Sunday, October 15, 2017

Men in Black: The Hidden History of the Knights of Malta Part I

In all the annuals of conspiracy literature there is probably no other organization more misunderstood and misrepresented than the Sovereign Military Order of Malta (SMOM), more commonly known as the Knights of Malta. The Maltese knights trace their origins back to the Order of the Knights of the Hospital of Saint John of Jerusalem, more commonly known simply as the Knights Hospitaller. For a time they were also known as the Knights of Cyprus and Rhodes and a host of other such variations. The Order has an almost totally unbroken lineage that stretches back to the eleventh century, hundreds of years before many of the more common bugaboos of conspiracy literature can be reliably dated.

As regular readers of this blog are no doubt well aware that I've touched on SMOM quite extensively in the past and as such, there will be some overlap with the data presented in previous series. For the sake of brevity I will probably not delve too much into the modern intrigues of SMOM or those of the countless splinter groups and mimic orders the Maltese knights have spawned over the years. Some of the more notorious, such as the Sovereign Order of Saint John (SOSJ), have already been chronicled elsewhere (see "Unspeakable Cults, Churches and Secret Societies" sidebar).

Still, this leaves me with a rather extensive amount of history to cover and as such, I shall mainly focus on the aspects of the Order that no doubt most interest my readers: namely, its ties to espionage and the occult. It is for this reason the series is entitled "Men in Black" (MIB).

The Men in Black are of course staples of UFO literature, but reports of them predate the modern era. Gray Baker, one of the earliest MIB chroniclers, noted:
"Dennis Stanley, in a chapter that appeared in The Truth About the Men in Black... believes that 'visits by unknown agents are seeded throughout UFO literature and newspaper accounts of flying saucer sightings. For many years, they were overlooked or not recognized for what they were. Today, just about every UFO investigator has encountered these Men in Black. The history of demonology, witchcraft, and the occult filled with similar incidents, leading one to speculate that the UFO phenomena are at least partly "psychic" in nature.
"UFO magazine editor Allen H. Greenfield has pointed out that there is usually a consistent reference associating the term 'Black Man' with the Devil, along with a mention of an Indian-like appearance supposedly attributed to the Devil by witches. Greenfield has noted that there was a concentration of such cases beginning at the time of the Elizabethan, post-Reformation era in the 1600s. Several occult volumes classify these beings into a group of their own and refer to them as Men in Black, Demons, Devils, Apparitions, or Black Men – the latter being the most commonly used. 
"The writings of arch which-hunter Cotton Mather mention a 'Black Man' associated with the Indians. And there was mention of a man dressed in black during the witch trials in Salem, Massachusetts." 
(Men in Black: The Secret Terror, Gray Baker, pg.41)

Historically these Men in Black were viewed as tricksters and tempters, and often appeared in relation to witchcraft and ritual magic. But in modern times, with the advent of UFO lore, they have become suppressors par excellence. Numerous reports exist of them harassing UFO researchers, stealing evidence and so on in an effort to hide the truth from the public. This perception has seeped into pop culture with a vengeance, eventually inspiring a film series. The influence of the MIBs is felt beyond even UFO-related material, with The Matrix memorably using MIBs (dubbed "Agents") as suppressors of the Demiurgic nature of reality.

Curiously, the black grabbed Maltese knights may have been serving a similar function for centuries in regards to the occultic and arcane. With that in mind, let us leap head long into the Order's mysterious origins.

Murky Beginnings in the Holy Land

It is generally agreed that the Knights Hospitaller grew out of a hospital established in Jerusalem to treat Christian pilgrims via papal edict in the seventh century. Some four hundred years later, in the early eleventh century, it was destroyed by Caliph Al-Hakim bi-Amr Allah. During the 1020s, efforts were made to rebuild it with the project falling under the sway of the Benedictine order.

The stage was set for the appearance of the Knights Hospitaller when an alleged lay brother of the Benedictine order known only as Gerard was appointed to head the Hospital of Saint John at some time around 1080. "Blessed" Gerard is the mysterious first Grand Master of the Knights Hospitaller. Virtually nothing is known about his life prior to his arrival in the Holy Land, though it has long been claimed that his birthplace was Amalfi.

