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The Unseen

Pristinely restored-frequently snow covered-cathedrals, palaces and mansions; architecture ranging from avant-garde to medieval, comfortably intermingled with breathtaking Art Nouveau; horse drawn buggies and bicycles sharing cobblestone streets; haycocks, storks and brown skinned farm families harvesting their crops-all leaning against a midnight sun horizon. Like random brush strokes on an empty canvass, these picture perfect impressions create charming snippets of Baltic life that entice and welcome tourists. For many people, these images are their first introduction to countries that lived in such obscurity, even their names sounded awkward when they declared their independence from the USSR in 1991. But these postcard images represent only one side of Baltic life. The clearly documented. The easily accessible. A reality that we might call The Seen.
There is, however, another side of life in the Baltic region. Mysterious. Ancient. Powerfully intriguing. Documented between lines and within folklore, perhaps woven together in ancient ornaments. A reality that we might call The Unseen.

As they approach their second decade of independence, Baltic cultures still seem locked behind a shield of silence-possibly a natural byproduct of having survived fifty years of fear and mistrust imposed on them by master architect Joseph Stalin. Karl Marx apparently forgot to mention how effective forced famine, torture and murder could be when creating a fair and equitable society for one and all. Joseph corrected this oversight by inflicting wounds so traumatizing that in time, the proletariat masses could do little more than silently watch as their world was ripped to shreds. This fifty year history could easily have created such quiet-dare I say secretive-cultures. But did the Baltic region adopt this reserved façade so recently? Or does this silent nature predate Stalin, Hitler and perhaps even history, as we know it? In fact, might this intense predilection for privacy actually date back to times when history and myths were inseparable?

In order to answer such questions we need to reevaluate all that we hold true. By embracing new possibilities and releasing blindly accepted beliefs, we permit ourselves entrance into a brand new reality-or perhaps a return to an ancient one.

As contemporary seekers of answers, we might call our journey an expedition. Centuries ago we would have called it a quest.

From the Greek Cornucopia to the Celtic Wondrous or Magical Cauldron, from the Christian Bible and Jewish Kabbalah to King Arthur's court, stories of magic cups, vessels and swords abound; as do myths of alchemists able to transmute common metals into silver and gold, cure all diseases, or better yet, offer eternal life. We love these magical stories. They touch our hearts because they reflect our desire to live forever, disease free and well fed-or, more to the point-our desire to live without fear. These myths also represent our need to comprehend human existence and its creator, mythologizing spiritual quests into our inner world. These stories are not about real people, events, experiences or objects; rather these stories are myths created to assist us in understanding the intangible; The Unseen.

Or are they?
Could objects, such as the Ark of the Covenant, the Holy Grail or the Philosopher's stone, truly exist in physical form; and if so, do these artifacts contain secrets or special powers? Did Jesus truly live; and if so might the miracles attributed to him suggest an understanding of time and matter, as well as life and death that we no longer possess?

Let's travel back in time.
The Knights Templar began with a group of nine knights in 1118; one reason for their small number may have been the required vows of poverty and chastity. Under the guise of protecting pilgrims wishing to return to the Holy Land, these Knights were actually charged with retrieving secret documents, artifacts and treasures from beneath temple ruins. Precisely what these Knights found amongst the ruins is fodder for endless scholarly debate-perhaps gold, silver, or diamonds; or possibly, as some speculate, the Knights retrieved something far more precious.

While debates continue as to precisely what the Knights found during their decade of ushering pilgrims in and out of the Holy Land, one point remains indisputable: the Knights Templar accrued wealth and power beyond imagination during their tenure in the Holy Land, in spite of their vow of poverty. They also gained unconditional Vatican support, thus allowing them to expand at an astonishing rate-in both numbers and political clout. Among other business endeavors the Knights began lending money; an activity that many believe compounded their extraordinary wealth, but ultimately led to their demise.

