Commenting on his latest book, The Return of Merlin, Deepak Chopra observed recently that history exists in the eye of the beholder. Chopra spoke of the History Of the Soul versus the textbook variety. And while the author did not bother to cite examples, it's safe to say that historical accuracy has often taken a back seat to political correctness, the old Soviet Union comes to mind. In the days of Galileo, it was the Church that defined reality. She even rearranged the heavens, declaring that the sun revolves around the earth not the other way around. When heresy ran afoul of her, she obliterated not only the infidels but their written testimony, as was the case with the Cathars in southern France. Seven centuries later, accounts of the Cathars found in encyclopedias reflect the Church's geocentricism, as if all revolves around Rome. Yet the last time we checked, the earth revolves around the sun, which in turn spins in the arm of a spiral galaxy reeling into infinity. And the truth behind medieval heresies may have a similar trajectory, The Never-Ending Quest of mystics, Templars, and Cathars for Absolute Knowledge. That quest, relegated by skeptics to quixotic fancy, has little to do with textbook history, yet everything to with secret history, the history of the soul.
Braveheart, the re-released film about Scottish freedom-fighter Sir William Wallace, opens a chapter in the book of secret history. The film deals with the war for Scottish independence in the late thirteenth century, but neglects a rarely discussed element in that struggle which has influenced human events up to the present. Like a golden thread, that key element runs through Scottish and American history. It runs through the Middle Ages and the Inquisition to ancient Israel, the Temple of Solomon, even to ancient Egypt. It links all of the above, winding farther, deeper, and more secretly than politically correct chroniclers dare conceive. It is the thread Vatican armies tried to destroy, the Order of the Ancient Mysteries, and their progeny, the Knights Templar.
Braveheart and beyond, the textbook account…
In the final years of the thirteenth century, William Wallace rallied Scotland against the English crown. As he did, many Scottish nobles lent only half-hearted support to the cause, and at times none at all. Even so, Wallace defeated the English governor John de Warenne near Stirling in 1297. As Braveheart poignantly shows, Robert the Bruce eventually championed Wallace's cause. But in 1305, Edward II had his way with Wallace. He captured the charismatic rebel and tried him for treason. Wallace was then hideously tortured and executed, so much for Sir William.
But the story continues. By the time of the Battle of Bannockburn, June 1314, the Scots had all but driven the king's forces back to England. Sterling Castle, the gateway to the Highlands, King Edward's last stronghold in Scotland, was under siege. The castle's weary governor vowed to surrender if the king's army did not relieve him by midsummer. Meeting the challenge, Edward assembled a heavily-armored fighting force, possibly as large as 100,000 men, but probably closer to 20,000. He did so, most likely, not only to save Sterling but to annihilate Robert the Bruce and occupy Scotland. To intercept the English army, Robert assembled a smaller less-heavily-armed force of only 8,000 men. The two armies met at Bannockburn, where, despite overwhelming odds, the Scots defeated the English. That dramatic victory paved the way for a free Scotland with Robert the Bruce as her king.
What about the secret history?
The Battle of Bannockburn took place on Saint John's Day, June 24, a day of particular importance to the Knights Templar, the enigmatic warrior-monks of the middle ages. But accounts of the battle leave much to be desired. Even the location stands in question. Historians agree, though, that the English vastly outnumbered the Scots, and that the Scottish army consisted mostly of pikemen, with relatively few horsemen. Furthermore, those horsemen could have been no match for Edward's heavily-armored knights. The amazing Scottish victory, then, rests on a mysterious event.
During the battle, with all Scottish units engaged between Bannockburn (burn means stream) and the River Forth, something strange happened. A fierce charge erupted with banners flying from the Scottish rear. Historians describe the charge as consisting of camp-followers, even children, non-combatants whom the English somehow mistook for a fierce fighting unit. The charge, history tells us, arose spontaneously from the camp-followers who made banners from sheets and gathered weapons from the dead and wounded. Incredibly, this charge, which by necessity would have been launched on foot, inspired such fear among the armored English knights, who were mounted, that they fled en masse.
