains - and would kill or die on his order. There are stories, probably apocryphal, of Hasan demonstrating his power to honoured visitors by signalling to a follower standing guard on a high peak, who then cast himself to his death.
The mythic basis of this unquestioning loyalty is that Hasan had a beautiful garden in a hidden fertile valley in the mountains. The valley ran with streams of milk, honey, wine and pure water; its trees were heavy with fruit. Initiates were drugged, then taken to the valley, where for a few days they lived among its delights, which included palaces, musicians, singers, dancers and houris. Drugged again, they were returned to Hasan, and were told they had been given a glimpse of Paradise. If they swore an oath of absolute obedience to Hasan they would return there on their deaths.
There is some archaeological evidence of water cisterns carved in the rock at Alamut - and it is said that a narrow cleft in the rocks leads to a small fertile valley. The drug with which Hasan introduced his initiates to blissful happiness was cannabis; it was the Arabic word hashsbashin (users of hashish) which the Crusaders adapted to Assassins - the word still used for high political murderers 900 years later. (Some authorities say that the name was simply applied to the Ismailis as an insult by their more orthodox Muslim enemies, to suggest that they were addicted to vices; others claim the name comes instead from the Arabic Assasseen, meaning 'guardians'.)
Hasan was a brilliant and ruthless ruler. He took advantage of the political chaos in Persia - he probably helped cause most of it - and he eliminated potential rivals. Within a very short time he had more real power than the supposed rulers, and was feared by Muslims and Christians alike.
Hasan died in 1124, aged 90, having ruled through the fanatical devotion of his followers for nearly 35 years. His successors continued the tradition, having major political and religious figures killed, the killers being assured that if they died they would go straight to that Paradise of which they had already tasted. One very successful technique they used was to plant 'sleepers' in the Courts of rulers. They would not reveal themselves for years, even decades, until they received a signal, at which point they would kill the completely unsuspecting ruler.
By the time of the fourth Grand Master, also called Hasan, his position as leader, or imam, was so strong that he could claim openly to be the Hidden Imam, the Mahdi, the direct mouthpiece of God. In the earlier years the Assassins had behaved outwardly as ordinary Muslims, but under Hasan II and his son Muhammad II they threw caution to the winds. The laws of Islam no longer applied; wine could be drunk, and pork eaten. This policy of open heresy was abandoned by their successors who, at least on the surface, adopted a form of Sunni Islam; the Alamut Assassins became relatively tame for a while.
Meanwhile the Syrian branch of the Assassins became effectively an independent body, continuing to kill at will - or on commission. They were in regular contact with the Crusaders in Syria, and not always as antagonists. If it suited their purpose to fight on the side of the Crusaders to maintain their own position against their common Muslim enemies, they would do so. These were the Assassins who had most involvement with the Knights Templar, for a while paying the Templars 2,000 gold pieces a year to avoid direct military conflict with them.
The Assassins were eventually defeated by the Mongols in the middle of the thirteenth century. They were not wholly wiped out, however; in their two centuries of influence they had spread over much of the civilized world, including parts of India and southern Russia. Although no longer known as the Assassins, the Nizari (also called Khojas) still exist today as a small Ismaili sect, whose spiritual (and to some extent temporal) leader is the Aga Khan.
The Assassins are important to the current narrative for several reasons. They were a powerful, self-sustaining Order with several levels of initiation, oaths of obedience, and secret signs. Their beliefs varied from those of standard Islam, having something in common with Gnostic ideas. Among their beliefs were the teachings that heaven and hell were the same, and that no acts were sinful in themselves because the only good and evil were in obeying or disobeying the imam.
The Assassins are believed by some to have influenced the Knights Templar in a number of ways. Their uniform was a white tunic with a red sash, hat or boots: the colours of innocence, or purity, and blood. The Templars wore a white tunic with a red cross. The Assassins were organized, under their chief da'i or Grand Master, into senior da'is and ordinary da'is (missionaries); rafiqs (companions); fidais, fidavis or fedayeen (literally 'faithful', or devotees) who were the actual assassins, in the modern sense of the word; and lasiqs (laymen). The Templars, under their Grand Master, had grand priors, priors, knights, esquires and lay brothers. It is widely believed that the originally orthodox beliefs of this Christian warrior Order were affected by the beliefs of this most decidedly unorthodox Muslim Order.
AND SO STRANGE, OFF BEAT, RELIGIONS, OFTEN WITH VIOLET TRAITS, GREW IN DIFFERENT PARTS OF THE WORLD AT DIFFERENT TIMES. SOME INDEED NOT SO SECRET, FOR THEY MADE WAR AND RULED RUTHLESSLY; BUT WHAT THEY ALL HAD IN COMMON WAS A VERY VAIN AND EGOTISTICAL MIND-SET, THAT THEY WERE SPECIAL, AND THEY HAD THE POWER TO HAVE FOLLOWERS WHO WOULD KILL AND DIE FOR THEM, OR FOR THEIR CAUSE - Keith Hunt
Before looking at the Cathars and the Knights Templar it will be useful to see how the religious climate of Europe was anything but settled at the time. Indeed, the Roman Catholic Church was having to deal with more heresies than at any time since the Church Fathers had defined Christianity.
