|Bacchus and Isis in Britain
Romano-British Mysteries and their descendants.
Written by Steve Ash
This essay is an open ended project new research is constantly being undertaken and this text develops accordingly.
C) The Medieval Phase
1) Crypto-Pagans, Moors, Rosslyn and the Early Templars
As was established in the earlier section, a definite covert Pagan subculture seems to have survived amongst all classes in Medieval European society. The Isean tradition seems to have been the dominant one in Anglo-Celtic and Old British territories (with the more male centred paganism dominant in Anglo-Danish, and to a lesser extent 'traditional' Celtic, regions). The Green Man probably survived here as the consort (or perhaps the son) of the Goddess, with his close relative the 'Horned God' dominating the more patriarchal regions, often reduced to 'the Devil' by Christian critics.
The 'Witchcult' said to exist at this time sounds extremely Bacchanalian in its descriptions (with its ecstatic dancing, trances and use of intoxicants), but whether it preserved the ancient Shamanic current within the cults of Bacchus and Isis is a different matter. I have shown in Part One that a line of descent is possible, but many centuries would be involved in this and an orally preserved tradition amongst illiterate peasants (the backbone of any significant subculture) is likely to have mutated out of all recognition in this time. But there are other contemporary influences that could have stabilised a Bacchic and Isean tradition.
One recent piece of important research into Continental witchcraft in the 14th Century (Ginzburg's Ecstasies) analyses the common features of such alleged cults from all over Europe (particularly orgiastic rites involving the use of Datura and similar hallucinogens) and specifically identifies them with the Shamanic practices of the Ancient Scythians of the Black Sea region centuries earlier (a people who had made several incursions into Western Europe in the 2nd Century BC, and were revered there for their magic, particularly by the Celts with whom they had many cultural exchanges). The Scythians are regarded by scholars today as being originally a mixed nation of nomadic peoples, some Eurasian, some Mongolian, others Indo-Persian, absorbing a variety of cultures and people into a broad alliance of tribes under a common synctretic culture. They later survived as the 4th century Alans (part of the first wave of 'barbarians' to hit Rome) and later still as the Ossetians of Medieval Russia, and their culture was absorbed by the nomadic Sarmatians (but for simplicity sake these are all usually referred to as Scythian or Scytho-Sarmatian). Interestingly Ginzburg points out that by Roman times many Scythians had adopted Dionysos Sabazius, from their Thracian neighbours (and local Greek colonies), as their primary deity. It can therefore be assumed that their ancestoral practices had been absorbed into the cult of this deity which acted everywhere as a repository of Shamanic culture. The Scythian influence on Celtic culture was very strong and some of their tribes could have been fairly described as Celto-Scythian (so it is quite likely that the Britons had already some familiarity with Dionysos even before Bacchus arrived with the Romans, strengthening the likelihood of the development of a significant Bacchic Cult in Britain as well as the Continent).
This Scythian influence however seems to early to account for 14th Century Witchcraft. However what may have occurred is a continual influx of related influences that bolstered an ancient Celto-Scythian culture in parts of Europe. Firstly the Romano-Celtic Bacchus / Green Man cult on the Continent would have certainly have merged with this in certain locations, bolstering it considerably throughout the Roman period (and no doubt disseminating it as a 'high status' cult). Later influences were probably introduced by the Pagan tribes of the Goths (before their pragmatic conversion to Arianism), who had invaded Scythia (or Samartia as it had become by then) in the Late Roman Period. It is highly likely that they reintroduced more Scytho-Samartian culture with them on their subsequent settlement in Western Europe in the early Dark Ages (this being indicated by the high incidence of Ginsburg's 'Scythian traditions' in places settled by Goths. Though the Alans had also settled in some of these areas ahead of the Goths). Thus any Bacchic Green Man tradition in Romano-Gallic France for instance would have been reinvigorated with primal material from Scythia. This may explain the fact that St Denys (or St Dionysus as he is called in the Eastern Orthodox Church) came to be regarded as the Medieval patron saint of France. A figure who 'converted the Gauls to Christianity', but, like the Arthurian Green Knight, was decapitated and survived, and whose shrines where decorated with foliate masks of the Green Man.
The Goths themselves were pushed West after their defeat by invading Huns, the same Nation in fact who had taken over the Kushan (Eastern Scythian) Kingdom, of Bactria and Northern India, with its Dionysos-Siva cult. The Hunnish religion in itself was a very syncretic form of 'Black Faith' Shamanism, primarily composed of Mongolian, Asiatic, Siberian and perhaps early Taoist traditions. And its people were closely related to some of the Scythian tribes of a similar Mongolian stock. Its chief deity was the male Sky god Tengri, although this archetype was merely an idealised ruling class reworking (under Persian influence) of an older Moon god, Od, an ambiguous, capricious deity of nature and the lifeforce (later fixed into a dualistic light and dark aspect). It is OD who was most likely the most important male deity for ordinary Huns and Mongols (though Chingis Khan was said to be his 'son') and the archetype would have been easily associated with Dionysos-Siva (with whom it no doubt shared a common origin) when they encountered him among the Kushans. Thus a further Scytho-Hunnish current may have entered Western Europe close on the heels of the Goths, with Atilla and his Hordes. These Hunnish people (or their descendents) can still be demonstrated in places in Switzerland and particularly the Champagne region in France, were they are identified by the Mongolian sacral 'blue spot'.
