The winter season of talks at North Hill Village Hall got off to a flying start, with almost 50 people turning up for the talk by Totnes-based author and researcher Marilyn Hopkins. This was a remarkable attendance, which reflected both Marilyn’s own prowess as a speaker and writer and the current vogue for the subject. The Knights Templar are back in fashion, with just a little help from The Da Vinci Code.
Marilyn takes a no-nonsense approach to her subject, but manages to combine this with a very open-minded attitude to new ideas and new discoveries. She is forthright in her beliefs – even those which do not accord with traditional thought on the subject, or for that matter with the new wave of Templar protagonists – because her views are founded on her own research and her own experience.
Brown, Baigent and others have been castigated by many in the world of historical investigation for making claims for which there is little practical evidence. Marilyn Hopkins made it clear which elements of her talk were evidence-based and which were opinion - what is history and what is belief. She was also very upfront in welcoming new thinking on the subject and expressed a willingness to change her own outlook, if it no longer accorded with evolving revelations.
It is a mark of her depth of knowledge about the Templars that she was able to speak for more than an hour and a half without notes - and with just the support of some textless slides. She could clearly have continued for much longer, and only the impending darkening of the autumn afternoon necessitated the curtailment of a stream of searching and relevant questions.
Marilyn took the story of the warrior monks from their inception in the12th Century, in what is now France, around the figure of Hughes de Payen, through their obscure excavations of the remains of Solomon’s Temple in Jerusalem and their subsequent acquisition of sudden wealth, to their demise and diaspora under the Catholic inquisition - and finally to their shadowy links with Rosslyn Chapel near Edinburgh, and the potential remanence of Templar wisdom in the arcane rituals of the Freemasons and others.
As a dowser herself, she has been able to use her talent to give leads to her investigations and to seek confirmation or rejection of the views of others. She has travelled, with her co-author Tim Wallace-Murphy, to many of the Templar locations throughout Europe and has dowsed on site for evidence and enlightenment.
The TDs have also found traces and indications of Templar activity in Devon and Cornwall, notably at the aptly-named Temple on Bodmin Moor. There we investigated not only the church, but also the potential site of a former Templar hostelry. The Templars may have been formed with a view to reclaiming the sacred sites of Jerusalem for Christianity, but they are best known for their role of protecting the pilgrim routes through a socially unstable landscape, both at home and on the continent. The provision and funding of lodgings for pilgrims became a major element in their remit.
From a philosophical point of view, the acquisition of great wealth and its attendant esteem, in a world where all energies tend towards a natural balance, is always going to be recipe for conflict. It was as true in 13th century Europe as it is today. The Pope and the King of France found common cause and political opportunity to liberate the riches of the order and to extinguish their heresy. However, as with any knowledge, any insight, destroying the messengers does little in the longer term to the message, other than to drive it underground and to give it added charisma. Remember dowsing was illegal in the UK for about 500 years prior to 1951, yet here we are, already back out in the field with our hazel twigs and bent coat hangers putting the flesh back on the bones of the dowsers vision of the cosmos.
While the Templars were eliminated as a functioning force in France, elsewhere – such as Spain and Portugal - they escaped more leniently. This enabled some of the participants to make good their escape, complete with their precious knowledge. One cell allegedly fled to Scotland, where they were assured of a safe welcome from the St Clair (Sinclair) family, the owners of the area around Rosslyn Chapel.
Whether the Templars unearthed the treasures of the Holy Land and brought them back to Scotland for safekeeping – and whether they are buried in the vaults at Rosslyn - is something we may never know for certain. Like King Arthur, the Knights Templar have accumulated a lot of myth which has enhanced their already formidable reputation, but has only obfuscated their past. What does seem certain is that the order went from being a small group of knights with a mission, to being an influential and inspirational sect, wealthy and confident enough to worry both the papacy and the monarchs of the major European states - all within, historically, a very short space of time indeed. It is more than likely that their discoveries in Jerusalem were more intellectual or spiritual than financial, and that they were able to use this knowledge to destabilise, perhaps with the best of intent, the religious status quo.
They remain enigmatic - and Marilyn’s talk inevitably raised more questions than it provided answers. For the dowser this is rich and fertile territory. Where history is sketchy and contradictory, dowsing can provide illumination. However, whilst finding the physical paths of the Templars may be a practical possibility, putting yourself into the mind of someone who is only known to exist through the most tenuous of transcriptions is very much advanced level divination.
Many thanks to Marilyn Hopkins for providing us with such an excellent start to the indoor season. Not only was there a superb attendance, but of the many non-members who came, several chose to join the group on the day. It was also pleasing to see so many copies of Marilyn’s four books finding a new home by the end of the afternoon.
Many thanks, too, to all those who helped on a day, when issues beyond the realm of the hall left us a little short-handed.
Custodians of Truth by Marilyn Hopkins and Tim-Wallace Murphy