The Knights of Which Temple? - Symbolic Camouflage, the Banality of Bricolage and the Dearth of Meaning
Marc W.D. Tyrrell
Note: This essay has been written specifically for Small Wars Journal—El Centro as part of an ongoing Los Caballeros Templarios de Michoacán research project that will be published as a future eBook.
So farewel Hope, and with Hope farewel Fear,
Farewel Remorse: all Good to me is lost;
Evil be thou my Good; by thee at least
Divided Empire with Heav'ns King I hold
By thee, and more then half perhaps will reigne;
As Man ere long, and this new World shall know.
-- John Milton Paradise Lost, Book 4, Lines 108-113
On March 8th, 2011, Servando Gómez Martínez (“La Tuta”) and Enrique Plancarte (“El Kike”) announced the formation of Los Caballeros Templarios (the Templars), inaugurating a civil war with the remnants of La Familia Michoacána. The date is important as it is the birthday of Nazario Moreno González (aka “El Chayo”) the founder of La Familia Michoacána, whose white garbed “ghost” had been seen wandering in Michoacána earlier in the year.
Martínez and Plancarte’s promise that the Templars would take over the “good” activities of La Familia clearly indicates an attempt to revive the original message of La Familia while, at the same time, maintaining and enhancing the Templar aura of sacrality. Both the message, and the aura of sacrality associated with Nazario Moreno González, were enhanced in March and April, 2011 with 1) the first claimed act of violence in defence of the “good” (a hanging of a purported thief and kidnapper on March 16th) and 2) the appearance of shrines venerating “San Nazario”, whose image appears in Templar garb.
As a group, the Poor Fellow-Soldiers of Christ and of the Temple of Solomon, aka the Knights Templar, have a long storied place in popular mythography, imagination and literature. Founded in 1119 and dissolved in 1312, the Templars have been linked to occult treasure and secrets for centuries. Actual, objective information on the original order is extremely difficult to find, since there was a massive smear campaign run against them by the French Crown starting in 1305, including accusations of sorcery, witchcraft, devil worship and “unnatural practices.” Surviving Templars denied these accusations and, over the course of the next several centuries, the Order was recast as being “in hiding” and supporting the common man.
In the 18th century, interest in the Templars was revived by Freemasons as part of the foundation myth of their own order (as a cognate order rather than as a direct descendant). Today, there are several “Templar” orders, the best known being the one is associated with Freemasonry. In popular culture, the Templars have a strong association with occult knowledge and, especially, with guarding the Holy Grail.
The announced death of Nazario Moreno González on the 12th of December, 2010, in Apatzingán, Michoacán, gave him an unparalleled opportunity to purify his hybrid cultic and criminal organization, this time with him solidly cast in the role of divinely inspired leader. Throughout January and February of 2011, Moreno González made “appearances” dressed in white, and narcomantas start appearing throughout Michoacán and Guerrero, announcing the dissolution of La Familia Michoacána. It is now apparent that Moreno González was in communication with Martínez and Plancarte during the first quarter of 2011, as they orchestrated the schism that created Los Caballeros Templarios.
Moreno González was the crucial figure in the rise of the Templar Cartel. While we will never know exactly what he was thinking, we can certainly make plausible inferences. First, we know that Moreno González had been fascinated with the figure of Kaliman; a “mystical” hero popular in Mexico in the 1960s and 1970s. Second, after “miraculously” surviving the battle of December 12th, 2010, Moreno González could easily have been convinced that he was divinely appointed to complete his “Mission”. Third, we also know that Moreno González’s first effort at creating a cult based on evangelical Protestant forms and symbols—La Familia Michoacána—had failed. It is not implausible that Moreno González believed that the defeat of December 12th was a sign that he needed to purify and re-organize his cartel along a new, and more mystical, line, and what could be better than trying to reconstitute the Knights Templar; this time protecting him as a Saint?
Regardless of his motives and the logic behind them, he seriously miscalculated several core factors. First, in calling his new cartel Los Caballeros Templarios, he brought it into direct competition with the various per Tony Kail. Second, while Moreno González may have been a good drug cartel organizer, he was clearly incompetent at setting up a cult using Catholic symbology and, especially, one whose symbology was already claimed by an extremely strong organization. Third, Moreno González quite obviously knew next to nothing about the Knights Templar, either in their original incarnation or in their resurrection by the Freemasons.
At the surface level, that on which the media and general population tends to operate, calling his new cartel Los Caballeros Templarios evoked images of selfless defenders of the people against oppressive forces, an image that he tried hard to convey. That said, even a cursory examination shows that what he actually did was, at best, putting lipstick on a pig: it was symbolic camouflage that suited his ego, rather than a radical change.
The Banality of Bricolage
The term bricolage comes from French Anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss, and refers to how groups (or individuals) take currently available cultural components and mix them together in new ways to achieve novel solutions. It is, according to Lévi-Strauss, a form of mythological, as opposed to “engineering”, thought. This is what Moreno González did, combining a drug cartel, a local insurgency, a cult, random bits and pieces of myths from different cultures, with the pop culture image of the Knights Templar in the service of reinforcing his vision of having a divinely ordained mission.
