Interview originally appeared in our Vol. 2 No. 4 Issue # 8 of Templar History Magazine.
Co-author of The Temple And The Crown
Interviewed By Stephen Dafoe
THM: First of all, on behalf of our readers, I would like to thank you for taking time out of a very busy schedule to grant this interview with us.
KK: I’m delighted to do so. As you’ve no doubt noted, the Temple is very close to my heart.
THM: Many of our readers are undoubtedly familiar with your most recent novels involving Templar themes. I’m speaking now of your collaborative efforts with Deborah Turner Harris (“The Temple and the Stone” and “The Temple and the Crown”) as well as your series of Templar anthologies (“Tales of the Knights Templar,” “On Crusade” and “Crusade of Fire.”) I understand, however, that your interest in the Templars can be traced back to your Deryni series, which began in 1970. Is this a correct assumption?
KK: That’s probably correct, though I can narrow it down even more than that. By the time I was writing the fourth Deryni book, “Camber of Culdi,” I had run across references to the Templars and become fascinated by them. When I was devising the Michaelines (the Order of St. Michael), who first appear in that book, I was consciously drawing on what I felt to be the best elements of both the Templars and the Jesuits-mixed with a healthy dollop of parapsychic/magical elements, of course, and discarding some of the less attractive aspects of either order. While some Templars were literate and numerate-and had to be, in order to look after the financial affairs of the order, many were not; they certainly were never scholars like the Jesuits. And the Jesuits, while organized along military lines, were never physical warriors-though they were and still are trained to wield words and logic as powerful weapons in the service of God. One characteristic that I did not borrow from the Templars was their prohibition against bathing-though this quibble may come of that old Protestant precept that cleanliness is next to godliness. Obviously, the work of warriors in the desert would have been sweaty, dirty business, but I find it hard to believe that the Templars who served diplomatic and banking functions in the various courts of Europe would have been very welcome at close quarters if they hadn’t washed in years; and grimy white habits would hardly be conducive to reinforcing their aspiration of purity in God’s service. While we never alluded to this directly in the Temple books, we did mention that knights like Arnault and Torquil, assigned to diplomatic duties, had leave to trim up their beards to make themselves more presentable-and presumably, they bathed as well. Granted, different standards of cleanliness applied in those days, but the historical Templars did represent an extreme in matters of personal hygiene, even for their time. However, we should also remember that the whole chivalric notion was just then evolving, so courtoisie and ‘gentlemanly’ behavior did not necessarily apply. By contrast, my Michaelines are, for the most part, gentlemen-or at least of gentle birth-as are most of the ‘good’ Templars in the Temple series.
THM: While the Templar connections in your Deryni series may be a subtle undercurrent, your later Adept series carries a much stronger Templar connection. For those readers unfamiliar with the exploits of Adam Sinclair, whose surname has long been connected with Templarism and Rosslyn Chapel, can you give a brief account of the Templar connections in the series?
KK: By the time I started devising the Adept series, I had a much deeper grounding in real Templar history, so I made conscious decisions regarding the development of Adam Sinclair as having been a Templar in a previous life, as well as living on an estate with historical Templar connections. Because of the real world connections of the Sinclair family with the Temple, I can’t think of a better surname for a man of Adam’s unique attributes-and once I had set up that basic premise, additional pieces kept falling into place, like selecting a lesser-used Sinclair crest that features a phoenix rising from the ashes, symbolic of Adam’s rebirth in numerous lives. In addition, since I had received the Templar accolade at St. Mary’s Cathedral in Edinburgh-and later invited Debby to attend an investiture there, so that she could see one firsthand-I had a fair amount of direct experience from which to draw. I’ve attended many an investiture at Rosslyn Chapel, and prowled the probable site of the Balantrodoch commanderie in Temple as well as many other Templar sites. In fact, either I or Debby or, sometimes, both of us have been to virtually all the Scottish locations we’ve used in the series over the years: Melrose Abbey, Dunvegan Castle, Loch Ness, Fyvie Castle, Hermitage Castle, the Ring of Callanish, Holy Island, the Samye Ling Monastery. . . . Not only does it lend a greater authenticity to the stories we tell, to weave in as much fact with the fantasy as we can, but it’s great fun to explore fascinating places under the guise of doing research!