So far the analysis has concentrated on the Bacchic side of the thesis, but the Goddess current also survived. In the context of the above all the key participants had strong Goddess links. The Goths in particular venerated the Earth Goddess, probably as Frig Fairguni (the' Lady of the Mountains'), and would have considered the Green Man or Dionysos to be her consort/son/lover. The Huns like all Mongolian tribes, although later extremely patriarchal under the' Sky Father', preserved a popular tradition in which the dominant deity was female, both as an Earth and a Sun goddess, with the Moon god originally in support (in some ancient Mongolian tribes even the Moon was a goddess too). While the original deity of the Scythians was a dark serpent goddess (possibly the source of the Gorgon myth), whom the Greeks identified as Artemis Agrotera (the wild one) and the Romans (and later Churchmen) referred to as Diana. Many Scythians still revered this deity, and while several tribes of Scythians are said to have venerated Dionysos Sabazius above all, the Cult of Sabazius itself was closely associated in Thrace and Phygia with that of the chaotic Earth goddess Cybele and her consort Attis (who on a tangential note was also known as the 'Green One' and venerated on May 1st in Rome, where he was also linked to Osiris and Dionysos). Thus the Scythian connection too is shot through with a wild Goddess current. But despite this it is not necessary to conjecture underground currents to demonstrate the presence of the Goddess at this time. The emergence of the archetype of Mary as an important archetype in the 11th Century Church is testament to the survival of a significant Goddess tradition. Marian icons clearly show the symbolism of various Pagan goddesses, like Diana and the Thraco-Phrygian (and Scythian) Cybele, though primarily they are a continuation of Isis. Even more Pagan is the image of the Black Madonna and associated traditions popularised by the Troubadours a little later.
Returning to the current thesis, it is clear that Gothic kingdoms in the West could well have harboured a continuous Scythian Shamanic Tradition, of a type identified by Ginzburg within the context of a Bacchic Green Man and Isean cult. However this would have only have been possible up till the 8th Century when Gothic culture vanished from Europe (though it may have remained a little longer in Southern France within the interdynastic alliances of the Merovingian Franks). For a survival into the 14th Century we need to look for another impetus.
In the 8th Century, as mentioned above, an even earlier Dionysian influence may have also had a major effect on European Crypto-Paganism. This being the Moorish cult of the 'Two Horned' ones (curiously the 'Two Horned One' was a epithet af Dionysos, and also his devotee, and supposed incarnation, Alexander the Great, though this is probably a coincidence). The history of this cult is shrouded in mystery but it seems to have had a major influence in all spheres of religious life in Southern Europe. The origin of the cult goes back to North Africa and the Berbers. The Berber's preserved a Shamanic subculture of ancient origin which incorporated wild dancing around a central fire (in a widdershins or anticlockwise direction) which put its participants into a deep trance or state of 'psychic drunkenness' in which they became possessed by atavistic spirits. Under Islamic influence this rite was sublimated into a Dervish like Zabbat ritual but retained its essential characteristics. The supreme being of the sect seems to have taken a 'He-Goat' form (later identified with the 'devil') and initiates of it were identified by the 'two horned' staves they carried, called 'goats', and allegedly rode magically. Other sources say a black cat (perhaps relating back to the Egyptian Bast and indicating a female side to the deity and/or the black panther of some African sects) was also seen as the representive of this being. In addition the leader of the sect was thought to be an incarnation of the being. This is very similar to descriptions of activities of the Sufi sect of the Aisawa in Fez, Morroco (said to be the inspiration for Crowley's Aiwas incidently). Here a similar rite is performed at the tomb of their founder, the Sufi saint Muhamed ben Aisa of Mequinez. As well as getting drunk on strong wine and engaging in fire dances, the initiates, who are possessed by 'animal spirits', render a goat (and snakes) to pieces, before charging into the local town attacking everything that blocks their path! It has been pointed out that features of this rite, such as the use of strong wine, disinhibited orgiastic revelry, snake handling, the sacrifice of a horned animal by manual dismemberment, the possession of participants and their transformation into 'Goatmen' and 'Panthermen', or sometimes 'Lionmen', their destructive carnivalesque tradition and the plaited long hairstyles of the initiates, are all also features of the rites of Dionysos (whose totems were the bull, the panther, the goat and the serpent). Furthermore a characteristic 'head flick' seen during the trance dancing of these sectarians has been identified by anthropologists as the same reflex found in the dances of Voodoo initiates and among some African tribes, an identical movement has also been demonstrated in descriptions and depictions of Dionysian rites in Ancient Greece. The conclusion is not that the Dionysian Mysteries were established in North Africa however, but that, given the apparent Libyan origin of Dionysos, both the African cult and the Dionysian Mysteries are common offshoots of an extremely ancient Dionysiac sect from Libya. Therefore it is likely that the Berber cult of the 'Two Horned Ones' is a similar offshoot. Though of course traditions are never pure and similar ideas tend to cross pollinate each other.
