Hassan-I-Sabbah . . . the only spiritual leader with anything to say in the Space Age. – William S. Burroughs
Nothing is True, Everything is Permissible. – Hasan bin Sabbah
The story of Hasan bin Sabbah is a tale of sex, drugs, myth, and murder. A secluded mountain fortress, a paradisial garden, poison dipped daggers, and covert political maneuverings are the ingredients of this alchemical mixture, which is undoubtedly one of the most intriguing true stories ever told.
Hasan bin Sabbah – businessman, scholar, heresiarch, mystic, murderer, ascetic, and political revolutionary – was born in Persia (Iran) around 1034. As a child, the man who would one day claim to be the incarnation of God on earth (probably just another way of saying he was Enlightened) was a diligent student of theology.
Supposedly, Hasan was schoolmates with Nizamul Mulk (the future vizier to the sultan of Persia) and Omar Khayyam (the great poet/astronomer/mathematician). These three future luminaries made a pact whereas, if one of them reached a position of power and influence, he would assist his companions.
As a young man, Hasan traveled to Egypt, where he remained for a year and a half. Here he was taught at the illustrious Abode of Learning in Cairo, which was a Shiite training center (the Shiites are a branch within the Islamic community, they broke off from the mainstream Sunnis after a dispute over who should succeed the prophet Muhammad).
At the Abode, students were taught to question Islamic dogma, to the point where their only source of the truth lied in the teachings of their all-powerful instructors. The students had to ascend through nine degrees, until finally they were taught the Ultimate Truth: that the world is created through actions, and beliefs are powerless distractions used to enslave the masses. This system would later serve as the model for the organizational structure of the Hashishins . . .
Hasan ran into trouble in Egypt, however, after a controversy arose over who should succeed the Fatimid caliph. The Fatimids, who ruled Egypt at the time, were the heads of the Ismailis, a sect of Islam that separated from the mainstream Shiites. Before the Fatimid caliph died, he appointed his youngest son to take over the dynasty, because his oldest son died before he did. This infuriated Sabbah, who believed the descendant of the caliph’s oldest son, Nizar, was the rightful heir to the throne.
Sabbah was imprisoned in Egypt for supporting Nizar, but, as luck would have it, the prison wall collapsed and he fled to Persia. While searching for a permanent residence, Hasan found a secluded fortress high in the mountains of Qazwin. This castle, called Alamut (“the eagle’s nest”) was the ideal stronghold for Hasan’s new sect, the Nizari Ismailites (who later called themselves the “Hashishins”). Alamut was positioned in a central location, and so was an excellent hub from which Hasan could spread Ismaili propaganda.
Hasan went about securing Alamut using subtle trickery and persuasion. Whilst bargaining with the owner of Alamut, he requested only a portion of land that could be covered by the skin of a cow. The owner agreed, not realizing how clever and resourceful Hasan could be. Hasan proceeded to divide a cow’s hide into such thin layers that he was able to cover the entire surface area of the fortress. The owner was forced to live up to his end of the bargain, and Hasan now had a stronghold from which he could extend his influence throughout the Mideast and, indeed, the history of Western civilization.
When word reached Nizamul Mulk (the childhood friend) of Hasan’s securing of Alamut, he grew so inflamed with jealousy and rage that he sent an army to siege the fortress, a plot that failed miserably. For this, Hasan had Mulk killed by a dagger into the heart. So much for the pact.
Within Alamut, Hasan built the legendary “Garden of Earthly Delights”, which would play an important role in the initiatic rites of the Hashishins (also called the “Assassins”).
The garden lay in a beautiful valley nestled between two high mountains. Here he had imported exotic plants, birds, and animals from all over the world. Surrounding the garden were luxurious palaces of marble and gold, decorated with beautiful paintings and fine silk furniture. Streams of milk, wine, and honey flowed throughout this earthly paradise, while fountains gushed with wine and pure spring water.
The initiate, after being knocked out by a powerful potion mixed with hashish, would be carried into the garden. When he awoke from his slumber, he would be greeted by a host beautiful teenage girls (houris), who sang and danced and played lovely instruments for him. As he drifted into an ecstatic daze, the girls would go to work on the initiate, giving him a full-body tongue massage, while one girl performed oral sex on him. Eventually, the bedazzled young man would climax into the girl’s mouth “as softly and slowly and blissfully as a single snowflake falling.” (Robert Anton Wilson, from Prometheus Rising) No wonder Hasan could demand absolute loyalty from his followers, no questions asked . . .