Blessed Gerard
What is known is that he first rose to prominence during the Siege of Jerusalem in 1099. Reportedly, his assistance proved to be invaluable to the Christian Crusaders and for reasons that went beyond medical care. 
"One of the ejected Christians was Blessed Gerard, master of the Amalfi hostel in the city, who immediately approached the Christian leaders to assist them with first hand knowledge of the layout and the defenses of Jerusalem. Needless to say, his intelligence was indeed most welcome. The crusading leaders ensured that their plans for the city's fall would encompass and indeed utilize Gerard's inside information."
(The Sword and the Green Cross, Max J. Ellul, pgs. 76-77)

Thus, the Order's proto history can be linked directly to espionage. This is a well the Order would return to time and again, as we shall see. But moving along.

Needless to say, the Crusader leaders did not forget Blessed Gerard's good work and his Hospital soon found itself the recipient of lavish donations. However it was not till Garard's successor, Raymond du Puy, that  the true Hospitaller order began to emerge. It was du Puy that transformed the Order's mission from simply administering medical care to pilgrims (apparently with some intelligence gathering) to actively guarding them. To this end, the famed Hospitaller knights arrived.

Not only did these endeavors receive Papal blessings in 1113, but recognition from one of the premier European powers of the era fairly early in the game. In 1185, 67 years after du Puy succeeded Blessed Gerard as Grand Master and militarized the Order, it received protection and a charter of privileges from Frederick Barbarossa, arguably the greatest Holy Roman Emperor of the Middle Ages. This would mark the beginning of a longstanding relationship between the Order and the Holy Roman Empire that continues in a fashion to this day. The Order would grow especially close to the Habsburg dynasty that ruled the Holy Roman Empire for well over four hundred years.

the imperial banner of the Holy Roman Empire
One such Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V, granted the Knights Hospitaller Malta in 1530 after they lost their holdings in Rhodes. In 1607, the Grand Master was awarded the status of Reichsfurst, Prince of the Holy Roman Empire. The connection between the Order and the Habsburg dynasty continued well into the later half of the twentieth century, as was noted in my examination of the mysterious organization known as Le Cercle, which featured ample backing from both the Maltese knights and the Habsburgs (noted here and here). But I'm getting ahead of myself.

In the Holy Lands the Order frequently rubbed shoulders with two darlings of conspiracy literature: the Knights Templar and the Nizari, more commonly referred to as the Assassins or Hashshashins. As to the latter, it would appear that the Hospitaller ad the Nizari established a relationship so close by the late thirteenth century that it reportedly bordered on heresy.
"... By 1228, the Syrian Nizaris had in fact become tributaries to the Hospitallers under the terms of a cooperative pact, while they continue to pay tribute to the Templars. It was also around this time that the Nizaris began to lend occasional support to the military orders in their campaigns against some of the Christian rulers of the Latin states; and at least the Hospitallers reciprocated by defending the Nazaris against the encroaching forces of Antioch and Tripoli. The Nizari involvement in the Hospitaller campaign of 1230 launched by Krak des Chevaliers against Bohemond IV of Antioch represented one such instance of cooperation.
"It was against this background that Bohemond V (1233-57), the next prince of Antioch and Raymond's brother, wrote Pope Gregory IX complaining that the Grand Master of the Hospitallers was then in league with the 'Assassins.' In response to this complaint, on 26 August 1236, Pope Gregory wrote to the Archbishop of Tyre and the bishops of Sidon and Beirut insisting that the Hospitalers should terminate any compromising connections with
the Assassins, the enemies of God and of the Christian name, who formerly dared to slay treacherously Raymond [son of Bohemond IV]... and many other magnates and Catholic princes, and are striving to overcome our faith by force... and what is far graver still the aforesaid Assassins, on account of the promise made by the after mentioned Master and brethren [of the Hospital] to support and protect them Christian attacks, and undertaken to pay them a certain sum of money every year. Therefore we have sent them orders writing to desist from defending these same Assassins... And so we now charge you that if the said Master and brethren should fail to observe this our command, you shall compel them to abandon this understanding by the censures of the Church, without right of appeal, after giving them due warning."
(The Assassin Legends, Farhad Daftary, pgs. 75-76)
the Nizari showing why they are forever remembered as "Assassins"
Over the years there has been much speculation over the Nizari, who became infamous throughout Christian and Islamic lands during the Middle Ages for their curious ability to assassinate heads of state (hence the reason why the word "assassin" derives from "Hashshashins"). Frequently these assassinations occurred in broad daylight and in crowded place where the assassin had no chance to escape after the deed was done. As such, it was common for a Nizari to die immediately after taking out their target.