This almost romantic history appeals to Scottish patriotism. It is the stuff of legends, or of Braveheart II. The idea, however, of unmounted peasants driving off a massive English army does not appeal to common sense. That the charge swept panic through the English ranks, though, seems clear. King Edward and 500 of his knights fled the battlefield followed by his foot soldiers. And while some accounts speak of slaughter, chronicled English losses were slight. The rout appears then to have resulted from sheer panic alone.
The Temple and the Lodge by Michael Baigent and Richard Leigh points convincingly to the mysterious attackers at Bannockburn as having been the Knights Templar, easily recognized by their banners and splayed crosses, the only fighting force of the time that could have inspired such fear and confusion. The authors demonstrate that many Templars fled to Scotland while the Inquisition hunted them down all over Europe. And at Bannockburn, where a mounted Scottish charge is known to have occurred, the victorious Scots marched behind an Ark-shaped receptacle known as the Monymusk Reliquary, a model of the Temple of Solomon which figures prominently in the Templar tradition.
A rich and powerful brotherhood, the Templars proved difficult for the Church and the king of France to destroy. King Phillip the Fare, allied with Avignonese Pope Clement V, ruthlessly suppressed the Order throughout Europe, medieval style, with arrests, torture and executions. Many Templars, however, evaded capture and found refuge abroad. The Order's entire fleet, in fact, escaped with a vast fortune, the fate of which remains a mystery to this day. Refugee Templars, evidence shows, found sanctuary in Scotland, where Templar graves bear witness to them having lived and died in the fourteenth century. King Robert the Bruce apparently had no interest in persecuting the Order, in spite of a papal bull ordering him to do precisely that. To the contrary, he must have taken advantage of their fugitive status, offering them asylum if they would help him fight his war against England.
Who were the Knights Templar, really?
Hugh de Payens and eight other knights took vows on June 12, 1118 at Arginy Castle near Lyons, France. The nine founders pledged themselves to Christ and to the protection of pilgrims traveling in the holy land, the textbooks tell us. King Baudouin of Jerusalem, whose brother, Godfroi de Bouillon, had captured the holy city for Christendom nineteen years prior, received them as knights at his palace with open arms, a precedent that was to be repeated by kings all over the world. According to tradition, the knights built quarters over the ruins of Solomon's Temple, which some modern commentators believe says something about the Order's secret purpose. In 1126, the immensely influential Saint Bernard of Clairvaux won ecclesiastical legitimacy for the Templars at the Council of Troyes. From then on, the Order's ranks swelled at an extraordinary rate, as did their treasury and holdings. In a short period of time the Templars held lands in England, France, Spain, Portugal and Scotland. By the mid-twelfth century they had established themselves second only to the papacy in wealth, power and prestige, an indication that their success hinged, as tradition suggests, on some secret knowledge.
The Templars proved themselves extraordinarily influential and, despite abuses in the later years, consistently idealistic. Well aware of their power, and at times subscribing to their ideals, kings aligned themselves with the knights. The Order in turn influenced kings, occupying themselves, for instance, with trying to reconcile England's King Henry II with Thomas ˆ Becket. And Henry's son, Richard Coeur de Leon, was likely an honorary Templar. He kept company with the knights, resided in their preceptories, sailed in their ships, and sold the island of Cyprus to them, which became the Order's official seat for a time. Richard's brother and rival, King John, had as his trusted advisor, Aymeric de St. Maur, Master of the Order in England. Owing to Aymeric's counsel, King John, no champion of liberty, reluctantly signed the Magna Carta in 1215, a document cited with the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States as foundational to the rights of man.
Having grown astonishingly powerful, the Templars accomplished almost anything they desired on a scale and of a nature suggesting an almost supernatural capacity. Their role in designing and building the great Gothic cathedrals of Europe, for instance, a role often not credited to them, testifies to an esoteric knowledge of architecture that transcended anything in Western civilization, save the pyramids of Egypt. As with the pyramids, the Gothic cathedrals baffle historians, rising seemingly out of nothingness in terms of any technical precedent during the Middle Ages. Gothic architecture sprang, in fact, from the Templars and their dedication to sacred geometry, the mystical science of number and proportion frequently identified with the Egyptian pyramids and the Temple of Solomon.
