There are plenty of conspiracy theories about the Knights Templar, a group of warrior-bankers created by the Catholic Church in 1119 to protect pilgrims making their way to Jerusalem.
The order grew over the course of a couple of hundred years into an apparatus that has been called the “world’s first multinational corporation” and was disbanded when it began to threaten the power of King Philip IV of France, who was indebted to the knights.
In the hundreds of years since many of the Knights Templar were interrogated and burned at the stake, ideas about their continued existence have continued to bubble to the surface of the popular imagination. It’s easy to see why just by looking at depictions of the knights, their menacing metal helmets and blazing red crosses poised atop huge war horses. Even people who lived back then had their theories. Towards the end of their reign, many people believed that the Knights Templar worshipped Baphomet and spit upon the cross, that they “encouraged homosexual practices” and perpetuated financial fraud. People believed that the Knights Templar had, in their banking (which involved protecting pilgrims making their way to Jerusalem by taking what they owned, writing them a check for the amount it was worth, and giving them the cash amount for the belongings), come across and kept artifacts like the Holy Grail.
A new theory says that The Knights Templar caused cannabis and hashish to flourish in Europe.
The theory is slated to emerge next April in the book Liber 420: Cannabis, Magickal Herbs and the Occult in which author Chris Bennett claims that the Knights Templar were holding more than just historical objects. Bennett writes for Cannabis Culture that “’cultural exchanges’ between the Islamic cannabis cult, the Hashishins” and the Knights led to the trading of vices like “hashish-infused wine.” Drinking it was a tradition that the Hashishins, a name which is interpreted as meaning “hashish-takers” or “herb sellers” and leading to the creation of the word “Assassins,” had gotten from interactions with Persian Zoroastrians. The practice spread across the Islamic world, explains Bennett, quoting Dr. Mike Aldrich as writing in 1978,
“The drug employed for initiation into the cult [of the Hashashins] was used to obtain a vision of paradise. It did not nerve them up for slaughter, was not used during their missions, and did not make them crazy. Quite the contrary, it […] gave them at least a fleeting glimpse of an altogether higher order of existence. If anything, political and religious intrigue, not hashish, caused assassination.”
It was this set of traditions that the Knights Templar supposedly inherited from their dealings with the Hashishins, with whom they “were involved in a trade of good[s] and knowledge.” This fact even led to its own “occult theory [developed as far back as at least the 18th century] that European knights were initiated by the Assassins and privy to their occult secrets.” In all likelihood the situation was simply a set of “temporary allegiances [between] the Templars and Assassins against common enemies in the Mid-East,” but that didn’t stop people from speculating in Crusade-fueled Islamophobia about the intimacy of the relationship between Muslims and the Templars.
Regardless of the nature of the interactions, Bennett references Jun and Von Franz stating that “the Templars were spiritually influenced by certain movements of Islam” and “borrowed much of their constitution of their order from this […] sect.” He quotes Konrad Bercovici in 1929 “relating the Reefer Madness of his day” in saying,
“These cavaliers had brought home the deadliest of narcotic weeds, hashish, Cannabis Indica, the use of which changes men into ferocious beasts. Under its influence the kindest individuals become monsters and murderers.”
And indeed “a cult of hashish flourished in Europe after the Knights returned to France,” (Pinkham, 2004) so even though one can imagine that they weren’t crazed warriors because of the weed, they were certainly bringing back the goods.
Professor Georg Luck of Johns Hopkins University thinks that the famous Holy Grail myth itself had to do with cannabis.
“Members of [the Hashashins] drank or smoked hashish in order to become immortal […] The idea behind [hashish wine] may give us a clue to the concept of the Holy Grail, which […] was supposed to be a substance, or an object […] that vouchsafes happiness on earth and bliss in heaven to a chosen few.”
The Templars apparently also made their own aloe-based hemp lotion called Elisir of Jerusalem and used it as a topical antiseptic, fungicide, and bactericide. They certainly weren’t afraid to probe the limits of what cannabis had to offer. Knowledge of its uses spread to the point that recipes for marijuana wines and tinctures began to appear in European alchemical and medical texts.
The Knights Templar certainly weren’t outright pot dealers, but it’s undeniable that their interactions with the Middle East influenced the culture back in their native Europe. Chris Bennett has spent over 25 years studying the role of cannabis in magic and religion and says that while the Templars spreading cannabis throughout Europe is speculative when arrests were made at Templar sites in 1307, they were found with 42 pounds of cannabis.