Drug-related tales. #1

From ‘The World’s Greatest Books, Volume 19’

‘Travel and Adventure’

Edited by Arthur Mee and James Alexander Hammerton

‘Travels’ by Marco Polo

‘II.—Legends of Ancient Persia

Persia was anciently a great province, but it is now in great part destroyed by the Tartars. From the city called Saba came the three magi who adored Christ at Bethlehem. They are buried in Saba, and are all three entire with their beards and hair. They were Baldasar, Gaspar, and Melchior. After three days’ journey you come to Palasata, the castle of the fire-worshippers. The people say that the three magi, when they adored Christ, were by Him presented with a closed box, which they carried with them for several days, and then, being curious to see what it contained, were constrained to open. In it was a stone signifying that they should remain firm to the faith they had received.

Thinking themselves deluded, they threw the stone into a pit, whence instantly fire flamed forth. Bitterly repenting, they took home with them some of the fire, and placed it in a church, where it is adored as a god, the sacrifices all being performed before it. Therefore, the people of Persia worship fire.

In the north of Persia the people tell of the Old Man of the Mountain. He was named Alo-eddin, and was a Moslem. In a lovely valley he had planted a magnificent garden and built a cluster of gorgeous palaces, supplied by means of conduits with streams of wine, milk, honey, and pure water. Beautiful girls, skilled in music and dancing, and richly dressed, were among the inhabitants of this retreat.

The chief object of Alo-eddin in forming this fascinating garden was to persuade his followers that, as Mahomet had promised to the Moslems the enjoyments of Paradise, with every species of sensual gratification, so he was also a prophet and the compeer of Mahomet, and had the power of admitting to Paradise whom he pleased. An impregnable castle guarded the entrance to the enchanting valley, the entrance to this being through a secret passage.

At his court this chief entertained many youths, selected from the people of the mountains for their apparent courage and martial disposition. To these he daily preached on Paradise and his prerogative of granting admission; and at certain times he caused opium to be administered to a dozen of the youths, who, when half dead with sleep, were conveyed to apartments in the palaces in the gardens. On awakening, each person found himself surrounded by lovely damsels, who sang, played, served delicate viands and exquisite wines, till the youth, intoxicated with excess of enjoyment, believed himself assuredly in Paradise, and felt unwilling to quit it.

After four or five days the youths were again thrown into somnolency and carried out of the garden; and when asked by Alo-eddin where they had been, declared that by his favour they had been in Paradise, the whole court listening with amazement to their recital. The consequence was that his followers were so devoted to his service that if any neighbouring chiefs or princes gave him umbrage they were put to death by these disciplined assassins, and his tyranny made him dreaded through all the surrounding provinces. He employed people to rob travellers in their passage through his country. At length the grand khan grew weary of hearing of his atrocious practices, and an army was sent in the year 1262 to besiege him in his castle. It was so strong that it held out for three years, until Alo-eddin was forced through lack of provisions to surrender, and was put to death. Thus perished the Old Man of the Mountain.’

Assassins smoked cannabis…

‘Marco Polo recounted that Hassan would feed his fedayeen hashish, then take them to the splendid, hidden gardens on the castle grounds. There they would be entertained by beautiful girls claiming to be the houris of Paradise—indeed, they were in Paradise, to which the Old Man alone could deliver them. With such a promise, the fedayeen became totally loyal, willing to do anything for him. This distinguishing use of hashish was what gave the original Assassins their name—hashishin transformed into assassin.

The esoteric beliefs of the original Assassins contributed to such legends. Nizari doctrine was obscure, and only fully revealed to the initiated. Many doubtlessly feared that they held some secret power. The mystery of it only contributed to their reputation.

But it was the Assassins’ fanatical loyalty that was most terrifying. Legend told that while entertaining a visitor, the one commander ordered two of his fedayeen to kill themselves. Without hesitation, one stabbed himself and the other flung himself off a high tower. They were so confident in the rewards of Paradise that they eagerly embraced death. This fearlessness was not just a display to intimidate visitors: it allowed the Assassins to carry out murders with steel nerves. One of their most terrifying trademarks was how calmly Assassins awaited torture and death after a successful kill.’






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