Hasan Bin Sabbah and the Secret Order of Hashishins

[disinfo ed.’s note: this original essay was first published by disinformation on March 22, 2001.]

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.

Assassin fortress of Alamut.

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.

Brion Gysin
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.

The Assassins
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.

Omar Khayyam
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.

38 Comments on "Hasan Bin Sabbah and the Secret Order of Hashishins"

  1. chinagreenelvis | Jul 11, 2012 at 8:07 pm |

    Hasan Bin Sabbah and the Secret Order of Hashishins was always my favorite Dr. Seuss book.

    • Marklar_Prime | Jul 12, 2012 at 12:28 am |

       I will not kill the hashishin, I will not kill them Sam I am. I will not kill them in a box, I will not kill them with a fox,…..

  2. Anarchy Pony | Jul 11, 2012 at 8:22 pm |

    Pay no attention to the official history. It has been rewritten by the Templars. 

    • Erick Chastain | Jul 11, 2012 at 9:07 pm |

      and I suppose that “nothing is true, everything is permitted” with respect to historical accuracy as a result? I mean I’m sure it is if you believe Dan Brown more than academics. 

      • Anarchy Pony | Jul 11, 2012 at 9:39 pm |

        It’s a fucking joke. Are you completely unaware of the Assassin’s Creed franchise?

        • Treat the story as fact or fiction, but it wasn’t Assassin’s Creed that invented it. Wilson read it in Daraul and reused it throughout his work, which is we all (should have) encountered it.

          • I think he that’s why he said “rewritten” in his original post.

            But you are right about most people here learning about it from Wilson, though I didn’t recall that Wilson’s source was Daraul.

          • I think he that’s why he said “rewritten” in his original post.

            But you are right about most people here learning about it from Wilson, though I didn’t recall that Wilson’s source was Daraul.

        • CarmasCafeMike | Jul 12, 2012 at 12:58 pm |

           I don’t understand why you’re cursing.

          • Jin The Ninja | Jul 12, 2012 at 1:20 pm |

            if you’re too delicate for ‘fuck’ then gtfo the internet.

          • CarmasCafeMike | Jul 12, 2012 at 3:43 pm |

            I am not in the least delicate for a good ‘fuck’ of any sort.  However, I fail to see how your rant anger and disbelief add to anything, in the least. And yes, I was completely unaware of the Assassin’s Creed franchise — and having looked it up, find it similarly unedifying, and at best boring.

          • Jin The Ninja | Jul 12, 2012 at 5:48 pm |

            i applaud your attention to detail, while noting (strongly) that i was not a- the OP, b- in any way endorsing assassin’s creed.

      •  You really believe in academics? thats your first problem there. Not supporting Dan Brown, just sayin..academics is not about truth, its about status and maintaining that at ALL costs.

  3. oh man
    I thought this was about Hashish Bin Sortagone
    ’cause finding good hash is kinda hard these daze

  4. Monkey See Monkey Do | Jul 11, 2012 at 11:19 pm |

    Supposedly they very rarely killed people and when they did it was only high ranking people with alot of influence.

  5. this albums needs to be listed above in the bibliography//// augmenting all the scholarly ‘facts’ with the heart of the matter. that shadowy eastern trip of silk incense and sacrifice that is such a foreign paradigm to most westerners. spark a spliff, or not, and let it flow



  6. Surrealias | Jul 12, 2012 at 2:17 pm |

    Another good resource for the history of Hassan I Sabbah is Peter Lamborn Wilson AKA Hakim Bey.

