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When the Prophet died in 4632 A.M.,* the true faith was almost immediately shattered by conflict between the Shiite and Sunnite parties. More than a century of religious and civil warfare followed, and by 4760 A.M. the Shiites themselves had split and given birth to a subsect known as the Ismailis, or Ishmaelians. It was out of this group that Hassan i Sabbah formed the Order of the Assassins in 5090 A.M.

* Known as the year 52 to Moslems, 4392 to Jews and Scotch Rite Masons, 4320 to Confucians, and 632 to Christians.

Ishmaelian religion had already at that date become a nine-level affair in the manner typical of mystical secret societies. Those of the lowest grade, for instance, were merely informed that Al Koran contained an allegorical meaning in addition to its surface teachings, and that their salvation lay in following orders. As a neophyte progressed through the various grades, more and more of the allegories would be explained, and a doctrine would gradually emerge which is, in essence, that taught by all the mystics of East and West-Buddhists, Taoists, Vedantists, Rosicrucians, etc. The doctrine is, in important aspects, unspeakable (which is why the trainee required an imam - the Ishmaelian equivalent of a guru- to guide him in the nonverbal aspects); the ninth and highest grade, however, had no parallel except in very strict Theravada Buddhism. In this ninth grade, which Hassan attained shortly before founding the Hashishim, it was taught that even the personal mystical experience of the seeker (his own encounter with the Absolute, or the Void, or the Hodge-Podge, or God, or Goddess, or whatever one chooses to call it) should be subject to the most merciless analysis and criticism, and that there is no guide superior to reason. The Ishmaelian adept, in short, was one who had achieved supreme mystical awareness but refused to make even that into an idol; he was a total atheist-anarchist subject to no authority but his own independent mind.

"Such men are dangerous," as Caesar observed, and certainly they are dangerous to the Caesars; the Ishmaelians were being persecuted throughout the Moslem world, and strong efforts were being made to exterminate them entirely when Hassan i Sabbah became Imam of the whole movement.

It was Hassan's cynical judgment (and many Illuminated beings, such as the Lamas of Tibet, have agreed with him) that most people have no aspiration or capacity for much spiritual and intellectual independence. He thereupon reorganized the Ishmaelians in such a way as to allow and encourage those of small mind to remain in the lower grades.

The tools of this enterprise were the famous "Garden of Delights" in his castle at Alamout (a good duplication of the Paradise of Al Koran, complete with the beautiful and willing houris the Prophet had promised to the faithful)- and a certain "magick chemical." Those of the lowest grade were brought to Alamout, given the miraculous concoction, and set loose for several hours in the Garden of Delights. They came out convinced that they had truly visited heaven and that Hassan i Sabbah was the most powerful Holy Man in the world. They were assured, furthermore, that if they obeyed every order, even at the cost of their own lives, they would return to that Paradise after death.

These men became the first "sleeper agents" in the history of international politics. Where the three major contending religions of that time in the Near East (Christianity, Judaism, and orthodox Islam) insisted that it was an unforgivable sin to deny one's faith, Hassan taught that Allah would forgive such little white lies when they served a worthy purpose. Thus, his agents were able to pass themselves off as Christians, Jews, or orthodox Moslems and infiltrate any court, holy order, or army at will. Since the other religions had the above-mentioned prohibition against such deception, they were unable to infiltrate the Ishmaelians in turn.

The use of these agents as assassins is discussed passim in the novel, and Weishaupt's opinion that Hassan had discovered "the moral equivalent of war" is an interesting commentary. Hassan never had to send an army into battle, and armies sent against him were soon stopped by the sudden and unexpected deaths of their generals.

One of Hassan's successors was Sinan, who moved the headquarters of the cult from Alamout to Messiac and may (or may not) have written the letter about Richard the Lion-Hearted which George recalls in the Third Trip. Sinan, contemporaries claimed, performed miracles of healing, conversed with invisible beings, and was never seen to eat, drink, or perform the functions of urination and excretion. He was also credited with telepathy and with the ability to kill animals by looking at them. It was he (and not Hassan i Sabbah, as many popular books state) who ordered two of the lower members of the Order to commit suicide in order to impress a visiting ambassador with his power over his followers. (The two obeyed, leaping from the castle wall into the abyss below.) Sinan also made attempts to form ah alliance with the Knights Templar, to drive both orthodox Christians and orthodox Moslems out of the arena, but this evidently fell through.

The Hashishim were finally crushed, despite their powerful espionage and assassination network, when the whole Middle East was overrun by hordes of Mongols, who came from so far away that they had not been infiltrated. It took several centuries for the Hashishim to make a comeback as the nonviolent Ishmaelian movement of today, under the leadership of the Aga Khan.

Finally, it was at Hassan i Sabbah's death that he allegedly uttered the aphorism for which he is best known, and which is quoted several times in the novel: "Nothing is true. All is permissible." The orthodox Moslem historian Juvaini- who may have invented this whole episode- adds that as soon as these blasphemous words passed his lips, "Hassan's soul plunged to the depths of Hell."

