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Secret Societies of the Middle Ages

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Author Topic: Secret Societies of the Middle Ages  (Read 1861 times)
Trena Alloway
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« Reply #15 on: January 04, 2009, 10:56:52 pm »

p. 66

CHAPTER V.

Organization of the Society--Names given to the Ismaïlites--Origin of the name Assassin--Marco Polo's description of the Paradise of the Old Man of the Mountain--Description of it given by Arabian writers--Instances of the obedience of the Fedavee.

HAVING traced thus far the history of this celebrated society, having shown its origin, and how it grew out of the claims of the descendants of Ali to the khalifat, mixed with the mystic tenets which seem to have been ultimately derived from India, we proceed to describe its organization, and its secret doctrines, as they are related by oriental historians.

Hassan Sabah clearly perceived that the plan of the society at Cairo was defective as a mean of acquiring temporal power. The Dais might exert themselves, and proselytes might be gained; but till possession was obtained of some strongholds, and a mode of striking terror into princes devised, nothing effectual could be achieved. He first, therefore, as we have seen, made himself master of Alamoot and the other strong places, and then added to the Dais and the Refeek another class, named Fedavee (Devoted), whose task it was to yield implicit obedience to the mandate of their chief, and, without inquiry or hesitation, plunge their dangers into the bosom of whatever victim was pointed out to them, even though their own lives should be the immediate sacrifice. The ordinary dress of the Fedavee was (like that of all the sects opposed to the house of Abbas) white; their caps, girdles, or boots, were red. Hence they were named the White (Mubeiyazah),

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and the Red (Muhammeré *); but they could with ease assume any guise, even that of the Christian monk, to accomplish their murderous designs.

The gradations in the society were these. At the head of it stood Hassan himself and his successors, with the title of Seydna, or Sidna † (Our Lord), and Sheikh-al-Jebal (Mountain Chief), a name derived from that of the territory which was the chief seat of the power of the society. This last, owing to the ambiguity of the word sheikh (which, like seigneur and signore, signifies either an elder or chief), has been ridiculously translated by the early European historians Old Man of the Mountain. Under him were the Dai-’l-Kebir (Great Missionaries), of which there were three, for the three provinces of Jebal, Kuhistan and Syria ‡. Then came the Dais, next the Refeek, then the Fedavee, and lastly the Lazik, or aspirants.

Hassan was perfectly aware that without the compressing power of positive religion no society can well be held together. Whatever, therefore, his private opinions may have been, he resolved to impose on the bulk of his followers the most rigid obedience to the positive precepts of Islam, and, as we have seen, actually put his own son to death for a breach of one of them.

Hassan is said to have rejected two of the degrees of the Ismaïlite society at Cairo, and to have reduced them to seven, the original number in the plan of Abdallah Maimoon, the first projector of this secret society. Besides these seven degrees, through which the aspirants gradually rose to knowledge, Hassan,




p. 68

in what Hammer terms the breviary of the order, drew up seven regulations or rules for the conduct of the teachers in his society. 1. The first of these, named Ashinai-Risk (Knowledge of duty), inculcated the requisite knowledge of human nature for selecting fit persons for admission. To this belonged the proverbial expressions said to have been current among the Dais, similar to those used by the ancient Pythagoreans, such as Sow not on barren ground (that is, Waste not your labour on incapable persons). Speak not in a house where there is a lamp, (that is, Be silent in the presence of a lawyer). 2. The second rule was called Teënis (Gaining of confidence), and taught to win the candidates by flattering their passions and inclinations. 3. The third, of which the name is not given, taught to involve them in doubts and difficulties by pointing out the absurdities of the Koran, and of positive religion. 4. When the aspirant had gone thus far, the solemn oath of silence and obedience, and of communicating his doubts to his teacher alone, was to be imposed an the disciple; and then (5.) he was to be informed that the doctrines and opinions of the society were those of the greatest men in church and state. 6. The Tessees (Confirmation) directed to put the pupil again through all he had learned, and to confirm him in it. And, (7.) finally, the Teëvil (Instruction in allegory) gave the allegorical mode of interpreting the Koran, and drawing whatever sense might suit their purposes from its pages. Any one who had gone through this course of instruction, and was thus become perfectly imbued with the spirit of the society, was regarded as an accomplished Dai, and employed in the important office of making proselytes and extending its influence.

We must again express our opinion that the minute accounts which are given to us by some writers, respecting the rules and doctrines of secret associations,

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should be received with a considerable degree of hesitation, owing to the character and the means of information of those from whom we receive them. In the present case our authority is a very suspicious one. We are told that when Alamoot was taken by Hoolekoo Khan, the Mongol prince, he gave his vizir, the learned Ata-Melek (King's father) Jowani, permission to examine the library, and to select such books as were worthy of being preserved. The vizir took out the Korans and some other books of value in his eyes; the rest, among which are said to have been the archives and the secret rules and doctrines of the society, he committed, after looking cursorily through them, to the flames. In an historical work of his own he gave the result of his discoveries in those books, and he is the authority from which Mirkhond and other writers have derived the accounts which they have transmitted to us. It is quite clear, therefore, that the vizir of Hoolakoo was at liberty to invent what atrocities he pleased of the sect which was destroyed by his master, and that his testimony is consequently to be received with suspicion. On the other hand it receives some confirmation from its agreement with the account of the society at Cairo given by Macrisi, and is not repugnant to the spirit of Soofeïsm.

This last doctrine, which is a kind of mystic Pantheism, viewing God in all and all in God, may produce, like fatalism, piety or its opposite. In the eyes of one who thus views God, all the distinctions between vice and virtue become fleeting and uncertain, and crime may gradually lose its atrocity, and be regarded as only a mean for the production of a good end. That the Ismaïlite Fedavee murdered innocent persons without compunction, when ordered so to do by his superiors, is an undoubted fact, and there is no absurdity in supposing that he and they may have

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