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THE LODGE OF WISDOM
136. Legend of the Mahdi.-The Arabs bad rendered themselves masters of Persia, but that country did not willingly bear the foreign yoke. In the schism which, after the death of Mahomet, divided his followers, the Persians took the side of Ali, the husband of Mahomet's daughter, Fatima, and the successor of the Prophet. At the end of the eighth century the two great divisions of Mahometans were already split up into numerous sects; but all of them had one belief in coinmon, namely, in the coming of a Messiah, or, in their language, a Mahdi or guide. The Ghoolat, an extravagant sect, had started the doctrine, adopted by other sects, that the last visible imam, or supreme ecclesiastical ruler, had been Ismael, reckoning Ali as the first, and those who thought so were called Ismaelites; whilst others said Askeree, the twelfth imam, to have been the last visible one, and that he had vanished in a cavern at Hilla, on the banks of the Euphrates, where he would remain invisible till the end of the world, when he would reappear as the Mahdi. On this belief a bold adventurer founded the plan of freeing Persia and raising himself to power. On this belief the power of the Mahdi of the present day is founded.
137. Abdallah, the first Pontiff.—The just-mentioned adventurer's name was Abdallah, the son of Mamoon, and grandson of the famous Haroon Er-Rasheed. The Ishmaelites were numerous in Persia; he addressed himself to them, telling them that Ismael had indeed been the last imam, but that Mohammed, his son, was a prophet, and the founder of a new religion, which would confirm the doctrine of Ismael, and secure to its followers the empire of the world. Since the creation, he told his followers, there have been six religious periods, each distinguished by the incarnation of a prophet. Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, Jesus, and Mahomet were the prophets of those periods. Their mission was to lead men to ascending degrees of religious perfection.
The seven imams of Ali's posterity are the seven interpreters of the hidden sense of Mahomet's religion, and the forerunners of the most perfect doctrine, whose triumph is at hand : the doctrine of Mohammed, the son of Ismael. And as seven imams succeeded Mahomet, so there always were seven pontiffs after every previous prophet, and so there will be seven pontiffs after Mohammed. I am the first of these pontiffs. . The pontiff's office is to explain to the initiated that every religion has two meanings, the one apparent, intended for the vulgar crowd, the other secret, and only true one, showing that all religions have but one aim.
138. Origin of Quarmatites.- Mohammad-ben-Hosaïn, surnamed Zaïdan, a rich and patriotic Persian, was so captivated by the plan of Abdallah, that he made him a present of two millions of pieces of gold. But being persecuted by the governor of Susiana, Abdallah made his escape to Syria, where one of his missionaries converted, about 887, a certain Hamdan, famous under the name of Quarmat, who formed the sect known as the Quarmatites, whose power, rapidly developed during two centuries, caused the Khalifs to tremble on their thrones.
139. Origin of Fatimite Dynasty.-On Abdallah's death he was followed in the pontificate by one of his sons, Saïdben-Hosaïn-ben-Abdallah, who asserted that he was the expected Fatimite Messiah, the Mahdi; and when he was informed that numerous partisans were anxiously expecting him in Africa, Saïd, adopting the name of Obaïd Allah the Mahdi, passed into Africa, overthrew the dynasty of the Aghlabites, ruling in Tripoli and Tunis, and founded the famous dynasty of the Fatimites (A.D. 909). His greatgrandson, Moizz li dinillah, drove the Khalifs of Bagdad from Egypt, and laid the foundations of Cairo, which he made his capital.
140. The Lodge of Cairo.—Here he founded the Lodge of Cairo, which might correctly be described as a university; it contained many books and scientific instruments; science was the professed object, but the real aim was very different. The course of instruction was divided into nine degrees. The first sought to inspire the pupil with doubts, and with confidence in his teacher who was to solve them. For this purpose captious questions were to show him the absurdity of the literal sense of the Koran, and obscure hints gave
him to understand that under that shell was hidden a sweet and nutritious kernel; but the instruction went no further unless the pupil bound himself by dreadful oaths to blind faith
in, and absolute obedience to, his instructor. The second inculcated the recognition of the imams, or directors, appointed by God as the fountains of every kind of knowledge. The third informed him of the number of those blessed or holy imams, and that number was the mystical seven. The fourth informed him that God had sent into the world seven legislators, each of whom had seven coadjutors, and who were called mutes, whilst the legislators were called speakers. The fifth informed him that each of these coadjutors had twelve apostles. The sixth placed before the eyes of the adept, advanced so far, the precepts of the Koran, and he was taught that all the dogmas of religion ought to be subordinate to the rule of philosophy; he was also instructed in the systems of Plato and Aristotle. The seventh degree embraced mystical pantheism. The eighth again brought before him the dogmatic precepts of the Mohammedan law, estimating it at its just value. The ninth degree, finally, as the necessary result of all the former, taught that nothing was to be believed, and that everything was lawful.
