De Molay, last Grand Master of the Knights-Templars (Public Domain Image)
Secret Societies of the Middle Ages
by Thomas Keightley
This is Thomas Keightley's history of three secret societies of the Middle Ages: the Assassins, the Templars and the Fehmgerichte.
The Assassins, a shadowy group based in a remote stateless area, practicing a radical variant of Islam, and promising their followers a reward in the hereafter if they died in battle, has obvious modern parallels.
Of interest to contemporary readers will be Keightley's treatment of the Templars, an organization of crusaders who at their height controlled huge wealth and influence from the British Isles to the Holy Land. Although some Masonic scholars consider the Templars to be the forerunners of Freemasonry, they were a qualitatively different kind of organization. The Templars had an internal class system, based on the medieval social hierarchy. However a member's role in the organization remained fixed, unlike the progressive grades of Freemasonry. There was little of the symbolism and regalia of Masonry. Initiations served primarily to indoctrinate the new Templar on the harsh realities of membership: a life of obedience, chastity and poverty.
The history of the downfall of the Templars, involving a complicated international plot to strip them of their wealth, a questionably elected French Pope, confessions based on torture, and dark accusations of pagan rites, is one of the most fascinating parts of the book.
The short section on the medieval German Fehmgerichte, although consistent with the theme of the book, seems a bit tacked-on. This organization of secret tribunals in a lawless time had a reputation for hard and fast justice, much like the vigilantes of the American wild west.
Keightley also wrote The Fairy Mythology, available at sacred-texts.