One of the most profound enigmas of the existence of secret societies is and has always been, why do people join? Why is it, that people find these groups so interesting? What is it that we are looking for?
There are the usual and obvious answers to these questions. That we are all searching for enlightenment in our own way, and that each person finds it in different ways hence the need for so many kinds of secret organizations. This has been called a void that we need to somehow fill, an emptiness within each one of us that calls out for a higher being or state of consciousness. Some psychologists believe that this is an evolutionary aspect of our lives, that within us there is a constant urge to improve and a deep-rooted hope. This hope makes us strive for more and thus we become the strongest and fittest of the species - hence evolution.
But, there is a truth in this that has missed many. There is a void within us, quite literally. This void is the lack of the true enlightenment experience. There actually is a higher state of consciousness. If it were not so, then the feeling and emotions which drive people towards re-discovering it would not be so strong and so universal. It is not - and I have to state this each time - the kundalini, which itself is a troubled and yet beautiful human electro-bio-chemical reaction. To follow this ancient Hindu concept to the letter is in the first instance next to impossible because texts do not exist, and secondly it is highly dangerous and can easily lead to psychosis and other forms of mental problems. It is one aspect of the true inner wisdom, but not the only aspect.
The secret societies, and indeed, some religions of the globe, have attempted over the millennia to bring us back to this state of consciousness, but they have more often than not utilized it for their own power gain. How do we know this? A quick study of the secret societies of the globe will show that the enlightenment experience has been used in every single occasion to draw people in and keep them in place.
From at least the 11th century, an enigmatic group known erroneously as the Assassins emerged in Persia. They take their name from Hashish (hashish-im, hashish takers), a trance inducing drug thought by many to help the leaders control the minds of the subverts. The name was originally in fact an insult.
In one famous statement, Hasan, son of Sabah, the Sheikh of the Mountains and leader of the Assassins said to an official of the Emperors court, "You see that devotee standing guard on yonder turret-top? Watch!" The Sheikh made a signal and immediately the devotee threw himself off the mountain top precipice to his death. "I have seventy thousand men and women throughout Asia, each one of them ready to do my bidding."
In the first instance, this is amazing control over the mind of another individual. In the second it implies that the Assassins were much older than this early appearance, with seventy thousand devotees cast throughout Asia. No society can set up seventy thousand devotees overnight, it would take many years to cultivate this kind of following and it would also take a lot of convincing - unless there were an easier method of control, that is!
As if to mimic or indeed follow an older institution, the Assassins went through a cycle of initiation based upon seven levels. This relates entirely to the seven chakra points of initiation in the close by Hindu tradition. A tradition based around the energy of the serpent. It was at the seventh level that the Assassins reached the great secret, that all mankind and all of creation were one and that everything was part of the whole. This great secret included being part of the whole and understanding its creative and destructive elements. The Ismaili (Assassin initiate) could therefore make use of this great power held within him. They firmly believed, and in my opinion rightly, that the rest of mankind knew nothing of this power, with the exception of the other secret societies.
The power came through the use of the drug Hashish and clever ritualistic involvement making the Ismaili feel part of a greater good, as a chosen one - something Adolf Hitler would later use to gain control of the German people. There was however, an eighth level which was slightly separate and this taught that all religions and philosophies were false and that the only thing that mattered was fulfillment of this greater power, which lay within. Contrary to popular belief the Assassins were not just Muslims, they were not under any category that is currently known, other than secret society. It was only later on in their existence that they had to turn to Islam as a means of survival and even then they had special privileges that allowed them to alter the religion at will.
The Assassins are always linked, and rightly, to the Knights Templar. Both groups had dealings and a mutual respect. There are even monetary dealings between the two groups. Could it be that the Templars understood this greater secret and brought this Holy Grail of enlightenment back to Europe with them?
The secret rituals of the Templars and the accusations made against them would relate entirely to the cult of the Assassins. The question has to be asked, did the Templars utilize the same mind controlling techniques as the Assassins? There is in fact evidence to suggest that the Templars, in connection with the Assassins, actually understood the use of drugs, especially for the relief of pain. Robert Anton Wilson in his book 'Sex and Drugs,' indicated his belief that the Templars in fact used Hashish, and learned the use from the Assassins. This is not an unreasonable assumption, given the links. There are links to be found in the Templar rituals and beliefs with much of the Middle Eastern religions.
