Secret Societies of All Ages - Charles Heckethorn

Book VI—Chivalry

"Chivalry was more a spirit than an institution . . . the ceremonial was merely the public declaration that he on whom the order was conferred was worthy to exercise the powers with which it invested him; but still, the spirit was the chivalry."
—James's History of Chivalry

I. Chivalry

186. Original Aim.—An idea of conservation and propagandism produced the association of the San Greal, whose members professed to be in search of the vase of truth, which once contained the blood of the Redeemer; or, to leave metaphorical language, to bring back the Christian Church to apostolic times, to the true observance of the precepts of the gospel. At the Round Table, a perfect figure, which admitted neither of first nor of last, sat the Knights, who did not attain to that rank and distinction but after many severe trials. Their degrees at first were three, which were afterwards raised to seven, and finally, at the epoch of their presumed fusion with the Albigenses, Templars, and Ghibellines, to thirty-three. The chief grades, however, may be said to have been—1. Page; 2. Squire; 3. Knight, and the three chief military orders of those days were the Templars, the Knights Hospitallers of St. John of Jerusalem, who afterwards were called the Knights of Rhodes, and lastly the Knights of Malta; and thirdly, the order of Teutonic Knights.

187. Knights the Military Apostles of the Religion of Love.—This association was above all a proud family of apostles and missionaries of the Religion of Love, military troubadours, who, under the standards of justice and right, fought against the monstrous abuses of the Theocratic regime, consoled the "widow"—perhaps the Gnostic Church—protected the "sons of the widow"—the followers of Manes—and overthrew giants and dragons, inquisitors and churchmen. The powerful voice of the furious Roland, which made breaches in the granite rocks of the mountains, is the voice of that so-called heresy which found its way into Spain, thus anticipating the saying of Louis XIV., "There are no longer any Pyrenees." This may seem a startling assertion, but it is nevertheless true. Of course I do not now speak of the chivalry of feudal times, but of that which existed even before the eleventh century, that issued from the womb of Manichseism and Catharism, and was altogether hostile to Rome. But even at that period the Papal Church acted on the principle afterwards so fully carried out by the Jesuits of directing what they could not suppress; and having nothing more to fear than spiritualism, whether mystical, Platonic, or chivalric, Rome, instead of opposing its current cunningly turned it into channels where, instead of being destructive to the Papacy, it became of infinite advantage to it.

188. Tenets and Doctrines.—Those who composed the romances of the Round Table and the San Greal were well acquainted with the Gallic triads, the mysteries of the theological doctrines of the Bards and Celtic myths. These romances have their origin in the phenomena of the natural world, and the San Greal is only a diminutive Noah's Ark. From Chaucer's "Testament of Love," which seems founded on the "Consolation of Philosophy" by Boethius, it has been supposed that the love of chivalry was the love of woman, in its highest, noblest, and most spiritualised aspect. But the lady-love of the knight in the early period of chivalry was the Virgin Sophia, or philosophy personified.

The phraseology employed in the rites of initiation, the religious vows taken on that occasion, the tonsure to which the knights submitted, with many other circumstances, sufficiently indicate that the love so constantly spoken of has no reference to earthly love. This applies especially to the knights who may be called Voluntary Knights, and whose charter is the curious book called "Las Siete Partidas," by Alfonso XI., king of Castile and Leon. Their statutes greatly resembled those of the Templars and Hospitallers; they were more than any other a religious order; bound to very strict lives; their clothes were of three colours, and—strange coincidence—analogous with those with which Dante beheld Beatrice clothed, and the three circles he describes towards the end of "Paradise." They had two meals a day, and drank only water, a regimen scarcely fit for a militia whose duties were not always spiritual; for, besides their special duties, they were also subject to all the rules of chivalry, and bound to protect the weak against the strong, to restore peace where it had been disturbed, to serve their body (the Lodge), and protect the (evangelical) religion. They are said to have branded their right arms in sign of their fraternity; but this is perhaps only a figure of the baptism of fire and the Spirit, one of the most essential rites of the Religion of Love. A green glass vase, said to be the original San Greal, is preserved in the cathedral of Genoa, and considered so valuable that it requires a special permission from the municipality to see it. It was "by authority" said to be cut out of a gigantic emerald; but the ungodly French, who during the rule of the first Napoleon had carried it to Paris, chemically tested, and proved it, as stated above, to be only green glass.