In its first four centuries the Christian religion was beset with heresies,13 several of which could very easily have become the dominant form of Christianity, and so might still have been with us today, as orthodoxy. (A heresy, after all, is only a belief that the current religious establishment wishes to crush.) One of these was Arianism which, if the Council of Nicaea had swung the other way in 325 CE, would have saved generations of catechismal youngsters from wrestling with the complexities of Three-in-One and One-in-Three. As it is, Arianism has never entirely vanished, being with us today not only, in different ways, in the Unitarian movement and the Jehovah's Witnesses, but also, quietly, among the pews (and sometimes even in the pulpits) of many perfectly ordinary parish churches. In its several varieties, Arianism basically said that if the Father was God, Jesus couldn't be. Or, to put it another way, there is only One Creator God.
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eith Hunt
Another heresy, Dynamic Monarchianism, held that Jesus was a normal man with divine power in him, a belief which, in one form or another, is quite widespread on the fringes of Christianity today.
YES SOME BELIEVE JESUS WAS MERELY A MAN WITH MORE OF THE HOLY SPIRIT THAN ANY OTHER HUMANS HAVE EVER HAD. THEY DO NOT BELIEVE HE WAS GOD COME TO EARTH. SOME TEACH HE DID NOT EVEN EXIST UNTIL CONCEIVED IN MARY'S WOMB - ALL SUCH IDEAS ARE FALSE DOCTRINES, AND A TWISTED READING OF PLAIN AND CLEAR SCRIPTURES. AS A CHILD IF SOMEONE HAD ASKED ME WHAT I THOUGHT OF SUCH DOCTRINES, I WOULD HAVE TOLD THEM THEY WERE DUMB, SILLY, AND I PROBABLY WOULD HAVE SAID, "WHAT ON EARTH BIBLE ARE THEY READING; WHAT ON EARTH VERSION OF THE NEW TESTAMENT ARE THEY READING?" AS JESUS SAID UNLESS YOU BECOME AS A LITTLE CHILD YOU SHALL NOT ENTER THE KINGDOM OF GOD - Keith Hunt
One of the others, a very British heresy, was Pelagianism, founded by Pelagius, a fourth-to fifth-century Scots or Irish monk. Briefly, it taught that we can haul ourselves up by our own bootstraps; it is possible, albeit with a great deal of effort, to live a sinless life, and so to earn salvation. Even at the highest levels, the theological argument over salvation through faith versus works has never entirely gone away; while every day parish priests hear non-church-goers saying, 'But I try to lead a good life, Vicar; doesn't that count for anything with God?'
AGAIN SUCH THEOLOGY AS HAULING YOURSELF UP BY YOUR BOOT-STRAPS, WORKING YOUR WAY INTO SALVATION OR ETERNAL LIFE, IS AS CRAZY AN IDEA AS THE OTHERS ABOVE. AGAIN I ASK THEM, WHAT NEW TESTAMENT ARE YOU READING. THEN YOIU HAVE THE "GRACE TEACHERS" THAT GO TO THE OTHER EXTREME; BOTH SIDES ARE VERY WRONG. SEE MY STUDY CALLED "SAVED BY GRACE" TO UNDERSTAND THE CLEAR TEACHING OF THE BIBLE AND ESPECIALLY THE NEW TESTAMENT - Keith Hunt
The next half millennium saw few new heresies, though it is worth noting that the ninth-century Irish scholar John Scotus Erigena taught that evil does not really exist, that individual reason is more important than authority, and that creation came from rays emanating from God.
SO INDEED ALL KINDS OF FALSE TEACHINGS ARE WITHIN "CHRISTIANITY." THIS WEBSITE IS DEVOTED TO DEBUNKING MOST OF THEM - Keith Hunt
But by the twelfth century, central Europe was awash with heretical teachings. In the early part of the century in southern France, for example, Peter de Bruys taught that Christians should disparage the cross rather than revering it, as it had been the means of torturing and killing Christ: this might well have been the source of the later allegation that the Knights Templar spat on the cross.
ANOTHER OFF THE WALL IDEA. NOT IDOLIZING THE "CROSS" IS CORRECT, BUT GOING SO FAR AS TO SPIT ON IT FOR SOME PERSONS TEACHING, IS THE PENDULUM SWINGING TOO FAR THE OTHER WAY - Keith Hunt
The Waldenses, founded by Peter Waldo around 1176, were in effect the first Protestants; they rejected everything about the Catholic Church that the Reformation would later also reject. They were condemned as heretics and persecuted, and many were burned by the Inquisition; but they have survived to the present day.
THEY DID HAVE MUCH TRUTH FROM READING THE BIBLE FOR THEMSELVES; AND CERTAINLY THERE WAS MUCH TO REJECT IN THE ROMAN CATHOLIC CHURCH THEOLOGY - MANY TRUE CHRISTIANS WERE AMONG THEM - Keith Hunt
Meanwhile the Manichasans lingered on around the Mediterranean. Manichseism had an offshoot, the Paulicians, though some authorities see the latter as an independently arising movement with similar beliefs because of their common Gnostic inspiration. The Paulicians may have been in existence as early as the fourth century, but they became prominent when they moved to Armenia in the mid-seventh century. Opposed to the theological complexity, the idolatry and the wealth of the Catholic Church, they reached their height in the ninth century, when they actually founded their own short-lived state in the Balkans.