The killers were reportedly so stoic in performing their deeds, despite their own certain death, that the methods employed to produce such dedicated killers has spurred much interest over the years. The CIA itself even referenced the legendary founder of the Assassins branch of the Nizari, Hassan-i-Sabbah, in an early assassination manual.
"... A 1952 draft version of the manual describes a man named Hasan-Dan-Sabah who used the drug hashish to 'induce motivation in his followers, who were assigned to carry out political and other murders, usually at the cost of their lives.' Hasan-Dan-Sabah's credo with his closest initiates and most skilled assassins was: 'Nothing is true, everything is permitted.' States the CIA's manual, 'Assassination is a term thought to be derived from "Hashish," a drug similar to marijuana.' It is certainly intriguing, for a number of reasons, that the Agency included this reference in its assassination manual. First and foremost is the nexus among Hasan-Dan-Sabah (also known as the Old Man of the Mountain), Hassan-I-Sabbah, an Iranian born in 1056 near modern day Tehran, and the Knights Templar, a legendary group that nearly all of the CIA's founders and earliest employees openly admired and sought to emulate."
(A Terrible Mistake, H.P. Albarelli, Jr., pgs. 263-264)
Contrary to popular belief, there is no real compelling evidence that Hassan-i-Sabbah used hashish to induce his followers into committing assassinations, or that the Nizari that followed him indulged in it. Most of these allegations likely derive from the reign of Hassan's great-grandson, Hassan II (the fourth lord of Alamut), in which standards had become much more lax since Hassan's day.

In point of fact, Hassan-i-Sabbah was known for sobriety and rigid discipline was imposed upon his sect. It was likely this that served as the cornerstone of the sect's brainwashing, namely relentless religious indoctrination combined with physical deprivation induced by long days and lack of proper nutrition. Such methods are still used to good effect by modern day cults such as the Unification Church of Sun Myung Moon.

Still, it is curious that the CIA would look to the Nizari in the early 1950s for inspiration in conducting assassinations at the same time their numerous behavioral modification experiments were in fools swing. Even more curious is the fact that many key early members of the CIA such as Allen Dulles and James Jesus Angleton had had close dealings with the Knights of Malta, the direct descendants of the Medieval Knights Hospitaller, who were warned by the papacy for their close ties to the Nizari, the "enemies of God and the Christian name." As is often the case, many have continued to focus on the interest the early CIA had in the Knights Templar while ignoring the actual membership many key CIA officials had in the Maltese knights.

But back to the Holy Land. The Nizari were but one of several strange sects, along with the likes of the closely related Druze, the Yazidis, and the Mandaens, engaged in highly esoteric practices that the Hospitallers and other Crusaders encountered in the Holy Lands. The Sufi movement was also in its infancy at this time and its possible that remnants of the Harran Sabians could still be found in Syria at the same time the Knights Hospitaller were rubbing shoulders with the Nizari.

ruins of the legendary city of Harran
The Harran Sabians were a curious bunch. The Sabians were mentioned several times in the Quran as "peoples of the Book" and are now believed by many scholars to be derived from the Mandaens, Johnites whose belief system is closely related to Gnosticism. The Harran Sabians, by contrast, appear to have adopted the name Sabian to spare their pagan beliefs after the Islamic conquest. At the core of their belief system was a reverence for Hermes Trismegistus.
"Notable in this process of translation and research was the Sabian intellectual community of Baghdad, which thrived under an enlightened caliphate between the ninth and mid-tenth centuries AD. The Sabians had, in order to qualify for respect as 'people of the Book' as directed by the Koran, taken the philosophical writings of Hermes Trismegistus as their prophetic work, their holy book.
"The philosophy of Hermes was congenial to Baghdad's Muslim authorities because it represented the unity of God and the cosmos. Hermes was congenial to the so-called Sabians because they had originally come from Harran in northern Syria, where the lights of the cosmos were venerated; Harran had seven temples, each dedicated to a planet."
(The Invisible History of the Rosicrucians, Tobias Churton, pgs. 103-104)

I've digressed to discuss the Harran Sabians here because the Maltese knights appear to have developed quite an interest in alchemy several centuries later and it is generally felt that Western alchemy arose from Hermeticism. And the Harran Sabains were one of the key conduits to transfer Hermeticism from the ancient world to the Middle Ages. They were also reported to be early alchemists as well.

As such, there would have been no shortage of esoteric creeds ranging from Hermeticism, Gnosticism and Isma'ilism, among others, for the Crusading knights to absorb. As one of the wealthiest and most influential orders of the Crusader era, the Knights Hospitaller would have been especially well placed to study such creeds. But their potential involvement with these sects has been largely overshadowed by their far more famous rivals, the Knights Templar.

