Phony Secret Societies: The Priory of Sion and the Shickshinny Knights

From the Lecture Series: The Real History of Secret Societies

By Richard B. Spence, Ph.D., University of Idaho

The history of secret societies is rife with hoaxes and disinformation. Some of these hoaxes have been exposed, but we do not know how many others exist. They pretend to be involved in activities that are beyond human imagination, even fabricating pseudo-histories. Two such societies emerged at the same time but in different countries.

The cryptic phrase "Et in Arcadia ego" in Nicolas Poussin's late 1630s painting 'Arcadian Shepherds' was appropriated for Priory of Sion myth-making.
Pierre Plantar invented pseudo-histories about the background of his secret society, Priory of Sion. (Image: Nicolas Poussin/Public domain)

In 1956, a new secret society emerged in France. The instigator of the society was an occultist who was once a fascist: Pierre Plantard. The official paperwork related to the foundation of the Prieuré de Sion or Priory of Sion did not have any indications of Plantard’s name. That’s because of his conviction for fraud and forging esoteric degrees three years earlier. He was involved in many other dubious activities. For example, in the late 1930s, he was connected to a terrorist secret society called the Cagoule as well as many other orders linked to Synarchy, a political conspiracy to occupy France.

In 1941, the Vichy French police found out that Plantard was the head of a society called French National Renewal. It was a small right-wing society with only three members other than Plantard.

In 1942, Plantard established another patriotic brotherhood called Alpha Galates, with 50 members who had anti-Masonic and anti-Semitic attitudes. But it wasn’t successful in getting the occupying Germans to like them.

This is a transcript from the video series The Real History of Secret Societies. Watch it now, on Wondrium.

Priory of Sion: A Secret Society

Plantard’s attempt to create the Priory in 1956 enjoyed more success than the previous ones. He claimed that the society aimed to restore an order belonging to the First Crusade in the 11th century, and that Priory’s original grandmaster was the first crusader king of Jerusalem.

According to his pseudo-history, some figures like Leonardo da Vinci, Victor Hugo, and Claude Debussy, the French composer, were the grandmaster’s followers. Plantard even roped in Johannes Andraea, the alleged author of one of the mysterious 17th century Rosicrucian manifestos. That allowed Plantard to claim the Rosicrucians, along with the Knights Templars, and even the medieval Cathar heretics, as manifestations of the Priory of Sion.

Medieval chainmail armor with a red cross on chest area.
Pierre Plantard claimed that the Knights Templar were manifestations of the Priory of Sion. (Image: Atmosphere1/Shutterstock)

The Priory supposedly became an uber-secret society that created or manipulated other secret societies for hundreds of years. To seal the deal, Plantard packaged the fake history in a dossier, and planted that in the National Library of France, the Bibliothèque Nationale.

What was the secret the Priory guarded? According to the Priory, a holy bloodline descended from Jesus and Mary Magdalene; a bloodline that survived in the veins of European royalty. Plantard and the Priory aimed to restore a descendant as ruler of a unified Europe.

Learn more about the Knights Templar.

Charles Louis Pichel and the Blue Lamoo

A scheme similar to Plantard’s cropped up in the United States at almost exactly the same time. It was initiated by an equally dubious character named Charles Louis Pichel, who used to be a drug salesman. In the 1920s, he went to prison for violating the Narcotics Act. Some of his dubious acts included fabricating and selling fake pedigrees, introducing himself as a scientist and inventor, and founding the American Heraldry Society in New York.

He was attracted to radical rightist politics and impressed by Adolf Hitler. He offered his services as cooperation between Germany and sympathetic Americans. Through these activities, he met Boris Brasol, the Russian émigré, who brought the anti-Semitic Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion to America. He also met George Deatherage, a white supremacist and the director of the Ku Klux Klan spin-off, the Knights of the White Camellia.

In 1939, Pichel was initiated into a secret society called the Ancient and Noble Order of the Blue Lamoo along with Brasol. The Blue Lamoo appeared to be an “Aryan Heraldic and Chivalric” organization with mystical aspirations. But a 1939 confidential report to the Non-Sectarian Anti-Nazi League revealed that it was a cover for German and Japanese propaganda.

Learn more about From the KKK to the Black Shriners.

Shickshinny Knights: A Secret Society in the USA

In 1956, the same year Plantard started his priory, Pichel incorporated the Society of St. John of Jerusalem. It claimed to be a branch of the venerable Knights of Malta. Because Pichel’s organization was based in Shickshinny, Pennsylvania, it was nicknamed the Shickshinny Knights.

The Knights of Malta descended from the Crusade’s Knights Hospitallers, who were rivals of the Knights Templar. Pichel based his new order on a defunct Russian branch of the genuine Knights, and on a short-lived American Knights of Malta active before World War I.

What mattered was that both societies were dead, and Pichel was free to pick their bones. To flesh them out, Pichel—just like Plantard—created an elaborate pseudo-history. The basic story was that since the early 20th century, the American Knights of St. John had waged a desperate, secret war against a vast communist, anti-Christian conspiracy. Shickshinny Knights attracted fanatical anti-communists.

Some saw the group as a tool of a clandestine fascist international, or the Synarchists. Others suspected it functioned as a private intelligence organization; the kind that could arrange things no official agency want to dirty its hands with.

Common Questions about Phony Secret Societies: Priory of Sion and the Shickshinny Knights

Q: Who was Pierre Plantard?

Pierre Plantard was a fascist occultist who instigated the secret society of Prieuré de Sion or Priory of Sion.

Q: What was the Ancient and Noble Order of the Blue Lamoo?

The Ancient and Noble Order of the Blue Lamoo was a secret society. It appeared to be an “Aryan Heraldic and Chivalric” organization with mystical aspirations.

Q: What was the Shickshinny Knights?

The Shickshinny Knights was a secret society founded by Charles Pichel. He founded the Society of St. John of Jerusalem, claiming to be an offshoot of the venerable Knights of Malta. It was based in Shickshinny, Pennsylvania, so it received the nickname the Shickshinny Knights.

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A History of the Knights Templar