THEY ALSO HAD MUCH TRUTH - MANY TRUE CHRISTIANS WERE AMONG THEM ALSO - Keith Hunt
They in turn seem to have inspired the Bogomils, or Friends of God, founded (at least in legend) by a tenth-century Eastern Orthodox priest, Bogomil. He taught the Gnostic dualist belief that the world was created by an evil being, not by God, and that Christ had come to free people from the Devil's hold. (Later they saw this being, Satanaei or Satan, as Christ's elder brother; Mormons today believe that Lucifer was Christ's brother.) Bogomil also preached a social gospel to the oppressed peasants of newly feudal Bulgaria: the nobles and priests were the Devil's servants. Despite the Catholic Church's opposition and persecution (an eleventh- to twelfth-century Bogomil monk, Basil, was burned to death) the religion took hold, eventually becoming the state religion in Bosnia and Hungary, and also very strong in Serbia. The Bogomils lasted until the fourteenth century, when the Balkans were invaded by Muslims, and many Bogomils converted to Islam.
THEY WERE MUCH LESS IN HAVING THE TRUTHS OF GOD - Keith Hunt
In their heyday, however, the influence of the Bogomils extended as far as Italy and France. Their priests and monks were called "perfect" - stressing purity of spirit they ate no meat and abstained from sex, both being seen as part of the evil material world. Although most Bogomils lived ordinary lives, they often took the consolamentum, a ceremony which purified them, shortly before death.
AS STATED THEY HAD MUCH LESS TRUTH OF GOD'S WORD - Keith Hunt
The better-known Cathars, who will be discussed shortly, did not suddenly spring out of nowhere.
One of the commonest charges against heretics was sodomy.14 The Cathars and the Knights Templar, among others, were accused of this; so were the Bogomils, who came from Bulgaria, and so were referred to by the French as bougres (Bulgars), giving us the English word 'bugger'. Sodomy, said the Catholic Church, was how Bogomils and Cathars had sex without bringing more babies into the world.
PROBABLY WAY OFF THE WALL FOR THEM TO BE ACCUSED OF SODOMY - Keith Hunt
Although the Beguines and the Brethren of the Free Spirit came into existence after the Cathars began, discussion of them still helps to illustrate the variety and complexity of the religious situation in Europe in the late Middle Ages.
The Beguines, a largely female grassroots religious movement in western and central Europe from c. 1200, are thought by some to have taken their name from the Albigensians (Cathars), though there was no overlap in beliefs. Some lived in communities, while many others travelled from place to place. Although initially unsanctioned by the Church, they took a vow of chastity, seeing themselves as a religious Order. They worked in the community, caring for the sick and supporting themselves by their crafts and by begging. From the start their independence and their emphasis on the virtues of poverty irritated the Church.
In southern Europe, male followers were called Beguines; in northern Europe they were called Beghards.
As the movement developed, some Beguines moved towards mysticism, and some took on heretical beliefs, studying and preserving the works of the twelfth-century French philosopher Amalric of Bena, whose teachings were a development of those of John Scotus Erigena: the world emanated from God, and God is in everything. Other Beghards and Beguines became Brothers and Sisters of the Free Spirit; they believed that as the Holy Spirit indwelt them, they were completely pure, and to the pure, all things are pure (Titus 1:15). Although there is little evidence (beyond accusations by the Inquisition) that they behaved licentiously, they believed, at least in theory, that they were above the law, whether moral, religious or state. Those who were sanctified could no longer sin.
Sin is the will to offend God, and he whose will has become God's will cannot offend God. His will is God's will, and God's will is his will. A man may become so completely Divine that his very body is sanctified, and then what it does is a Divine act. In this state the instincts and impulses of the body take on a holy significance.15
MYSTIC SPIRITUAL GOOBY-DID-ADOOOO - OFF THE WALL, CRAZY THEOLOGY TO JUSTIFY THEIR LIFE STYLE, CERTAINLY NOT TAKEN FROM THE NEW TESTAMENT - Keith Hunt
This extreme belief still exists; I once heard a Pentecostal preacher say, 'God came into my heart in 1956. Since that day I have not sinned.' No doubt that preacher would have been horrified at the logical comparison with Aleister Crowley's famous dictum, 'Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law'.
YES SILLY, STUPID, CRAZY, IDEAS FILL THE 20TH CENTURY IN THEOLOGY - Keith Hunt
Beyond sin or not, the Brethren of the Free Spirit saw no need to obey the Church, or to receive the sacraments from priests. They also believed that there was no hell, and that all would be saved, the latter a doctrine to resurface later in America with the late eighteenth-century Universalists, now merged with the Unitarian Church there.
SO SOME TRUTH WITH MUCH ERROR - IT SO CONTINUES TODAY - Keith Hunt
The Brethren of the Free Spirit, inevitably bringing the Church's persecution on themselves, brought it also on many other Beguines whose beliefs were more orthodox. By now the Church, through practise with the Cathars, met any suspicion of heresy with torture and death.