For example, the initiate ritual of the Sufi involved passing through a doorway of two pillars. This entrance symbolised the portal into a world of illumination, knowledge and enlightenment. If it is true that the Freemasons emerged from a font of Templar knowledge, then this could indeed be one of the origins for the twin pillars of the Mason guilds. It is also similar to the twin pillars that pilgrims to Mecca must pass through (Safa and Marwa).
Parsi (Persian Zoroastrianism) influence is also seen in the Kusti ritual where each day they would tie a sacred cord around their waist. The fact that the Templars were accused of holding a ritual with a sacred cord closely resembling the practice of the Zoroastrian Kusti, indicates a tradition of knowledge going back through thousands of years.
These traditions can also be seen in that great Roman religion of Mithraism where the initiate was marked with the sign of the cross on the forehead. This was to signify the sun and the place of illumination, the very same as that of the Hindus, ancient Egyptians and tribal Americans, to name a few.
Much of this ancient and supposedly secret teaching was passed on eventually in what is known as Gnosticism. All Gnostics cannot be drawn into one bag, but there is a general theme - that of illumination and enlightenment. The methods are now familiar to us. Many believed that through a frenzy they could achieve the ultimate state and others that by fasting and meditation they would be drawn closer to God. The results were the same; a deeper understanding of themselves and the belief that they were in touch with God. This ecstasy would invigorate, and like being in a Nexus, the initiate would constantly want to re-achieve this state, thus keeping him in the fold. The experience was so very real to the religious mind that they truly believed they were in communion with God.
The various methods used to access this altered state are very ancient. The ritual abstinence from food was as old as man. Practiced in the rituals of Eleusis, the initiate would undergo a prolonged period of fasting and then followed a period of waiting. This increased the sense of anticipation and heightened the mind, which would create the event in their mind before it actually occurred. No leader could ask for more. Eventually, the initiate was lead into the Temple where they enjoyed a ritualistic meal and thus great effects were produced in the body with increased levels of sugar in the blood, the mind almost in a trance state. There was whirling like the dervishes, sleep-inducing drinks and play-acting by the great and seemingly powerful priests. Sacred objects and sacred words, at this point of heightened state, would be revealed. The age and breadth of this system of indoctrination can be seen in the closing words, "Cansha om pacsha," a Sanskrit term. Indeed, it is accepted by scholars that these rituals emerged in India from the ancient Brahmins. Strangely, these rituals also involved a sevenfold cord that marked the passing of the initiate.
As Aristotle himself wrote, "Those who are being initiated do not so much learn anything, as experience certain emotions, and are thrown into a special state of mind." This special state of mind was a plasticity of the initiate that the priests could bend and manipulate to their own ends; just as the Old Man of the Mountain manipulated the Assassins. The initiate truly believed he or she had visited other worlds.
All these methods and means of manipulation were passed on through time into all manner of modern secret societies. In the High Priesthood of Thebes, a society first revealed in Germany in the 18th century, it was written of the initiate, "He was led to two high pillars between which stood a griffin driving a wheel before him. The pillars symbolised east and west, the griffin the sun, and the wheel spokes, the four seasons. He was taught the use of the level and instructed in geometry and architecture. He received a rod, entwined by serpents and the password 'Heve' (serpent), and was told the story of the fall of man." The symbols within this initiation are now obvious and ancient.
In the initiations and rituals of witches, similar themes are found. Whirling, dancing and a general build up to frenzy, would bring the participant into a general trance state, known today as catharsis. This was helped along with drugs, such as the ointment used by the witches to help them fly and which contained hyoscine. The leader would then guide them through a set piece ritual of words and incantations leading to complete mind control. Such control indeed, that like many religions, the participant would often give up their own family and friends. This is the origin of what we call in modern times a cult and it can now be realized just how hard it is to break from the cult.
This awakening of the mind through ecstasy is on the one hand a release from the norm and a breakthrough for the mind into a freedom state, but on the other hand it is a dangerous tool, used by many cults, secret societies and in fact mainstream religion to control and manipulate the masses for their own ends. It may be that some have nothing but good intentions at heart, but history has shown repeatedly that greed is all-powerful and can take the soul of many well meant groups.
The lesson is, be careful in what and whom you believe.