This was only a small part of Hasan’s system, which was divided into seven degrees. The Hashishins combined both the exoteric (communicated, “God’s Law”) and esoteric (subjective, mystical) doctrines of Islam. Sabbah was a noted alchemist, and a student of Sufism, so part of the initiatic curriculum for the future Hashishins involved mastering occult methods for reaching higher planes of consciousness. Of course, they were also taught how to properly kill a man using poison or a dagger. Initiates were trained to learn multiple languages, as well as the dress and manners of merchants, monks and soldiers. Moreover, they were taught to fake beliefs and devotion to every major religion of that era. In this way, an Assassin could pretend to be anyone from a well-to-do merchant to a Sufi mystic, a Christian, or a common soldier.
The Hashishin Order was set up much like your traditional bureaucratic organization. At the top of the hierarchy sat Hasan, the Old Man of the Mountain, who preached absolute devotion to a transcendental God. Below him were the grand priories (enlightened mystics), the propagandists, and finally the fidais, who were the lowest ranking Hashishins. The fidais were self-sacrificers (called “the destroying angels”) who were willing to commit any atrocity their master demanded of them, including suicide. They dressed in white tunics with red sashes: colours that represented innocence and blood.
As the Hashishins gained power and influence, the sultan of Persia grew agitated. He decided to send troops to storm Alamut, which, like the similar attack attempted by his vizier, was a pathetic failure. Hasan had the sultan poisoned, and after his death the kingdom of Persia split into warring factions, which made the Assassins the most cohesive and powerful group in Persia for many years.
During this time the Assassins turned murder into an artform, mastering the many fatal uses of the dagger (which they often dipped in poison). But these were intellectuals, not mindless murderous brutes by any means, so their favorite means of extending influence was through spreading propaganda. They would often gain support from powerfully positioned women and children by impressing them with fantastic dresses, jewels, and toys. Also, they were known to kidnap some of the most distinguished minds of the Mideast and use them as teachers in the school or as advisors in worldly affairs. It didn’t take long before most of Persia was Ismaili.
As for the man responsible for all this madness, Hasan bin Sabbah, he was something of a mystery. After securing Alamut, Hasan lived the remainder of his life holed up in his room. It is said that he left his living quarters only twice in this period. He was an ascetic, a mystic, who wrote a number of important theological treatises. This might seem counter-intuitive, but the reason Hasan was so ambitious (and resorted to such extreme measures) is because he was a deeply devoted believer in the Ismaili faith, not because of selfish greed or megalomania.
In fact, Hasan may well have been a direct descendant of the Imam genealogy, but he refused to use this to his advantage, saying “I would rather be the Imam’s chosen servant than his unworthy son.”
Within Alamut, convivialities like drinking and playing musical instruments were strictly forbidden. This was a vacuum tight operation, and Hasan demanded unwavering attention and devotion from his followers. He was so severe, in fact, that he had his only two sons executed: one for drinking, the other for committing a senseless murder.
Hasan died in 1124, at the age of 90. Having killed his only two potential heirs, he appointed two of his generals to succeed him. One took over the mystical elements of the order, while the other controlled the military and political affairs. During this time the Seljuq Dynasty once again took control in Persia. The new sultan made a pact with the Assassins, whereby the Assassins were given autonomy in exchange for reducing their military forces.
The Hashishins persisted for over 100 years after Sabbah’s death, but Alamut was finally sieged and conquered in 1256 by Halaku Khan, son of Ghengis Khan. His chief minister was ordered to write a complete history of the Assassins (based on the records in the Alamut library) and this is where most of the historical data about the order comes from.
Though some have questioned the historical validity of the Assassin’s hashish use, it is stated clearly as fact in this carefully researched history. Also, in this book, it is written that the Assassins did not eat hash to relax themselves before going on a murderous rampage, as is popularly believed, but rather would consume the drug before going to the garden one last time, just prior to their suicide mission.
After the fall of Alamut, most of the remaining Assassins were forced underground, where they would await word that the order was back in business. To this day, the Nizari Ismailis (who dropped the title “Hashishins”) still persist. They are led by one Aga Khan, whose progressive, globalist rhetoric sounds strangely similar to the utopian worldview of Buckminster Fuller.
The secret order that Hasan bin Sabbah created had a significant impact on all subsequent cults and secret societies. During the Crusades, the Hashishins fought both for and against the Crusaders, whichever suited their agenda. As a result, the Crusaders brought back to Europe the Assassins’ system, which would be passed down and mimicked by numerous secret societies in the West. The Templars, the Society of Jesus, Priory de Sion, the Freemasons, the Rosicrucians, etc. all owe their organizational efficiency to Hasan. In fact, the Illuminati had their origins in the mystical aspect of the Hashishin order, although most equate the Illuminati with the Bavarian Illuminati, which was a revised version of the Hashishin system (Tim O’Neill analyzes, in-depth, the influence of the Assassins in Adam Parfrey’s Apocalypse Culture)
Our modern day “assassination cults” (the FBI, the CIA, etc.) have incorporated many of the Hashishins’ techniques into their methodologies. In a CIA training manual titled “A Study of Assassination”, you find traces of the Assassins influence throughout. Hasan Sabbah is even mentioned in the document, which is a must read if there ever was one.