The Hospital and the Temple

The relationship between the Knights Templar and the Knights Hospitaller has long been shrouded in controversy. The Hospitallers predated the Templars and there appears to have been an early influence. But the Templars took up arms before the Hospitallers, which no doubt led to the transformation of the latter into a full blown military order. Many accounts insist, however, on an ever growing rivalry between the two orders that appeared headed towards open conflict in the years leading up to the suppression of the Templars.
"As part of the planning of a new Crusade, the pope had indicated that he wanted to discuss the proposal that the Templars and the Hospitallers be merged into one order, an idea that had been coming up more more frequently in recent years. Just two years earlier a Dominican friar, Raymond Lull, had written a merger plan that had aroused much interest. He proposed that the Knights of the Hospital of St. John of Jerusalem and the Knights of the Temple of Solomon be combined into a single order to be called the Knights of Jerusalem, and that all of the rulers of Europe combine their Crusading forces under a single commander to be known as the Rex Bellator, the 'War King.' A few years earlier a French priest, Pierre de Bois, had submitted a written plan for the recuperation of the Holy Places called De Recuperatione Sanctae, in which he cited the efficiencies to be achieved by combining the military orders. 
"The pope had responded favorably to the merger concept. The Hospitalers had brought new hope for a crusade and new respect to themselves by the recent invasion of the island of Rhodes, and the pope leaned towards the appointment of Foulques de Villaret, Grand Master of the Hospitallers, as Grand Master of the proposed combination."
(Born in Blood, John J. Robinson, pg. 128) 
Pope Clement V, who oversaw the persecution of the Knights Templar
This proposed merger was effectively carried out with the suppression of the Knights Templar in 1312, of which the Knights Hospitaller were one of the chief benefactors of.
"That order has managed to escape any criticism in the matter of the Templar suppression, but apparently only because it had kept a low profile throughout, probably for the very good reason that its role and its rewards at been worked out in advance. It is well known that the papacy was in favor of the union of the Templars and Hospitallers and had already determined that Foulques de Villaret, master of the Hospitallers, would be the Grand Master of the combined orders. The Templars, at their headquarters in Cyprus, had heard of the serious intent to combine the orders and had taken the time to prepare a written rebuttal. The Hospitallers, at their own headquarters on the same island, must have received the same information, yet they prepared no rebuttal, written or verbal. In fact, de Villaret managed to stay away from the meeting in France altogether, with no recorded papal criticism for his absence. That was undoubtedly because his presence wasn't needed and because there was no point in chancing a confrontation between the two orders, especially since the pope was already dedicated to looking after the interests of the Hospitallers. Not only did the Hospitallers offer no objection to the concept of the merger, but they made no attempt whatever to speak up for their brother warrior-monks as they were arrested and tortured. They simply stayed out of it and bided their time, until Clement V, much to the anger of King Philip, declared that all of the confiscated Templar property would go to the Knights Hospitallers and that all released Templars could be taken into the Hospitaller order, thereby achieving de facto the union he had been planning all along, with full Hospitaller approval and cooperation. If one looks for motive, the Hospitaller order was the major beneficiary of the suppression of the Templars, as it probably been plan from the beginning. The pope and the Hospitallers together thwarted the aims of Philip of France, and there should be no doubt that the Hospitallers rank as one of the three assassins of the Order of the Temple." 
(Born in Blood, John J. Robinson, pgs. 272-273)
There's a lot to taken in here. A good starting point may be the little-remarked upon role the above-mentioned Ramon Llull played in the suppression of the Templars. A Spanish Franciscan monk, was one of the earliest and most vigorous supporters of merging the Templars and the Hospitallers. Llull had ventured to the island of Cyprus in 1299 to convert the infidel and appears to have been poisoned in 1302. He was ultimately saved by Jacques de Molay, the last Grand Master of the Knights Templar who famously burned at the stake.

Jacques de Molay
Afterwards Llull reportedly pitched de Molay his merger plan, which the Grand Master was not favorably disposed towards. Despite de Molay having saved his life, Llull continued to promote his merger plan and went on to argue for the confiscation of Templar property by the Knights Hospitaller in the wake of the suppression of the former order. 

In addition to being a Franciscan with some sway in the Catholic hierarchy, Llull was also a mystic and early alchemist. One would expect him to be very interested in the ideas the Templars and the Hospitallers were being exposed to in the Holy Lands and to be sympathetic in general to the plight of the Templars. Not only had his life been saved by de Molay, but he was a fellow heretic operating within the frame work of the Catholic Church. And yet he backed the Hospitallers.

