The Assassins
The final section of Chapter XVIII of John M. Allegro's
The Sacred Mushroom and the Cross

The demand made by Islam upon its adherents for "self-surrender" and submission to the will of Allah, was carried to its greatest extremes in the fanatical sect known as the Assassins. Theologically they were of the Shi'ite branch of Islam, but their external policies were marked, like the Jewish Zealots, by utter ruthlessness in removing from their path any person who disagreed with their ideas. This they achieved by raising within their group a band of young fanatics called the Fida'is, the "devoted ones". They were known more generally as "Assassins" because their complete subservience to the will of their religious masters, without regard for personal danger, was the result of their taking a drug known as khashîsh, our "Hashish".

The sect was formed as a secret society around 1090 when they won control, by stratagem, of the mountain fortress of Alamut in Persia. In the eleventh and twelfth centuries they and their successors spread terror throughout Persia and Syria, and were fInally only put down after some 12,000 of them had been massacred. For some time small bodies of Assassins lingered on in the mountains of Syria, and some think the cult is not entirely dead even now.

The herb which gave them their name, khashîsh, "Hashish", means in Arabic no more than "dried herbage". If used of a particular drug it properly requires some qualification, like "Red Hashish", meaning Belladonna, Deadly Nightshade. The word Hashish alone has become attached to one particular form, Cannabis sativa, or Hemp, and the enervating drug made from its resin. But it is difficult to believe that the "pot"-smokers of today, the weary dotards who wander listlessly round our cities and universities, are the spiritual successors of those drug-crazed enthusiasts who, regardless of their safety, stormed castles and stole as assassins into the strongholds of their enemies. If their "Hashish" correctly interprets Cannabis then the latter must represent some more potent drug.

Amanita muscaria
Photo by John M. Allegro
The Greek word Kannabis may now be traced to the Sumerian element GAN, "mushroom top", followed by the word which we saw earlier was part of the name of the New Testament Barnabas, and meant "red, speckled with white", denoting, in other words, the colour of the Amanita muscaria. As well as the transfer of its name to the less powerful "Hashish", it underwent a jumbling of its form to produce the Greek Panakes, a mysterious plant also called Asclepion (elsewhere used of the mushroom), which required atonement to the earth of various cereals when pulled up. It seems, therefore probable that the original Cannabis was the sacred fungus, and that the drug which stimulated the medieval Assassins to self-immolation was the same that brought the Zealots to their awful end on Masada a millennium earlier. Indeed, we may now seriously consider the possibility that the Assassin movement was but a resurgence of a cultic practice that was part of Islam from the beginning, and had its real origin thousands of years before that. It seems to be a pattern of religious movements based on the sacred fungus that long periods of relative calm and stagnation are interspersed with flashes of violent extremism which die away again after persecution, only to re-emerge in much later generations. In this, history is reflecting the action of the drug itself on its partakers. After hectic bouts of uncontrolled activity, the fungus-eater will collapse in a stupor from which only a resurgence of the stimulatory poison in his brain will arouse him.

Israelitism was based upon the cult of the sacred fungus, as its tribal names and mythologies now show. The extremes of some of its adherents bred their own internal and external opposition, and after the disastrous rebellions against the Assyrians and Babylonians of the eighth and sixth centuries BC, a period of reaction set in, and the past was forcibly expunged from Judaism under the reform movements of the sixth-fifth centuries. The mushroom cult went underground to re-appear with even more disastrous results in the first and second centuries AD when the Zealots and their successors again challenged the might of Rome.

Christianity purged itself after the holocaust and drove its drug-takers into the desert as "heretics", and eventually so conformed to the will of the State that in the fourth century it became an integral part of the ruling establishment. By then its priests were raising wafers and sweet wine at the altar and trying to convince their followers that the host had miraculously become the flesh and juice of the god.


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