The Moorish version of this sect was imported with the Moors into Spain, Southern France and parts of Italy. Here it seems to have had a major influence on the local Pagan underground. Witchcraft in this region from then is said to have become a mixture of a 'Dianic cult' (probably refering to the Scythian Artemis), a Pan, or Bacchic, tendency and the notions of the Moorish sect (including a Lucifer archetype). It can be surmised that it was a tradition similar to that described by Ginzburg that was able to absorb features of this sect (or in the case of Italy, remnants of the original Bacchus and Ariadne/Aradia cult among the peasantry), but why it did so so enthusiastically is a mystery. There were perhaps two reasons though, one may have been simply that the local tradition was by that time extremely old and perhaps watered down, the Moorish influx may have been seen as a welcome new innovation that was not that different in essence to their ancestoral tradition. The other factor may have been political, there is evidence that the Moorish sect was part of a general 'Islamic' tradition of liberation and may have found support from Europeans under unpopular rule. Sufi groups of a more orthodox Islamic line may have also been involved in this. Intriguingly the patron of several Sufi groups at this time was the elemental being al Khadir, 'The Green One'. A figure who was said in the Koran to be a great liberator and to have initiated Moses into the Mysteries (which he failed to understand completely), and to have accompanied his divine 'brother' Alexander the Great, the 'Two Horned One', into India (a clear Dionysos link). The archetype was said by Sufis to represent the forces of nature or the power inherent in all things, and was regarded as the guardian spirit of Islam. More popularly it was identified with 'Elijah' of the Jews and 'St George' (Green George) of the Christians. It is believed that al Khadir was originally adopted from Indian Sufis who had taken the archetype from the Hindu god Skanda (a son and aspect of Shiva). Skanda in turn was closely related to Al Skanda (Alexander) by the Indians, who in turn, like Shiva, was associated with Dionysos.
Another important factor in this complex evolution were the so called 'Saracen Mystery Schools'. These schools were composed of educated Moslems, Jews, Pagans and Christians who had been influenced by the Moorish Sect, as well as Sufi traditions, and from them developed a mystical secret society that sought to transcend religious differences and achieve enlightenment. Initiates of this School it is said had to renounce their original faith and commit themselves to the total liberation of mind and body. Allegedly this society taught that there was no deity but our own inner being and that no authority or god should be recognised apart from this inner being (mythologically identified with Lucifer). However it seems that contact with this inner being was a gradual affair and only the 'master' of a school had achieved it totally (and therefore had to be obeyed totally)! These Schools spread rapidly across Europe initiating people from all social and religious backgrounds (and later sent lone teachers to create entirely European schools). Beyond this not much is known of this tradition, but it seems to have played an important role in the history being discussed.
The Goddess tradition may also have received boast at this time, many Sufi sects emphasised the feminine principle in their teachings and preserved ancient Isean principles. Curiously the Sufi current was often referred to as the 'Path of the Rose', a metaphor with not only Aphroditean connotations but also links to Isis. In the Metamorphosis the Mysteries of Isis are referred to as the 'Way of the Rose', something that may have been passed down through the ages to Medieval times. An association may have been made, at least in the minds of Europeans, between Sufism and Goddess worship. This may sound far fetched to some, however one piece of evidence remains for it. The British medieval Order of the Garter was dedicated to the Virgin Mary, the preservation of Isis, who was represented in the Orders symbolism by a rose. Its patron was St George, known in some rural regions as 'Green George' and associated with the Green Knight, of the Arthurian Romances emulated by the Order of the Garter. Many strange parallels exist between Sufi symbolism and Garter symbolism (including the garter itself) and its motto is said to closely resemble a 'mantra' used by Sufis. All of which indicates strong Moorish influence not only on grassroots Paganism but also the aristocratic cults too. An influence that seems to have started in Spain and Southern France but soon spread throughout the Continent reviving underground Paganism wherever it went. Not only were Pagans influenced by this but Christians too, the Troubadours developing an idealised narrative that sought to bring the feminine back to Christian culture, and the Cathar's Gnostic devotion to Sophia is said to have also been influenced by this cultural shift. The developing currents of this time no doubt crossed over and interacted with each other in various ways.
Much has been written on the grassroots survival of pagan currents and it is obvious that Romano-British traditions survived in those parts of Britain heavily settled by the Romans (principally urban areas but also many rural ones too). Various factors, such as support from crypto-pagan nobles, would insure that this tradition was privaledged above the more traditional Celtic and Aboriginal traditions on the fringes of Britain, or the Scandanavian tradition in the east of the country. What's more the 'Pagan Rennaissance' under the Normans with its imported French Craft (of Romano-Gallic origins) would not only strengthen the Romano-British further current but also influence its rival traditions along a similar path. The grassroots Craft was once closely linked to the aristocratic one, with the latter often acting as patrons to the former (and sometimes even encouraging Gypsies to camp on their lands. The grassroots British Craft often interacted with the Gypsy tradition, and with all similar immigrations to these Isles). For the rest of this essay I shall concentrate on the evolution of the lesser known aristocratic element of the British Mysteries, before returning to their popular foundation.