THM: In addition to yourself, there have been many authors of fiction who have touched on Templar themes – Umberto Eco (Foucault’s Pendulum) and Pierre Barbet (Baphomet’s Meteor), who the genre lost in 1995 are but two that come to mind. To my knowledge, you are the only author who not only writes on the order, but is also a member of the same. Can you tell our readers a bit about your association with modern day Templarism?
KK: As I mentioned earlier, I entered the Temple in Edinburgh. That was in the late 1980’s, when Francis Sherry was Grand Prior of Scotland under Grand Master Fontes. I was active for some time, but have pulled back in more recent years, when the wrangling among various Templar groups began to get too acrimonious and, frankly, too silly. I still consider myself a Templar at heart-and it has always been my favorite of the several chivalric orders to which I belong-but I don’t have time to get embroiled in the factional machinations that seems to occupy many of those claiming to be Templars today.
THM: In your most recent series on Templar themes, “The Temple and the Stone” and “The Temple and the Crown,” readers have become familiar with the characters Arnault de Saint Clair and Torquil Lennox. How do you think that they would feel about the Templar orders in existence today?
KK: (smiling) I suspect, since Arnault and Torquil are my ’sons,’ that they would feel a similar frustration at the great amount of wheel-spinning that seems to go on. The Temple is far more than a dress-up society for wearing flashy mantles and nifty ‘gongs’ and indulging in Victorian ceremonial posturing. Aspects of such activities are all well and good, and can provide a useful setting to enhance the inner work that should be an important part of any Templar’s existence, just as beautiful vestments and other accoutrements of ‘high church’ ritual enhance sacred liturgy and the work that it does; but these are all externals, and mean very little if the heart is not rightly focused.
As an aside, I think that Arnault and Torquil would identify very strongly with the work of Adam Sinclair’s Hunting Lodge, and also with the Inner Temple described in the very excellent Peter Crossman stories that have appeared in the three Templar anthologies to date. (I might add that James D. Macdonald’s first Crossman novel, “The Apocalypse Door,” has now seen publication, and is also quite good.) While I can’t speak to the real extent of such inner order work, I would like to think that there is some spiritual continuity and even fraternity among those who are called to such work, and that the original Temple was a part of it.
THM: The second book in the new series involves the Templars, the Bruce and the Battle of Bannockburn. Much has been written on the Templars alleged involvement at the Battle of Bannockburn, June 24th, 1314. While much has been written in the popular historical accounts of the order, the more traditional historians have said little. Is it your belief that the Templars were involved in that battle?
KK: I would find it incredible for Templars not to have been involved in that battle-though I doubt they would have worn full Templar habit, being under papal ban. White surcoats, perhaps, with the Templar cross removed, or possibly even white mantles, again without insignia; but one would expect to find mention of same in the historical annals of the battle-and we haven’t. However, absence of proof is not proof of absence, and this doesn’t mean that Templars couldn’t have fought in plain harness, and still been recognized by the Scots as being Templars, and on their side. By 1314, Templars fortunate enough to have escaped the big swoop of 1307 would have been aware that Scotland offered a safe haven for fugitives, for Bruce was not enforcing the Pope’s orders to arrest Templars there, himself being excommunicate for his slaying of John Comyn on holy ground at Dumfries Abbey. Since the Templars were the elite fighting force of their time, the king would have welcomed such men in his service, both for their swords and for their expertise in training his own troops. So I’m convinced that there were some Templars involved in that battle, and fighting for the King of Scots.
THM: I’ve read where you were born during a hurricane in Gables Florida. It is beyond question that you have taken your readers on a whirlwind tour of fantasy fiction since your first novel in 1970 to the present collaborative efforts with Deborah Turner Harris. Since many of your works involve magic and the supernatural, do you see any symbolism in the nature of your arrival on the earth and your writing career?
KK: Well, it is certainly true that the winds of fate have managed to blow me into the right place at the right time with the ‘right stuff’ more than once in my life. Little though I realized it when I sold that first trilogy, I was helping to establish the general field of what I now call ‘historical fantasy,’ following in the footsteps of J.R.R. Tolkien and his Lord of the Rings Trilogy. (I expect that the two of us are largely responsible for folks now thinking that epic fantasy has to come in threes.) But if one is going to be a ground-breaker, what better birth portent than a great storm, and lightning and wind to announce one’s arrival?
