"The richness of the historical truths of the Order of Assassins and the Knights Templar intertwine inexorably with the myths that have stimulated the imagination of countless minds through the centuries. Both the Assassins and Templars were destroyed as heretics some seven hundred years ago."
Thus begins the latest book by James Wasserman, "The Templars and the Assassins: The Militia of Heaven" . Like many other researchers and practitioners of the Western Esoteric Tradition, I too have had a long and continuous interest in the "myths" of both of these groups, not least of all since I was born in Tripoli, Lebanon, which still has a Templar Fort as a landmark. Both groups shared a very similar structure, and were said to be guardians of initiatic wisdom (Wasserman supports the idea that the Templars were transformed by an infusion of this Wisdom from the Assassins). Both groups embody intriguing archetypes: the noble group of warrior monks devoted to a higher purpose (the Templar motto was "Not for our Glory but for yours O Lord") which supposedly later degenerated into a powerful elite that snubbed political and religious authority and then was sacrificed on a funeral pyre from whose ashes many branches of the Western initiatic societies claim lineage. In the case of the Assassins it is the darker archetype of the secret society using drugs to gain recruits, and deliberately molding them for political purposes by utilizing them as agents employing the method now synonymous with their name: "assassination". According to Brocardus, a 14th-century German priest, "The Assassins...sell themselves, are thirsty for human blood, kill the innocent for a price, and care nothing for either life or salvation. Like the devil, they transfigure themselves into angels of light, by imitating the gestures, garments, languages, customs and acts of various nations and peoples; thus, hidden in sheep's clothing, they suffer death as soon as they are recognized."
There are so many unanswered mysteries surrounding both orders , it is little wonder that there is a ready public hungry for the newest addition to the voluminous literature which often glamorizes these groups or merely repeats the mythos of secret initiatic teachings and the "hidden hand" which created Freemasonry , and even international banking . A detailed overview of both groups which leads us through the labyrinthine turnings to one of the best examinations of the historical reality and context of both orders. Wasserman acknowledges the help of such eminent scholars as Peter Lamborn Wilson (also known as the delightful Hakim Bey). For the first time we have access, in English to the document "In Praise of the New Knighthood" by St Bernard of Clairvaux, who supervised the writing of the Rule of the Templars.
Originally appearing as a preliminary investigation in "The Equinox 3, No 10", the author openly states his 25 year affiliation with the OTO. However he has truly fleshed out this earlier draft and presents many missing pieces of the jigsaw. Details of the theory and structure of secret societies, the little understood divisions between the Sunni and Shiite sects and the sub branches of seven and twelve imam schools are presented with the healthy mixture of scholarship and plain speaking. The Templars are shown to have been a revolt against the decadence that knighthood had become, and the Assassins are shown to have been a society of free thinkers, with a legitimate and sophisticated hierarchical system of nine degrees of initiation into Gnosis. By necessity they had to have a military wing in order to safeguard their existence due to the tyranny of local political and religious leaders. The Ismaili Nizari sect still in existence today and ruled by the Aga Khan are shown to be the descendants of the Assassins.
Curiously Wasserman points out that there is no evidence of the actual administration of the drug Hashish to any of the members and points out that the allegation was leveled against them by Sunni critics who wished to denigrate them by associating them with a practice even now associated in the Middle Eastern world with the disreputable elements of the lower class. Idries Shah has pointed out in his writings that another derivation for their name is "People of the Assas", ie "the Foundation" and infers that they were actually an arm of the Sufis whose allegorical methods were interpreted literally. Witness the common reference to wine as an intoxicant (symbolizing the inebriated state of ordinary consciousness and paradoxically its transmutation) amongst the many Sufi poets, such as Rumi and Omar Khayyam, who are claimed by the Nizaris as being members of their order .
There is a lingering romance in the popular mind with these seminal influences on Western culture generally, and esoteric orders in particular. This book will prove to be a valuable addition to the library of any serious researcher, and a good companion to revelatory texts such as John Robinson's "Born in Blood", which has presented one of the most lucid substantiations of the Templar origin of Freemasonry. Whilst many other books merely repeat the many historical details , James Wasserman has done us all a great service by allowing us to access further insights into the beliefs and relevance of these traditions. One always looks forward to such well researched and eloquently written expositions.