The Order of Knights of the Temple was founded in the Holy Land in 1118 AD by a Burgundian Knight, Hugues de Payens. It's organisation was based on that of the Saracen fraternity of hashishim whom Christians called Assassins. The Templars first headquarters was a wing of the royal palace of Jerusalem next to the al-aqsa mosque, revered by the Shi'ites as the central shrine of the Goddess Fatima.

Western romances, inspired by Moorish Shi'ite poets, transformed this Mother-shrine into the Temple of the Holy Grail, where certain legendary Knights called Templars gathered to offer their service to the Goddess, to uphold the female principle of divinity and to defend women. These Knights became more widely known as Galahad, Perceval, Lohengrin etc.

The real Knights Templar, however, professed Christianity and assumed the duty of protecting Christian pilgrims and merchants travelling through the Holy Land. They also undertook to protect the travellers' lands, castles, and other properties back home, where Templars from Jerusalem arrived to take charge. When pilgrims failed to return from their journeys, the property could pass into the Templars' permanent possession. As a result, like other holy orders founded on a vow of poverty, the Templars soon became very rich.

At first the Knights Templar had difficulty getting papal sanction for their military order. The papacy refused to recognise them until a vindication of their aims was written by Saint Bernard, whose uncle joined the order and became a Grand Master. The Templars' original charter, signed by Pope Innocent II, granted them freedom from papal claims on their property, even from church taxation. This financial independence was to prove their downfall.

Having acquired estate, the Templars were accused of organised heresy, devil worship, ritual sodomy, and blasphemy. It was claimed they adored an androgynous idol named Baphomet, "having sometimes three faces, sometimes two, or only one, and sometimes a bare skull which they called their saviour, and believed its influence to be exerted in making them rich, and in making flowers grow and the earth germinate".

The rumour-mongers claimed the Templars secret rites involved denial of Christ, treading on the cross, and similar charges that were to become monotonously familiar in witch persecutions. Grand Master Jacques de Molay and other dignitaries of the order were arrested and confessed under torture, that they had indeed done such things, with the aim of teaching newly initiated Knights unquestioning obedience to their superiors' commands. Later, de Molay and his associates publicly renounced their confessions, saying they had been forced by torture. In 1314 they proclaimed their innocence before a large crowd of people and were burned at the stake as relapsed heretics the same afternoon.

The order was suppressed with great cruelty. With the church's blessing, local barons in France, Cyprus, Castile, and other areas simply murdered the Knights and took their properties. Captured Templars were forced to confess to every sort of crime, most apparently invited by their judges. It was found that each Templar confessed to one set of sins when tortured by one judge and a completely different set when tortured by a different judge. Trials were transparently rigged. During the trial of Templars at Paris, the court repeatedly refused to hear depositions from no fewer than 573 witnesses for the defence.

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A few Templars managed to flee to England, where torture was not legal. This made it impossible to obtain what Pope Clement called "true evidence", meaning evidence extorted by torture. The pope wrote to King Edward II demanding that the Templars be arrested and tortured. Otherwise, Edward and his court would be excommunicated as impeders of the Inquisition. As a bribe, Edward was offered a Plenary Indulgence for all his past sins. Finally he permitted papal judges to torture the Templars, changing the English Law "out of reverence for the Holy See". The indispensable utility of torture was thus established, and "the success of the extermination of the Templars set the patterns for the subsequent persecution of witches".

Scholars have tried to determine the truth, if any, of the charges against the Templars. Most agree that the Templars "had adopted some of the mysterious tenets of the eastern Gnostics". Their alleged idol Baphomet may have been the Triple Head of Wisdom pictured on the arms of the orders' founder, in the form of three black Saracen heads. On the other hand, no idol of Baphomet was ever found in the Templars houses or shrines, though these were seized and sealed immediately.

Templars were accused of "making a fig" at the crucifix with their hands; but this derisive sexual symbol was not a mockery by eastern standards. Orientals called it a knowledge sign, the feminine counterpart of the phallic cross; in India it was a lingam-yoni. If the Templars trampled a crucifix, they may have copied the custom of Arab dervishes who ceremonially rejected a cross with the words "You may have the Cross, but we have the meaning of the Cross". As for the charge of sodomy, no monastic order was free of that. Men cut off from women were no less prone to homosexual behavior in the 13th century than in the prisons, barracks, lumber and mining camps, and boys' schools of the 20th.

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