This is a write up of a presentation on this topic that I gave on July 15, 2020, at the invitation of Kayleen Asbo for her class at Ubiquity University entitled In the Footsteps of the Sacred Feminine: Dordogne. Here is what was shared:
This image of what Marie-Louise von Franz (1980) calls Lady Alchemy, stands chest high on the central pillar in the central doorway to the Royal Portal of Notre Dame de Paris. In her hands she holds an open book and a closed book, inviting us to read the sacred scriptures known to all, as well as to look towards the scriptures or wisdom teachings that are less available and more difficult to grasp. In the same way, as I sit in meditation with a candle, I observe the physical flame that sheds heat and light, while I also see it as a symbol of inner light. This is a good “tension of the opposites” to sit with, to hold and not abandon one way or another. In this same way, this is an invitation to sit with the polarity of the masculine and feminine principles.
The Knights Templar
The Knight’s Templar were a broad-based order of highly skilled knights who held their allegiance not only to the Pope in Rome but perhaps more importantly, to a man who was centrally involved in their formation; the Cistercian monk, St. Bernard of Clairvaux.
There is so much information about the Knights Templar that spans from them being simple highway patrolmen all the way over to endless speculation and intrigue in the dark tunnels of the proverbial rabbit hole. The common view is that they were there to protect the pilgrims on their journey to the holy lands of Palestine, and Jerusalem in particular. This might have a sliver of truth to it, though their more numerous cousins, the Knights Hospitallers, were likely more involved in this. In their heyday, the Knights Templar were a heavily armed elite army force who would be sent to break the hardest of enemy lines after which the regular armed forces would then come in for the long battle. But there is more to who they were and more to their story than meets the eye.
The Troubled But Important Relationship Between The Exoteric and Esoteric
As indicated by Lady Alchemy above, there is this important relationship between what is called the exoteric and the esoteric. Roughly, the exoteric refers to something that is generally known by the many, whose information is easily available and understandable to most people. The esoteric refers to information that is more complex and more difficult to understand. It involves subtleties, nuance which requires a certain insight to help make sense of it.
A classic example of this is how a church, synagogue, or mosque could be called the exoteric face of religion, open to all who wish to come, with scripture and liturgy that is readily available.
The esoteric is what might be called the undercurrent of these religions, of Gnosticism, Kabbalah, and Sufism, where deeper teachings might be found in basement texts and backroom meetings, that might be more obscure, and involving mystical experiences by those who engage in it.
Gershom Scholem has pointed out the invaluable need for these two modes of religious and spiritual engagement to co-exist. The exoteric will often brush off, or worse, stamp down the esoteric trends within its religious system, thus cutting off the wellspring of fresh insight and living expressions of the sacred into their study. Likewise, the student of the mysteries needs a place to rest amongst friends and fellow students, when the juices of esoteric inspiration have run dry. With open doors, it is restoring to be in the common sanctuary, where shared discussions and religious insights are easily shared.
At the University of Culture and Creation Spirituality, I had the good fortune to study with teacher and author, Neil Douglas-Klotz, who taught a program called Deep Ecumenism, that explored the many wells of religious depth traditions that lead to the vast underground aquifers of non-dogmatic wisdom traditions.
There is a tension of the opposites here, where, as Jung points out in his material on the “transcendent function“, to stay with this tension and not collapse into one or the other, is what allows for the emergence of an unforeseen new outcome to emerge. This takes patience and maturity. As Kayleen quoted Jung, “The greatest danger to the psyche is to become one-sided.”
The Knights Templar were straddling the exoteric-esoteric in ways that gave them their immense power and effectiveness, and ultimately, led to their downfall. Looking at their brief history in retrospect, their efforts seemed to help make space for an appreciation of the esoteric treasures that had been stamped down by the exoteric Roman orthodoxy in the earliest stages of the development of Christianity.
Given the vast scope of the Knights Templar, I have chosen to focus simply on their origins as a slice into the mystery that surrounds this noble yet strange order. This raises far more questions than it answers, so please forgive this narrow scope, and there is much that I don’t know about the Templars, admittedly. Also, my piecing together this story probably will have any number of different versions, so obscure and clouded in mystery is this story of their inception.
The Origins of the Knights Templar
To set the context, there was the First Crusade in the later 11th century, where Christians from many regions called for a religious conquest to reclaim the holy lands, especially the holiest city of Jerusalem. The crusade was led by some of the most powerful nobles of France in what became the brutal and tragic face of Christianity, with many atrocities that were perpetrated in the name of Christ. Finally, on July 15, 1099, the Jerusalem of the Fatimid Muslim rule was conquered by the crusader armies.
Godfrey de Bouillon was a French nobleman whose high esteem led him to be chosen as the First King of Jerusalem, a title he rejected. Curiously, he established a Templar-like Abby at Notre Dame de Zion, on Mt. Zion just south of the Temple Mount (now called Abbey of the Dormition, the supposed place of Mother Mary’s assumption to heaven). There is intrigue around his choice of the dilapidated structure that he found there, and his reconstruction that is considered to be the location of what is called “The Upper Room”, where Jesus held the Last Supper.