THM: Your writing partner Deborah Turner Harris has compared the writing of a novel to a series of high school love affairs. If I may paraphrase her; They begin as all hearts and flowers and end as a love/hate relationship, thus proving that one can only be young once, but immature forever. How would you describe the writing process?
KK: For me, it’s more a layering process, with ever-increasing expansion of detail, a series of closer and closer approximations. When it’s going well, there are few rushes more exhilarating; when one is bogged down on a plot point, there are few things more frustrating (unless, of course, it’s trying to wrestle with a computer glitch).
THM: Many readers of our publication are aspiring to be writers and novelists. Do you have any advice for those wishing to write historical fiction?
KK: The best advice I can offer is to read, read, and read-and don’t necessarily believe that what you read is true, just because it’s in a book-or on the internet. A critical sense and a healthy dose of skepticism are essential-and there are few absolutes in this world. In fiction, you can play with ‘facts,’ and put them together in different ways, and speculate about ‘what if,’ but no writer of historical fiction should fall prey to believing that his or her interpretation is necessarily historical fact. I can’t overstress the importance of differences in perspective-all of which probably contain some elements of truth, but none of which tell the whole truth. Most recently, we’ve seen on-the-scene ’snapshots’ of the war in Iraq-which even the embedded reporters were careful to point out were only that, and had to be taken in the context of a greater overall picture. Chroniclers writing of the historical Templars had far less to work with.
THM: As many of our subscribers and readers are members of the modern day Templar Orders, do you have anything you would like to say from one Templar to another?
KK: I do, indeed. The roots of the Order of the Temple reach deep, and many of its ideals still speak to us today, but none of the modern incarnations of the Temple can claim an unbroken connection with the historical Temple other than, possibly, in a spiritual sense. The order was suppressed by papal decree in 1314, and all modern Templar orders trace back ultimately to the order’s reconstitution in the mid-1800s as a Protestant breakaway from the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre, when that order became exclusively Roman Catholic. (Arguably, the Masonic Templar degrees can trace back another hundred years or so before that, but their reconstitution had more to do with fanciful connections with Solomon’s Temple than with the actual Templar order.)
I think it’s clear that what attracts people to the Temple today is far different from what attracted them nearly a thousand years ago-though some aspects obviously still apply, or no one would want to be a Templar. Part of the problem is that, unlike other historical orders of chivalry, the Temple never managed to redefine its goals, once the crusading period ended. The vague aspiration to support charitable good works in a way befitting knights does nothing to make the Temple much different from any other charitable organization other than in the color of its mantle and the form of its regalia and ceremonies. The St. John orders were hospitallers from the beginning, even before they were a fighting order; and present-day St. John orders still function in a hospitaller capacity, and run the St. John Ambulance Corps and such. St. Lazarus still works toward the eradication of leprosy, and is beginning to turn some of its focus to fighting other devastating diseases. But the Temple?
I would suggest that, if the modern Templar orders wish to be relevant in the twenty-first century, they must discover a meaningful connection with their past, and use that as the focus of their charitable works. In particular, it seems to me that, since the original Temple was founded to protect sacred places in the Holy Land, along with the pilgrims who traveled there, perhaps a present-day application of those ideals would be to support the existence of Christians living in the Holy Land today. Numerous sites in the Middle East are sacred to three of our planet’s great faiths, all deemed People of the Book, yet Christians and their churches are being slowly crowded out of the Holy Land. It seems to me that all of them have far more in common than they have differences-and if they truly purport to live what they believe, as children of one God, then there should be room for all of them to coexist peacefully in the places where their faiths took root.
In short, I would like to see the various Templar orders get their collective acts together, and occupy themselves more with the ideals of chivalry, and what it actually means to be a knight, and how each can best serve God’s purpose-and less with the external trappings, and whose order is more ‘real’ than the next, and who has the most gongs, and who has jurisdiction and who does not. Are we or are we not, as knights, in fealty to the Lord of Hosts, before Whom every knee should bend? And does He really want us to fight among ourselves, or should we be helping those less fortunate, each as best we can, and thus be working toward a New Jerusalem? Non nobis, Domine, non nobis sed nomini tuo da gloriam!
THM: Once again I would like to thank you once again for granting this interview.
KK: You’re very welcome.
This interview is © 2003 Templar History Magazine and Katherine Kurtz