The Templars are inseparable from their myth. Such is the strength of this myth that it sometimes appears that each writer who deals with them is seemingly writing about a different Order, from the academics who maintain that the Templars were, in reality, very ordinary men, to the more speculative camp who portray the Order as a secret society of mystical initiates. Ever since the time of Cornelius Agrippa, who wrote in his De occulta philosophia (1531) that the Templars committed ‘detestable heresy’,50 the reality of who the Templars actually were and what they actually did has been ever more obscured by later generations of commentators. The eighteenth-century Masonic movement, with its neo-Templar affectations (including the so-called Strict Templar Observance form of Freemasonry) has done much to muddy the waters. There were claims that the Order was still in existence in the early nineteenth century, and a highly suspicious list of post-1314 Grand Masters was produced by the Freemasons (see Appendix II).
As Michael Baigent and Richard Leigh point out,51 the two camps tend to remain firmly apart, as, on the one hand, academic historians will only consider whether something ‘actually happened’, and which can be backed up by documentation and other forms of evidence, while the more speculative apologists for the Order thrive on the mythical side of the Templars. What Baigent and Leigh point out is that something does not have to ‘actually happen’ in order for it to become subsumed into the collective consciousness and affect later generations. For a myth that can affect history, one need look no further than the myth of Aryan supremacy, which the Nazis held to be gospel, with such catastrophic results. What continues to fascinate about the Templars is this apparent dichotomy between the reality and the myth, and it can only be possible to understand the Order as a whole if the mythical aspect is also considered alongside the facts.
Umberto Eco points out52 that the conspiracy theorists tend to project a great deal of their own failings into their theories, no matter how wild. What he does not examine, however, is that the hands that write the more standard, orthodox history, can also be driven by similar forces: the desire for peer acceptance; the desire to maintain one’s position within academe; and, perhaps more importantly, one’s funding, all of which would be severely compromised by entertaining the more mythical version of the Templar story. This latter approach ignores anything vaguely speculative about the Order, and, in doing so, perpetuates a blinkered and restricted view of history.
As the great Tibetan saint Padmasambhava once said, ‘Things are not what they seem; nor are they otherwise.’ That the Order, even in its own time, was fanatically secretive only compounds the difficulty of arriving at anything close to a definitive account. It would be plausible to argue, therefore, that the Templars were, in the main, very ordinary men, but that certain elements of the Order were indeed ‘tainted’. Whether we will ever know by what, is, of course, another matter, and whether recent discoveries such as the Chinon Parchment force us to re-evaluate our thinking about the Templars, one thing remains certain: the mystique and fascination of the Order of Poor Knights of Christ and the Temple of Solomon will continue to exert their hold, and the aura surrounding the Order will continue, maybe deepen even further, and perhaps never be fully fathomed. The mystery will remain.