We can get a good idea of how successful this bricolage was, at least in 2012 and 2013, by reading Keene’s article . While focused more on links to a possible insurgency, Keene documents the initial effectiveness of the cartel’s propaganda efforts. In a similar manner, has shown how such a propaganda effort, combined with the trappings of an Order, can have a great draw for disenfranchised youth. Despite its potential for success, Los Caballeros Templarios was a failure, and we must ask ourselves just why it failed.
Part of the reason for its failure is simple: it took on too many powerful enemies, including the President of Mexico and the Freemasons, as well as the Catholic Church. In and of themselves, these opponents might not have been enough to destroy the Templar Cartel if it had been organized more as an actual occult Order, and less like a drug cartel.
Despite Kingsbury’s well reasoned piece, we actually know nothing about the Templar’s rituals. What we do know is that Moreno González was a gifted preacher in the evangelical Protestant tradition, a tradition that is extremely Dionysian and ecstatic. The rituals associated with that type of tradition do not work well within the symbolic framework of either a Catholic, monastic Order (the original Templars), or within the more Apollonian framework of Freemasonry.
Indeed, it appears as if Moreno González could not make the move between Dionysian and Apollonian ritual forms, despite having crafted large amounts of a Code of Conduct that is essentially Apollonian. For one thing, Apollonian occult groups tend to actually list some of their rituals in their codes of conduct because they are a form of daily or weekly practice. This is certainly the case with the Freemasons, both in their regular forms as Masons (in both York and Scottish Rites), and in the Masonic Templars.
Yet, nowhere in the Code of Conduct of Los Caballeros Templarios do we find any rituals. We have ritual garb and tools, but no instructions on how they are to be used. What we do have is a rather garbled description of , possibly related to initiations, which had, by 2016, made its way into local . We also have a general description of the (including execution) of members who fail the Cartel.
Another indication that Moreno González could not make the leap to an Apollonian form lies in the paucity of governance structures listed in the Code of Conduct. All we actually have are “knights” and “the council”, with occasional, vague, references to “leaders”. Actual occult orders are highly organized, and often have extremely formal rank structures, and these structures are spelled out in their Codes.
At the minimum, any organization modelled on the Templars would parallel the original order in its structure: a Grand Master, a Seneschal, various other, named, administrators, heads of Commanderies, Knights, Squires and Men-at-Arms. We actually do find to a similar structure of apóstoles (apostles; members of the Council), predicadores (preachers; functional or geographic commanders), administrators and guerreros celestiales (celestial warriors; sicario’s, soldiers and hitmen). While there are some similarities, at least in organizational form, they are symbolically quite different; more “populist Protestant” than “Catholic”.
Formal rank structures are crucial for the success of most Apollonian organizations since they give the members a map for achieving status within the organization. Furthermore, in occult organizations, the higher the rank, the more access one has to “hidden” knowledge. In effect, these rank structures provide an alternate, spiritual pathway that parallels worldly success; something that is psychologically necessary if one is enjoined to eschew temporal earthly rewards in favour of serving humanity. Ranks, and their associated statuses, act to provide both a pathway to and assurance of greater “meaning”, something that is missing with Los Caballeros Templarios.
From a Dearth of Meaning to a Symbolic Inversion
Source: The Daily Beast, I Was Detained By Killers from the Cannibal Cartel,
February 27th, 2016.
In the ransacked Templarios fortress of Anunnaki, named by Moreno González after the demon guardians of the Sumerian underworld, there is an illuminating mural. It shows a man, Moreno González perhaps(?), staring into the future with a figure of death as the Grim Reaper laying a consoling hand on his shoulder, while a black winged angel of death holds a red rose and reads to him from a book. While none of this is Templar symbolism, it does resonate with some medieval death art from the period of the Black Death, and is definitely part of the Roman Catholic symbolic world.
Perhaps more importantly, the mural conveys no sense of God; no sense of mission, and no “purpose”. The drugs, the money, the alcohol and the power represented by the gun on the table hold no meaning, and the only consolation the man receives is from death. He is passive; a man with no agency and no higher purpose. It is a visual representation of Milton’s words:
So farewel Hope, and with Hope farewel Fear,
Farewel Remorse: all Good to me is lost;
Evil be thou my Good;
Three years and a day after the founding of Los Caballeros Templarios, on March 9th, 2014, Moreno González was killed by Mexican Army troops in Apatzingán, Michoacán, the site of his reported first death and, later, apotheosis. His death followed three months of bad news for the Templar Cartel, with the losses of several senior leaders and the loss of control of a number of cities to the auto defence forces and Mexican government.
makes an argument that San Nazario will likely disappear as a folk saint; not having made the transformation into an “all purpose” saint, along the lines of Sante Muerte or Jesus Malverde. That is possible, but it is also possible that San Nazario will be recast by a future cult-cartel ritual specialist as a Christ figure; a martyr for Michoacán whose ministry, like Jesus’, was to last for three years followed by his death and sacrifice.
1. For Apollonian and Dionysian as analytic terms, see Ruth Benedict, Patterns of Culture. “Apollonian” is essentially a mental / intellectual form, while Dionysian is an ecstatic, emotional form.
2. A more accessible, and less occult, example is in the prayer books and missals of the Roman Catholic and Anglican Churches. Compare this to, say, materials produced by various evangelical churches.