141. Progress of Doctrines. These were the ends aimed at-human responsibility and dignity were to be annihilated; the throne of the descendants of Fatima was to be surrounded with an army of assassins, a formidable body-guard; a mysterious militia was to be raised, that should spread far and wide the fame and terror of the caliphate of Cairo, and inflict fatal blows on the abhorred rule of Bagdad. The missionaries spread widely, and in Arabia and Syria partisans were won to whom the designs of the order were unknown, but who had with fearful solemnity sworn blind obedience. The nocturnal labours of the Lodge of Cairo lasted a century; and its doctrines, which ended with denying all truth, morality, and justice, necessarily produced something very extraordinary. So terrible a shock to the human conscience led to one of those phenomena that leave a sanguinary and indelible trace on the page of history.
It remains to be noticed that Hakem Biamrillah, the founder of the sect of the Druses (157), was originally a member of the Lodge of Cairo.1
1 The Mahdists have come to the front again in the present troubles in the Sudan. But according to the Times correspondent (5th June 1896), their power is at an end. Abdullah el Taaisha, who called himself the Khalifa of the Mahdi, now styles himself the Sultan of the Sudan, but his followers seem decreasing, and as they no longer form a secret society, their doings do not enter into the scope of this work.
142. Foundation of Order.—Only Arabia and Syria could have been the theatre of the dismal deeds of the Old Man, or rather Lord of the Mountain. Hassan Sabbah was one of the days or missionaries of the School of Cairo, a man of adventurous spirit, who, having greatly distinguished himself, acquired much influence at Cairo. This influence, however, excited the envy of others, who succeeded in having him exiled. He had been put on board a ship to take him out of the country, but a storm arising, all considered themselves lost. But Hassan, assuming an authoritative air, exclaimed, “The Lord has promised me that no evil shall befall me." Suddenly the storm abated, and the sailors cried, “A miracle !” and became his followers. Hassan traversed Persia, preaching and making proselytes, and having seized the fortress of Alamut (1090), on the borders of Irak, and Dilem, which he called the “House of Fortune," he there established his rule.
143. Influence of Hassan.—What kind of rule ? The history of his time is full of his name. Kings in the very centre of Europe trembled at it; his powerful arm reached everywhere. Philip Augustus of France was so afraid of him that he dared not stir without his guard around him ; and perhaps the otherwise implacable Lord of the Mountain forgave him because of his fear. At first he showed no other intention but to increase the sway of the caliphate of Cairo, but was not long before throwing of the mask, because his fierce character submitted with difficulty to cunning and hypocrisy. He reduced the nine degrees into which the adherents of the Lodge of Cairo were divided to seven, placing himself at the head, with the title of Seydna or Sidna, whence the Spanish Cid, and the Italian Signore. The term Assassins is a corruption of Hashishim, derived from hashish (the hemp plant), with which the chief intoxi
cated his followers when they entered on some desperate enterprise.
144. Degrees of the Order.—To regulate the seven degrees he composed the Catechism of the Order. The first degree recommended to the missionary attentively to watch the disposition of the candidate, before admitting him to the order. The second impressed it upon him to gain the confidence of the candidate, by flattering his inclinations and passions; the third, to involve him in doubts and difficulties by showing him the absurdity of the Koran; the fourth, to exact from him a solemn oath of fidelity and obedience, with a promise to lay his doubts before his instructor; and the fifth, to show him that the most famous men of Church and State belonged to the secret order. The sixth, called “Confirmation,” enjoined on the instructor to examine the proselyte concerning the whole preceding course, and firmly to establish him in it. The seventh, finally, called the Exposition of the Allegory,” gave the keys of the sect.
145. Devotion of Followers. The followers were divided into two great hosts, “self-sacrificers” and “aspirants." The first, despising fatigues, dangers, and tortures, joyfully gave their lives whenever it pleased the great master, who required them either to protect himself or to carry out his mandates of death. The victim having been pointed out, the faithful, clothed in a white tunic with a red sash, the colours of innocence and blood, went on their mission, without being deterred by distance or danger. Having found the person they sought, they awaited the favourable moment for slaying him, and their daggers seldom missed their aim. Conrad of Montferrat, having quarrelled with Raschid-addin, the then Lord of the Mountain, and also caused a number of Musulman prisoners, brought from Tyre, to be massacred, Saladin induced Raschid-addin to kill Conrad. Richard Coeur-de-Lion was long accused of having instigated the murder. Two Assassins allowed themselves to be baptized, and placing themselves beside him, seemed only intent on praying; but the favourable opportunity presenting itself, they slew him, and one of them took refuge in a church. But hearing that the prince had been carried off still alive, he again forced his way into Montferrat's presence, and
This, at least, is the usual derivation. But it is doubtful, for hashish was not taken by the Assassins only, but by all Eastern nations. Possibly the word is derived from the Arab hass, meaning to destroy, kill. The Jew Benjamin, who wrote in 1173, when speaking of the sect, says their name is derived from asasa, 'to lay snares.'