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Secret Societies of the Middle Ages: The Assassins, the Templars, and the secret tribunals of Westphalia Paperback – 1 Jun 2005

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This book explores the foundations of modern secret societies, examining the history and known facts of three very different organisations: the Assassins of the Middle East, the Templars of Europe, and the Secret Tribunals of Westphalia. This was the first book to gather information on these secret orders and, although this is a reprint of an 1846 edition, it is still used widely as a reference book on the subject.

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Amazon.com: 2 reviews
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
The Medieval Secret Societies. 31 Oct. 2005
By New Age of Barbarism - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
_Secret Societies of the Middle Ages: The Assassins, the Templars & the Secret Tribunals of Westphalia_ is a reprint of a book first published in 1837 by the Irish scholar Thomas Keightley with an introduction by James Wasserman. This book focuses on three distinct secret societies which operated during the medieval period and sought to preserve knowledge not readily available to the majority. These societies include the Assassins, an Islamic secret society that developed into one of the most feared groups in the world, the Knights Templar, a group of crusading knights that became corrupt and eventually came into conflict with king and pope, and the secret tribunals of Westphalia or the Fehm-Gericht, which actively passed judgments and performed executions during a period of lawlessness in Germany. While Keightley does not recognize the influence of secret societies on the modern world, beginning particularly with the Bavarian Illuminati and the societies behind the French Revolution, his study of these three secret societies is particularly interesting in dealing with the medieval period.

Keightley begins by discussing the Assassins and their role in the development of Islam. Keightley shows how the Islamic religion underwent a schism into Sheah and Soonee branches. Further, Keightley discusses the various sects and doctrines that arose out of each of these branches of the Islamic religion. Next, Keightley discusses the organization of the society and the origin of the name "Assassins". The Assassins were taken up to a mountaintop where they were provided with many pleasures so that they believed themselves to be in paradise. They were told that they had a special mission and took orders from their leader Hassan Sabah, "the Old Man of the Mountain". Their name derives from the drug hashish which they imbibed during their supposed sojourn in paradise. Keightley also details the account given of the Assassins by Marco Polo. Keightley includes much discussion of various obscure aspects of hidden Islamic history.

Keightley next turns his attention to the Knights Templar. The Knights Templar began as a society of crusading knights taking vows to poverty, chastity, and obedience. However, the Templars became corrupt engaging in various unsavory activities as well as becoming very wealthy and engaging in the practice of usury. This led to their eventually coming into conflict with the authorities of the day, the pope and the king. Keightley explains fully the origin and development of the Templars as well as the various other groups of crusading knights that existed at the time.

Finally, Keightley turns his attention to the tribunals of Westphalia or the Fehm-Gericht. At these secret tribunals members of society were judged and tried. These tribunals came to take on an ominous tone because of the vigilante justice which was said to have occurred there. Keightley outlines various aspects of the Holy Vehm or Fehm, including their involvement with various monarchs of the time. Keightley also explains how although these tribunals were originally relatively uncorrupted, they later were to become corrupt as the aristocracy became involved in their dealings.

This book provides an excellent introduction to three important medieval secret societies. These secret societies were to play an important role in the development of later societies which came to advocate for revolution during the modern period. As Keightley's book points out, even during the medieval period various groups sought to actively oppose the ruling establishment and sought to hide knowledge from the masses through their esoteric rites
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
interesting and different 20 Nov. 2008
By Konrad Baumeister - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Although this is a book on secret societies including the Templars, this is NOT a book that is going to go deeply into potential hidden Templar treasure, unknown voyages to unknown continents, or hidden knowledge. The book, originally published in 1837 and therefore obviously not exactly up to date or including the latest in archeological or historical insight, is a straight forward history of the origins, activities, organization, and final demise of three secret societies - the Assassins, the Templars, and the secret tribunals of Westphalia (Vehm-Gericht).

Keightly had very few good sources to draw on at the time of writing, and he made the most of them. He wrote clearly, though in a style that would now perhaps be considered somewhat ponderous, certainly verbose, and a high school kid might find it heavy going. This includes old-style spelling for names and places, which may be confusing for modern readers. The book itself seems to be a reprint; the type has not been reset and there are frequent smudges and ink blots on at least my copy.

That said, there is a good deal of information to ponder. Keightly covered the development not only of the Assassins, but of the various schisms in Islam which led to their formation; their alliances and enemies; the men, capable and less so, that would govern the order; and their eventual destruction. He was not above the occasional editorial comment on Islam, Mohammed, or the like. For example, he suggests that Mohammed was likely a charlatan, feigning his visions and 'commission from God in order to procure a hearing from men' (p. 19). Regarding the Koran, his feelings are, shall we say, mixed; regarding Islam, 'it contained little that was original' (p. 22). In any event, though, he generally stuck closely to his story, a tale of constant strife in the region where few were safe, where Assassins wielded the policy of the knife on behalf of religio-political rulers often more preoccupied with intra-Islamic schism and succession crises than with spreading the faith itself, and who eventually of course died as so many others did by the sword of the Mongols.

Keightly took the Templars largely at face value, as a military order of monks and not as anything much like the pseudo-occult orders now being extensively written about. The classes of men in the society - knights, priests, and associated aides - are broken down, functions and organization explained, and initiations discussed. Their quick rise to both fame and fortune throughout Europe gives cause for both admiration and caution, their very financial success in Europe but failure to keep a toehold in the Holy Land turning the society into something originally not designed. Wealth and power led to corruption and dissipation, though Keightly wrote in defense of their motives and general behavior. The plot and design of Philip le Bel and his pawn Pope Clement to destroy the order is clearly explained, the tortures and confessions and the final dissolution of the order covered in detail. The fate of the order in areas other than France, where it survived or was transformed, is documented. There is no question that Keightly was in complete sympathy with the Templars as an organization.

Finally, the tribunals of Westphalia are dealt with in a relatively short 80 pages. The Vehm-Gerichte began as a reaction to the complete lawlessness of the area after the inability of the various local counts and dukes to impose order in the general collapse of the 12th century, and initially were relatively fair; there were rules of evidence, the possibility of appeal, and systems were in place to assure at least an attempt at justice. The accusations and evidence given were public, the accused had rights including that of confronting his accusers. The Gerichte nominally were flying courts doing the work of the Emperor, though in practice this was not always the case; but numerous Emperors found it expedient to become initiated into the society in order to perhaps better control events, or at least be informed of their 'work.' As the centuries wore on, lesser men, not as well screened for character and motivation, were admitted, and what had been a tribunal lawful burghers were glad to invite to town transformed into a seemingly uncontrollable vigilante force, quick to accuse and hang, ignoring their previous modes of trying to arrive at an honest verdict, hurriedly leaving town with bodies in their wake, working at night and in private. As the German civil structure and government gained some level of control the Holy Vehm slid into obscurity.

Keightly again discussed the size and power of the organization, and its structure, but can reveal little or nothing of the inner workings of the trials, as this was one organization that successfully kept its secrets secret. However, rules, initiations, and the general activities of the Vehm-tribunals are all well covered. It is a society little written about, and therefore all the more interesting.

Keightly's book is not the go-to book for information on these three societies that it might have been in 1837, but it is eminently readable, free from wild conspiratorial conjecture, and does impart a wealth of information on each of its subjects.
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