“As late as the medieval era and beyond, social groups claiming to hold secret wisdom– such as the Gnostics, the Cathars or the Knights Templar, sought to establish their pedigree by linking themselves explicitly to the deep wisdom held by the ancient mystery religions; and scholars have demonstrated, in fact, that such linkages do exist.
“Fast forward to modern times. With the Enlightenment, a more secular, scientific, and overtly political outlook permeated Western society, and these elements were reflected in the secret societies that arose at the time, such as the Freemasons and the Carbonari.” – Paul Witcover
In the years after the crusaders captured Jerusalem in 1099 many Christians wanted to visit sites in the Holy Land free from interference by robbers and others in Muslim-controlled areas. Out of this need grew the Knights Templar, an organization of religious knights that ultimately became so large and wealthy, that its existence and prospective control of holy artifacts became a huge threat to Rome by the 1300s.
From time to time somebody writes a new novel or nonfiction book and the Knights appear on the bestseller lists and our fascination with the power and magic and treasure they might have controlled is reborn. Public interest was especially strong when Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code was released in 2006. Currently, there is speculation amongst the treasure hunters on the History Channel’s “The Curse of Oak Island” series that the Canadian island might contain the lost treasure of the Templars.
A lot of people tend to see the Templars, the Freemasons, the Illuminati, the Rosicrucians, and other mystery-school-styled groups (If they exist at all) as wholly evil and secretly in control of the world or as groups interested in the mystical side of the Christian religion and its predecessors. So much fiction (some with a lot of farfetched straying from the facts) and nonfiction about these organizations has been written that it’s often hard to sort out the real from the absurd. The “mysteries” refer to the Eleusinian Mysteries, the Dionysian Mysteries, and the Orphic Mysteries.
The author Katherine Neville, who was writing Dan-Brown-style novels before Dan Brown was writing them has a nice list of secret society references on her website that help separate the wheat from the chaff when it comes to the Templars, the Masons, and other groups. If you’re trying to find a starting point in Templar lore–after exhausting Wikipedia–may I suggest her list of references?
I’ve read many of the books on the list and yes, they are fascinating.
For information about the Knights Templar as they exist today in the United States, see the Grand Encampment of Knights Templar of the USA website.
My grandfather was a member of this organization and as such the commander of the Illinois Commandery where I spent many hours as a child.