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The climate of Arabia is particularly suited for growing intoxicating hemp: the resin is formed to keep in moisture.
One legend about the discovery of hemp involves Haydar, the Persion founder of a religous order of Sufis who discovered it in A.D. 1155:
According to the legend, Haydar was an ascetic monk who lived a life of rigid privation and self-chastisement in a monastery which he built in the mountains of Persia. For ten years he lived in this distant retreat, never leaving it for even a brief moment, seeing no one except his disciples.
One hot summer day, however, Haydar fell into a state of depression and, contrary to his custom of never venturing out of his monastery, he wandered off into the fields to be alone. When he returned, his disciples, who had become alarmed at his unusualy absence, noted a stranger air of happiness and whimsy in his demeanor. Not only that, the hitherto reclusive monk even allowed them to enter his personal chambers, something he had never done before.
Astounded by this dramatic change in their masters character, his disciples eagerly questioned the monk about what it was that had put him into this frame of mind. Haydar responded to their curiosity with amusement and proceeded to tell them how he had been wandering in the fields and had noticed that of all the plants near the monastery, only one had not been standing motionless in the oppressive heat of the day. Unlike its torpid and inanimate neighbors, this unusual plant seemed to dance joyfully in the suns warmth. Overwhelmed by curiousity, Haydar picked a few of its leaves and ate them to see what they would taste like. The result was the euphoric state his disciples now observed in him.
Upon hearing of this wonderful plant and desirous of sharing their masters pleasure, Haydars pupils entreated him to show them this strange plant so that they too could partake of its marvelous virtues. Haydar agreed, but not before he made them promise under oath that htey would not reveal the secret of the plant to anyone but the Sufis (the poor). So it was, according to the legend, that the Sufis came to know the pleasures and contentment of hashish.
After his discovery, Haydar lived another ten years, allegedly subsisting on cannabis leaves. Shortly before his death in A.D. 1221, he asked that cannabis seeds be sown around his tomb so that his spirit might walk in the shade of the plant that had given him such pleasure during his lifetime.
Sometimes called the wine of Haydar.
It was known of before Haydar. In the 10th century A.D., Arab physician Ibn Wahshiyah wrote of it in On Poisons, and claimed that the oder of hashish was lethal. Most of what Arab physicians had to say (before and after Wahshiyah) about cannabis was taken from Galen.
One of the main reasons the Sufis chose hashish over other intoxicants like alcohol was that hashish was cheap. Although proscribed in the Koran, wine was always available to those who could afford it. But wine was a luxury, the intoxicant of the rich; hashish was all the poor could afford.
Hashish introduced to Egypt in the middle of the thirteenth century, where Sufis were using it. A favorite gathering place for [other?] hashish users in Egypt was the gardens of Cafour in Cairo. Unwilling to tolerate the rabble collecting in the citys garden spot, the governor of Cairo ordered out the troops. In A.D. 1253, all the cannabis plants growing in the area were chopped, gathered, and hurled onto a massive pyre the flames of which could be seen for miles around.
After this, farmers outside of Cairo began growing hemp. In A.D. 1324, the new governor summoned troops, and for an entire month, the army foraged into the countryside on search-and-destroy mission; the enemy--hashish plants.
But production resumed. In A.D. 1378 the office of the governor ordered the cannabis fields destroyed again. The farmers decided to resist. The troops backed off and placed the area under siege. The people held out for several months but the soldiers finally broke through and crushed the resistance, and placed the area under martial law.
By A.D. 1393, hashish was once again a thriving enterprise.
Passing through northern Persia on his way to China, Marco Polo heard an amazing story about a legendary ruler known as the Old Man of the Mountains and his ruthless band of cutthroats known as the Assassins. Since about A.D. 1050, they had struck fear into the hearts of even the most powerful Arab leaders. Only in 1256 did the Mongols end their stranglehold over the Middle East. According to Polos diary, the terrorist leader kept his minions loyal by brainwashing them with tales that should they die in his service, they would be certain to enter Paradise. And he gave each a foreshadowing. He had a garden landscaped in his mountain stronghold of Alamut (Eagles Nest), filled with exotic flowers, and fountains brimming with milk and honey, and sensuous girls... ready to grant even the slightest wish. The convert was drugged, carried into the garden unconscious, and allowed to awaken, allowed to gratify himself to his hearts content, drugged unconscious again, and carried out.
Points: 1) the potion is never identified; Marco Polo makes no mention of hashish at all. 2) the drug was not given to people sent out on mission; its sole purpose was to cause unconsciousness.
Discussion of origin of Assassins in relation to succession of Mohammed, eventually leading to a schism in the Shiite side, the small sect that broke off eventually, in the tenth century under the Fatimid dynasty, won over a convert named Hasan-ibn-Sabah.
Discussion of Hasans life. The Fatamids, in Egypt, pro-Ismaili (the Shiite sect, remember?) also taught their Ismaili recruits the art of assassination. Hasan learned these there. Eventually tricked someone out of a fortress. Immediately upon moving into Alamut, Hasan inaugurated a series of building measures to strengthen the fortification. Canals were dug to carry water to the fortress, the fields that sourrounded it were irrigated, fruit trees were planted, and storerooms were erected.
The point of these improvements was lost on Hasans enemies who, in later generations, mistakenly assumed that he was constructing a sort of Paradise to entice new followers to his ranks. These mistaken stories were eventually recorded by European travelers such as Marco Polo, and through them, Hasans fortress became known to Western readers as a palacial mansion filled with lush and exotic plants and populated with beautiful and sensuous women.
One of the most puzzling questions about the Assassins is how they got their name. The members of the sect never referred to themselves as such. They called each other fidais, devoted ones. Only their enemies called them Assassins.
In a report to Frederick Barbarossa, ruler of the Holy Roman Empire, they are called Heyssessini. William, Archbishop of Tyre, wrote that both our people and the Saracens called them Assissini, but, he adds, we do not know the origin of this name.
By the thirteenth century, however, the word assassin and its variants were being used in Europe in the sense of a paid professional killer. The word was derived from the name of the sect, but no one suggested that they got that name because of their usage of hashish, although a twelfth-century friar, Abbot Arnold of Lubeck, did state that the Assassins used hashish: hemp raises them to a state of ecstasy or falling, or intoxicates them. Their sorcerers draw near and exhibit to the sleepers, phantasms, pleasures and amusement. They then promise that these delights will become perpetual if the orders given them are executed with the daggers provided.
Travel books such as the seventeenth-century Purchas His Pilgrimis repeated Marco Polos story about a mysterious potion but made no mention of hashish. Another writer of that era, Denis Lebey de Batilly, wrote only that the name given to the sect by its enemies was Arabic for hired killer.
Various other explanations were subsequently proposed, among them that the name was derived from asas, a word meaning foundation, which was applied to the religious leaders of Islam; that assassin was derived from the Arabic word hassas, which, among other things, meant to kill; or that the name was applied to the followers of Hasan.
Europeans were introduced to hashish on the pages of The Thousand and One Nights, in The Tale of the Hashish Eater.
Hashish symbolized the ageless class antagonisms. The lowly social standing of the poor was attributed to their use of hashish, and the very term hashish user became an insulting epithet for what the upper classes regarded as the social misfits of their society. Thus, when the Arabs spoke of someone such as Hasan or his followers as ashishin (or Assassins, as the Crusaders pronounced the word), they were freferring to them figuratively and abusively. Whether the Assassins did or did not use hashish was immaterial.
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