I have now finished translating Eugène Beauvois’s 1902 article on “The Templars of Ancient Mexico and Their European Origins,” and I have to say that it surprised even me, both in the scope of its ridiculous claims and the extremely close resemblance it bears to modern Templar conspiracy theories. It’s not the most elegant translation I’ve ever done, but it gets the point across. I omitted the excessively long footnotes, both because I kind of got bored by the end of the translation and also because, aside from the primary source references, they were often directing readers to Beauvois’s own earlier work, or to other outdated fringe claims. Perhaps someday when I have more time I’ll add them in, but I doubt it.
It turns out that Beauvois, an archaeologist specializing in Nordic and pre-Columbian cultures, was a prolific fringe historian, producing dozens of articles alleging all manner of European incursions into America. He wrote of the Welsh in North America, of the Celts in Mexico, and of the Vikings in America. He endorsed the Zeno manuscript hoax, too. He began innocently enough in 1859, at age 24, with the (correct) conclusion that the Icelandic sagas recorded a memory of the Vikings discovering what is now North America. But from this he drew an incorrect conclusion. Unable to conceive of Native Americans as real humans with their own cultures, he assumed that the overwhelming moral force of Christianity and the intellectual superiority of European Man led the Natives to immediately adopt European culture. He went on to suggest that the path followed by the Vikings was the route that the Irish and eventually the Knights Templar eventually took from Europe to America, landing in the north and walking south in Mexico, guided by the tribes they evangelized.
This argument came to its fruition in an 1897 article whose title we can translate as “Traces of the Influence of Europeans on the Pre-Columbian Languages, Science, and Industries of Mexico and Central America,” an article that the Journal of American Folk-Lore dismissed as being “of doubtful value.” His argument was that passages in Plutarch referring to the island of Ogygia where the Celts say Kronos lies sleeping (De Defectu Oraculorum 18 and De Faciae 27) actually refer to Mexico, thus proving that the Celts had been in contact with Mexico since Antiquity. Of course for the sequel the proud Frenchman would need to prove that the French had outdone these old Irishmen.
In the 1902 article, acceptance of his earlier argument is taken for a given, and he refers to it many times. As I have previously described, in the article he assumes that the title of the nation of Native Mexicans who served in the temple of Tezcatlipoca, the Tecpantlacs, refer to the Knights Templar because the word means “people of the palace-temple,” which he compares to the name of the Templars, the Poor Knights of Christ and the Temple of Solomon, with the addition of claiming that the Temple of Solomon doesn’t refer to the actual Temple but rather to the basilica beside the old temple grounds where the Knights made their Levantine headquarters.
Let us concede that most of Beauvois’s arguments are linguistic and therefore suspect. More interesting is the story that he spins from them. According to him, the Templars likely learned of America from the Celts and, during the run-up to their suppression, commissioned Scandinavians to ferry them to Vinland, from which they walked to Mexico!
But why, you may ask, did no one in Europe recall this? It’s because those naughty Templars were so darned secretive!
But objectively, how is it that they had not made known to Europe the existence of a New World? The answer is easy if one refers to the time of their migration and to the policies of the Order. It liked to wrap itself in mystery: the chapters were composed only of those the Grand Master thought proper to call and, under penalty of being excluded from the Order, they should not expose to anyone, not even to their colleagues, what was done and said within. […] With this general tendency to keep things hidden, leaders and other senior members would not engage discoverers in writing travel accounts, and they would not have deposited any in their archives, which are moreover dispersed, or otherwise largely destroyed.
Ah, yes! The very absence of proof is itself proof, just like certain modern Templar conspiracy theorists argue. I love the tripartite illogic: (a) They never would have written such accounts, (b) such unwritten accounts would never have been archived, and (c) it matters not anyway because the archives were all destroyed!
But it gets better! According to Beauvois, White men are so inherently superior to Native Americans that a small group of Templars were able to not only establish their own princely state in Mexico but to gain suzerainty over a confederation nearly as large as the later Aztec Empire, all within a few years of arriving in Mexico. This, he said, occurred due to the “intellectual superiority” of White men and the moral superiority of Christianity.
How, you might ask, did these White superheroes fail, since they obviously were not in charge when Cortès arrived in Mexico? Easy: Miscegenation with that most evil of people: women. “They had probably not brought European women to America, and their posterity after their union with the Natives would not resemble them in every respect.” Worse, the women were too stupid and backward to understand the glories that White men had brought them: “The woman, who is the guardian of the hearth and traditions, soon ends up imposing her language, beliefs and customs, not just on those she raises, but also to those around him.” Thus, through the nefarious temptation of pagan women, the Templars were gradually reduced through generations to pagans who retained only a shadow of the old glories of Christianity. This moral and racial decay left them open to conquest by the Aztecs.
Does this narrative sound familiar? It should. Steven Sora uses Beauvois explicitly to paint his fringe vision of ancient Mexico, and Tim Wallace-Murphy and Marilyn Hopkins reflect a similar train of illogic in their book on Templars in America, though taking the Templars only as far as Newport. Scott F. Wolter uses it, more or less wholesale, to describe his beliefs about what happened to the Templars in Canada and the Mississippi Valley. He gives his version the cast of peace, love, and harmony, and paints the unions as ultimately a good thing that improved the lives of Native people by passing to them Masonic secrets. Beauvois’s version, with its lack of factual support, underscores the ethnocentric, racist, and sexist beliefs of la Belle Époque that gave rise to Beauvois’s ideas. The two versions are not unconnected. Beauvois’s article, though largely unread by later fringe writers (except Sora) influenced mystery-mongers of the middle twentieth century and the racist anthropology of former Nazi collaborator Jacques de Mahieu. His ideas therefore traveled down to modern writers, often in simplified and incomplete form, even to those writers who knew nothing of Beauvois and, like Wolter, understood de Mahieu only secondhand.
Oh, and Beauvois also ends his article by blasting academics and scholars for being blind to the truth and daring them to ignore his contribution to scholarship: “no true scholar will disdainfully reject our conclusions, under the sole pretext that they are unlikely and that it was impossible for the Templars to found a sustainable state in America without the knowledge of fourteenth and fifteenth century Europeans.” Nothing ever changes in fringe history!
I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Esquire, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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