9 January 2019

Templarios: Echoes of the Templars and Parallels Elsewhere

Charles Cameron

Editor’s Note: This essay has been written specifically for Small Wars Journal—El Centro as part of an ongoing Los Caballeros Templarios de Michoacán research project that will be published as a future eBook.

Medieval to Modern: top, Jacques de Molay, last Grand Master of the Knights Templar, goes to the stake for heresy, 1314; middle, the complexity of Masonic sub-orders, a family tree featuring the Order of Holy Royal Arch Knight Templar Priests, top row, second left; bottom, screengrab, insignia of the Templarios cartel. Sources:http://time.com/4981316/friday-13th-knights-templar-post-truth/, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Masonic_bodies,and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rz6t2FEablA.

It seems appropriate to begin this overview of the appropriation of Templar symbolism from the original, medieval Knights Templar religious order by the contemporary Caballeros Templarios cartel by noting that the borrowing of ancient religious and military symbolism by more recent and questionable groupings is not uncommon.

In contemporary Pagan-revival Odinism / Asatru, for instance, a re-appropriation of Nordic mythology by far-right groups is not uncommon.[1]

Of Vinland productions historical reenactments, Simon Coulu reports in Vice:

[T]heir Viking imagery often resembles that used by neo-fascist groups. Its president, as well as at least one actor from the historical re-enactment company, are also involved in the activities of the ultra-nationalist group Atalante Québec and the skinhead band Légitime Violence.[2]

More precisely to our point, the Knights Templar of history were founded as a military order of monks with a rule devised by the Cistercian St Bernard of Clairvaux at the Council of Troyes (1128/9). St. Bernard was also the author of a spectacular defense of Templar chivalric warfare against the Saracens, In Praise of the New Knighthood (Liber ad milites Templi: De laude novae militae,1129). Their function was the protect both the holy places of Jerusalem and pilgrims traveling to visit them.

Since then, the Templars have featured in medieval Grail legends, in Masonic rites beginning with a Templar branch founded by Baron Gotthelf von Hund in 1755, and notably in one proto-Nazi cult. Anders Breivik, the perpetrator of the Utoya massacre, claimed to be a Templar, as do various alt-right groups (See images):

Militant Right: top, Anders Breivik, self-styled Templar and perpetrator of the Utoya Island “culturally Christian” massacre; middle, despite declaring “We firmly believe in the dignity and humanity of all people regardless of colour creed, ethnicity or political persuasion,” this group hopes to continue an anti-Muslim crusade dating back to 1095 CE; bottom, an invitation to join the Knights Templars International, forwarded by the UK’s far-right Britain First party. Sources: http://www.cnn.com/2011/WORLD/europe/07/28/knights.templar.groups/index.html,

In 1907, Jorg Lanz von Liebenfels, some-time Cistercian monk, Ariosophist (among the precursors of Nazi racial doctrines), and author of the fabulously-named 1905 publication, Theo-Zoology or the Lore of the Sodom-Apelings and the Electron of the Gods, founded the Order of the New Templars (ONT)—borrowing name and symbolism from the original Templars for his own Aryan race cult. Lanz’ membership of the Cistercian order would account for some of his interest in the original Templars, founded by the Cistercian St. Bernard of Clairvaux. The ONT was finally closed down by the Gestapo in 1942.[3]

The Templars, then, have long been of interest to a variety of individuals and groups in the realm of chivalric legend.

My Own Approach

In my contribution to Dr. Bunker’s 2016 volume, Blood Sacrifices: Violent Non-State Actors and Dark Magic-Religious Activities, I introduced the idea of sacramental analysis[4]. My purpose was to start not at the overt, material side of theo-narco behavior, which can be understood by rational means, but at what we can only call the spiritual side, which can be accessed only by empathy, using spiritual parallels from other areas, and which accounts, far more than any objective account can, for the sheer intensity and tenacity of true believers’ engagement.

The basic rule of sacramental thinking is captured in the phrase “an outward and physical sign of an inward and spiritual grace.” Our concern is to use comparative symbology (anthropological, religious, psychological), alongside narco-cultist and other records, to grasp how the narcos may feel—not merely to have an academic knowledge, but as close as we can come to a holistic knowledge, grounded in empathetic association—grokking rather than simply knowing, to use Heinlein’s term and delimiting it to this usage from the Jargon_File:

to say that you “know” Lisp is simply to assert that you can code in it if necessary — but to say you “grok” LISP is to claim that you have deeply entered the world-view and spirit of the language.[5]

And sacramental analysis, as I intend it, is by no means limited to Catholic, or even Christian, insight: thus the Synagogue bombing which took place in Pittsburgh shortly before this writing, which could be interpreted in many other, more routine, secular ways, was analyzed in what I would term a sacramental manner—one which touched on the deepest spiritual impact of the event—in Franklin Foer’s piece, “A Prayer for Squirrel Hill—And for American Jewry”:

The Sabbath is a rupture in the architecture of time, a day set apart. For those who practice the ritual, it is a moment of disconnection from the week—a temporal void that is supposed to be kept clear of work, technology, and concern for material things. The Sabbath has evolved, by design, to be a moment of vulnerability, where secular armor is placed in the spiritual locker, permitting connection with God...