What was the Templars secret purpose?
The Order's official raison d'etre, as protectors of pilgrims, remains on the books. Judged by their endeavors and associations, however, the Templars had more profound goals than the textbooks reveal, creating, for instance, material receptacles, Grails, if you will, for the spiritual essence revered within their Mystery tradition: preceptories, cathedrals, churches, even nations, a universal brotherhood. To this end, the original nine knights excavated the Temple of Solomon, possibly hoping to find the lost Ark of the Covenant (see Graham Hancock's The Sign and the Seal). So doing, the Templars would have wielded authority that transcended even the pope's, paving the way for a Templar state adorned with structures of mystically oriented design. It is alleged, in this regard, that the original nine knights secured secrets of design and proportion encoded in the Temple of Solomon itself, secret geometry that may date to the building of the Egyptian pyramids.
The Knights Templar, though, like any of us, can best be known by their fruit, which Baigent and Leigh tell us includes writing the medieval Grail romances. The Quest for the Holy Grail, then, and the import of that Quest, comes down to us from devotees of the Mysteries, those who actually quested. And therein we find Chopra's History of the Soul, the search for divinity (the most politically incorrect heresy of all, the modern age notwithstanding), which in various guises has animated societies since the dawn of time. The Templars, we may deduce, encoded within the famous Grail legends the true nature of their Order, and of their souls, well aware of the consequences of doing so openly, while establishing the ideal of the search for immortality in the popular psyche, reliable, albeit unorthodox, history in Chopra's terms. We may add this accomplishment, then, to the list of fruits by which the Templars can be known, along with trying to syncretize the Christian, Judaic, Islamic, and Celtic Mysteries, for the purpose of creating a golden-age kingdom, if you will, centered at Carcassonne in southern France, where prior to the Inquisition a golden age had already begun to blossom under Cathar and Templar influence.
Tracing our golden thread one step farther, Wolfram von Eschenbach, said to have been a Templar himself, wrote the medieval Grail romance Parzival. In that epic story, he dubs the Templars Protectors of the Grail and the Grail Family. In this context, another book by Baigent and Leigh, Holy Blood, Holy Grail presents a cogent theory for the Templars having pledged themselves to this cause, not in fiction, but in reality, the Grail Family being the actual descendants of Jesus Christ and Mary Magdalen, who, legend says, migrated to France, possibly as founders of the Merovingian dynasty.
This extraordinary theory suggests that in A.D. 679, after the assassination of the last Merovingian monarch, Dagobert II, protectors of the royal lineage formed a secret society, the Priory of Sion, around the sang real, the royal blood of the descendants of Jesus and Mary Magdalen. This may be the true meaning of sangraal, Baigent and Leigh suggest, the Holy Grail of medieval romancers. The Knights Templar, the authors found, may have had much to do with this Priory of Sion, the foundations of which may hearken back to the House of David, to Jesus and Solomon, the lineage of the Israelite kings. The Templars may have secretly dedicated themselves to this very special bloodline, believing the wisdom-legacy of Solomon and Jesus to be their own. Enthroning this lineage during the Middle Ages, the Templars would have set their golden age in motion.
How does the Lost Ark of the Covenant fit into the puzzle?
In Raiders of the Lost Ark, Steven Spielberg acquainted the viewing public with one of the great mysteries of all time, the fate of the Lost Ark of the Covenant, the ancient Israelite repository of divine authority. While Spielberg portrays Hitler's Reich lusting after the Ark, fictionally, the Templars probably attempted to find the Ark in reality. Graham Hancock's The Sign and the Seal points convincingly to Templars having pursued the Lost Ark from Jerusalem to its alleged final resting place in Ethiopia. Hancock argues that the Ark itself may have been the enigmatic Holy Grail, and that romancers encoded within their texts the Templar's secret mission to find and harness its holy power. Bearing in mind that in the Middle Ages possessing the Ark would have meant wielding the power of God, doing so would have established the Knights Templar as THE dominant force on earth, the pope notwithstanding. With evidence of the Templars having excavated the Temple of Solomon, and then of their presence in Ethiopia, where the Ark is believed to reside to this day, and a country that figures in Wolfram's Parzival, a case exists for the knights having searched for the famous artifact, probably to further their mystical/political goals of establishing a golden age.