  7. Weird synchronicity/coincidence. I was just checking out the Wikipedia page on Hasan Bin Sabbah (Hassan-i Sabbah?) yesterday after playing some Assassin’s Creed, and now I’ve come across this. COOL STORY BRO

  8. anonymous | Aug 28, 2012 at 12:16 pm |

    Honestly, people who are mixing this with the video game franchise “assassins creed” are just a bunch of idiots. Ubisoft got the idea based on historical facts. I would know this because I will soon be working with them. The story of Hassan ibn Sabbah was passed down through my family and it is in fact very true. Alamut castle (meaning eagles nest) is an actual location and my father was born in a city near to it. Persian assassins also existed (mainly in the 11th century). Nothing is true, everything is permissible, that was the “motto” or moral of the Isma’ili religion. So please, if you are trying to make a mockery of all of this, GET A LIFE. So do some research before you post a comment. its sad to see that so many people are still uneducated fools. 

    • carmascafemike | Aug 28, 2012 at 1:50 pm |

       Thanks for the personal angle and information.  However, could we please all tone down the invective.  Telling people to get a life and other such ad hominim (sp?) is not edifying.  Be informative, be helpful, be gentle.  Pretend your talking to someone you’ld really like to get along with.  Peace and love dudes and dudettes.

      • Sorry! it just gets on my nerves when people judge something based on childish thoughts. I apolagize if I offended anyone. I get very defensive when it comes to my culture and history. No hard feelings XD

      • Sorry! it just gets on my nerves when people judge something based on childish thoughts. I apolagize if I offended anyone. I get very defensive when it comes to my culture and history. No hard feelings XD

  9. Even today in the era of Hasan bin Sabah is celebrating disciple I mean ….

  10. What day and age are also followers of Hasan bin Sabah disciple I mean ….

  11. Simon Valentine | Feb 20, 2014 at 10:49 am |

    they should have not been so stupid as to not treat themselves and their own order as one of their “fake assimilated subsets” … hypocrisy’ll crumble castle walls. perhaps they should have recruited Greeks.

  12. Daniel Gill | Feb 20, 2014 at 11:54 am |

    Coleridge didn’t smoke opium he took tincture of laudanum which does not have hallucinogenic properties . His visionary poems are a result of true-alchemy, the expulsion of lead for the intaking of gold, which is an initiation that he describes in Rime Of the Ancient Mariner following the experience of daemonic-dread -also the means of initiation in Korean shamanism. What he is describing has nothing to do with drugs and I can provide evidence from literary analysis and ethnography .

    The Skater

    by Sir Charles G. D. Roberts

    My glad feet shod with the glittering steel
    I was the god of the wingèd heel.

    The hills in the far white sky were lost;
    The world lay still in the wide white frost;

    And the woods hung hushed in their long white dream
    By the ghostly, glimmering, ice-blue stream.

    Here was a pathway, smooth like glass,
    Where I and the wandering wind might pass

    To the far-off palaces, drifted deep,
    Where Winter’s retinue rests in sleep.

    I followed the lure, I fled like a bird,
    Till the startled hollows awoke and heard

    A spinning whisper, a sibilant twang,
    As the stroke of the steel on the tense ice rang;

    And the wandering wind was left behind
    As faster, faster I followed my mind;

    Till the blood sang high in my eager brain,
    And the joy of my flight was almost pain.

    The I stayed the rush of my eager speed
    And silently went as a drifting seed, —

    Slowly, furtively, till my eyes
    Grew big with the awe of a dim surmise,

    And the hair of my neck began to creep
    At hearing the wilderness talk in sleep.

    Shapes in the fir-gloom drifted near.
    In the deep of my heart I heard my fear.

    And I turned and fled, like a soul pursued,
    From the white, inviolate solitude.


    from the Ancient Mariner ,

    Like one, that on a lonesome road

    Doth walk in fear and dread,

    And having once turned round walks on,

    And turns no more his head;

    Because he knows, a frightful fiend

    Doth close behind him tread.

    But soon there breathed a wind on me,

    Nor sound nor motion made:

    Its path was not upon the sea,

    In ripple or in shade.

    It raised my hair, it fanned my cheek

    Like a meadow-gale of spring—

    It mingled strangely with my fears,

    Yet it felt like a welcoming.