Hasan has also served as an inspiration in the artistic and literary realms. The Magick Realism of Hasan’s world is particularly appealing to romanticists, both classic and modern.
In Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s classic poem “Kubla Khan”, he writes about a damsel with a dulcimer (an houri?) singing of the mythical Mount Abora. As everyone knows, Coleridge wrote “Kubla Khan” immediately after waking from an opium dream. The book he was reading when he fell asleep (Purchas his Pilgrimage) describes in detail the legend of Hasan and his earthly paradise. He calls Alamut “Amhara”. Could Amhara = Abora? Could the Pleasure Dome be a metaphor for the legendary garden? Quite possibly. It should be noted that the poem’s namesake, Kubla Khan, was Ghengis Khan’s cousin, and the man who finally overtook Alamut was Ghengis’ brother.
The Beatnik generation writers and artists considered the Hashishins a near revelation. The groundbreaking author/painter Brion Gysin, who mentions Hasan in many of his “cut-up” poems, was introduced to Sabbah by composer/novelist Paul Bowles. Gysin subsequently told friend and collaborator William S. Burroughs about the Hashishins. Burroughs went on to write a brilliant poem called “The Last Words of Hasan Sabbah”, which condemns modern covert terrorist organizations (intelligence agencies and big businesses) for being dishonorable.
Ambient composer Bill Laswell released an album titled Hashisheen: End of the Law (1999), which features spoken word tales about the Assassins from the likes of Hakim Bey, Genesis P-Orridge, Iggy Pop and others. Laswell also collaborated with Coil on a track called “Assassins of Hakim Bey”, a blend of Arabic ambiance looped over with a spoken word rendition (by Bey, I think) of Marco Polo’s famous description of Alamut.
Hakim Bey, who is something of a modern day Sabbah, has written many tracts about the Hashishins, including a section in the classic Temporary Autonomous Zone. Bey uses the Assassins as a model for the types of personalities needed to create and sustain a TAZ, saying “Each who enter the realm of the Imam-of-one’s-own-being becomes a sultan of inverted revelation, a monarch of abrogation and apostasy.”
Hasan bin Sabbah should serve as the ideal archetype for future revolutionaries. As money becomes the sole (and not to mention spectral) representation of power, governments gradually decline in effectiveness, and the Invisible Hand becomes the only force pushing us along. Secret societies like the Hashishins, self-protected and pursuing its own agendas, would thrive in our environment. And let’s face it, those guys were having a lot more fun than we are. It will be interesting to see if anyone out there has the chutzpah to create their own Garden of Earthly Delights.
Links [some may have expired]
Secrets of the Assassins by Peter Lamborn Wilson
Hakim Bey, writing under his real name, provides an excellent history of Hasan and the Assassins, and offers his usual ingenious insights. New Dawn is one of the best magazines on the market, I strongly suggest bookmarking this site.
The Last Words of Hassan Sabbah
A brilliant poem by William S. Burroughs condemning big money corporations and sneaky governments. “Liars! Cowards! . . . You will never use the name of Hassan Sabbah ?William Burroughs to cover you green shit deals with crab men.”
The CIA Training Manual: A Study of Assassination
Frightening and hysterical at the same time, the CIA’s assassin training manual incorporates some of the techniques and practices of the Assassin order. “Assassination?will never be ordered or authorized by any U.S. Headquarters, though the latter may in rare instances agree to its execution by members of an associated foreign service.” HA! Just don’t shoot yourself in the foot. Everyone should read this! It will blow you away, so to speak . . .
The Old Man of the Mountains by Arkon Daraul
A chapter from Daraul’s excellent book A History of Secret Societies (New York: Citadel Press, 1961). Tons of information here, though some say Daraul is an unreliable source.
The Latter Days of The Assassins by Arkon Daraul
Another chapter from Daraul’s book, this one looks at the evolution and eventual decline of the Assassins after Sabbah’s death.
Aga Khan Development Network
The modern day leader of the Assassins isn’t out to hurt anybody. In fact, he’s a world-renowned humanitarian and progressive thinker. Check out the official homepage for his institute, The Aga Khan Development Network, which sets out to improve the living conditions in societies where Muslims have a significant presence, although it is not a religious organization.
One of the better Brion Gysin websites, this one includes biographical information, an interview, links, and some stuff about the dream machine.