It certainly seems to be the case that aristocratic dynasties in France preserved a pagan tradition. As we have seen in Britain this may have originated with a Roman Dionysian tradition within an Isean Mystery School, linking with a wider Goddess cult amongst the grassroots populus (with its own Green Man component). In the later period a more 'balanced' position appears to emerge with the Goddess becoming important amongst the ruling class and the Green Man becoming increasingly significant to the crypto-pagan peasantry. Obviously this is somewhat speculative, and the reality was no doubt more complex with local variation, but this general picture best explains the evidence. For instance in Britain after the Norman Conquest a definite secret cult seemed to exist in Royal circles. The activities of this cult culminated in the ritual 'regicide' of William Rufus while hunting in the New Forest. The circumstances of which point to the Cult of Diana (which in Britain had become part of the Isean Mysteries in Roman times and in France was linked to the Scythian Artemis). The New Forest was also said to be 'haunted' by Herne the Hunter, a Dionysiac figure originating in Cernunnos, sometimes referred to as the 'Celtic Dionysos'. Interestingly the earliest Norman Churches show Sheila na Gigs, supported by horned humanoid animals, only later do Green Man masks join these figures. The Plantagenents also seem to have brought a secret Pagan subculture from France, again one centred on the Goddess, and we have already discussed the later Order of the Garter. It is also notable that all of these had a distinctive Celtic or Romano-Celtic essence to them. As this activity begins with the Normans it is fair to propose that the British Mystery Tradition was revived in this period. What seems to have happened is that Bretons accompanying the Normans were key to reestablishing the Romano-British Tradition in this country, with the support of high bred Normans it appears (particularly in Royal circles). Though alas this influence seems to have been counterbalenced by those in the Norman camp (particular those local nobles known to history as the 'Barons') who were converts to the Roman Church and would later become a prominent force.
At the beginning of the Dark Ages many Romano-Britons fled England and reestablished themselves in Brittany. It was here in fact that many of the Arthurian Romances mythologising Romano-British history and religion were first written down. This exiled Romano-British community may have preserved the British Mysteries right into Norman times. No doubt aided in this by the revitalising influences of Gallic, Gothic, Scythian and Moorish influences filtering in from France during this period (as well as perhaps feeding repotentiated British currents into France and the rest of the Continent. Troyes in Champagne being a major centre in the development of the Arthuriad).
It is at this point that one of the most crucial elements of the thesis can be introduced, the Knights Templar. The origin of the Templars is shrouded in mystery but new evidence increasingly shines light on them. The Knights were formed from three main points of ; firstly they were backed by the Count of Champagne in Troyes, an area which as we have seen not only sheltered people of Scytho-Hunnish descent, who were a major part of the French underground pagan network; was governed by the allegedly 'heretical' aristocrat richer than the King of France; and helped in the development of Arthurian legend, but also housed a Medieval 'think tank' that was busily studying secret Islamic, Jewish, Gnostic and Alchemical knowledge; secondly there was a related Pagan subculture amongst the vassals of the Count of Champagne, most notably Hugues de Payens (whose name 'the Pagan' may be just coincidental or deeply significant), a minor noble who led the first Templar Order; and thirdly via the influence of the Cistercian Order of monks under his religious rule the Knights were placed. This latter influence may not have been as conservative as it seems either. According to Ben Basing this Order was founded in the 12th Century by the mysterious figure of St Stephen, who had a very odd history. Rejecting the Roman faith indoctrinated in him by the Benedictine Order, the British monk had a crisis of faith and travelled first to Scotland (where according to local records the Culdee Celtic Church survived incognito, helped by friends in Rome, until the late 12th Century and its destruction by Catholic Norman invaders. And even then was said to have been preserved as a popular tradition. A place also visited by Hugues de Payens shortly before he founded the Templars), from there he went to Paris for a mysterious meeting (where he could have met with representatives from nearby Troyes) and finally to Rome where he made one last crucial connection that consolidated his new position. After this, with the assistance of Robert of Champagne, he founded the Cistercians, with a mandate from Rome and the financial backing of the wealthy Count of Champagne, in an abbey in the swamps near Troyes. The early Cistercians always dwelt in inaccessible places (to both locals and perhaps significantly officials from Rome) living under a very Spartan, ultra orthodox regime. Basing speculates they had formed a Gnostic order of monks (perhaps influenced by the underground survival of the Celtic Church or other Gnostic groups associated with it) under the protective veil of ultra orthodox Roman Christianity. The early Templars emerged from this mix again under the political and financial influence of the Count of Champagne and the spiritual sanction of the Cistercians, whose religious symbolism they largely borrowed (as well apparently as motifs from the old Celtic Church, such as the equal armed cross). Later the Templars in decline would return to the place it all started, Scotland, where their heirs would build Rosslyn Chapel, a Christian building with the largest number of Green Man masks in Europe, as well as many other mysteries. It can thus only be concluded that the Bacchic Green Man tradition of Britain and Brittany had by this time become one of the most important archetypes for this legendary group of Knights as well. The conclusion of this thesis demands a closer look at the Knights Templar.