    Swiftly, swiftly flew the ship,

    Yet she sailed softly too:

    Sweetly, sweetly blew the breeze—

    On me alone it blew.


    from Korean Shamanism: The Cultural Paradox by Chongho Kim

    -A Haunted Feeling-

    Soh Bosal started the kut ritual with a drum, sitting together with Oki’s Mother on the mat. It was a very cold and windy night even though it was spring. Everything seemed to be frozen in the spring cold. It was so cold that I came back to the car for a rest while Soh Bosal performed the first phase of the kut. I was not keen to observe the first phase, because it just consisted of routine procedures. I took a cigarette out of my pocket and put it in my mouth. Suddenly I felt a strong haunted feeling in the air around me. It felt as if a ghost was going to jump in front of the windscreen. I was so scared that I felt goose bumps appearing on my skin, and a shiver ran down my spine. I turned on the car’s interior light and looked in the rear vision mirror, because it felt as though a ghost was about to enter the car through the rear windscreen and squeeze my neck from the back seat. I locked all ofthe doors. But still the spooky feeling did not go away. So I switched on the radio and turned up the sound … I began to talk to myself … [What] is the reason I was possessed by a haunted feeling just now? … What did Mirim’s Mother say to you? She said, “I do not like to see kut rituals, where there seem to be lots of ghosts around. I feel as if worms are going around my body.” Yes! The haunted feeling … Chisun’s Grandmother said to me, “… The waves of life made me know this way.” … Linda … asked me in a letter “Why do they take responsibility for the ‘dark’ side of life?” … I continued to talk to myself… Because of the dark side of social life, there is a cultural domain dealing with the experience of misfortune in Korean culture. In contrast to ordinary domains, the field of misfortune is full of darkness and dampness. Look at this kut for Oki’s Mother! Isn’t it full of darkness? … It is my impression that shamanism looks like a poisonous creature. Korean shamanism is very colourful: its dances and music are dynamic, and costumes are full of bright colour. However, most adult Koreans know of its poisonousness. This is why Yongki’s Mother said, “I’m not going to a kut ritual because I am afraid of being possessed by the spirits!” (kwisine ssiuiulggaba). Is there any ordinary Korean who likes to be possessed? This is why they don’t like to be involved in shamanic practices. This is why shamanism has been stimatized in Korean history. This is also why my research has encountered such strong resistance in thefield. The field which I have been investigating is the field of misfortune! Why do people seek shamanic practices even though they don’t like shamanism? How can this paradox be explained? Yes! Like cures like. The mode of shamanic healing is homeopathic. It is like using derivates of poison when one is bitten by a venomous snake. In Korean society, there is no one who suffers from misfortune more than the shaman, and no man or woman ever wants to be a shaman. The shamanic illness, an extreme of misfortune, makes the shaman a healer. … the Stick held by Oki’s Mother still showed no sign of being possessed, even though it sometimes shivered a little bit. Soh Basal asked again, “Is it like something has come?” Oki’s Mother replied shakily, “Well… I don’t know. The Stick shivered a little bit… ”