The backstory to the creation of the Knights Templar is that a specific and well-connected group of individuals, at the time of this first crusade, were creating their alliances and positioning themselves to embark on the first stages of the development of this new religious order. This group is related to Godfrey, though he died only a year after the Siege of Jerusalem.
Count Hugh de Champagne, one of the wealthiest men in France, became a key financial backer and sponsor of this emerging order of Knights. He was located in the city of Troyes, southeast of Paris, and he called himself the Count of Troyes. This city became, essentially, the spiritual heartland of the Knights Templars.
Troyes was a literary and cultural hub, where esoteric studies were welcomed, such as with the famed Jewish school of Rashi. Marie of Champagne, Eleanor of Aquitaine, and King Louis VII’s eldest daughter, resided there as the Countess of Champagne and was a revered patron of the arts and the troubadours. 12th century Poet and Trouvere, Chretien de Troyes, who penned some of the first streams of the Grail legends, was from there as well.
Also, among the key players was Hughes de Payens, who was a young vassal in the court of Hugh de Champagne. Hughes became a prominent, on the ground, spearhead for the establishment of the Templar order.
In 1114, something extraordinary happened. Hugh de Champagne took a trip to Jerusalem and quickly returned to renounce his personal wealth and devote himself fully to this task of establishing this order in Jerusalem. With meetings of people in his close circle, something had occurred that spurred his single focus of mind. Speculation is that some buried map had been found, such as the Copper Scroll of the Dead Sea Scrolls that pointed to some important buried location.
As apart of his wealth renunciation, Hugh donated land to the famed St. Bernard to set up his new Cistercian monastery in Clairvaux.
Bernard of Clairvaux was a central figure in the formation of the Templars. He was highly revered within all of French Catholicism and highly connected. He became one of the key point persons and central organizers for the establishment of this order.
In 1118, Hughes de Payne, Hugh de Champagne’s lead operative in Jerusalem, got the French-friendly King of Jerusalem, Baldwin II, as the common story goes, to create a monastic order of soldiers to guard the pilgrims on their way to the holy lands. But what is less known is that King Baldwin gave Hughes’ fledgling group, who at the time were located at the Notre Dame of Zion, access to an area on the Temple Mount called Solomon’s Stables. This was a very large basement area underneath the Al Aqsa Mosque and the former location of Herod’s (and possibly even Solomon’s) Temple, supported by 12 rows of pillars and arches.
For the following nine years, there was a small group of primarily nine key players who sequestered themselves in this subterranean location. During this time, they were not protecting pilgrims nor were they engaged in public activities. Rumor, speculation, and some evidence suggest that there was an excavation. In 1126, there was a stir as some of these original knights traveled to France to meet with Hughes de Champagne and Bernard of Clairvaux. It is suspected that they found not only treasure of great value but also texts, possibly related to the esoteric traditions of the early church, including information about the sacred feminine. In my own work I posit that included in these discoveries was some version of a text called the Pistis Sophia, an obscure early (3rd/4th century) gnostic manuscript that was not discovered, at least as a public document, until the late 18th century.
Shortly after this, at the Council of Troyes in 1129, Bernard of Clairvaux led a group of clergy to officially form and endorse the new order on behalf of the Roman Catholic Church. They were called Poor Knights of Christ and the Temple of Solomon, or the Knights Templar.
Hughes de Payens and Bernard created the Latin Rule that established a very strict code of conduct for these Knights. The order was intensely ascetic, much like Bernard was himself. They wore all white to symbolize the purity of their lives. The red cross was added later. In this Rule, their work was intended, in part, to pursue the “consummation of the divine mysteries.” With time, these Knights grew in numbers as the elite fighting Knights who were incredibly disciplined and noble, looking much like the legendary Arthurian Knights of the Round Table, the chivalrous Knights of the Holy Grail. Also amongst these ranks were many non-fighting administrators who engaged in a number of their activities, such as their highly disciplined and reliable financial operations. But the formation of the Templars and the mysteries that surrounded them was a highly significant development at that time.
The Templars and the Early French Gothic Cathedrals
In the early 12th century, there was an explosion of the mysteries of the Sacred Feminine as they began to appear in the new Gothic Cathedrals that were being built around Paris. Bernard of Clairvaux, whose devotion to the Mother Mary as well as to the poetry of the Song of Songs, played a prominent role in the development of this architectural breakthrough. The most notable innovation of these cathedrals was the explosion of light, architectural achievements possibly due to models brought back by Templars and Christians from the Arabic and Sufi contacts made in the East. But what was equally striking, was the prominent Sophianic-type images, that included but not exclusive to Mother Mary. It is interesting to note that there were virtually no images of the crucified Jesus. It is believed that the Templars were involved behind the scenes in spurring some of the religious themes expressed in these stone images and lends intrigue into the relationship between them and the mason guilds of that time. Templar signatures can be found such as the Templar cross behind the head of Jesus in the central portal of Chartres.
