Review of “The Templars and Assassins: The Militia of Heaven” by James Wasserman

Posted: November 23, 2011 in Book Reviews, Uncategorized

Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law.

I started reading this book on Google Books and quickly exhausted all of its available pages. I was pretty much hooked from the get-go. Mostly due to my recent fascination with the cult of Assassins.

I recently read a wonderful book called Cannabis: A History by Martin Booth. In this book the Islamic history of marijuana smoking is extensively discussed, including the rumors that the Assassins were avid users of this herb, called the Hashishin by some for their alleged use of hashish. However, Martin Booth asserts that there is no evidence that the Assassins ever had systematic use of cannabis by the Assassins, and that this was probably just slander against them by their enemies.

He wrote that very little is known about the Assassins.

Though this certainly sparked my curiosity, I became irrevocably obsessed with the Assassins after hearing Bil Laswell’s album Hashisheen: The End of the Law.

This album is difficult to describe. But to those who are already in the know, the beat movement, jazz, and this sort of 50s hipsterism was way ahead of the curve when it came to pondering the Assassins. In part, just by making shit up.

William S. Burroughs was particularly keen on pondering and simultaneously inventing the Assassins.

To me, the secret society of the Assassins is what this book is all about.

I don’t really care about the Templars, and this book didn’t reveal anything particularly exciting about the Templars. I know there is a ton of people, including probably all Dan Brown fans, who love the Templars and could read about the Templars all day. But from what I could tell from this book, the Templars were basically solid chivalrous medieval christians who were hardcore about the crusades.

Just a bunch of stand-up guys. That’s also Wassermans’ take on the Masons as far as I can tell.

Now back to the Assassins. Oh yes.

For those of you who play the video game Assassins Creed much of what I write here will be old news. Though I have yet to play this game every time I try to wow my friends with interesting trivia about the Assassins they are merely hearing my banter about what has already been very nicely put into a popular video game.

Though I would add that if you read this book you will be able to differentiate between the real and myth of that game. The game seems to indulge many of the popular myths about the Assassins.

Now, my first question is did the Assassins smoke pot? I don’t know. No one really knows. The term Hash-shi-shin may have been a way that other Muslims spread propaganda against them. By saying that they were basically pot heads. Cannabis use thrived in the middle east, and we really get it from them in the west. So this would not have necessarily been an obscure insult.

Though it is entirely possible because the Assassins routinely practiced very mystical, very esoteric, and in my opinion extremely forward thinking futuristic versions of Islam.

Wasserman goes into great depth about the historical setting and the cultural shifts that Islam was undergoing, and more importantly the Ismaili sect of Islam which has Shia roots and teaches that the world at any time hosts a living messianic super being called the hidden imam (which mainstream Shia also believe in). But, speaking as a radical, neo-beatnik, aesthetic terrorist who listens to music inspired by revolt, the Ismaili version is much more interesting.

At times the leader of the Assassins would have the clout, charisma and vision to make their followers wonder if they were in the presence of this great Buddha.

Sometimes these guys were extremely libertine, forbidding Sharia law (all the repressive Muslim strictures) and enforcing a kind of liberalism and modernity of culture which really boggles a historically literate mind to know this flourished a thousand years ago.

The most interesting character of the book is easily the leader of the Syrian Assassins, who’s stories read like the modern DC Vertigo comic Hellblazer, who’s star is a former punk rock singer who happens to be a demonological prodigy, a Faust, a Merlin, an Aleister Crowley.

This aesthetic and philosophy, this incarnation of memes, has deep roots in Islam and the Assassins were a particularly fascinating historical fruit of this phenomena.

The book is worth it for that part, at least. But if you are into Templars, then Wasserman comes highly recognized for his expertise and I sincerely hope you are pleased.

I was a little bored. I don’t blame Wasserman. I blame the Templars.

Love is the law. Love under will.

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Comments
  1. Mustafa al-Laylah Bey says:

    Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law.

    Even though I read this book I don’t for the life of me recall whether Wasserman discussed Hasan II, (pbuhm) of Alamut. Easily my favorite of the numerous colorful characters in Ismailism.

    If you really want to get into the nitty-gritty of the Nizari Ismaili (which the “Hashishin” were) pick up Farhad Daftary’s hefty “The Ismailis: Their History and Doctrines.” This book goes into staggering detail of the Alamuti and post-Alamuti period as well as taking delightful diversions into such interesting characters as the Qarmatians, who absconded with the Ka’aba’s black stone, fomented a slave rebellion in Iraq (Occupy Basra!) and were considered an early form of esoterically-based Socialism. Or the Druze who were founded by the Mad Alchemist Caliph Hakim and mixed Ismailism with Greek philosophy and Gnosticism. Or the delightful Aga Khans, like Sir Sultan Muhammad Shah, Aga Khan III who during his golden, diamond and platinum jubilee had himself weighed and gave away his weight in gold, diamonds and platinum to hospitals and schools. Anyway, it’s a great book, if a bit daunting and worth the read.

    Love is the law, love under will.

    Mustafa al-Laylah Bey
    Revesian Exilarch
    Khalwat-i-Khzer Lodge
    Moorish Orthodox Church of America

    • Eric says:

      Great article and reply as well. I’m fairly ignorant of this topic…like many others, I had heard the hashashin – hashish assassin myth, but then I had heard it likely discredited. That was about the extent of my knowledge, it sounds like a fascinating topic. I had heard that the Islamic world was more liberal in the past, but again, didn’t know any details. It sounds like something I’m going to have to look into further.

  2. mindcore says:

    Eric,

    Islam was to the point of surreal, in its golden age. Its hard to find info on this kind of stuff, but I really have gotten into it. Mostly due to my friends in the Moorish Orthodox Church, which I also claim as one of my Orders to which I belong. Along with the O.T.O.

    I could recommend more info. Are you into podcasts? That Bill Laswell album is also as good an introduction as anything. Let me know and I will post some links.

  3. mindcore says:

    Unfortunately Aeon Byte Gnostic Radio had a great episode, but it seems to be gone.

    Here is one on Rumi, definitely essential for understanding mystical Islam:
    http://being.publicradio.org/programs/2010/rumi/

    Here is a military history podcast specifically about the Assassins:
    http://hw.libsyn.com/p/a/6/3/a63d51912dac4594/Hashshashin_Assassins.mp3?sid=43d004f15ab8c6473ce64de1cc7bbe64&l_sid=20976&l_eid=&l_mid=1960177&expiration=1322334529&hwt=c1147258e63a94bcb8f00fea8fcc04fc

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