The gunman committed a crime on Shabbat, and it will reverberate as a crime against Shabbat.[6]

Similarly, Sam Harris has described ISIS’ use of sex slaves as sacramental, since it is grounded in a literal reading of Islamic scripture, exemplified in the life of the Prophet, and illustrated by the fact that ISIS members pray over their captive Yazidi virgins prior to raping them.

Finally, this brings up the issue that one man’s sacrament may be another’s blasphemous brutality. In Northrop Frye’s terms, the “flip side” of a sacrament or other religious text, image or practice is its demonic parody or inverse.[7] Thus the Antichrist is an inverse of the Christ—in this case, almost a mirror image, opposite but easily mistaken for the original.[8]

Other forms of inversion from the Catholic perspective would include the folk saints commonly revered in syncretistic versions of the faith. As Prof. Kingsbury notes elsewhere in this volume:

Although God may be too abstract or appear too distant for some to supplicate, folk saints, especially those based on local personages who met their demise, often in a dramatic fashion, lend an intimacy and familiarity to faith for local people.
There are even graphics portraying Santa Muerte as a folk variant of the Virgin of Guadalupe, suggesting that Santa Muerte can be viewed as taking on the role of the sacred Mother in circumstances (e.g. if one’s livelihood comes from drug running, prostitution, petty theft, &c) where one might not wish to appeal to the Virgin Mary:

The Ladies: left, the Virgin of Guadaluoe; right, Santa Muerte, Holy Death. Sources:

Similarly, Michelangelo’s Pietà in St. Peter’s in Rome, perhaps the world’s most beautiful sculpture in the world, has been tweaked to create a merciful mage of Santa Muerte

The Pietàs: left, Michelangelo’s Pietà in Rome; right, Santa Muerte Pietà, Source: both fromhttps://skeletonsaint.com/2014/04/18/la-pieta-the-compassion-of-most-holy-death/.

To get directly to the sense of intensity driving the narco-religious groups, La Familia and Los Templarios, let’s consider the Templarios Oath, as recorded in The Code of the Knights Templar of Michoacán:

All members of the Order of the Knights Templar of Michoacán should be under oath, which is administered via a ritual established by the Council. This oath will be kept under pain of death.[9]

That last phrase, “under pain of death”, tells us that the oath of the Templarios is a blood oath. In this as in other matters, we can understand much of the Templarios’ view of the world by comparing their symbols and beliefs with those of other groups, past and present. Blood oaths are not uncommon in the anthropological, religious, psychological and historical literatures. Tony Kail, in his the “Brotherhood: The War between the Caballeros Templarios and the Freemasons of Michoacán” in this volume, takes note of one area of particularly close correspondence—a closeness so fraught it has led to a virtual war between two fraternal communities claiming the same birthright:

The cartel code book Codigo De Los Caballeros Templarios De Michoacán also describes elements of oaths and obligations that are very similar to those in Freemasonry.

The material culture of the cartel is similar to that found among Masonic York Rite Templars. Similar emblems, robes, swords and banners can be found among both organizations.

Effectively, there’s a three-way set of correspondences here, between:
The medieval Knights Templar, with their code of chivalry,
Freemasonry, ancient and modern, with its extensive use of oath, ritual and
symbol, and
the Cartel Templarios, borrowing chivalry from one and symbol &c
from the second..

Interestingly, there’s a similar three-way correspondence between:
The oral tradition supposedly passed from God via Adam to Jewish Kabbalah [10],
Freemasonry, which claims access to this oral lineage via Solomon [11], and
Mormonism, deriving from Joseph Smith’s wish to “restore” Judaism [12, 13]

Adamic and Mosaic oral tradition, then, Kabbalah, the medieval Knights Templar, Freemasonry, Mormonism and the Templarios are all intertwined at the level of aspiration and symbology.