    from Idea Of the Holy by Rudolf Otto,

    For shuddering is something more than natural , ordinary fear. It implies that the mysterious is already beginning to loom before the mind, to touch the feelings. It implies the first application of a category of valua tion which has no place in the everyday natural world of ordinary experience, and is only possible to a being in whom has been awakened a mental predisposition, unique in kind and different in a definite way from any natural faculty. And this newly- revealed capacity, even in the crude and violent manifestations which are all it at first evinces, bears witness to a completely new function of experience and standard of valuation, only belonging to the spirit of man. Before going on to consider the elements which unfold as the tremendum develops, let us give a little further consideration to the first crude, primitive forms in which this numinous dread or a^ve shows itself. It is the mark which really characterizes the so-called Religion of Primitive Man , and there it appears as daemonic dread . This crudely nai ve and primordial emotional disturbance, and the fantastic images to which it gives rise, are later overborne and ousted by more highly-developed forms of the numinous emotion, with all its mysteriously impelling power. But even when this has long attained its higher and purer mode of expression it is possible for the primitive types of excitation that were formerly a part of it to break out in the soul in all their original naivete and so to be experienced afresh. That this is so is shown by the potent attraction again and again exercised by the element of horror and shudder in ghost stories, even among persons of high all-round education. It is a remarkable fact that the physical reaction to which this unique dread of the uncanny gives rise is also unique, and is not found in the case of any natural fear or terror. We say : my blood ran icy cold , and my flesh crept . The cold blood feeling may be a symptom of ordinary, natural fear, but there is something non- natural or supernatural about the symptom of creeping flesh . And any one who is capable of more precise introspection must recognize that the distinction between such a dread and natural fear is not simply one of degree and intensity. The awe or dread may indeed be so overwhelmingly great that it seems to penetrate to the very marrow, making the man s hair bristle and his limbs quake. But it may also steal upon him almost unobserved as the gentlest of agitations, a mere fleeting shadow passing across his mood. It has therefore nothing to do with intensity, and no natural fear passes over into it merely by being intensified. I may be beyond all measure afraid and terrified without there being even a trace of the feeling of uncanniness in ray emotion.



    Hijikata revived a literary form which had flourished in the feudal era: the kaidan, or ‘weird tale’. Kaidankai, or ‘weird tale parties’, had been a popular summer pastime, when the delicious chill imparted by ghost stories served as a form of pre-industrial air conditioning. Hijikata’s kaidankai were held in modern community centres and public halls. They would begin with a reading by one of his authors. Then members of the audience would share experiences of their own: students, housewives, working people, retirees. He organised kaidan-writing competitions, and published the best of them in an anthology. Among the winners was Ayane Suto, whom I met one afternoon at Hijikata’s office.


    This is from an article on Japanese religious beliefs, – The Meaning of Kami. Chapter II. Interpretations by Japanese Writers . Otto based his work on travels to India and Japan .

    What is here designated ” to feel awe ” (osoru, ” to fear,” ” to feel awe does not indicate the mere natural emotion of being afraid (osore). It is not the kind of fear that we [modern men] feel towards the wolf or the tiger. It is, rather, the feeling of weirdness (monosugoi) and the uncanny (kimi warui) of which ancient man was conscious when in the presence of whatever transcended his comprehension.38)
    In further elucidation of this primary feeling of ” weirdness ” or “the uncanny,” Harada falls back on Otto’s account of the element of awefulness that enters into the composition of the numen, that is, of the prerational sense of the Holy. Otto, it will be recalled, in casting about for terminology with which to describe the emotion that he has in mind, says:
    In my examination of Wundt’s Animism, I suggested the term ” Scheu” (dread); but the special ” numinous ” quality (making it ” awe ” rather than “dread” in the ordinary sense) would then of course have to be denoted by inverted commas. ” Religious dread ” (or ” awe “) would perhaps be a better designation. Its antecedent stage is ” daemonic dread ” (cf. the horror of Pan) with its queer perversion, a sort of abortive off-shoot, the “dread of ghosts.” It first begins to stir in the feeling of ” something uncanny,” “errie,” or ” weird.” It is this feeling which, emerging in the mind of primeval man, forms the starting- point for the entire religious development in history. ” Daemons ” and ” gods ” alike spring from this root, and all the products of ” mythological apperception ” or ” fantasy ” are nothing but different modes in which it has been objectified. And all ostensible explanations of the origin of religion in terms of animism or magic or folk psychology are doomed from the outset to wander astray and miss the real goal of their inquiry, unless they recognize this fact of our nature- primary, unique, underivable from anything else-to be the basic factor and the basic impulse underlying the entire process of religious evolution.39)
    It is the special merit and interest of Harada’s study that he starts from this fundamental position so lucidly outlined by Otto. The Japanese writer says that it is here at this pre-rational or super-rational stage of the sense of the Holy that the examination of the meaning of kami must begin. The word kami, however, is far from standing alone in the ancient Japanese vocabulary as the bearer of this content of mystery and awe. There are various terms that must be studied along with it, and it is, to no small extent, by the study of these related terms that we come to see what kami really meant in its earliest usage.
    The Japanese language has a special word for the expression of this emotion of ” religious awe.” It is kashiko, found widely in the ancient classical literature and still in use today. Examples of the usage may be found in the term, Kashiko-Dokoro,40) ” The Place of Awe,” or ” The Holy Place,” the name given to the shrine of the sacred mirror of the Imperial Regalia that are handed on from sovereign to sovereign in the Enthronement Ceremonies of the Japanese state. It appears again at the close of many of the norito or ritualistic prayers read before the altars of the Shinto deities-to take a single example out of many possibilities. Here the form is kashikomikashikomimo m5su,41) an expression that may be variously translated, but which means: ” With awe, with awe it is spoken.”