2) The Emergence of the Knights Templar
As many have pointed out (including Bill Basing in a recent lecture) the twin rider Templar seal strongly indicates an inner secret order within the Templars. The popular folklore of two poor Knights sharing a single horse was unheard of amongst the Knightly class (and apparently against the Templar rule), it must therefore have hidden a metaphorical meaning. The orthodox point to a biblical reference to 'angels' riding with horsemen in battle, but the second figure is clearly no 'angel' and is always identical to the first. It thus most likely referred, as many have suggested, to two orders, an outer and an inner. We know a lot about the outer order of the Templars, its discipline, asceticism, harshness and fanaticism, as well as its outward affirmation of monkish Roman Orthodoxy, international banking ventures and political machinations. But its inner mysteries remain just that. However clues do remain as to its probable nature. Much of this has been stated before so I shall be brief. The strongest indication is the translation of the title of the alleged Templar 'idol' Baphomet. This name has been shown to be a codename using the 'Atbash cipher' and when decrypted reveals the title Sophia, the 'Goddess' of the Gnostics. The name also seems to contain a complex series of puns involving baptism and alternative spellings of Mohammed. Other claims extracted under torture after the suppression of the Order are less reliable but valid in the context of the preceeding. These include the Templars apparent contempt for the Crucifixion as a religious focus, their cry of 'Yah Allah', their relics of two decapitated heads (one male, one female), their reverence for a 'black cat' and a 'goat', the use of a 'five-fold kiss' and a belief in the fertilising power of their relics. The last three point to a Witchcult, specifically that form influenced by the Moors, and while this may be a stock accusation of the period (like charges of buggery) it does fit into a historical pattern. The first two point to Islamic and Judaic influence, while the third seems to indicate Gnosticism. Decapitated heads feature in many traditions, both the Celts and Germanics had tales of severed heads that contained magical power, so the motif would have been a familiar one in Britain and the Continent. There is also a strong Dionysian element to this, Orpheus, the shamanic bard, said to be an incarnate Bacchus, was decapitated by crazed Maenads, but his severed head (housed in the Temple of Dionysos on the Isle of Lesbos, allegedly built by the 'Dionysian Artificers') continued to make prophecies, Osiris too was decapitated during his similar dismemberment, and his head 'preserved' at the Temple of Abydos from which it radiated power. But the most famous decapitatee was of course John the Baptist, a victim of Solace (the wild granddaughter of Herod the Great, who had allegedly hired the Orphic 'Dionysian Artificers' in the construction of the 3rd Temple, see below), both were important figures in some Gnostic sects. John probably represents the Judeo-Christian Gnostic translation of an Orphic Pagan archetype (just as the Christianised Alans turned Heracles, another important 'god-man' archetype in the Dionysian Mysteries, into 'Elijah', of whom John was said to be a reincarnation) or perhaps even the real manifestation of the archetype. As for the female head this seems to only possibly refer to the decapitation of Isis by Horus when she tried to prevent his revenge on Set. The archetype of Isis was preserved in Gnostic myths of the period as Mary Magdeline, though no similar myth accrues to her, other than perhaps the odd Templar myth of the Lady of Sidon). Thus we may have with the early Templars an Orphic Dionysian and Isean Tradition preserved in a Gnostic context, together with a Moorish influence. This could be easily explained by the continuation of a British Celtic Christian Tradition, reinvigorated by the contemporary influence of the Saracen Mystery Schools (the Culdees had long ago established contact with Syrian and North African Christians, Middle Eastern links would not be novel), and was perhaps mediated by the esoteric community in Champagne. A connection with Arthurian mythos is also possible, the Green Knight (associated with the Green Man by Pagans, St Denys (St Dionysius) by French Christians and St George by their English equivalents) had a famous myth centred on his decapitation and survival. All of which were available in the locality in which the Templars emerged.
A mystery does remain however regarding certain beliefs that seem to be unique to the Templars (the importance of the heads for instance) and the Atbash cipher, which had not been used since the time of the Dead Sea Scrolls by the Essenes! But this may be explained by the Templar's trip to the Temple in Jerusalem (their original mission after which they were named), where they seem to have discovered something. The most likely recovery being a Jewish Gnostic text from the time of Christ, involving the tale of John the Baptist and Salome, which reinforced their original beliefs (perhaps even, as some have suggested, the mummified head of John the Baptist itself had been preserved in the Temple, like that of Orpheus and Osiris at other Temples!). Part of any scrolls found may have been written in the Atbash cipher, which the Jewish Kabbalists at the Court of Troyes would have easily deciphered, giving it new significance.
At some stage the Templars seem to have acquired an interest in, and substantial knowledge of, architecture and geomancy, where this came from can only be speculated on; perhaps from Druidic Earth Mysteries preserved by the Culdees, or some material passed down from a Romano-British architects Collegia; or in some way from the aforementioned 'Dionysian Artificers' (that secretive guild of builders of the symbol laden temples and theatres of Dionysos, who were part of the Orphic Mystery School, and later, under contract, built other Ionic buildings, such as the Temple of Artemis at Ephesus, Vitruvian architecture in Rome and even the 3rd Temple of Solomon, or so it is claimed by Manly P Hall); the Sufi archimantic sect of 'The Builders' or some other source (or even a combination of any of the preceeding). Whatever the case the Templars hired master craftsmen to build carefully aligned churches (mostly of the famous round form) and grand Gothic cathedrals all over Europe, often on major 'ley lines' it seems. But for the purpose of this essay it is the symbolism involved that is most interesting.