To return to the question of exacerbated intensity as exemplified by oaths and secrecy—who else is bound by blood oaths? On the criminal side, Cosa Nostra obviously, the Mau Mau [14] and similar initiatory societies, and the Yakuza, whose oath Britannica comments on:

Kobun traditionally take a blood oath of allegiance, and a member who breaks the yakuza code must show penance—historically through a ritual in which the kobun cuts off his little finger with a sword and presents it to his oyabun, though this practice has declined over time.[15]

And—hopefully non-criminally, though conspiracists may differ the Princes of the Church of Rome, whose initiation process is described in official Catholic documents.[16] Thus:

Each new cardinal then approaches the Holy Father and kneels before him to receive the cardinal’s biretta, the cardinalatial ring and to be assigned a title or deaconry:

The Pope places the biretta on his head and says, in part: “(This is) scarlet as a sign of the dignity of the cardinalate, signifying your readiness to act with courage, even to the shedding of your blood, for the increase of the Christian faith, for the peace and tranquillity of the people of God and for the freedom and growth of Holy Roman Church.”

I hope by these examples to suggested the breadth of scholarship, both criminal and religious, that can offer suggestive comparatives for the Templarios phenomenon—a breadth that we are beginning to bring together in this volume, but which patient research on many fronts will no doubt amplify over time.

Here I would like to explore some of the prominent moral vs immoral inversions between the original Templars and their present day cartel namesakes.

Why the Name, Knights Templar?

The name is fundamental to our understanding of the cartel. The original Knights Templar were charged with guarding the Temple in Jerusalem and pilgrims on their way there—hence they were both monks and military.

The first opposition or inversion to strike me, as someone who has nurtured a keen, lifelong interest in monasticism, Episcopalian, Catholic and Buddhist, is that between the original Templars as warrior monks and their namesakes today.

The Templatrios seek to evoke, by their name and ceremonies, the qualities of monks militant, and while there is considerable overlap—as we shall see—between the virtues and values associated with the two terms monks and militants, examining each separately will give us a key to understanding Templarios otherwise remarkable and non-obvious spiritual aspirations.

Monks and Their Monastic Vows

The Templars of old were under vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience similar to those of the Cistercians, the order of their founder St. Bernard, and other monastics.


Poverty in the monastic context means not owning worldly goods, nor having that attachment to them which ownership confers:

No one has more pride than a Templar. He has the forest for his house and the sky as a window.

It’s little short of astounding to find echos of the Templarios code in many of the world’s religions. Thus the Lakota shaman Wallace Black Elk told me:

Our carpet is the grass, the sacred altar; our ceiling is the stars; our night lamp is the moon; Grandpa the sun is our mystery power.[17]

The modernist Iranian poet Sohrab Sepehri writes:

The rose is my qibla; the stream is my prayer rug; the sunlight my clay tablet, my mosque the meadow.[18]

And there’s a celebrated haiku by the Zen priest Ryōkan—his hermitage was raided by a thief, who found little to take—Ryōkan, ever considerate of others, regretted his robber could not have found more loot, and would have given him the moon if he could[19]:

The thief
left it behind —
The moon at the window.


Chastity ties in with the medieval knightly codes of chivalry and courtesy. As a negative injunction, it demands the cessation of sexual activity and its desire. As the name of the Templar’s precursor sect, La Familia, suggests, the integrity of the family and its honor is of considerable importance to the Templars.

We shall examine chivalry, courtesy and the Romantic tradition which gives Hollywood its love stories under the heading of knighthood later.


For the Knights Templars of Michoacán, discipline is constant and obedience is always given; we come and go depending on the instructions given by those in authority.

All the knights should respect the CODE OF SILENCE; it is absolutely prohibited to divulge our activities and secrets.

And obedience is enforced by the death penalty as prescribed in the code and oath—note the echos here of the Mafioso code of omerta.


Etymologically, a knight is a servant, Knecht—

Code #19: The Knights of the Order must behave with humility and be the most honorable, the most noble, the most courteous .. as a worthy Knight of the Templars.

Knightly humility and knightly pride, then, are closely interwoven.


Classsical humility is a matter of not pushing oneself forward. It’s classic instance is to be found in the gospels, where Jesus tells the tale of a wedding guest who seats himself at a back table, and is the summoned by the bridegroom:

When you are invited to a wedding banquet, do not sit in the place of honor, in case someone more distinguished than you has been invited. Then the host who invited both of you will come and tell you, ‘Give this man your seat.’ And in humiliation, you will have to take the last place.

But when you are invited, go and sit in the last place, so that your host will come and tell you, ‘Friend, move up to a better place.’ Then you will be honored in front of everyone at the table with you. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and the one who humbles himself will be exalted. [Luke 14: 8-12]

Note here humility has nothing to do with having a low opinion of oneself, and that not pushing yourself forward is humility, whereas pushing yourself forward is effectively humiliation—the inverse of humility.

Even more remarkably, perhaps, Jesus continues by saying:

When you host a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends or brothers or relatives or rich neighbors .. when you host a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind, and you will be blessed [Luke 14: 12-24]…

If we consider the Templarios to fail to achieve the standards of nobility called forth by their name or code, we may reflect how few believing Christians live up to these instructions for “When you host a dinner or a banquet”..