    • Calypso_1 | Feb 20, 2014 at 12:59 pm |

      “tincture of laudanum which does not have hallucinogenic properties”


      • Daniel Gill | Feb 20, 2014 at 2:37 pm |

        It’s a narcotic not a hallucinogenic . I studied Coleridge in University, that Coleridge was a druggie is a myth the opium tincture laudanum it’s not a woo woo drug at all.

        • Calypso_1 | Feb 20, 2014 at 2:56 pm |

          You need more study…better yet experience

          • Daniel Gill | Feb 20, 2014 at 4:16 pm |

            that’s what my professor taught me

          • Calypso_1 | Feb 20, 2014 at 4:22 pm |

            was your professor medically or experientially qualified to speak on the psychoactive effects of narcotics?

          • Daniel Gill | Feb 20, 2014 at 5:38 pm |

            most scholars agree and people who know more about drugs than you that laudanum is not a party drug. get over your fucking self. it’s a strong narcotic it makes you lethargic and numb to pain, it’s medicine, it doesn’t result in hallucinations it is not acid. it’s not a party drug.

          • Calypso_1 | Feb 20, 2014 at 6:46 pm |

            most scholars do not. the category a drug is in and its primary effect does not preclude other effects. Hallucinations may be produced by many ‘medicines’. Opiates reliably do so to such an extent for some persons that this is a primary motivation for nonprescriptive use. Some persons are even energized by opiates – those that have depression – which is why laudanum, among other opiates, was the mainstay of depressive therapies until they advent of new drug classes. I would never confuse it with acid nor would I consider either a ‘party’ drug, which is irrelevant to whether or not hallucinations occur.

          • Daniel Gill | Feb 20, 2014 at 7:42 pm |

            the only poem he ever finished was ancient mariner . there is nothing in that poem about drugs. kubla khan and christabel were both unfinished. he was a notoriously unproductive poet and many historians consider his addiction to laudanum to be the reason he was such an unproductive writer

            so no, please get your facts straight

          • Calypso_1 | Feb 20, 2014 at 7:46 pm |

            I could care less about Coleridge and whatever his experiences were are not verifiable nor germane to the facts associated with opium tinctures.

          • Daniel Gill | Feb 20, 2014 at 7:43 pm |

            and as I have said to you many times, there are alchemical transformations described by Coleridge, a man who was really lucid on that subject, that go far beyond drug experimentation. like reiki attunement. like yoga. these have nothing to do with drug use. you can have all the spectacular imagination about soma you want to but the fact is people who do magic for real are not boozers or drug abusers. they don’t need drugs. there are other ways.

          • Daniel Gill | Feb 20, 2014 at 7:46 pm |

            just because Coleridge was on drugs, that doesn’t define who he was as a writer or what he was trying to convey . pearls before swine.

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