Like the Manichaeans in the first few centuries of the Christian era, the Cathars were not so much a troublesome heresy within the Church as a fully fledged alternative to mainstream Christianity. Like the Manichaeans also, they quickly set up a Church hierarchy, complete with bishops; there were eleven by the end of the twelfth century. This made them even more dangerous in the eyes of the Catholic Church - which had problems enough of its own, with a series of schismatic 'antipopes' supported by the Holy Roman Emperor. The Church was a political power, reinforced by its power over men's souls. A competing religion, which condemned the riches of the Catholic Church, was a threat to its temporal power as well as to its spiritual power.
SOME BEFORE THE REFORMATION COULD SEE THE ROMAN CATHOLIC CHURCH WAS CORRUPT, HAD MANY FALSE TEACHINGS; BUT THOSE GROUPS ALSO OFTEN HAD FALSE TEACHINGS; THE TRUE PEOPLE OF GOD WERE VERY MUCH SCATTERED AND THE SALT OF THE EARTH - STILL AS JESUS SAID, THE VERY LITTLE FLOCK [ORIGINAL GREEK] - Keith Hunt
It is clear that the Cathars of what is now southern France were deeply influenced by the Bogomils; it is likely that they were a direct spiritual descendant. A Bogomil bishop, Nicetas, presided over a major Cathar council in 1167, and helped plan their organization. 'Cathar' comes from the Latin for 'pure ones', or 'perfect'; Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie disputes this, saying that 'In fact "Cathar" comes from a German word the meaning of which has nothing to do with purity,'16 though unfortunately he doesn't identify the word. Their other common name, the Albigensians, is taken from the town of Albi, a major Cathar centre in the Languedoc region of southern France.
(The people of the Languedoc had their own language and very much their own culture; unlike the northern French of the time, they were literate, educated, artistic and tolerant of different views. They are perhaps best known for the wandering poet-musicians, the troubadours. Their culture and group of language dialects are now generally known as Occitan. The two language groups - loosely the far Southern and the Northern French - were distinguished by the words used for 'yes': langue d'oc and langue d'o'il, the latter becoming ouu)
Like the Bogomils and the Manichseans, the Cathars believed in a Good Principle (Spirit) and an Evil Principle (Matter). Spirit was trapped in matter by the Evil One; Christ had come, as a spirit being and not as a man, to show how it might be freed. The crucifixion and resurrection were not physical events; the cross, therefore, had no relevance and inspired no reverence.
SHOWS HOW SILLY WAS SOME OF THEIR THEOLOGY COMPARED TO THE NEW TESTAMENT - GREAT WAS THE DECEPTIONS OF THE MIDDLE AGES, IN OR OUT OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH - Keith Hunt
One could be saved from the round of reincarnation by living a perfect life. The perfecti, both male and female, were the spiritually pure; they ate no meat, eggs or milk (some hardly ate at all), and they abstained from sex, for the same reasons that the Bogomils had done so. Clearly this ascetic lifestyle would not appeal to ordinary people. The majority of members, known as credentes (believers), or in France as bonshotnmes, lived good but fairly normal lives, taking on the rigours of the perfecti only when they were close to death, through the ritual or sacrament of the consolamentum, the Baptism of the Holy Spirit. This was administered by a perfectus initiator placing his hand on a person's head, much as in the Catholic sacraments of confirmation and ordination. From the ordinary member's point of view, leaving this till his deathbed meant that he could enjoy an ordinary life, including meat and sex; from the perfecti point of view, there was less chance of a new perfectus backsliding into temptation. There are accounts, whether true or not, of people recovering from a seemingly mortal illness after having been given the consolamentum, and being denied food while still in a weakened state; it was better to die through this endura than to return to the world and yield to temptation.
MORE STUPID DECEPTIONS FROM OUTSIDE THE CATHOLIC CHURCH - IN OR OUT - DECEPTIONS REIGNED - Keith Hunt
The appeal of Catharism to ordinary people and nobility alike was its contrast with the wealth and hypocrisy of the Catholic Church and its clergy. The perfecti were genuinely pious, while the bonshommes were indeed good men - and women: Catharism both believed and practised equality of the sexes. For the nobility, the appeal was as much political as spiritual; the Counts of Toulouse and Foix, and the other leaders of what is now southern France, were effectively independent rulers, and resented being vassals of the Catholic king of France.
The Cathars first appeared not in France but in Germany; the first mention of them is in 1143, in Cologne. Within a few years they had spread to France, and by the 1160s they had found their home in southern France and northern Italy. Thirty German missionaries sent to England in the winter of 1166 were quickly dealt with by Henry II; they were branded, flogged and stripped, and sent out to die from exposure.
In 1184 Pope Lucius III, worried by the growing numbers and strength of the heretics, instituted the Inquisition; those suspected of heresy had to prove their innocence; the guilty were to be excommunicated from the Church, then handed over to the secular--authorities for punishment. It didn't have a great deal of success until, in 1199, Pope Innocent III declared that heresy was high treason against God, and that convicted heretics' possessions should be split between the Inquisition and local civil authorities, thus ensuring their enthusiastic cooperation.