Ramon Llull
Was there something about the Knights of the Hospital that intrigued Llull beyond their ability to continue the Crusades? Unfortunately, this is a question little explored. But moving along.

The above reference Robinson makes to the "three assassins of the Order of Temple" is a reference to Masonic myths surrounding the Biblical figure of Hiram Abiff, whom the Masons claim as their founder. In Masonic lore Hiram is murdered by three unworthy craftsmen (some times referred to as "Ruffians") while working on the Temple of Solomon. Robinson speculated that these "Ruffians" (referred to as Jubela, Jubelo and Jubelum) were stand-ins for the suppression of the Templar order, with the three unworthy craftsmen representing King Philip of France, Pope Clement V and the Knights Hospitaller.

This is in stark contrast to much conspiracy literature, which tends to depict the Knights of Malta as lackeys of the Freemasons. There is little evidence of this, however. The Scottish Rite degree named after the Knights of Malta appears to reflect Robinson's take on the Maltese knights as assassins (while still showing a certain admiration for the Order). And famed nineteenth century Freemason Albert Mackey, in his encyclopedia of Masonry, proclaimed the Maltese knights to be longstanding foes of the Masons:
"As regards Freemasonry it may be said in general that the Knights were antipathetic to it, or to any such teachings or truths as Masons held at any period. In particular, the Order was twice used in attempts to destroy Freemasonry, and it therefore has at one time or another belong to that long chapter of the history of the Fraternity which is called Anti Masonry.
"It has been an open and confessed military arm of the Vatican before the Pope issued their first Bull against Freemasonry in 1738, and it was ordered to oppose Freemasonry wherever it could. In about 1800 it was instrumental in driving Freemasonry out of Russia. When Metternich after 1815 and the Congress of Vienna became the dictator of Europe he made the complete climination of the Fraternity one of his open and principal aims; and to a large extent he succeeded for some years, and may be described as the most powerful Anti-Mason of the nineteenth century.
"The Knights of Malta were one of the agencies employed by him..."
(Encyclopedia of Freemasonry, Vol. 3, Albert Mackey, pg. 56)
In recent years the linkage between the Knights of Malta and Freemasonry has been revived by no less than Pope Francis himself, who has demanded that the Maltese knights purge Freemasons from their ranks.

Pope Francis
The presence of Freemasons among the Maltese knights is deceptive, however. In modern times this connection was laid bare in the scandal surrounding Propaganda Due (P2), the infamous Italian Masonic lodge linked to Operation Gladio and a host of terror attacks in Italy and beyond. As was noted before here, the upper echelon of P2 was almost totally dominated by the Maltese knights and the closely related Opus Dei. In other words, reactionary Catholic orders were using Masonic lodges (as there were other Propaganda lodges across Europe) as cover for a host of illegal and immoral activities. Some have suggested that this use of "unclean hands" was to further distance the Maltese knights from the deeds they were engaged in.

This is compelling, but I suspect there was another motive: to give yet another black eye to a longstanding foe of the Order. P2 has provided much fodder to conspiracy researchers obsessed with Masons (virtually all of them, in other words) who in turn almost totally ignore the dominating influence the Maltese knights had over P2. In many ways, it would be difficult for a reactionary Catholic order to come up with a more perfect cover.


And with that I shall wrap things up for now with the following thoughts: the Knights of Malta emerged during the Crusades and spent nearly two centuries roaming the Holy Lands. There they likely encountered a host of esoteric ideologies from the likes of the Nizari, Mandeans, Yazidis, Druze and possibly even the Sabians and Sufis. It has been long suspected that their fellow Crusading military order the Knights Templar adopted some type of esoteric doctrine derived from some combination of these groups.

The Templar are then suppressed and persecuted in Europe, with the Knights Hospitaller ending up with their properties, members and possibly whatever occultic doctrines the Templars subscribed too. Certainly this more than echoes modern encounters of Men in Black who perform a similar function in regards to UFO revelations.

For the Knights of Malta, this was only the beginning. In the years to come they would encounter even more strange doctrines that they potentially embraced internally while suppressing among the general public. On the whole this is in rather stark contrast to speculative theories of the Knights Templar. If the Templars did in fact inspire Freemasonry, they ultimately made a host of esoteric doctrines accessible to the public at large through their lodges. The Knights of Malta, by contrast, preferred to keep this knowledge hidden.