In my view, we should turn to the evangelical Christian writer, John Eldredge, whose book, Wild at Heart,[20] influenced Nazario Moreno González, aka “El Mas Loco” to the point where he printed up and distributed his own “Bible” including fragments of Eldredge (for religion) and Zapata (for revolution) along with his own musings. Eldredge had described his “rugged, romantic individualism” rather than orthodox Biblical teachings as the source of his notion of true masculinity as presented in Wild at Heart—significantly, Eldredge promotes the essence of this masculinity thus:

Deep in his heart, every man longs for a battle to fight, an adventure to live, and a beauty to rescue. That is how he bears the image of God.

That outright romantic notion is, I’d submit, a profoundly accurate description of the ideals of knighthood.

A battle to fight—yes, the knight is armored for battle, his shield his emblem; an adventure to live—shades of Joseph Campbell and the Hero’s Journey.[21]


Chivalry is the code of the chevalier, caballero, the knight, a mounted warrior. To be chivalrous is to behave as a gentleman of a certain station behaves—with restraint, grace, generosity. When Richard Coeur de Lion was unhorsed in the midst of a battle with Saladin, that noble adversary ordered two of his finest horses offered to Richard, since it was unfitting to do battle against a king without a mount. I have this tale from Mustafa Hamid, friend of Mullah Omar and UBL, and historian of the Arabs in Afghanistan.[22]

Chivalry, then, is implicit in the idea of knighthood. Note that the obligation of chivalry, the supreme knightly virtue, like much else, follows on the heels of that of humility.


Code #19: The Knights of the Order must behave with humility and be the most honorable, the most noble, the most courteous .. as a worthy Knight of the Templar

Code #22. No woman should even fear a Templar, nor his words, or his actions.

As the Crusaders returned from the Crusades, rough warriors, the troubadours and trouvères, influenced by Sufi notions, began to formulate a notion of exalted respect for women which would in turn influence courtly behavior (hence the term “courtesy”) and lead to the Courts of Love.

As we have seen, the Eldredge knight has a beauty to rescue, a damsel in distress, the supposedly frail feminine whose duty it is for the masculine to revere, respect and protect. And this is not an exclusively Christian motif—think also of the Ramayana, central epic of India comparable to European Iliad, in which King Rama, prime avatar of the god Vishnu, has to rescue his wife Sita from the grip of the demon Ravana..

W.W. Comfort in the Introduction to Chrétien de Troyes, Arthurian Romances[23], writes:

So far as we know [Chrétien de Troyes] was the first to create in the vulgar tongues a vast court, where men and women lived in conformity with the rules of courtesy, where the truth was told, where generosity was open-handed, where the weak and the innocent were protected by men who dedicated themselves to the cult of honour and to the quest of a spotless reputation.

As the writer Denis de Rougemont suggests [24], this romantic notion of courtesy finds its fullest expression in the Arthurian romances of the Knights of the Round Table, and continues on in attenuated but still recognizable form in the romantic films of our own day.

Another hold-over from medieval Templar obligations is that of service.

Unconditional Love

Code #8: The Knights Templar must unconditionally love and serve all of humanity.

Unconditional love is a somewhat New Age way, no doubt derived from John Eldredge [25], of conveying the notion the Gospels phrase in such terms as “Love your neighbor as yourself,” “Judge not that ye be not judged,” and “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these.” The implication is one of “servant leadership,” which in turn implies the fundamental virtue of humility, of which we have already treated.


The ideals of their warrior monk namesakes, the knightly virtues of ‘violence at the service of community sustenance and protection, honor and secrecy, chivalry and courtesy, together with both humility and pride—in combination with the monastic obligations of poverty, chastity and obedience’—are spelled out in cartel terms in theCode of the Templarios—and are aspirationally present in their self-image, even if it is not always practiced, or practiced in an inverted form.

To grasp what this has meant for the Templarios—and what similar aspirations may mean for other groups analysts may encounter—we must allow ourselves to take religious drivers more seriously, and indeed more empathically, than has often been the case in our increasingly secular world.

Religious drivers have been prominent not only in La Familia and its offshoot the Templarios, but also in al-Qaeda and ISIS, in the dicta of the Ayatollahs in Iran, in the Hindutva movement in India, and anti-Muslim sentiment in Sri Lanka, Myanmar and China, and in many alt-right splinter groups in Europe and the USA.

And while sociological, economic and political motives may spring to mind when we first encounter such groups, and are indeed worthy of consideration, if we wish to study them in depth we should recognize that religious motives are among the most powerful drivers in the mix, and will all too easily blindside us, as 9/11 did, if we fail to take them seriously into account.

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