By 1307, the number of Knights Templar had grown substantially and attracted a vast audience of covetous spectators, among them French King Philip IV, also called Philip the Fair-a nickname apparently referring to his hair and complexion; not his character. Philip decided that reneging on a sizable note owed to the Knights turned moneylenders was not enough. He wanted it all: unlimited wealth, power and prestige.

On Friday October 13th with full support of Pope Clement V (Philip's personal appointee who "coincidentally" was instructed by God to torture and destroy the Knights) scores of French Knights Templar were arrested and charged with "heinous" crimes-such as blasphemy and homosexuality-and sentenced to merciless torture, before being burned at the stake. Amazingly (and this defies explanation), although Philip and Clement began searching for the Knights' Templar secret documents and wealth, before the ashes were cold, they found absolutely nothing. Or so the legend goes.

But there is an alternative story; and this one includes the Baltic region. The war against England, which Philip had funded with borrowed Knights' Templar money, had ended badly; with the French financially broke and running from England with their collective tail between their legs. By 1307, France was financially devastated, humiliated and discouraged. But Philip had a plan: eliminating the Knights Templar on charges of heresy would not only render his debts 'forgiven,' but allow him to claim their treasures, thus providing him with immeasurable powers and fortunes "beyond compare."

Remembering trumped-up charges made against the Knights, created years earlier by an ousted Templar, Philip decided to reopen an inquiry-predictably, the verdict was in before the investigation began.

Although October 13, 1307 is the date widely accepted as being the day the Knights Templar were annihilated, in fact this purge is documented to have continued until 1314-a seven-year period that allowed ample time for the remaining Knights to vanish; taking with them their secrets and wealth.

Having been betrayed and abandoned by the church and hoodwinked by the King, the Knights Templar disbanded. Individual groups merged into several other European orders. But one segment of the Knights Templar-bearing the great secrets, artifacts and gold-needed a safer haven than their brothers; protecting themselves was secondary to protecting their treasures. And so the search began for the perfect hiding place.

Perhaps a backwater order of knights, honest and poor, would take them in?
The Livonian Order-also known as Livonian Brothers of the Sword-was established in 1197, and incorporated into the Order of Teutonic Knights in 1237. This Order occupied land in what now constitutes a large part of both Latvia and Estonia. The Livonian Order's most identifying features-abject poverty and remote location-made it the perfect refuge for the Knights Templar.

Since neither Philip nor the Pope found any of the Knights Templar documents, secrets or wealth, it is logical to conclude that the surviving Knights successfully escaped with their treasures, laying low until the world believed that they had met their demise.

Following are a few details to support the theory that the Knights Templar joined the Livonian Order: The Livonian Order was poor; two very small stone castles, the city of Riga-which consisted of only two hectares, purchased from the Livs-one wooden church, a parsonage, several warehouses and a pier, was all they had to show for over 100 years of existence.

Then suddenly in 1315, just one year after the purge of the Knights Templar was supposedly completed; the Livonian Order experienced an unexplained economic boom. Almost simultaneously, construction began on thirty-four castles-complete with towers and excellent access roads. Buildings popped up like weeds in Talsi, Dundaga, Tukums and Limbazi. A grand new cathedral and a castle now graced Riga, and a substantial acquisition of property now expanded the borders of this once poor, small city.
Foreign architects and bricklayers were brought into Livonia to insure the quality of these massive building projects. Where did this tremendous and sudden wealth come from?

Some might argue that the Baltic region's warm seaports may have suddenly begun exporting goods. During this era, however, the Baltic region was importing much more than it was exporting. In fact, nothing seemed to change dramatically, during this time, except a mysterious economic windfall.

Could this be the reason behind the quiet-some say non-communicative-Baltic cultures? Aside from the lost Templar gold, could this part of the world actually hold magical, mystical secrets locked away in enchanted forests, rock mounds, ancient symbols, ornaments and even folklore? And if any of this is true, is it possible that the spirits of the Knights Templar continue to act as the guardians of the keys to this mysterious kingdom-this world of The Unseen-protecting their secrets until the time is right and the world is ready to hear them?