THE CRIME OF THE TEMPLARS by James E. Crombie 1893
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AMONG the essays which Mr. Froude has recently collected and published in book-form, is one about the Templars, and some of the most interesting pages in it are those in which he discusses the crimes the famous brotherhood were accused of.
They were of all shades and varieties, but the crime that most prominence is given to was the curiously sacreligious one of spitting on the Crucifix.
The Templars themselves, with very few exceptions, admitted that they had gone through the ceremony of spitting on the Cross at their initiation, although they strenuously denied all impious intention in doing so.
How this confession was received by their judges is a matter of history, while how to reconcile their denial of intended impiety with the common and every-day custom of spitting on a person or thing, to show contempt for it, has puzzled every historian who has written about this famous Order. Now it occurs to me that this is just one of the cases where a great deal of assistance may be given by an anthropologist, and that much of the difficulty felt by the historians is of their own creation, and arises from their persistence in regarding the spitting rite as necessarily an impious one. How very wrong this conclusion may be, is proved by the following example.
"Spitting, it may be remarked," says Mr. Thompson (" Masailand," p. 166) "has a very different signification with the Masai from that which prevails with us, or with most African tribes. With them it expresses the greatest good will and best wishes. It takes the place of the 'compliments of the season,' and you had better spit upon a damsel than kiss her. You spit when you meet, and you spit when you part."
I wish to show that anthropological evidence all points to the motive of the Templar rite being rather expressive of the greatest good will than of disgust or contempt.
One of the main difficulties to be faced by those who contend that the rite was an impious one, is to account for its presence in a ceremonial of an Order reputed to have been drawn up by St. Bernhard, and approved by more than one Pope.
Even if we accept the generally received explanation of the Eastern origin of the practice, the evidence is not all so decidedly in favor of the theory as its adherents imagine. It is of course, an undeniable fact that spitting, as a mark of contempt, is a common practice in the East; but, even there, it is not always regarded in that way. For instance, Burckhardt, in his account of the Bedouins, says that if a man, whom we will call A, has caught another, B, in the act of stealing his property, and is chastising him, and should some friend of A's, whom we will call C, come along, and B, the thief, manage to spit on him and invoke bis protection, C, even though he is A's friend, is bound to accord it. On such an analogy, the Templars might have learned in the East to spit on the Crucifix, and invoke Jesus's name without any impious intention whatever. Or, to take another. In Russia and Turkey and Greece, and anciently among the Romans, it was, and is considered a serious breach of etiquette to praise an infant, and omit to spit either on it or near it, to show that the spitter bore no ill-feeling. Taken in connection with Mr. Froude's statement, that the crosses spat on were afterwards treated with the greatest reverence, it is just possible that an innocent motive may have underlain the curious Templar rite, for which they suffered so much.
But it seems to me that those who attribute the rite to Eastern influence are very hasty in taking it for granted, either that the Templars would readily adopt a heathen rite, or that the practice of spitting with a ritualistic motive was confined to the East. On the contrary, some of the strongest evidence of a saliva rite that can be produced comes from the North of Europe. For example, we read in the "Edda" that the AEsir and the Vanir, when they were making a most solemn compact, spat together into a vessel. Spitting at the taking of an oath—and it was at the taking of the oath of the Order that the spitting of the Templars admittedly took place—was thus a practice in Scandinavia long before the Templars were ever heard of. That it was once common in England, too, is, I think, a fair assumption, judging at least of the traces to be found in popular custom in out-of-the-way corners. In Newcastle, for example, among the colliers, as Brand in his "Popular Antiquities" informs us, a strike for a rise of wages used never to be begun until the miners had testified to their intention of standing by one another by spitting on a stone.
Then Mr. Henderson, in his "Folk-Lore of the Northern Countries," relates how in his school-boy days the boys used to spit their faith when required to make asseveration on any matter deemed important.
Lastly, part of the Scottish betrothal ceremony consisted in the contracting parties wetting their thumbs with saliva and pressing them together at the same time as they swore to be good and true. Nor was the custom confined to marriage contracts only. Blackstone and Erskine both assure us that it was once common at the making of all sorts of bargains.
Now, there must have been some reason for this commingling of, or exchange of, saliva at the making of a bargain or the taking of an oath. If we can explain this motive, it is conceivable that it will explain the alleged crime of the Templars.
In many parts of the world, and in Scandinavia among others (Gunimere "Germanic Origin," p. 174) two men in taking a very solemn oath used to open a vein and allow the blood which exuded to trickle down and mingle in the same hole in the ground. Among the Umamuezi of the Lake district in Africa we meet with an exactly similar custom. Martin notices the same custom in his description of the Western Isles.
This is the basis of the rite of blood brotherhood. The mingling of the blood or the drinking of each other's blood is deemed equivalent to the absorption of a man's whole nature among many primitive people. The art is a sacrificial one; and if we can concede the hypothesis that at one time there has existed a wide-spread belief that man's life is in some way bound up with his saliva, as has undoubtedly been the case with blood,and if it can be shown that a definite ritual existed with saliva, it certainly appears to me that it will throw an entirely new light on the so-called crime of the Templars. It was either a sacrifice embodying the desire of reunion with the Deity, or conformity with a popular rite which persisted after its significance had been lost. I think, then, we ought to hesitate before we convict the Templars of studied impiety in spitting on the Cross.