In 1208 Peter of Castelnau, a papal legate, was sent by Innocent III to convert the Cathars, and perhaps to negotiate with the recently excommunicated Raymond VI, Count of Toulouse, ruler of much of the Cathar lands. He was murdered by one of Raymond's knights, and the pope took immediate revenge. Until now, crusades had been against Muslims, non-Christians who could be killed without harm to one's soul. Now, for the first time, the pope called a crusade against Christian heretics, declaring it God's will that orthodox Christians should kill heterodox Christians. Under the command of the brutal Simon de Montfort, father and namesake of the future anti-royalist leader of the barons in Britain, over 30,000  lords, knights and other Crusaders from the north of France (which was somewhat less civilized and sophisticated than the Mediterranean south) descended on the Languedoc, with the promise of two years' indulgence and as much booty as they wanted. Tens of thousands of Cathars died during the twenty years of the Albigensian Crusade.
AND ALL DONE UNDER THE NAME OF "CHRIST" - SO-CALLED "CHRISTIANS" KILLING SO-CALLED "CHRISTIANS" - Keith Hunt
One of the most disgraceful episodes occurred right at the beginning of the crusade in 1209, at the town of Beziers near the Mediterranean coast, where, as many Cathar-dominated areas were, Catholics and Cathars lived peaceably and agreeably side-by-side. As the troops prepared to storm the town a soldier asked the papal legate Arnaud, Abbot of Qteaux, how they should distinguish between true believers and heretics, Catholics and Cathars. Arnaud's response was 'Kill them all; God will know his own'. Between 15,000 and 20,000 men, women and children were massacred at Beziers, some of them while claiming sanctuary in the church.
The sackings, sieges and massacres continued for years. The Cathars' walled city of Carcassonne fell; in Minerve 140 people died in the first mass burning in 1210, and in Lavaur, 400 people. A well-respected and pious Cathar noblewoman, Giraude de Lavaur, was stoned to death in 1211. In 1213 Raymond VI, who had swung from side to side over the years, accepting and then renouncing Catharism, depending on the political pressure put on him, was killed in battle. De Montfort died in 1218, but the campaign continued. In 1229 the northern French annexed the Languedoc by force. Raymond VII of Toulouse gave in, swearing allegiance to the new King Louis IX, and giving up most of his wealth to the Church and the king.
For some years, Cathars had to practise their faith in secret. Many withdrew, along with many Catholic nobles and knights from the Languedoc, to Montsegur, a Pyrennean fortress which had withstood de Montfort in 1209. In 1243 a band of Crusaders, realizing they could not storm the fortress, laid siege to it. The siege lasted ten months, because local villagers smuggled food in to the fortress. In 1244 those in the fortress finally surrendered. The Catholics were allowed to live, but over 200 perfecti were burned to death; the stories say that they walked into the flames joyfully, singing hymns.
Legend also says that the night before the surrender, four Cathars were seen climbing down from the fortress on ropes; they escaped, taking with them 'the treasure of the Cathars'. Romantic legend says that this treasure was the Grail; it is perhaps more likely to have been their teachings.
The final stronghold of the Cathars, Queribus, fell in 1255. Officially this was the end of Catharism, but many Cathars had gone to northern Italy, where they managed to escape persecution for the remainder of the century; and some went into the Alps, where they survived even longer. It is possible that some went into the Balkans, to merge back into the Bogomils. There was a minor Cathar revival around the village of Montaillou in the Comte de Foix between 1300 and 1318. The records of the Inquisition conducted by Jacques Fournier (later the Avignon Pope Benedict XII) from 1318 to 1325 form the basis of Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie's famous historical portrait of the village.
The Albigensian Crusade was a shameful episode in French history. It is perhaps hardly surprising that many French historians skate over it as quickly as possible. An early nineteenth-century English school textbook, W.C. Taylor's A History of France and Normandy, has three brief but telling paragraphs; Andre Maurois' A History of France (1949) has six lines; and Achille Luchaire's Social France at the Time of Philip Augustus - exactly the right period - only has scattered references, in passing, when discussing something else entirely.
The culture of the Languedoc has already been mentioned. Occitan and Provencal culture were way ahead of that of northern France, which some authorities describe as 'barbaric', even in the twelfth century. It might not be too fanciful to suggest that the Languedoc was moving from the Middle Ages into the Renaissance a good two centuries before this occurred in Italy - and it was this flowering of culture which was wiped out by de Montfort's 'Crusaders'.
If the Cathars had not been exterminated, and the cultural as well as the spiritual influence of the Languedoc had spread, French history - indeed European history - might have been entirely different.
But what has been left to us from this period is something which itself greatly affected French and English history and literature. The concepts of chivalry, of courtly love, of questing knights, of the Grail, of the entire Arthurian oeuvre, are something we shall return to later. The significance of the Cathars will become more apparent as this book proceeds.
The hundred years of the Cathars in the late Middle Ages were the strongest and most visible resurgence of Gnostic beliefs until the present day. But from the viewpoint of later history, the Cathars are of most importance for one thing: they were responsible for the development of the Inquisition.
The Order of Dominicans came into being when a certain Dominic (1170-1221), a Catholic preacher of orthodox faith, travelled through the Languedoc with the Bishop of Osma, talking to Cathars, debating the two faiths with them, preaching the 'true faith' to them, and winning some conversions in 1206. Dominic took no part in the Albigensian Crusade which began in 1208, when Cathars were killed without any attempt at conversion; he just kept on debating and preaching. Pope Honorius III was so impressed with his work that in 1216-1217 he sanctioned a new Order, the Order of Friars Preachers, commonly known as the Dominicans, specifically to deal with the Cathars and other heretics; Dominic, through his work, had led to their foundation in 1215, in Toulouse, right in the midst of the Cathars.