From the Abbey of Notre Dame of Zion to the emergence of the Notre Dame cathedrals of St. Denis (first begun in 1135), Chartres, Notre Dame de Paris, Reims, and Strasbourg, these all seem to be inspired by some newfound inspiration towards not only Mother Mary, but by broader archetypal motifs as exemplified by Sophia in various Gnostic texts.
Significance of the Templars and The Sacred Feminine
I pose these questions: Were the Knights Templar offering disciplined protection and service of the marginalized sacred feminine within the Christian and Jewish Mystical traditions, that were hinted at in these cathedrals to Our Lady, Notre Dame? What was excluded from the Roman orthodox-managed development of Nicene theology that is perhaps important to reconsider? Was there some devotional component on the part of the Templars to the sacred traditions of the inner light of the Kabbalah, known as the Shekinah, and her gnostic sister, in the mysteries of Sophia?
What is extraordinary is that such a powerful group of highly masculine fighters could be humbled to the devotion, not to a warrior hero, but to a subtle, barely visible image of divine wisdom.
Our ability to honor the esoteric and for the exoteric to not have to feel threatened by it seems to be a challenge that has been at play, often tragically, for a very long time.
We are looking at the long trajectory of male domination in our culture and in our sacred traditions. The male psyche seems often to be uncomfortable and even threatened, by themes of the divine feminine. To bow to the archetype of the feminine, with its nuance and vulnerabilities, can spur a sense of weakness in the face of such harsh conditions of a man’s world, of war and trauma. How deeply rooted within the male persona is the enculturation that the feminine is emasculating? The sacred feminine archetype can offer a sort of unconditional love, that allows for fallibility and forgiveness. Though I think men can be nervous and even scared to be open to their own inner feminine aspect, I think more and more, we are finding support and encouragement to do so.
I have been on a long pilgrimage myself, of sorts, down this path of the esoteric mysteries, especially with the gnostic figure Sophia. It is not an easy road as it is less known and people wonder what is the fascination with this antiquated and little-known goddess. And it is hard to communicate. This is why communities like Ubiquity University, contemporary Mary Magdalene circles, and others, are so valuable as there is common (exoteric) ground created where this conversation is welcomed, appreciated, and not feared.
Things seem to have gotten so out of balance as our world and our culture face such intense challenges, due of course to our making. So in the spirit of the Templar Knights, may I invoke the noble masculine to bow to this, to hold both the masculine and feminine, the exoteric and esoteric, in the balance as we attempt to navigate through these troubled times. When it is necessary, to raise our sword of boundary setting, to not lose connection to others, but to say NO MORE to the ravages and traumas of war and abuses of power.
We invoke the Warrior archetype in service of the sacred feminine, that like Lady Alchemy at the entrance to Notre Dame, there is something within the inner process that has been less known but is so immensely important, holding the tension of being in the world while also being connected to the inner world. And perhaps most importantly, giving voice and greater priority to the processes of inner development and transformation.
Over the course of their roughly 200-year lifespan, as the Templars became very prominent in Europe with such a solid and reliable network, they created a whole system of holding precious metals and giving people promissory notes that they can cash in at another location that became the first banking system. The stability they brought to commerce was unprecedented and spread throughout Europe and the Middle East. And yet it was because of their foot in the world of the esoteric that held some independence from Rome as well from the King of France that ultimately led to their demise. King Philip of France exploited the popular suspicions about the Templars. In 1307, Templars were arrested en masse, based essentially on them being considered essentially religious heretics (which was probably more of an excuse for the King to save himself from the collapse of debt). Soon after, the Pope denounced the Templars. Those who survived fled or went underground, back down into the basement of the exoteric Christianity that seemed relieved, some investigators believe, to keep the whole issue of the divine feminine out of sight, out of mind. Transcripts of testimony that were recorded under torture by some Templars revealed that there was a strange image known as “Baphomet” that they revered. Only relatively recently was it discovered that using the Atbash Hebraic cipher, Baphomet is translated as “Sophia”. Indeed, where did this figure of Sophia lie within the inner teachings of this monastic order of Knights?
Plaque marking the location of de Molay’s execution on
Ile de la Cite with Notre Dame in the background.
In 1314, the Grand Master, Jacque de Molay, was brought to the Templar burning platform on a little spit of land on the famous l’il de la Cite where he requested to be positioned such that he could put his hands together in prayer while facing the Notre Dame Cathedral. Holding to the image of his inner light as the flames leaped to snuff him out.
May their work of courting the elusive majesty of the sacred feminine continue.
Olsen, O., Editor. The Templar Papers, Franklin Lakes, NJ.: Career Press, 2006.
Picknett, L., and Prince, C. The Templar Revelation, Touchstone: NY: 1997.
Ralls, K. The Templars and the Holy Grail, Wheaton, IL: Theosophical Publishing House, 2003.
Silva, F. First Templar Nation, Portland, ME: Invisible Temple. 2012.
Von Franz, M-L., Alchemy, Toronto: Inner City Books. 1980.