Their grandest Cathedral at Chartres is a clue to their basic beliefs, the building is a shrine to organic growth, not only do branches and boughs overtly twine around its pillars but more subtly its very geometry contains organic formuli such as the Golden Section, while the architecture as a whole though harmonious is total asymmetrical. Much of the maths behind this is Islamic, while the motifs are clearly of a more native Pagan nature. Naturally Judeo-Christian images abound also, though notably several of Melchizedek, the mysterious high priest of pagan Canaan who first initiated Abraham, and later became a 'divine incarnation' in some Gnostic myths. The message here seems clear. While no Green Man masks are found at Chartres in that other famous 'Templar' church Rosslyn Chapel in Scotland, as has already been noted, not only do we find the same organic design and themes but also a vast number of Green Man faces peering at us from every angle (and oddly a number of apparently Masonic symbols). Rosslyn Chapel was built after the official suppression of the Order but according to local tradition its architects preserved the symbolism and secret beliefs of the Templars (and those of their ancestors and descendents ) and the Chapel itself was built on lands once belonging to the Celtic Church.
In summary it could be concluded that The Templars were heirs to an evolving tradition, adapting to the world and taking on new elements, one that sought to unify all Judeo-Christian faiths, within a distinctly 'pagan' Gnostic framework, and that at its core was a continuation of the Culdee tradition of Britain. An Anglo-Celtic tradition that as we have seen harboured within in itself the ancient Roman-British archetypes of Bacchus and Isis (as well as perhaps a toleration of the purer grassroots manifestations of their cults). Certainly Goddess imagery (particularly that involving Roses) and the 'Green Man' seem to be a common denominator connecting Romano-British, Scythian and Sufi Islamic mythology.
Problems with the thesis remain however. Primarily the fact that the Templars were by all accounts an ascetic bunch of monks banned from sexual relations, hardly a sign of pagan Gnosticism! How this could be explained is difficult to assess, it may be the case that the Gnosticism of the Cistercians and Templars was really of the common world denying sort such as the ascetic Monastics of Egypt, rather than their libertine Carpocratian neighbours, which would match the position of many of the stricter Sufi and Kabbalistic Schools, as well as some of the later more ascetic manifestations of the Celtic Church, and even Dionysos could fit into this if in his more extreme Orphic form of spiritual being within a 'corrupted Nature' - however this wouldn't explain the obvious pagan elements, unless they were 'warnings against sin', as claimed by Catholics of the Sheila Na Gigs, or representations of a redeemed and perfected Nature, though this still would fail to explain all the organic and naturalistic features; some point to the Occult disguise of 'mirror imaging' for an explanation (saying one thing but doing another), and perhaps the popular but mysterious Medieval phrase 'as drunk as a Templar', if representing anything more than the usual hypocrisy of the puritan, might point to this (though the Templars do seem to have genuinely shared some of the rigours of the acetic Sufi); another interesting suggestion is that a generally pagan culture could include occasional asceticism, as did many shamanistic traditions (such as the Sioux with their Sweat Lodge rites) - but there is not a strong shamanic interpretation of their ordeals; or perhaps as with their allies the Assassins, the Templars may have changed and developed an inner school of an opposite ethos (though their history doesn't suggest this). One answer that would synthesise elements from each of these theories takes us make to the notion of an original inner and an outer order, perhaps the 'front group' was very different to the 'pagan' inner core, or the inner core, like the Cathari 'Perfecti' had transcend 'sin' and the need for asceticism. More research is needed here, but a brief look at the later Templars might help.
3) The Templars and a revived tradition (The Hashashin and the 'Black Alliance')
It is often claimed that the Templars were initiated into some Middle Eastern secret society from which they learnt their alleged heresy. But as we have seen the Templars seem to have developed most of their ideas in Europe. However one exception to this is there association with the Ismailian order of the Assassins. Much has been written about this and it would be too tangential to go into this in great depth. But briefly the Assassins appear to have evolved from an order of Gnostic Ismailis into an almost nihilistic secret society involved in political intrigues throughout the Middle East. And even more intriguely following initial hostilities with the Templars they later appear to have formed an alliance with them (with some Syrians being members of both Orders). Like the Templars perhaps, the Assassins operated under what they called 'concealment'. After their Grandmaster Hasan II had famously declared Islamic Law void (invoking the memory of his grandfather the Assassin's founder Hasan e Sabah, with his supposed death bed pronouncement 'nothing is true, everything is permitted') and several Assassins had declared themselves to be beyond Islam, the Assassins themselves had become victims of Islamic assassination (sometimes even by puritan elements within their own Order). Their radical ethos from then on was publically reversed, but in reality reserved for an inner core of high initiates, with lower disciples being trained as orthodox Shia, and only selectively promoted into the inner circle. If the Templars operated under a similar rule of 'concealment' and were also Gnostics it would not be a surprise to see the two in alliance (and probably exchanging ideas). Why the Assassins became so radical (if they did) is a mystery (a recent novel points the finger at the influence of Omar Khayam on them), but one interesting answer would link them even more closely with the Templars. Rumours have long claimed that a mysterious Persian called Abdullah was involved in the creation of the Order of Assassins, and that he wanted to use such an organisation to promote a mixture of Arabian Paganism, Zorastrianism, Kabbalism, Hinduism and the Greek Mysteries that would replace Islam with a new Pantheistic mysticism! Not surprisngly most experts dismiss this story out of hand, pointing out the the Assassins were devout Ismailis and part of an established Islamic tradition. However as we have seen the Saracen Mystery Schools sound very similar to this and could be the reality behind this story. Certainly it is known that Persia housed the Maskhara (or Revellers) cult as late as the 16th Century. A group (from which the terms masquerade and mascara are said to come) described by Europeans as 'witches', who wore animal masks, or painted their faces black, and took part in ecstatic dance rituals involving the use of a mixture of wine and henbane. This description would equate them very closely with the Moorish Sect described earlier, and where they were the Saracen Mystery Schools would also have been. The Assassins then may have been a genuine Ismailian Gnostic group who came under the influence of the Saracen Cult. As this was also true of the Templars it would have been inevitable that they would come to share a common vision. And any study of the Templars, Assassins and the Saracen Mystery Schools shows an extraordinary similarity between them all.