Dominic was first and foremost a preacher and a teacher, a monk who did not believe that poverty had to include poverty of mind. But in 1233, twelve years after Dominic's death and a year before his canonization, Pope Gregory IX put the Dominicans in charge of the Inquisition. The rest is history. Dominic, who by all accounts was a gentle and good man, would have been horrified.
It is disturbing to read a twentieth-century Roman Catholic comment on the 'poison' of the Cathars, and the work of the office of Inquisitors, to whom it belonged to sift all cases of suspected heresy, to save those whom ignorant zeal or jealous malice accused unjustly, to teach and reclaim those who had been led astray, and in case of obstinacy to declare the offender an enemy of the Christian name, one whom the Church, unable truthfully to claim, left to the vengeance of the Christian State against whose fundamental laws he rebelled.
The long and arduous task was at length successful, and by the end of the fourteenth century Albigensianism, with all other forms of Catharism, was practically extinct.18
The Knights Templar
Much of what has been written about the Knights Templar is speculation, but there is a certain amount of factual information. It must be remembered, though, that even contemporary or near-contemporary accounts - here as in any area of history - are not necessarily any more reliable than those in newspapers of today. For example, William of Tyre was a twelfth-century Palestinian bishop who disliked the power and prestige of the Templars; his account of the Crusades may or may not be entirely accurate factually, but its interpretations of events are certainly coloured by their author's views. Walter Mapp, who borrowed heavily from William, was basically a twelfth-century gossip columnist and, like all such, was not averse to adding a little creative colour to his stories. The thirteenth-century St Albans writer Matthew Paris might have been a more conscientious chronicler, but even he could only rely on his sources, and some of those are known to have been anti-Templar. The blurring of fact and fiction about the Templars, then, began even in their own day.
The Templars were founded by Hugues de Payen, a noble knight from Champagne, with eight other knights, around 1119 - which was towards the end of the first Hasan's rule over the Assassins. Their aim was to protect pilgrims going to Jerusalem, which had been captured by the Crusaders and established as a Christian kingdom in 1099. Their cause was taken up by Bernard of Clairvaux, head of the Cistercian Order, who helped draw up their statutes; they were formally established at the Council of Troyes in 1129 as the Order of the Poor Knights of Christ and the Temple of Solomon.
Their connection with the Temple of Solomon, originally, was that they were given rooms in the royal palace of Baudouin I, the king of Jerusalem; the palace was, according to tradition, built over the ruins of Solomon's Temple. The name was to assume far greater significance in the future.
Templar knights made the usual monastic vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. The Order grew quickly; by 1130 there were some 300 Templar knights in Palestine. It is interesting to note that among the requirements for entry to the Knights Templar, in addition to being from a knightly family, born in wedlock, and unmarried, a candidate had to be an adult, free from all obligations, not a member of any other Order, and not in debt; these last four requirements are also demanded by some of today's esoteric societies.
They were tough and brilliant fighters, and were respected for this, but right from the beginning there was suspicion of the Knights Templar. Until then knights had done a necessary but bloody job, and monks had resolutely kept their hands clean of blood; the Templars were the first to combine the two in a military order, and many in the Church didn't like this.
Initially, at least, they were highly regarded at the very head of the Church; in 1139 Pope Innocent II granted them independence of any authority, religious or secular, save that of the pope himself. In 1161 Pope Alexander III granted them exemption from all tithes, and allowed them to receive tithes themselves, and to have their own chaplains, and their own burial grounds. Although bestowed by popes, these privileges and the Templars' open use and probable abuse of them -
angered many bishops who saw their own power being eroded.
Kings and nobles, while not able or willing to join the Templars themselves, granted them land and the rents from land; lay members gave them money. (One King of Spain left them a third of his country in his will, though his bequest was never carried out.) Over time, the Templars came to own not only land and fortresses, but ports and fleets as well. So that pilgrims need not risk carrying large amounts of money with them, they gave their money and valuables to the Order, which issued them with promissory notes - effectively an early form of cheque - which could be exchanged for money when needed. In a fairly short time the Knights Templar were the bankers of Europe; like all bankers they became very wealthy, and were able to lend money to merchants, nobles and kings. Because of their expertise, they were put in charge of the state coffers of several countries, including those of France.
In 1187 Saladin, leader of the Muslim Saracens, captured Tiberias and Hattin, and the Christians began to lose power in the Holy Land. Over the next century more and more battles were lost, and more and more cities fell, culminating with Tripoli and Acre in 1291. Long before this, although the Templars maintained their bases in the Holy Land, it was clear that their real power was now in Europe. It was also clear that - especially now that they were no longer really doing the job for which they had been founded - they had become far more powerful than many people liked. In 1252, for example, the English king Henry III accused them of 'pride and haughtiness', and suggested that their liberties be constrained and their possessions reduced.