The Pipes of Pan at Jajouka
Some truly inspiring music from the foothills of Morocco, these guys will definitely get you into the spirit of Islam and especially the Assassins. The Jajouka masters were “discovered” by Paul Bowles and Brion Gysin in the 1950s.
A brief history of Hasan and the Assassins from Phillip K. Hitti’s The Book of Grass: An Anthology on Indian Hemp.
Ports of Entry
A riveting dialogue between William S. Burroughs and Brion Gysin. “Who is Brion Gysin? The only authentic heir to Hassan-I-Sabbah, the Old Man of the Mountain? Certainly that. Through his painting I caught glimpses of the Garden that the Old Man showed to his Assassins. The Garden cannot be faked.” (Burroughs)
Death of Hasan bin Sabbah
Delves a little deeper into the personality of Hasan bin Sabbah, with some telling insights into the real motives of the Assassins. They were far more business-like than you might have imagined.
Hasan-I-Sabbah at Alamut.com
Probably the most historically accurate portrayal of Hasan on the Internet, this writer refutes some of the “myths” surrounding Hasan’s story. Great site as well.
Islam and Eugenics
More great writing from Hakim Bey: here he looks at the history of Islam in America, and mentions the “Day of Resurrection” apocalyptic doctrine of the Assassins to support his thesis. This is a great site, complete with most of Hakim Bey’s writings, including the complete texts of Temporary Autonomous Zone and Millennium.
The Assassins: Origins of the Nizari Ismailis
A comprehensive study of the Assassins using quotes from various sources.
A bio of the great mathematician and astronomer, who supposedly made a pact in grade school with Hasan that if either became powerful, he would help the other out. Looks like they didn’t need any help, however.
The Coleridge Connection
Posted in an email discussion at the Killdevilhill Literary Caf, Wilson Brissett explores the possibility that Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s romantic masterpiece “Kubla Khan” was in fact inspired by Hasan’s secret garden. Good food for thought, if nothing else.
Kubla Khan by Samuel Taylor Coleridge
Was Coleridge’s classic romantic poem “Kubla Khan” inspired by his studies of Hasan and the Hashishins? Check out the poem and judge for yourself.
Sufism – Sufis – Sufi Orders
An excellent resource database for any newcomer to Sufi philosophy. Complete with the basic facts about Sufism and brief overviews of the key personalities and sects of Sufism.
Encyclopedia Britannica: The Fatimid Dynasty
A brief overview of The Fatimid Dynasty from Encyclopedia Britannica. Includes hyperlinks to related entries.
Encyclopedia Britannica: Hasan-e-Sabbah
A brief overview of Hasan from the Encyclopedia Britannica. Includes hyperlinks to related entries.
Encyclopedia Britannica: Seljuq Dynasty
A brief overview of the Seljuq Dynasty who ruled Persia (Iran) in Hasan’s time. Important for understanding the historical context of the Assassins.
Encyclopedia Britannica: Isma’lite
Learn all about the Ismailite sect of Islam, which spawned the subsect that would later become the Assassins.
Hashisheen: End of the Law
A track listing and overview of Bill Laswell’s awesome CD Hashisheen: End of the Law (1999). Texts compiled by Hakim Bey with spoken word by Bey, Genesis P-Orridge, Patti Smith, and Iggy Pop. One of the best “diamond in the rough” albums out there.
5th Grader’s Poem
Check out this delightful poem about Hasan written by a 5th grader in the northwestern US. This kid gives Burroughs a run for his money. Seriously . . .
Disinformation Dossier on The Illuminati
Check out the Disinformation dossier on The Illuminati.
Disinformation Dossier on Paul Bowles
Check out the Disinformation dossier on Paul Bowles.
Disinformation Dossier on William S. Burroughs
Check out the Disinformation dossier on William S. Burroughs.
Disinformation Dossier on Chaos Magick
Check out the Disinformation dossier on Chaos Magick.
Disinformation Dossier on Hacker Holy Wars
Check out the Disinformation dossier on Hacker Holy Wars.
Disinformation Dossier on The Sinai Bedouins
Check out the Disinformation dossier on The Sinai Bedouins.
Disinformation Dossier on Adam Parfrey
Check out the Disinformation dossier on Adam Parfrey.
Disinformation Dossier on Muslimgauze
Check out the Disinformation dossier on Muslimgauze.
Disinformation Dossier on Coil
Check out the Disinformation dossier on Coil.
Disinformation Dossier on Robert Anton Wilson
Check out the Disinformation dossier on Robert Anton Wilson.
Disinformation Dossier on Genesis P-Orridge
Check out the Disinformation dossier on Genesis P-Orridge.
Disinformation Dossier on The Invisibles
Check out the Disinformation dossier on The Invisibles.