Secret History After Bannockburn
Tracing our golden thread to more recent centuries, the quest of the Knights Templar reveals itself long after the period of their official existence. Driven underground during the Inquisition, refugee knights, a specific Masonic tradition claims, gave birth to Scottish Freemasonry. That tradition traces its origins directly to the Order and King Robert the Bruce. Robert, the tradition specifically states, founded the first Scottish Masonic lodge after the battle of Bannockburn to receive Templars fleeing persecution in France. By the seventeenth century, the tradition had splintered into a variety of forms. The Jacobite variety, however, the most intensely political and mystically devoted, claimed the Templar tradition as its own. The Jacobites failed to restore the Scottish Stuarts to the English throne, even with the help of powerful Masonic allies in France, but by that time the Enlightenment was underway. The Templar ideal of a free society founded on religious and political liberty had taken root, philosophically at least. Scottish, English and French Masons had begun to dramatically change the way the world thought. Locke, Montesquieu, Voltaire, all Masons, preached the philosophy of Liberty, a natural consequence of Templar experience and the suppression of their ideals. As if by providence, then, the tradition sprouted on distant shores, the threads of which, now luminous strands, united the philosopher revolutionaries of the New World.
On August 28, 1769, Saint Andrew's Masonic Lodge in Boston conferred a Freemasonic degree named after the Knights Templar. By 1773 the lodge had assumed a highly significant role in the American Revolution. The Grand Lodge of Scotland made Joseph Warren Grand Master for the whole continent. Other members included Paul Revere and John Hancock. And the lodge's membership overlapped with the most catalytic secret-society of the day, the Sons of Liberty, with at least twelve members of the lodge participating in the Boston Tea Party. But the story hardly ends in Boston. Freemasons played major roles in the Revolutionary War itself and the signing of the Constitution, including George Washington, many of his generals, Benjamin Franklin, Patrick Henry, the Marquis de Lafayette and numerous others, Franklin being a member of a mysterious French society called the Royal Lodge of Commanders of the Temple West of Carcassonne, a mouthful in more ways than one.
That our golden thread links Benjamin Franklin to the medieval city of Carcassonne connects him with some of the most secret history of all. The area around the fortress at Carcassonne, a medieval center for Cathars and Templars, houses a network of profound and mysterious symbols having to do with sacred geometry, symbols that surface in ritual garments worn by Franklin and Washington during Masonic ceremonies. As if designed by the forces of creation, an uncanny arrangement of mountain peaks form a perfect Masonic five-pointed star around Rennes-le-Chateau in the Carcassonne area (see Henry Lincoln's Discoveries in France). Then a series of medieval churches, towers, and ancient Celtic sites expand upon the design, creating Masonic triangles in the precise proportions of the golden mean of sacred geometry, an overall pattern that stretches from Rennes-le-Chateau to the island of Bornholm in the Baltic Sea, where evidence of a Templar presence exists, to Jerusalem and the Temple of Solomon. The vast geometric design and the symbols carved in stone at the sites have been traced to the Priory of Sion and to the Templars, secret societies working in ways that transcend culture, religion, and mundane history.
Our golden thread then represents only a portion of the whole cloth. The greater tapestry suggests that the mystery is even more profound, even more elusive, yet as apparent as the Great Seal of the United States, the Masonic symbol found on the dollar bill. That the full story has been kept from us should not be surprising, though. That which we perceive merely as subtle and continuous manifests as a raging current at the auspicious hour, a deluge that threatens the tyrants of orthodoxy, the guardians of politically correct history. That current rages still, for those who have ears to hear the roaring of the waters. But don't expect to find the secret story in a history textbook.