Nobody likes bankers, especially when they are as powerful as the Knights Templar. The crowned heads of Europe began to look for ways to reduce the Templars' power over them; some, heavily in debt, wanted to find a way to escape their debts. One of these was King Philippe le Bel of France. With the support of the Avignon Pope Clement V (who owed him a favour: Philippe had helped secure the papacy for him) he took action on 13 October 1307, arresting large numbers of Templars in coordinated raids. Unfortunately for Philippe's empty coffers, the Templars seem to have learned of the plan in advance; the treasury at their Paris preceptory, which Philippe seized, had already been cleared out - according to some stories, filling eighteen Templar ships.
Rather than facing civil or criminal charges, the arrested Templars were charged with heresy, and many were tortured. The last Grand Master of the Knights Templar, Jacques de Molay, was held in the royal chateau of Chinon, in the Loire Valley, before being taken to Paris and burned at the stake in 1314.
(According to one recent historian, the term Grand Master is erroneous; his actual title was the Master of the Order of the Temple of Solomon of Jerusalem.19 Regional Templar leaders, however, such as the Commanders of Antioch and Tripoli, were known as Masters, and there were even Masters of England and France; the term Grand Master to distinguish the Master of Jerusalem, the head of the whole Order, is thus allowable.)
In France in particular, and also in much of mainland Europe, the Templars were destroyed; but in Spain and Portugal they were allowed to transfer to newly created Orders, the Order of Montesa and the Order of Christ respectively. The latter became an important maritime body; Vasco da Gama and Christopher Columbus both sailed under its flag - which was the Templar red cross. It is widely claimed, with much supposed evidence but little proof,20 that many Templars fled to Scotland, where they were quietly influential for a few centuries, and eventually formed the Freemasons. This last claim will be examined later.
The well-known charges made against the Templars included their secret alliance with the Saracens, and their working to let the Holy Land go to the Muslims rather than to the Christians; indulging in debauchery and abominations, including homosexual acts; scorning the sacraments; trampling, spitting or urinating on the cross; blaspheming against Christ, and worshipping the head of Baphomet; making any crime or vice committed for the benefit of the Order not sinful. There is little doubt that on at least some of these charges the Templars were falsely accused, but the most effective slanders always contain an element of the truth.
The accusation about being on the side of the Saracens cleverly links two charges with an implied 'therefore'; the first was undoubtedly true on various occasions, but the second did not logically follow - though enemies were quick to point out that since the formation of the Templars, Christian possessions in the Holy Land had decreased. Some even argued that if the Holy Land were won for Christ, and the Muslims routed altogether, the Templars would have put themselves out of a job.
Debauchery and assorted abominations are standard charges against those whom one wishes to destroy; true or not, they work just as well today against politicians, for example. But in any case, the Church was hardly in a position to cast slurs; there were many priests, bishops and popes not living morally blameless lives.
Blasphemy was a far more serious charge. If true, it spelled death for the Templars. The Catholic Church was beginning at this time to flex its muscles against heretics; Pope Lucius III instituted the Inquisition in 1188, Pope Gregory IX put it under the control of the Dominicans in 1233, and Pope Innocent IV authorized torture to obtain confessions in 1252. In purely practical terms the Inquisition was brilliantly conceived: suspects were assumed guilty until proven innocent, ensuring plenty of convictions; and the Church and local civil authorities confiscated the belongings of those convicted, ensuring cooperation, enthusiasm and income. The Church had won a resounding victory against the heretical Cathars half a century earlier; although more powerful, the Templars were far fewer in number.
Were the Templars guilty as charged? Most authorities think not. Many of the charges made against the Templars by Guillaume de Nogaret, one of Philippe of France's chief ministers, had previously been levelled by Nogaret against others, including Pope Boniface VIII - sodomy and spitting on the cross among them. They were standard charges if you wanted to accuse someone of heresy and magic. The fact that many Templars confessed to them is irrelevant; study of Inquisition transcripts shows that most people tell their torturers what they wish to hear. Such behaviour as spitting on the cross would have been unlikely - but it made for a very serious accusation, and a very lurid confession. As Leonard George says, Torture is a poor way to get at the truth, but it can be an impressive method of verifying one's worst fears.'21
Thirty-six Templars died under torture: another incentive for others to confess.
The fact that the Templars' initiation rites were held in secret counted against them; they could not prove, through outside witnesses, that they were innocent of the charges of heretical behaviour brought against them.
Jacques de Molay, the final Grand Master, confessed to some charges under interrogation, though he strongly denied others, but he later retracted his confession, saying that the Templars were innocent and that his only infamy was that he had lied in confessing to the charges. His confession would have meant life imprisonment; his retraction meant death the following day.
As for Baphomet, scholarly opinions differ. Some believe that Baphomet was a demon or deity actually worshipped by the Templars; others that the word was a corruption of Mahomet, or Muhammad (in Spanish the name became Mafomat, and in Provencal, Bafomet); or alternatively of the Arabic abufihamat, meaning 'Father of Wisdom', the title of a Sufi Master, which would strengthen the esoteric Muslim connection; and one authority claims that Baphomet is an early Jewish code for the Greek Sophia, the female wisdom persona of the Godhead.22
It is quite possible that the demon/deity Baphomet was entirely the creation of the Inquisitors, but a mythology grew around him through the centuries, culminating in the controversial twentieth-century magician Aleister Crowley using the name as one of his own titles. As Peter Partner says of the charges against the Templars, 'it can be said to be a case in which medieval witch-hunting was the direct ancestor of modern occultism.'23
Baphomet is usually described as a head, and could thus tie in with the (real or apocryphal) speaking brazen head of the thirteenth-century monk-scientists Albertus Magnus or Roger Bacon, depending on the version of the story; or with some early versions of the Grail myth, as will be discussed in due course. The Templars, like the Cathars, were sometimes thought of as the Guardians of the Grail.