Ever since Marco Polo recorded the story of the Garden of Delights, Western commentators have identified Hassan's "magick chemical" as pure hashish. Recent scholarship, however, has thrown this into doubt, and it is clear that hashish, and other marijuana preparations were well known in the Near East for thousands of years before Hassan ever lived; for instance, the plant has been found in grave mounds of late Neolithic Man in the area, dated around 5000 B.C., as Hagbard mentions in the novel. It is implausible, then, that the ingenious Sabbah would have tried to pass this drug off as something new and magical.

Some have suggested that Hassan, who was known to have traveled much in his youth, might have brought opium back from the East and mixed it with hashish. The scholarly Dr. Joel Fort goes further and argues, in The Pleasure Seekers, that Hassan's supercharger was wine-and-opium, with no marijuana products at all. Dr. John Allegro, in The Sacred Mushroom and the Cross, argues that both Hassan and the first Christians actually achieved the paradisical vision with the aid of amanita muscaria, the "fly agaric" mushroom, which is poisonous in high doses but psychedelic (or at least deleriant) in small quantities.

The present book's suggestion- Alamout black, an almost pure hashish with a few pinches of belladonna and stramonium- is based on:

(1) the strong etymological evidence that the Hashishim Were somehow involved with hashish;

(2) the unlikelihood that wine, opium, mushrooms, or any combination thereof could account for the etymological and historical association of Hassan with hashish;

(3) the reasons previously given for doubting that hashish alone is the answer;

(4) the capacity of stramonium and belladonna (in small doses) to create intensely brilliant visual imagery, beyond that of even the best grades of hashish;

(5) the fact that these latter drugs were used in both the Elusinian Mysteries and in the European witch cult contemporary with Hassan (see R.E.L. Masters, Eros and Evil).

Since it is not the intent of this book to confuse fact with fancy, it should be pointed out that these arguments are strong but not compelling. Many other alternatives can be suggested, such as hashish-belladonna-mandragora, hashish-stramonium-opium, hashish-opium-belladonna, hashish-opium-bufotinin,* etc., etc. All that can be said with certainty is that Hagbard Celine insists the correct formula is hashish-belladonna-stramonium (in ratio 20:1:1), and we believe Hagbard- most of the time.

* Medieval magicians knew how to obtain bufotinin. They took it, as Shakespeare recorded, from "skin of toad."

The exact link between the Assassins and the European Illuminati remains unclear. We have seen (but no longer own) a John Birch Society publication arguing that the alliance between the Hashishim and the Knights Templar was consummated and that European masonry has been more or less under Hashishim influence ever since. More likely is the theory of Daraul (op. cit.) that after the Hashishim regrouped as the nonviolent Ishmaelian sect of today, the Roshinaya (Illuminated Ones) copied their old tactics and were in turn copied by the Allumbrados of Spain and, finally, by the Bavarian Illuminati.

The nine stages of Hashishim training, the thirteen stages in Weishaupt's Iluminati, the thirty-two degrees of masonry, etc., are, of course, arbitrary. The Theravada Buddhists have a system of forty meditations, each leading to a definite stage of growth. Some schools of Hinduism recognize only two stages: Dhyana, conquest of the personal ego, and Samadhi, unity with the Whole. One can equally well posit five stages or a hundred and five. The essential that is common to all these systems is that the trainee, at some point or other, is nearly scared to death.*

* An interesting account of a traditional system used by quite primitive Mexican Indians, yet basically similar to any and all of the above, is provided by anthropologist Carlos Castaneda, who underwent training with a Yaqui shaman, and recounts some of the terrors vividly in The Teachings of Don Juan, A Separate Reality, Journey to Ixtlan, and Tales of Power. Don Juan used peyote, stramonium, and a magic mushroom (probably psilocyble Mexicana, the drug Tim Leary used for his first trip).

The difference between these systems is that some aim to liberate every candidate and some, like Sabbah's and Weishaupt's, deliberately encourage the majority to remain in ignorance, whereby they may with profit be endlessly exploited by their superiors in the cult. The same general game of an illuminated minority misusing a superstitious majority was characteristic of Tibet until the Chinese Communist invasion broke the power of the high lamas. A sympathetic account of the Tibetan system, which goes far toward justifying it, can be found in Alexandra David-Neel's The Hidden Teachings of Tibetan Buddhism; an unsympathetic account by a skeptical fellow mystic is available in The Confessions of Aleister Crowley.

Another word about Alamout black: It is not for the inexperienced psychedelic voyager. For instance, the first time Simon Moon tried it, in early 1968, he had occasion to use the men's room in the Biograph Theatre (where he had gone to see Yellow Submarine while under the influence). After his bowel movement he reached for the toilet paper and saw with consternation that the first sheet hanging down off the roll was neatly stamped