Secret Societies of All Ages: Vol 2 - Charles Heckethorn

XII. Modern Knights Templars

423. Origin.—We read that several lords of the Court of Louis XIV., including the Duke de Gramont, the Marquis of Biran, and Count Tallard, formed a secret society, whose object was pleasure. The society increased. Louis XIV., having been made acquainted with its statutes, banished the members of the Order, whose denomination was, "A slight Resurrection of the Templars." In 1705, Philip Duke of Orleans collected the remaining members of the society that had renounced its first scope to cultivate politics. A Jesuit father, Bonanni, a learned rogue, fabricated the famous list of supposititious Grand Masters of the Temple since Molay, beginning with his immediate successor, Larmenius. No imposture was ever sustained with greater sagacity. The document offered all the requisite characteristics of authenticity, and was calculated to deceive the most experienced palaeologist. Its object was to connect the new institution with the ancient Templars. To render the deception more perfect, the volume containing the false list was filled with minutes of deliberations at fictitious meetings under false dates. Two members were even sent to Lisbon to obtain, if possible, a document of legitimacy from the "Knights of Christ," an Order founded on the ruins of the Order of the Temple. The deputies, however, were unmasked, and very badly received—one had to take refuge in England, the other was transported to Africa, where he died.

424. Revival of the Order.—But the society was not discouraged; it grew, and was probably the same that concealed itself before the outbreak of the Revolution under the vulgar name of the Society of the Bull's Head, and whose members were dispersed in 1792. At that period the Duke of Cosse-Brissac was Grand Master. When on his way to Versailles with other prisoners, there to undergo their trial, he was massacred, and Ledru, his physician, obtained possession of the charter of Larmenius and the MS. statutes of 1705. These documents suggested to him the idea of reviving the Order; Fabre-Palaprat, a Freemason, was chosen Grand Master. Every effort was made to create a belief in the genuineness of the Order. The brothers Fabre, Arnal, and Leblond hunted up relics. The shops of antiquaries supplied the sword, mitre, and helmet of Molay, and the faithful were shown his bones, withdrawn from the funeral pyre on which he had been burned. As in the Middle Ages, the society exacted that aspirants should be of noble birth; such as were not wexe ennobled by the society. Fourteen honest citizens of Troyes on one occasion received patents of nobility and convincing coats of arms. During the Revolution the Order was dissolved, but partly restored during the Directorate. After the establishment of the Empire the members re-elected Dr. Fabre de Palaprat; Napoleon favoured the Order, because it promoted community between his new nobility and the members of the old aristocracy. Under the Restoration the liberal tendencies of the Order rendered it suspect, and at the instigation of the Jesuits the Grand Master was repeatedly sent to prison. To restore the Order to its original purpose—fighting the infidels—the members endeavoured to obtain an island in the Mediterranean; Sir Sidney Smith, later on, wanted to make it the means of suppressing piracy along the African coast.

425. The Leviticon.—The society was at first Catholic, apostolic, Roman, and rejected Protestants; but Fabre suddenly gave it an opposite tendency. Having acquired a Greek MS. of the fifteenth century, containing the Gospel of St. John, with readings somewhat differing from the received version, preceded by a kind of introduction or commentary, called "Leviticon," he determined, towards 1815, to apply its doctrines to the society governed by him, and thus to transform an association, hitherto quite orthodox, into a schismatic sect. This Leviticon is nothing but the well-known work with the same title by the Greek monk, Nicephorus. He, having been initiated into the mysteries of the Sufites, who to this day, in the bosom of Mohammedanism preserve the dismal doctrines of the Ishmaelites of the lodge of Cairo (141), attempted to introduce these ideas into Christianity, and for that purpose wrote the "Leviticon," which became the Bible of a small number of sectaries; but persecution put an end to them. This singular MS. was translated into French in 1822, and printed, with modifications and interpolations, by Palaprat himself. This publication was the cause of a schism in the Order of the Temple. Those knights that adopted its doctrines made them the basis of a new liturgy, which they rendered public in 1833 in a kind of Johannite church called the Temple, and consecrated with great pomp; a society of Ladies of the Temple was also formed at the same time.

426. Ceremonies of Initiation.—The lodges in this degree are called encampments, and the officers take their names from those that managed the original institution of the Knights Templars. The penal signs are the chin and beard sign and the saw sign. The grand sign is indicative of the death of Christ on the cross. There is a word, a grip, and passwords, which vary. The knights, who are always addressed as "Sir Knights," wear knightly costume, not omitting the sword. The candidate for installation is "got up" as a pilgrim, with sandals, mantle, staff, cross, scrip, and wallet, a belt or cord round his waist, and in some encampments a burden on his back, which is made to fall off at the sight of the cross. On his approach, an alarm is sounded with a trumpet, and after a deal of pseudo-military parley he is admitted, and a saw is applied to his forehead by the second captain, whilst all the Sir Knights are under arms. The candidate, being prompted by the master of the ceremonies, declares that he is a weary pilgrim, prepared to devote his life to the service of the poor and sick, and to protect the holy sepulchre. After perambulating the encampment seven times he repeats the oath, having first put away the pilgrim's staff and cross and taken up a sword. In this oath he swears to defend the sepulchre of our Lord Jesus Christ against all Jews, Turks, infidels, heathens, and other opposers of the Gospel. "If ever I wilfully violate this my solemn compact," he continues, "as a Brother Knight Templar, may my skull be sawn asunder with a rough saw, my brains taken out and put in a charger to be consumed by the scorching sun, and my skull in another charger, in commemoration of St. John of Jerusalem, that first faithful soldier and martyr of our Lord and Saviour. Furthermore, may the soul that once inhabited this skull appear against me in the day of judgment. So help me God." A lighted taper is afterwards put into his hand, and he circumambulates the encampment five times "in solemn meditation"; and then kneeling down is dubbed knight by the grand commander, who says, "I hereby instal you a masonic knight hospitaller of St. John of Jerusalem, Palestine, Rhodes, and Malta, and also a Knight Templar." The grand commander next clothes him with the mantle, and invests him with the apron, sash, and jewel, and presents him with sword and shield. He then teaches him the so-called Mediterranean password and sign. The motto of the Knight Templar is, In hoc signo vinces. In England the encampment of Baldwin, which was established at Bristol by the Templars who returned with Richard I. from Palestine, still continues to hold its regular meetings, and is believed to have preserved the ancient costume and ceremonies of the Order. There is another encampment at Bath, and a third at York, from which three emanated all the other encampments in Great Britain and America. In some of the encampments the following is the concluding part of the ceremony:— One of the equerries dressed as a cook, with a white nightcap and apron and a large kitchen knife in his hand, suddenly rushes in, and, kneeling on one knee before the new Sir Knight, says, "Sir Knight, I admonish you to be just, honourable, and faithful to the Order, or I, the cook, will hack your spurs from off your heels with my kitchen knife."