The final charge, mentioned on p. 54, of all behaviour being lawful if it was to the benefit of the Order, is familiar policy from that of the Assassins at their height, and also from those at the libertarian rather than the ascetic extreme of the Gnostics.
Looking back from seven or eight centuries later, there seems to be a question not so much of whether the Knights Templar were at all influenced by the Muslims they met, as of how much they were influenced. Realize it or not at the time, Christian Europe itself was so influenced. Gothic architecture, with its characteristically pointed arches drawing the eye up to heaven, owes much to concepts of Islamic architecture brought back by Crusaders returning home.
The original 'uniform' of the Templars was a plain white mantle; the red cross was officially added in 1146 by Pope Eugenius III. Perhaps the colours were inspired by the Assassins; the Knights Templar had by then had close contact with them for nearly thirty years.
In 1129, for example, the Crusaders, including Templars, and the Assassins had hatched a plan together to take Damascus from the Muslims for the Christians, in exchange for the Assassins being given the stronghold of Tyre. The plan went disastrously wrong when it was discovered by the military commander of Damascus, and thousands were killed - but it shows clearly the willingness between supposed enemies to form mutually advantageous alliances.
Although some of the Templars, like many knights, were illiterate, they were not simple uneducated soldiers; many of them came from minor noble families. Some, like a number of Crusaders, had been born in Palestine, while others spent many years there, and so could speak Arabic - and the Arabs, like the Jews, were well ahead of most medieval Christians in learning. Christians were especially ignorant of Muslims and their religion, and were utterly intolerant of them; while Muslims saw Judaism and Christianity as early, incomplete but worthy attempts towards the true faith made perfect in Islam, Christians saw Muslims as evil, degenerate idol-worshippers. (This was partly medieval ignorance, but was also partly standard propaganda practice in war.)
It should be mentioned that the esoteric historian A.E. Waite is somewhat dismissive of the supposed links between the Knights Templar and the Assassins.
Were it necessary to suppose that in the course of their long sojourn in Palestine a part of the Templars had become tinctured by the spirit of eastern lore, eastern theosophy, eastern hidden practices - all of which is part of the charge against them - there were sects enough in that region from whom they could have drawn and at whose questionable fountains they might have drunk deeply, without postulating the Assassins as a particular and only source. For the rest, it cannot be said that the Old Man of the Mountains and his votaries were desirable or decent neighbours; but it is to be questioned whether the Templars were a marked improvement on them.24
The Holy Land, sacred to the three Religions of the Book and influenced also by the lingering traces of Egyptian and Greek ideas, was a melting-pot of religious beliefs; as Waite says, 'there were sects enough in that region'. Already noted are the links between religion, philosophy, mysticism and magic. Whatever they had been taught at home in France or England by the Church, the Crusaders and the Templars inevitably encountered new and exciting beliefs and practices in Palestine. For those who want to learn, knowledge is always available.
It is more than likely, for example, that as the Cathars of the Languedoc were persecuted and eventually destroyed in the early thirteenth century, some joined the Knights Templar, taking their beliefs with them. According to one historian, 'numerous [Cathar] survivors found refuge in the Order of the Temple, and Cathars played a prominent part in the running of the Temple in the Languedoc region.'25
We are unlikely ever to know the full truth about the Templar beliefs, and how much truth, if any, there was in the accusations of blasphemy against them. It is possible that the great Templar heresy was simply the discovery that the Muslim God is the same as the Christian God. But it might have been more than that. Whatever the detail of their beliefs, the Templars, with their independence of the Church hierarchy, could perhaps have come to believe with the Assassins, with the Sufis, with the Cabalists, with the Cathars, with the mystics of all religions, that if God is worshipped from the individual's heart, the outward trappings of formal religion become irrelevant; and that, for any hierarchical religion, is rampant heresy.
TO BE CONTINUED
SO WE SEE THE BEGINNINGS AND CONTINUATION OF VARIOUS FORMS OF "SPECIAL GROUPS" - SOME MAYBE VERY OPEN, SOME WITH SECRET TRAPPINGS, THAT ONLY THE INNER ONES COULD KNOW. IT WAS THE AGES OF FALSEHOOD FROM THE ROMAN CATHOLIC CHURCH, AND VARIOUS SECTS OR GROUPS OPPOSED TO CATHOLICISM, YET FORMING THEIR OWN BRAND OF "CHRISTIAN" RELIGION. SOME WERE MODERATE WHILE OTHERS HELD OFF-THE-WALL IDEAS, PRACTICES, AND THEOLOGY. SOME WERE MORE OPEN WHILE OTHERS WERE MORE CLOSED. IN THE END THEY FOUGHT EACH OTHER, OFTEN LITERALLY, AND THOSE WITH THE BIGGER SECULAR CLUB, PUT TO TORTURE AND DEATH, THOSE WITH A MUCH LESS CLUB.