The Solar Templars came from a neo-Templar tradition where mysterious Masters reportedly appeared and delivered esoteric messages.
by Massimo Introvigne
Article 2 of 9. Read article 1.
In the previous article of the series, we started examining the neo-Templar tradition, within which the Order of the Solar Temple, notorious for its mass suicides in the 1990s, was eventually created. Not without repeating that other neo-Templar organizations had nothing to do with the crimes of the Solar Temple, we continue here the story of neo-Templarism after the death in 1838 of the man who invented it, Bernard-Raymond Fabré-Palaprat. Admiral Sir William Sidney-Smith (1764–1840), head of the English branch, was elected as Grand Master.
However, the neo-Templar knights continued to quarrel over the relationships with the Catholic Church, and soon a “Catholic” and a “Palapratian” (non-Catholic) factions separated again. Both, however, declined. The “Palapratians” ceased their activities in 1871, and the “Catholics” in 1890. Some surviving knights appointed a “Regent” of the order in the person of the French poet Joséphin Péladan (1858–1918), who was involved in most of the organizations promoting the occultist revival of the late 19th century, but cared more for his own creation, the Ordre de la Rose+Croix du Temple et du Graal, than for Fabré-Palaprat’s creation.
Although semi-extinguished in France, Fabré-Palaprat’s Order of the Temple survived in Belgium. In 1894, the Belgian branch promoted the establishment in Brussels of an International Secretariat of the Templars. Although going through different changes of names and reorganizations, the Belgian group continued its activities in the 20th century. In 1933, the Belgians also restored the position of Grand Master of the Order, and appointed Théodore Covias as “Regent” for the position. In the same year 1933, Covias transmitted his powers to Émile Clément Vandenberg (1895–1945), whose authority was not recognized by all knights.
After Vanderberg’s death in 1945, however, most knights recognized the Portuguese Antonio Campello Pinto de Sousa Fontes (1887–1960) as the new Grand Master, succeeded after his death in 1960 by his son, Fernando Campello Pinto de Sousa Fontes (1929–2018). After World War II, neo-Templarism became internationally fashionable and successful. It also went through interminable schisms, and by 2020 more than one hundred competing organizations existed throughout the world.
Some even claimed an alleged succession from other branches of the medieval Order of the Temple reportedly preserved outside of France independently from the lineage leading to Fabré-Palaprat. They also referred to mystical experiences in which their founders (in a vein originally popularized by the early Theosophical Society) were directly initiated (occasionally from the spirit world) by secret “Masters of the Temple.”
Jacques Breyer (1922–1996), a prolific French esoteric author, claimed to have had precisely that initiatory experience with two companions on June 12, 1952, in the ruins of Arginy Castle in France. He was contacted by the Masters of the Temple and asked to establish a “Templar Renaissance.” In 1953, he claimed to have obtained the succession in an allegedly uninterrupted chain from the medieval Knights Templar by associating to his enterprise Maxime de Roquemaure (1888–1974).
The latter, a French nobleman, claimed to have inherited the mantle of a Catalonian branch of the Order of the Temple preserved underground for centuries in faraway Ethiopia. These events led to the establishment of the Sovereign Order of the Solar Temple (OSTS). The OSTS was formally established on June 24, 1966. Breyer selected as Grand Master a Monaco socialite, Jean-Louis Marsan (1923–1982), a friend of Prince Ranier III (1923–2005). Marsan incorporated the OSTS under Monaco law in 1967.
In the 1960s, both Raymond Bernard (1923–2006) and Julien Origas (1920-1983) came into contact with the Arginy movement. Origas had been an interpreter and a minor agent for the Nazi police during the German occupation of France. He had served three years in jail for these activities. In sensationalist accounts of the Order of the Solar Temple, these rather minor activities of Origas as a Nazi collaborator were later elevated to the mythical status of leader of the whole Gestapo in Brest.
Bernard was the second highest ranking officer in the international hierarchy of the Rosicrucian order AMORC, and the leader of AMORC’s extremely successful French-speaking branch. After meeting Breyer, Bernard decided that it would be wise to establish a Templar order controlled by himself in order to keep within the fold members of the French chapter of AMORC seeking a parallel neo-Templar initiation.
In 1969, Bernard circulated a photocopied text relating his meeting in Rome with “Jean,” a French gentleman “connected with a royal family.” “Jean” led Bernard to the “crypt” of the Catholic abbey of St. Nilus in nearby Grottaferrata. Here Bernard was created a Knight Templar by a mysterious “White Cardinal,” associated with the true Order of the Temple. Later, Bernard added references to a council of twelve secret Masters ruling the world whose leader was called Maha.
In writings of the 1990s, Bernard will admit that the Grottaferrata episode, “Jean,” the White Cardinal, the Council of the Twelve, and Maha were all “purely fictional” figments of his own imagination. They were, however, he claimed, based upon deeply moving personal mystical experiences including one during a visit to St. Nilus—where, by the way, there is no crypt.
What is factually true is that claiming authority from the secret Masters, Bernard initiated in 1968 two trusted AMORC associates, Robert Devaux and Julien Origas, as Knights Templar in the Cathedral of Chartres. In 1970, Bernard incorporated a new neo-Templar organization under French law, the Renewed Order of the Temple (ORT) and became its first president. In 1971 he asked Origas to replace him as president of the ORT.
Origas accepted with a letter in which he told Bernard that “I will only be your straw man.” During the years 1971–72, the ORT flourished with hundreds of members under a double structure. Origas was formally the president, but he reported to a “Secret Grand Master” who was the real leader of the ORT, i.e., Bernard .
The double structure was needed in order to keep the ORT clearly separated from, yet ultimately controlled by, the French branch of AMORC. The arrangement was initially accepted by Ralph M. Lewis (1904–1987), the American Imperator (world leader) of AMORC. In October 1972, however, with Lewis increasingly concerned about the possible detrimental effect on the international AMORC of ORT’s increasing success, Bernard decided to leave the ORT.
While maintaining a good personal relationship with Origas, Bernard started discouraging AMORC members from joining the neo-Templar order (although he will eventually leave AMORC in 1998 and revive another neo-Templar organization, the Sovereign Order of the Initiatic Temple, OSTI, which he and Origas had originally established in 1971).
Origas was thus left on his own, and finally became the real Grand Master of the ORT. He continued to rely upon secret Masters. He also reconstructed the ORT’s doctrine based on the teachings of the I AM Religious Activity of the United States, an organization established in 1932 by Guy W. Ballard (1878–1939) after an encounter he claimed to have had in 1930 with Ascended Master Saint Germain on Mount Shasta in California.
Origas first received these teachings from a splinter group of I AM led in Southern France by Angela von Bast. After his break with von Bast in 1977, Origas came into contact with the parent I AM organization, whose European headquarters were in Switzerland.
Origas was a difficult man, and personality conflicts led to half a dozen schisms. On the other hand, although distinct from OSTS, Origas’ ORT kept excellent relations with Breyer, and recognized the importance of his founding experience at Arginy.