The Syrian branch of the Assassins, under Sinan, were to infiltrate most of the sects in the area as part of their general intrigues, from their fellow Ismailis amongst the Druse and the Yezidis, to the Sufi orders and Sabean cults of their neighbours. They also reached an understanding with certain Christian Gnostics in Syria (including the Templars) and some Arabian schools of Jewish Kabbalists (under whose influence the Sabbatian Movement would later emerge). From these people it is said the Assassins acquired a pool of esoteric knowledge that was incorporated into their own tradition. They also worked through these groups and seeded them with their own ideas. The resultant network could be called the 'Black Alliance'. An alliance that certainly seems to have been highly active with the Templars.
The relevance of this for this study is that this radical eclectic Gnosticism of the 'Black Alliance' would have fed back into the Templars and modified their beliefs, and through them a significant portion of the British Mysteries. The Templar tradition achieved a greater depth following their time in Palestine.
of this particular chapter of the British Mysteries occurs with the
suppression, or apparent suppression of the Order by the Roman Church
and French State. Apparent because some historians find it difficult
to believe the Templars could have been suppressed given their international
influence and intelligence network, while others think they were but
survived. It seems difficult to argue that the Templars weren't suppressed,
even those that do argue that the inner order merely jettisoned the
outer one which had become a liability. But if that was the case the
outer order seemed to know a lot about the 'secret' beliefs of the
Templars. A more rational thesis is that the Templars became overconfident
and were hit quite badly for it. The question then is did they regroup
quickly enough to survive. That question is again the topic for another
essay, but it certainly can be supported by circumstantial evidence
that Templars did continue as an underground association in Scotland
for some time, and perhaps elsewhere under different names, such as
the 'Knights of Christ' in Portugal. Crucially, the well documented
parallels between the symbolism and rites of Templars and Freemasons
indicates that the precursors of original Scottish Freemasonry (if
not what modern Freemasonry evolved into) were a continuation of Templar
tradition in the context of their connections with Guilds of builders
and Geomantic societies. There was also an apparently short lived
English secret association, called the 'Great Society', which supported
the peasants revolt, that according to at least one historian exhibited
Templar-like traits and certainly overlapped with the real Templar
period (explaining the mystery of why Wat Tyler's men protected former
Templar buildings from the rampaging mob, using at least one as a
base, while looting and burning Knights of St John's property). The
Stuart Royal bodyguard troop, the 'Scots Guard', was also said to
have preserved Templar traditions.
Other Chivalric groups such as the Order of the Garter and the Teutonic Knights may have preserved elements of Templarism as well, though it is more likely they represented a parallel development to it, as has been shown earlier of the original Knights of the Garter in particular.
interesting group that sheds much light on this survival is the 18th
Century Hell Fire Club of Sir Francis Dashwood. This group typified
the true nature of early Freemasons freed from their ritual formality
and mystification, even if somewhat conditioned by Georgian Rakishness.
While often portrayed as a club of libertines, the core membership
of the Hell Fire Club also exhibited a genuine interest in Paganism
and the Occult. What is especially interesting is that while many
in this group, of mostly aristocratic descent, were fully initiated
Freemasons, some of whom could trace their lineage back to those medieval
Scottish nobles with Templar connections - while others were English
Knights of the Garter (or even Continental and American Masons, allegedly
studying Rosicrucianism, in the case of Benjamin Franklin) - they
didn't seem to exhibit a great deal of original arcane knowledge.
In fact they seemed to spend a lot of time travelling throughout Europe
in search of such knowledge. This would indicate that any Templar
tradition that survived as long as into the 18th Cent had not surprisingly
lost much of its content (at least in this branch). They did however
retain the symbolic style and seemed to know what they were looking
for. Initially taking over a former Cistercian property they decorated
it with eastern and pagan motifs. Significantly the latter consisted
mostly of Classical Greco-Roman myth, predominantly that of the goddess
Venus Genetrix (with her Rose symbolism) and her son the orgiastic
Roman god Priapus (a minor fertility deity derived from the Egyptian
Min, 'fathered' on her by Bacchus, favoured by contemporary Italian
cults), and even decorated much of one of their earliest premises
with murals of Dionysos and Ariadne. Something which was not only
derived from a Classical education, but also from contacts amongst
the post-Renaissance traditions of the Italian City States, heretical
'Catholic' cults and the popular paganism of the Italian peasantry.
Other features of the Clubs preoccupation's included Dashwood's fascination
with Druidism (briefly belonging to the same Druidic group William
Blake later joined); a pseudo-Satanic Luciferian tradition involving
a 'Black Mass' and prostitutes dressed as nuns; and a general 'pop
oriental' decadence inspired by the links between contemporary Italy
and Ottoman Turkey.
The conclusion to be drawn from the above might be that a definite pagan tradition originating with a Goddess cult, whether typified as being of Isis, Diana or Aphrodite (or all three), and particularly associated with the cult of Dionysos and his company, survived amongst secret circles of the British upper (and later middle) classes. The question is did the grassroots current follow the same path? As has been demonstrated the two evolved in parallel for several centuries with the schism only obviously emerging after the 17th century (with cross influences remaining even after this). Many books have sought to shed light on the nature of hereditary Craft origins, but a major problem is that, unlike the aristocratic end of the spectrum, the grassroots tradition was passed on orally and largely even more secretly, making analysis of it somewhat difficult. There is no evidence that this tradition was any more complete than that preserved by Dashwood's circle however, in fact Wiccan reformers (even amongst hereditary witches) drew on material written by members of the Hell Fire Club! But one telling anecdote was told by Gerald Gardner (who was convinced the Dionysian Mysteries were a great influence on British Witchcraft).Gardner claimed he had made large scale drawings of the Bacchic murals from the Villa of Mysteries in Pompeii, murals that are generally believed to reveal the secrets of Roman Dionysian initiation, and that when he showed these to English witches they universally recognised the practices, demonstrating surprise that these murals were revealing some of their most closely guarded secrets! This story is usually attacked by Gardner's critics who accuse him of Masonic bias, Classicism and selective interpretation, argueing that there is no evidence of a Bacchic cult on British soil. This essay I think refutes that and gives new significance to Gardner's research.
An important note here along similar lines is that the arguements that some neo-pagan traditions that claim ancient lineage are bogus due to their Masonic influences may be misguided. It may be more accurate to say Freemasonry contains elements of ancient paganism and that Masonic symbolism in a tradition could be evidence for its authenticity rather than the opposite.
D) The Moderns
1) The Tradition Today
we live in a culture alienated from its past as much as it is from
nature (including from each other and even from ourselves). There
are attempts to reconnect with both of these based on 'New Age Paganism',
but they are largely flights of fancy (and sometimes counterproductive).
Even modern Wicca while undoubtedly preserving many ancient traditions
is largely a reconstructed faith, and most of the descendants of the
aristocratic line are hopelessly corrupt. Likewise some hereditary
and traditional currents survive but they are increasingly insular.
Meanwhile many others from intelligent Neo-Pagans, through shamanic
artists, to some of us in the Dionysian Underground attempt to authentically
recreate what was positive about the ancient Mysteries. A difficult
task but one that is crucially needed.
2) A Post Modern Turn and the Ancients
whole essay has been written from a Post Modern stance. It makes no
judgements about the nature of the deities worshipped by these historical
groups. Deities which the reader may view as supernatural beings,
spiritual forces, psychological archetypes, or merely poetic metaphors
depending on personal inclination. Though many of the later groups
mentioned above seem to have actually opposed the belief in an independent
supernatural deity, looking to human beings as the source of the spiritual.
It has also given eqaul weight to spiritual, cultural, historical,
psychological and political factors in the evolution of these traditions
and subcultures. Thus the project is a realistic spiritual one but
is completely free of theological dogma and other detritus inherited
from the negative side of Religion (even Pagan Religion).
Dionysos, Archetype of Indestructable Life, Carl Kerenyi
Dionysos, Myth and Cult, W.F. Otto
Cults of the Roman Empire, A Turca
Ancient Mysteries, Editor E Meyer
Orpheus and Greek Religion, W.K.C Guthrie
The Myth of the Goddess, Anne Baring and Jules Cashford
Religion and the Romans, Ken Dowden
The Green Man, Ronald Miller
The Celts, B Delaney
Ecstacies, Carlo Ginsberg
Lost Language of London, Harold Bayley
Elen Goddess of Nature, Caroline Munro and Chesca Potter
The Murdered Magicians, The Knights Templar, Peter Partner
The Templars and the Assassins, .............
The Temple and the Grail, Baigent and Lincoln
The Sufi (and) Secret Societies, Idries Shah
The Cult of the Black Virgin, Ean Begg
The Pickingill Papers, W.E. Liddell and Michael Howard
Witchcraft the Old Religion, Dr Leo Louis Martello
Meaning of Witchcraft, Gerald Gardner
The Masks of God, Joseph Campbell
The Secret Teachings of All Ages, Manly P Hall
Occult Conspiracy, Michael Howard
The Southwark Mysteries, John Constable
The Bishop's Brothels, Ephraim Burford
Aphrodite Cypris, Stass Paraskos
Love in an Age of Uncertainty, Jocelyn Chaplin
Metamorphosis (The Golden Ass)
On Green Man:
Romans in Britain: