Cannabis, the Holy Grail, and the Secrets of the Templars?

CANNABIS CULTURE – I think today’s, October, Friday the 13th, may in fact be the 100th Friday the 13th in October since the Templars were rounded up and arrested on that date, in 1307! In celebration of this onerous commemoration, I thought I’d release a little taste of what I have been working on in regards to the Templars relationship with cannabis and some of the claims that have been made about it from various sources, that I have been putting together for my forthcoming book Liber 420: Cannabis, Magical Herbs and the Occult

The history of the Templars is clouded in controversy, and the bad luck associated with Friday the 13th, is thought to have originated with the October,  Friday the 13th, 1307 simultaneous raids of Templar properties. On this date there were arrests of all Templars who could be found, including the Grandmaster Jacques de Molay, and all possessions of the order were immediately seized, and strict inventories were kept of all items taken.

At their peak, the Templars counted 15,000 members, an impressive number for the early medieval period, they had numerous properties throughout Europe and the Mid East, and they had acquired legendary wealth, which they controlled like bankers. Many where burned alive for their alleged  crimes of heresy. The court records, and the legitimacy of the arrest of this mysterious order of medieval knights, is still hotly debated, through this controversy, they have become legends of the Occult world.

 A relationship between cannabis and the Templars, is something I have mulled over, investigated and speculated about for about a quarter century, and I am far from alone in that speculation. I wrote a little about this in my first co-authored book Green Gold the Tree of Life: Marijuana in Magic and Religion (1995).  At that time, I relied almost completely on libraries and physical books, since then, access to information has become much more accessible due to the development of the internet and access to rare material, and I have been revisiting this area for my new book, Liber 420: Cannabis, Magical Plants and the Occult.

It has long been suggested that there was considerable “cultural exchanges” between the Islamic cannabis cult, the Hashishins or “Assassins” and the controversial heroes/anti-heroes of the Crusade era, the Knights Templar. Such a connection could explain many of the so-called crimes of heresy that the Templars were accused of. We also know that the Hashishins, were accused by their own enemies of heresy as well as drug taking, licentious sexual orgies,and  sorcery. The Hashishin, like the  Nosairiyeh, with whom they shared a common heritage, were also suspected by “Muslims… and Crusaders alike… that they practiced the pagan and Gnostic sexual rites of antiquity” (Deveney, 1997).

As well as the preservation from ancient times of the “sacred libation (the Haoma)” (Conder, 1886). Haoma being the Persian counterpart of the Indian Soma, a sacred drink that inspired the devottees who partook of it. A strong case for cannabis as an ingredient can be made for both Haoma and Soma.  (In fact a group associated with the Hashishin was thought to be partaking of cannabis as “homa” well into the 19th century). And recent archeological finds have indicated this role in the ancient world as well.

In their initiations, the Hashishin were said to have have used a potent hashish preparation.

There can be no doubt that the use of hemp as an intoxicant was encouraged by the Ismailians in the 8th century, as its effects tended to assist their followers in realizing the tenets of the sect:

    “We’ve quaffed the emerald cup, the mystery we know,

     Who’d dream so weak a plant such mighty power could show!” (Dymock, 1890)

Most interestingly, in regards to this study, are the little known references to hashish infused wine, in the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam.

….I will therefore place this hashish in my cup of wine and thus I will strangle the serpent of my grief.

The drinker alone can understand the language of the rose and of the vine, and not the faint-hearted, and the cheap of wit. To those who have no knowledge of hidden things, ignorance is to be pardoned, for the drunkard only is capable of tasting the delights which are an accompaniment thereof.*

*as translated in (McCarthy, 1889).

The references from Omar Khayyam, indicate that his close friend, Hassan I Sabbah, the first ‘Old Man of the  Mountain’, and Leader of the Hashishin, would have been familiar with hashish by proxy alone. Further elements of the Zoroastrian cosmology inherent with the beliefs of the Hashishin, indicates that the mystic use of hashish, had come through Persian Zoroastrian sources, which had a history of mystic use of cannabis infused wines, and the Assassins were the carriers of this earlier tradition.

In both cases, the ancient Zoroastrian situation and the Hashishin accounts, the preparation was potent enough to induce a deathlike coma, where both witnesses and participant believed they had died and left their bodies.

In the Zoroastrian tale “…the Artak Viraz Namak… Hell, Purgatory, and Heaven, the rewards bestowed on the good, and the punishment awaiting the sinner are here described in a vision induced by hashish” (Campbell, 2000). As Herbert Gowen explained in A History of Religion, some centuries after the time of Zoraoster, when the people had grown sceptical and began to loose faith it was decided by the “the dasturs (an order of priests) to send one of their number, through the use of hashish, to the other world, that he may report on his return as to the realities of future reward and retribution.”

An intoxicated and unconscious Arda Viraf witnessing scenes of Heaven and Hell in an 1871 Gujarati manuscript of the Zoroastrian Arda Viraf NamehBook of Arda Viraf’. Arda Viraf drinks “three gold cups with wine and ‘Vistaspic’ hemp (in other words hemp extract)… and then falls asleep… and during this time his soul visits heaven and hell” (Nyberg, 1938). In the Islamic counterpart of this rite, the Islamic paradise was witnessed by the Hashishin devotee through these same means.

Regarding this connection, John Bramhall, in his century old essay on Omar Khayyam, offered some interesting speculation, in relaition to how Khayyam may have come about his knowledge of hashish.

…[C]onsider that Khayyam was no Arabian, and much less a Turk, but a Persian whose not very remote ancestors were followers of Zoroaster… And while there is little reason to believe that Khayyam, scholar though he was, had a knowledge of…[the language]of ancient Persia, he had, no doubt, read the History of Tabari, which had been translated into Arabic and was a standard work in all libraries and gave some account of the Avesta. If he had not listened to the recitations of the Parsees, whose bloody persecution at the hands of the Seljuq conquerors he may have witnessed, he must have had some knowledge of their meaning and of the sentiment of the ancient faith of his people. The Gathas, or hymns of Zoroaster, may have arrested his attention, particularly the Haoma Yasht, which might supply a source of the “spiritual wine” of the Sufis, and of the hasheesh of his alleged friend, Hassan ben Sabbah, the chief of the Assassins, as well as offer an excuse, perhaps, for Omar’s devotion to “the cup” … [I]t may be assumed that such an inquiring mind as that of al-Khayyami would have studied every line he could obtain. (Bramhall, 1918)

The origins of the term ‘Hashishin’ has been a matter of much debate. “The etymology of the word ‘Assassin’ is said to come from Hashishin, i.e. hashish-taker. It was transmitted through the Romance language by the Crusaders who in the 12th century, fearful of this sect, associated their daring killings with the power of the drug” (Palgi, 1975). Although some authorities see an origin for the name through “Hashish” an Arabic word thought to mean “grass” or “herbage” others claim the name “Hashashin” is derived from the Persian ‘hassasin’, which holds connotations of “healer” or “herb seller”.  Still others see the origins of the name coming though “followers of Hassan” in reference to a prominent figure in the cult, Hassan-i Sabbah, the notorious childhood friend of the famous Islamic poet Omar Khayyam, who was known variously as the “Old Man of the Mountain”, “Sheik of Alamut” and “Keeper of Hashish”. Adding to this, as we are dealing with a hereditary cult, one could also speculate that an etymological connection might be found in the name of the tribe Muhammad came from, “Hashim”.

…[T]he nickname, and with it, the drug’s extended use, appear to have surfaced during the late eleventh century, and both may have been promoted by the real or alleged use of cannabis by sectarians who were engaged in spreading a vast network of open and secret influence over the Muslim world… (Rosenthal, 1971)

The first european account of the Assassins came from the chronicler and Benedictine abbot, Arnold of Lubeck recorded sometime around 1209.

In those days Conrad King of Jerusalem was killed by the treachery, it is said, of the king of England and of some Templars. At any rate the prince of the mountain, who is called Old Man on account of his supremacy, sent for a price two of his followers, who killed him. I shall now relate things about this elder which appear ridiculous, but which are attested to me by the evidence of reliable witnesses. This Old Man has by his witchcraft so bemused the men of his country, that they neither worship nor believe in any God but himself. Likewise he entices them in a strange manner with such hopes and with promises of such pleasures with eternal enjoyment that they prefer to die than to live. Many of them even, when standing on a high wall, will jump off at his nod or command, and, shattering their skulls, die a miserable death. When therefore any of them have chose to die in this way, murdering by craft and then themselves dying so blessedly in revenge for him, he himself hands them knives which are, so to speak, consecrated to this affair, and then intoxicates them with such potion that they are plunged into ecstasy and oblivion, displays them by his magic certain fantastic dreams, full of pleasure and delights, or rather of trumpery, and promises them eternal possession of these things in reward for such deeds. He sent two from this sect to kill the marquis, bribed it is said, by those who conspired in his death. He died and they died, but I do not know whether or not they were deified. (Arnold of Lubeck Chronica Slavorum 4.16)*

* As translated in (Pages, 2007)

However it should be remembered that this account, like that of Marco Polo’s comes through the lens of detractors and likely has little to do with how Hashish may have been used by the Hashishin. Likewise with man of the medieval islamic accounts, which came from sources that viewed the Hashishin as heretics. As Dr. Mike Aldrich has noted, “The drug employed for initiation into the cult was used to obtain a vision of paradise. It did not nerve them up for slaughter, was not used during their missions and did not make them crazy. Quite the contrary, it… gave them at least a fleeting glimpse of an altogether higher order of existence. If anything, political and religious intrigue, not hashish, caused assassination.” (Aldrich, 1978)

It has long been suggested that the Templars were involved in  a trade of good and knowledge with the Hashishin. Among the various occult theories, are that European knights were initiated by the Assassins and privy to their occult secrets. As Lady Queensborough, sensationally noted:

Having embraced Gnosticism while in Palestine, and in touch with the sect of the Assassins, the Templar order degenerated, and some of its members, under the influence of that sect, were said to practice Phallicism, or sex-worship and satanism and to venerate “The Baphomet”, the ideal of the Luciferians. (Queensborough, 1933).

The idea that the templars had picked up some form of Gnostic heresy through their association with the Hashishin goes back to at least the 18th century. In Versuch über die Beschuldigungen welche dem Tempelherrenorden gemacht worden, und über dessen Geheimniß (Attempts at the accusations made to the order of the Templars, and on the secrets of this, as well as some remarks on the rise of Freymasonry), written in 1782, Christoph Friedrich Nicolai suggested that the Templars had been influenced by Manichean Gnostics, and that they had adopted grades of initiations based on this from the Saracens. As well,  Karl Gottlieb Anton, author of Versuch Einer Geschichte Des Tempelherrnordens, ‘An Attempted History of the Templars of the North’ (1771), suggested a Gnostic related etymology for the name of the deity the Templars were accused of worshiping, Baphomet.

Most notably though is the work of Joseph von Hammer-Purgstall, Mysterium Baphometis revelatum (1818) and his claims of  an Assassin/Gnostic/Templar connection. von Hammer-Purgstall believed that images of cups, bowls, some with mortars, as well as images of them in the iconography, which he claimed to have collected from various Templar sites,  not only identified the continuation of the Gnostic rites, but also represented the Holy Grail.

“It ought to be understood that, under the custody of St. Graal, those brothers of the militia [the Templars], as custodians of the Gnostic chalice, were initiated into the gnostic mystery of iniquity” (von Hammer-Purgstall, 1818). The adoption of the Knights Templar of these practices, according to von Hammer-Purgstall, took place when the “knights confederated with the Assassins and… [were]imbued with their nefarious doctrine…”(von Hammer-Purgstall, 1818).

Unfortunately no English translation of Mysterium Baphometis revelatum has ever been published, although Tracy Twyman has a translation slated for publication, and was kind enough to let me read her unpublished version of Mysterium Baphometis revelatum and I will go into more detail in regards to what I found in there in Liber 420. von Hammer-Purgstall alleges the use of ritual incense fumigations, tinctures and ointments by the Templars. Although there is controversy about the authenticity of the Templar artifacts collected by von Hammer-Purgstall, he was a very much respected author in his own day. For better or worse, I suspect upon publication it will cause a sort of revelation in regards to the origins of Ordo Templi Orientis and Crowleyian sex magick, and other aspects of Templar and occult lore, as well as the archetypal concept of “Baphomet” as known today.

Such rumours have persisted into the modern day, and it is still readily claimed as “a fact that several of the founders of the Knights Templars were initiates in the Sect of the Assassins” (Ndakwe, 2003). Historically we do know that going back to their own time, the Templars were accused of entertaining Moslems within the confines of their Temple,  even allowing guests to perform plays and practice rituals there. As well,  there have also been more believable claims of temporary allegiances with the Templars and Assassins, against common enemies in the Mid East.

Jules Michelet noted, with less fanfare, in the History of France, the Templars “were notoriously in communication with the Assassins of Syria; and the similarities of their costume with that of the Old man of the Mountain was noticed with fear. They had received the Soldan [Sultan] in their houses, allowed the Mahommedans the exercise of their worship, and given the infidels warning of the arrival of Frederick II” (Michelet, 1845). The Templars did in reality break new new ground in diplomacy, and the “first treaty made between the Christians and the Muslims was with the leader of the Assassins” (Hodge, 2013).“The Templars… succeeded in establishing an ascendancy over the Assassin castles, and collected tribute from them” (Lewis, 1967/2003).  Lewis also notes a number of medieval cordial European contacts with the Assassins, and even a embassy of Muslim leaders “principally from the Old Man of the Mountain” into 13th century Europe, seeking allegiances with the French and British.  “…[S]ome intercourse of a social nature had unquestionably taken place between the Templars and Assassins in the twenty-five years of more or less pacific relations while the one group offered, and the other received, the yearly bloodwite or tribute of two thousand pieces of gold. (Legman, 1966).

As Jung and von Franz have noted in The Grail Legend: “In spite of all the controversies associated with the subject, the possibility that the Templars were spiritually influenced by certain movements of Islam, especially esoteric Gnostic ones, cannot be dismissed out of hand” (Jung & von Franz, 1960/1970). This has been a widely held view for centuries. “There is good reason for believing the Knights templar borrowed much of their constitution of their order from this terrible sect” (Hodgson, 1881).  “…[T]he question of the Assassins is not easy to dismiss, as a very intense relations between the Templars and the Persian guerrilla sect of the ‘Assacis’ or Hashish-eaters did exist at a date during the Crusades…” (Legman, 1966).

Among the various claims made about the connections between the Templars and Assassins, it has long been suggested that while on their sojourn to the Islamic controlled Holy Land, the European Knights Templar became associated with the use of hashish through a trade of goods and knowledge with the aforementioned Assassins and that the Templars brought back the occult use of the drug to Europe.

As the Reformed Church of the United States wrote of these Crusaders in a 19th century tract: “it is said that they speedily acquired the language, literature, and even the vices of the Orient. ‘They had sought the infidel, and the infidel converted them.’ Lounging in the bath, they listened to the stories of the Arabian Nights; or, perhaps, under the influence of opium or hasheesh, beheld for themselves the wonders of Jinistan” (Reformed Church of the United States, 1884). Konrad Bercovici, relating the Reefer Madness of his day, explained in The Crusades, that:

Upon their return to their homelands these knights continued their debaucheries. Their orgies and carouses were of a disgusting nature that even the French of those days had never heard of and could not condone. Sadism, masochism, voodoo rites, homosexuality, and every kind of perversion men were able to ferret out in their sick imaginations, were practiced by these returning cavaliers of the cross. These cavaliers had brought home the deadliest of narcotic weeds, hashish, Cannabis Indica, the use of which changes men into ferocious beasts. Under its influence the kindest individuals become monsters and murderers. (Bercovici, 1929).

A similar path, without the ominous overtones, was also suggested by Robert Anton Wilson, in his classic Sex and Drugs:

After contact with the Assassins… the Knights Templar developed some very peculiar doctrines. In 1307, the grand master of the order and 122 members were burned at the stake for heresy, blasphemy, sodomy and various other charges that seem to have been tacked on just to disgrace them utterly. The Templars had been trying to introduce sex into the Christian sacraments and ambiguous references to a sacred plant or herb appear in their surviving manuscripts. (Wilson, 1973)

Unfortunately, Wilson gave no indications as to what references he was referring too and cited no sources.

Much has been made of both the Templars, and their association with the Assassins, in modern works dealing with subjects such as the Grail and secret Societies as well. as in Secret Societies: Gardiner’s Forbidden Knowledge : Revelations about the Freemasons, Templars, Illuminati, Nazis, and the Serpent Cults, “There is evidence to suggest that the Templars, in connections with the Assassins… understood the use of drugs… There is links to be found in the Templar rituals and beliefs with much of the Middle Eastern religions. There is even Sufi influence…” (Gardiner, 2007).

More recently, Mark Amaru Pinkham, has loosely and dramatically  suggested of the Templars use of cannabis in Guardians of the Holy Grail: “The Assassins… identified the Holy Grail with not a cup or sacred object, but with the transformative power generated externally in their alchemical laboratories and through the intake of special herbs…” (Pinkham, 2004).

…[T]he Sufis, Assassins, and most probably the Knights Templar, smoked or consumed hashish, a compressed cannabis resin that was referred to in the Middle East as the “Flesh of Khadir.” [Khidr]  Through the sacramental consumption of Khadir’s own flesh they were able to adequately expand their consciousness into the presence of the Green Man. Their experience of Khadir… a tangible feeling of an all pervading consciousness or an eternal Witness who perpetually watches all third-dimensional existence from a transcendental realm…

….Apparently a cult of hashish flourished in Europe after the Knights returned to France… (Pinkham, 2004)

Khidr, or the “Green One” is identified with the Bible’s Elijah, and seen as an immortal spirit of inspiration and initiation, his association with hashish goes back to at least the medieval period.  Professor Georg Luck of John Hopkins University, also suggested that the Grail legends may have originated through this same cultural exchange, and that the myth’s origins were also tied with hashish :

The Alamut formula (for want of a better name) was a legendary brew containing hashish. It was prepared at [the mountain top fortress]Alamut… established in the eleventh century by Hassan Ibn Sabbah, the leader of the Assassins, a fanatical sect that had declared war on Crusaders and other Muslims. ‘Assassin’ originally meant “consumer of hashish”… members of the sect drank or smoked hashish in order to become immortal… the fortress was ransacked in 1256. It is said to have contained a large library, an alchemical laboratory and a collection of astronomical instruments. In other words: this was a research facility in the ancient Greco-Egyptian style that somehow survived, in an isolated spot, into the Middle Ages.

The idea behind theriac (based on opium) and the Alamut formula (based on hashish) may give us a clue to the concept of the Holy Grail, which came into being during an era of transition between antiquity and the middle-ages. It was supposed to be  a substance, or an object, sometimes associate with the body and blood of Christ, that vouchsafes happiness on earth and bliss in heaven to a chosen few. If you consider the linguistic connection between “holy” and “whole” and “healing” you can understand the Holy Grail both as a mystic (or magical) remedy and sacrament. (Luck, 1985; 2006)

In one account of the Grail story, when Lancelot and another Knight seeking the Grail enter the castle where it is held,  reminiscent of the Assassin initiates who were allegedly drugged unconscious, the heroes “quenched their thirst with wine, which overcame them immediately, as if it were nepenthe devised for that express purpose : and they fell into a deep sleep” (Waite, 1933). It has widely been suggested by numerous sources for centuries, that Nepenthe, famously used as an antidote for Grief in Homer’s Odyssey, was a cannabis infused wine (Bennett, 2010).And as Marco Polo wrote of an Assassin dosed with the Old Man of the Mountain’s potion: “after quaffing… intoxicating wine from glittering goblets, he sunk into the lethargy produced by debility and the opiate…” (Polo, 1300)

In relation to the grail in this context, it is interesting to note that it as well has been connected to the Persian Haoma and its Vedic counterpart Soma. Clearly the Grail has taken on many forms, but as a symbol it had to start somewhere, and it is in looking at the origins of this myth, that we can see some interesting connections with the lost history of both cannabis. and the myths of soma and haoma. In the well researched Jungian study The Grail Legend, by Emma Jung and Marie-Louise von Franz, the authors offered an over view of the different theories of the Grail legend’s origins. “ That the Legend originates, at least in part, in the East is indisputable and may be discerned from the texts themselves…” (Jung & von Franz, 1960/1970).

L.J. Ringbom in Graltempel und Paradises [(1951)]… attempts to establish the core of the legend as stemming from a Persian tradition…. Ringbom… tried… to show that the idea of the idea of the Grail Castle… came to Europe from Persia and that this castle or temple—a mandala shaped structure—represents Paradise, or spiritual Beyond, whose prototype he sees in the Parsee [Zoroastrian] sanctuary of the holy fire at Siz… Ringbom also compares its structure with the mountain sanctuary of the Moslem sect of the Assassins, a secret brotherhood under the authority of an ‘Old Man of the Mountain,’ with which the Templars cultivated particularly close relations.

…. F. Von Suhtshek [(1926; 1930; 1931; 1936)]…. also tries to trace Wolfram’s Parzival back to an Iranian national epic, Barzu-Name, and equates Monsalvatsch, for instance with sal-wadsche, a famous Parsee holy place. (Jung & von Franz, 1960/1970).

That there may be some connection between the Persian traditions associated with Haoma and the Grail mythology, has long been a subject of speculation. Notable references to this can be found in Sir Jehangir Cooverjee Coyajee,’s Iranian & Indian Analogues of the Legend of the Holy Grail, (1939).

Others have suggested that the San-grail is analogous to the Sanskrit  Soma-graha, the vessel used for the ritual drinking of Soma. In Vedic ritual, Soma was taken from “jars with small cups” known by the name ‘Graha’ , which is similar sounding to ‘Grail’. “At the Soma offering there are always two Grahas required” (Haug, 1863)..  “…graha,  the Soma cup (or ‘grail’)” (Wilson, 1999). “In Vedic literature… the word graha refers to a ‘sacrificial vessel,’ or, rather, a particular pot used to collect soma, the sacred drink that , in Indian mythology, granted immortality… The similarity between graha and grail in both sound and concept is marked” (Vinci, 2005).

This is interesting, when we consider that some of the early myths of the Grail refer to the Templars, along with the claim floating around that the Templars were using a cannabis infused wine, under the name the Elixir of Jerusalem. Dr. Camillo Di Cicco, a dermatologist from Rome Italy, in his book Heresy and Science in the Middle Ages (2015) and his paper ‘Heresy and Science in the Middle Ages, refers to a to a cannabis infused wine preparation used by the Templars under the name of the ‘Elisir of Jerusalem’:

The Templars created a mixture with pulp of Aloe, pulp of Hemp and wine of palm, called Elisir of Jerusalem, with therapeutic and nourishing property, they used the Arborescens Aloe for its antiseptic, bactericidal and fungicide action and for its capacity to penetration in the deeper layers of the skin….

….Interestingly cannabis is the safest natural or synthetic medication proven successful in the treatment of most forms of epilepsy.

The esoteric inheritance and the alchemical-spagyrics acquaintances were handed from the Templars to the Crocifers. From these Orders, that one of Saint Giacomo or Jacobite managed many Hospitals during the XV° century. To the Jacobite monks, in quality of experts in the cure of the diseases of the skin, the task was entrusted to cure the wounded soldiers during the Crusades, in the Hospitals of Malta and Cyprus. To them, in fact, was attributed the capability to create miraculous ointments.

In such historical context it must estimate the work of the Templars concluding with recognizing that they, anticipating the times, had a modern vision of the Medicine and, although were considered heretics and consigned to the fire. (Di Cicco, 2012)*

*Di Cicco also made this claim in a 2008 article, ‘Medicine of the Templars’.

In regards to this  ‘Elisir of Jerusalem’, a connection might be noted in the fact that ‘The Holy Jerusalem’ was one of the names used for Hashish by Sufi groups in medieval times, (Rosenthal, 1971). Clearly preparations such as this were in use by certain muslim mystics in this time period, and the idea that the Templars were consuming cannabis infused wine as a sacred elixir, is very intriguing. Moreover, this claim has appeared in a number of other Books, generally ones regarding the use of aloe vera. “…[T]he Knights Templar were said to have developed a brew or concoction of palm wine, aloe vera pulp and hemp -— an elixir that they called the ‘elixir of Jerusalem’ and to which they attributed their health, strength and longevity” (Barcroft & Myskja, 2003). Similar claims have been made elsewhere.  However, none lists any sort of source document for this claim, and the furthest I have been able to trace it back, is to Marc Schweiser’s 1994 book, Aloe the Health and Healing Plant:

The initiation into the medicinal virtues and powers of aloe and hemp were a part of the teachings of the Ismaelien sect, one of whose most illustrious representatives was the doctor and philosopher Avicenne.

According to legend, Hasan ibn al-Sabbah, the old man of the mountain and chief of the brotherhood of “assassins”, was inspired by Avicenne. Their doctrine included the apprenticeship by degree of the secrets of the “seven sebayahs” or “knowledge of the right road” by which the Ismaeliens conferred magic powers to their adepts. The aloe plant and hemp grown around the Alamut fortress (northern Persia) were considered by the Ismaeliens as a kidney vech, an antidote and an elixir of long life. It is said that one of the secrets of the longevity of the Templer  [sic] Knights was found in the famous Jerusalem elixir composed of hashish, aloe pulp and palm wine. (Schweiser, 1994)

Schweizer refers to Avicenna the famous Arabic Father of Medicine. As number of Templars were well versed in Arabic, and it has been suggested that due to their interest in medicine they would have obviously taken an interest in Avicenna’s Canon of Medicine, which was a major source of influence on European medicine well into the 17th century after it was translated into Latin and released throughout Europe. I have discussed Avicenna’s relationship with cannabis elsewhere.

In this regard, Schweizer’s reference to the “famous Jerusalem elixir” is more than an overstatement, as so little is to be found in reference to this concoction, and those who have written about it have cited no historical source. As I myself have been researching the history of cannabis for over a quarter century,  and I have read extensively on both the Templars and Ismailis, I am questioning the authenticity of this, as much as I would like it to be true. Unfortunately much of the source material on the Templars is in Latin, or medieval French, and possibly locked away in some archive at the Vatican Library, if modern conspiracy theorists are to be believed!

However, there are contemporary references to cannabis infused wines that show up in Europe in this same time period, such as a ‘A Treasury of Health’ (1277) authored by Pope John XXI  (1215-1277), who was friendly with the Templar’s and the advancement of medical science, which he held a deep personal interest in. In a A Treasury of Health by Pope John XXI*   [era 1277]a compendium of medieval medical knowledge “conteynyng many profitable medycines gathered out of Hypocrates, Galen and Auycen  [Avicenna]”, which offered some descriptive medical recipes. The reference to Galen, whose references to ancient use of cannabis has often been quoted, and even more so Avicenna, whose relationship with cannabis and the Ismailis was just discussed. Besides recommending the juice of hemp to take away the fever,  “The ioyce of Hempe, afore the fyt taketh away the feuer” in a “remedy against a carbuncle” , Pope John XXI also recommend a cannabis infused wine:

Remedies – Agaynst the scabe and french pokes cap. LXII

. . . Take of red colewortes, fengreke Percely, sothernewod, tansey, strawbery leaues, and suet, brere leaues, plantayn leaues, hempe, redmadder smallage, cransebill, Alam, nuttes, before al thynges let them be sodde~ together in pure whyte wyne, & put therto a lytle hony, giue it vnto the pacient early & late, and anoynte ye wound wtout when he hath dronke of ye sayd potion, & lay theron a lefe of red colewortes & keape the same co~tynually ouer it, it openeth it and hath ben often prouyd.

Pope John XXI’s comments coming from a time when the Papacy did not consider arts directed at the healing of the body, as distracting away from the churches directive of the salvation of the soul, a view the Vatican would take in later times. Interestingly after his death, rumours about Pope John XXI being a necromancer began to appear, and that his death was punishment from God for composing a heretical treatise. Although this as well can not be seen as direct evidence of the Templar’s use of cannabis infused wines, it does indicate that the use of this combination did come into play, when they were a source of both trade and knowledge from the Arabic world, making it into Europe.

There is also a recipe for a cannabis infused wine in the mysterious 13th century Masonic Lodge Book of Villard de Honnecourt, a figure who is known to have spent time in the East at the time of the Templars.

In relation to this it is interesting to note the use of cannabis and other herbs in various tincture preparations of alchemy, known as quintessences and arcanums, wine and alcohol infusions, that begin to appear in alchemical texts in the mid-east as early 1300 and occur later in a number of alchemical and medical treatises in Europe.

Actual Evidence

In regards to direct contemporary historical evidence indicating the Templar’s use of cannabis, after  extensive research, the closest I could come to are the following references to ‘canabi’ in Latin documents relating to the order, as well as their arrest, which do ad to the intrigue.

Forty years before their arrest, at the peak of their prosperity and influence,  in in a declaration on the “Colonisation by Moorish Settlers at Villastar, (1267)” both Christian and Saracen (Arab Muslim) settlers are giving control of an area of land in Spain, with part of the deal being that Payment to the Templars, includes one quarter of all “corn, wine, hemp [Latin, canabi], flax, gardens and vegetables and all other fruits both ripe and good that you gather from them… in perpetuity” along with “first-fruits of everything you gather from said properties” (Barber & Bate, 2002).

Unfortunately, there is no direct identification as to what the cannabis was to be used for,  so it could be industrial, medicinal or food. However, Saraceans are not known for growing industrial forms of cannabis, but have a long history of cultivating the resinous varieties, which are known to grow quite well in Spain. During this period, hashish “was… openly consumed in Southern Spain until that country’s reconquest by Isabella [(1451-1504)] the Catholic and the reestablishment of the firm grip of the Roman Catholic Church” (Nahas, 1985). There are also somewhat controversial claims of evidence of the use of smoked cannabis from 10th to 13th century Spain (Clarke & Fleming, 1998)

The Templars also declare “jurisdiction and Lordship over the saffron”  and each “house of the 30 Saraceans settled there we shall have once a month for a labourer for the saffron” (Barber & Bate, 2002). In this respect, it may be worth noting that in the Islamic world  the name “Saffron” was used as slang for “an orange-colored slab of hashish, saffron, and spices” (Abel, 1980). It is unclear how long this slang use of saffron has been in use, although hashish and saffron have been used together since at least medieval Islamic times (Rosenthal, 1972). Also worth noting is that Rabbi Immanuel Löw, referred to an  Jewish recipe (Sabb. 14. 3 ed. Urbach, 9th-11th century AD)  that called for wine to be mixed with ground up saffron, Arabic gum and hasisat surur, “I know ‘surur’ solely as a alias for the resin the Cannabis sativa” (Löw,, 1924). There is reason to believe that hasisat, is a reference to hashish, and what is identified is a potent hashish oil. However, in relation to saffron, it should also be noted, that saffron itself was a valued commodity, being one of the most expensive spices and is used as a food, medicine, perfume, clothing dye and psychoactive properties of saffron have also been reported on.

Cannabis was also confiscated at the arrest of the Templars. After Templars were arrested in France at the bequest of King Philip IV, and their properties were seized an inventory “of Templar property in Normandy (1307),  included “hemp [canabi] estimated at approximately 100 sous”, along with wine, bread, meat and other farm stuff. (Barber & Bate, 2002). The estimated worth of seized cannabis was placed at a value of about 5 pounds of silver.

Arrests at Templar sites in France and elsewhere in October of 1307, were followed by simultaneous synchronized raids at Templar properties on the same day in the British Empire on January 8th, 1308, through top secret orders that had been delivered on Dec 15th of 1307. By royal decree, the following orders were given that after the “feast of the Epiphany (Jan. 10) early in the morning, the sheriff and his assistants are to take into custody all the Knights Templars …All their lands and tenements, goods and chattels, are to be seized into the kings hands, together with all charters, writings, and muniments relating to the same, and an inventory made…”*  Templar Lands in England, Wales, Ireland and Scotland were seized, and all knights and monks were arrested. A 1308 inventory of seized items  from a Templar site in Britain included  “3 stones of hemp [canabi]” on  a list that included everything from tunics, to crossbows, to cups and plates, but no food items, or wines, (Lord, 2002). The stone or stone weight (abbreviation: st.) is an English and imperial unit of mass now equal to 14 pounds, so about 42 pounds of cannabis, [canabi] was taken.

*Original documents relating to the Knights Templars: in The Gentleman’s Magazine, Volume 204, (1858).

Although neither of these raids identified the form of cannabis that was seized, one would think if it was of the industrial sort, as in ropes, clothes or cloth, such would have been identified, as these sorts of items are included on the list. Could the cannabis have come from Templars in the Mid East or Spain, where they had Saraceans growing cannabis, saffron and other rare spices for them? This situation with cannabis also brings into a discussion of the nature of the charges labelled against the Knights, particularly regarding their alleged acts of heresy.

Much has been made of the accusations labeled against the Templars at their trial, and the “confessions” extracted by their prosecutors. As well many books have been written in defines of the Templars, and in favour of their “Innocence”, dismissing these charges outright. However, not all authors have taken this view and among those Gershon Legman’s The Guilt of the Templars (1966) really stands out, Legman, pours through the historical record and cites numerous books written by scholars who believed they were ‘guilty’ of many of the charges made against them and his book is worthy of anyone trying to understand the potential evidence that the Templars had been infected with some form of Gnostic heresy. “The French Templars agreed that they denied Christ and defiled the cross, they agreed they worshipped an idol, they agreed to the… perversion of the sacraments” (Lord, 2013). Certainly this last accusation, could be seen as using a replacement for the ‘sacraments”.

Clearly the Templars did have some interest in cannabis, so there may well be some basis for the various claims floating around about the “elixir of Jerusalem”

Denial of the Cross

The accusations of the Templar’s rejection of the cross, ran into the extreme, and not just that they rejected it and spat upon it, it was alleged that “they sometimes piss’d and caus’d others to piss upon the Cross, and they sometimes did this on Good Friday.” The cross is the pillar of the Catholic religion, without the death and resurrection, there is no forgiveness of Sin in the faith of Jesus, and thus, no religion. This act is about as firm of a rejection of the Faith, that could be demonstrated.

However, this is not the first time the cross was rejected by the followers of Jesus. Some ancient Gnostics rejected the concept of  Jesus’ literal resurrection, which they termed the “faith of the fools”. The Second Treatise of the Great Seth, (3rd century AD) describes this belief as “ludicrous…. an imitation… a doctrine of a dead man”.  The Gnostic differences on this are brought to light in The Apocalypse of Peter (2nd century AD);

  They will cleave to the name of a dead man, thinking that they will become pure. But they will become greatly defiled and they will fall into the name of error and into the hand of an evil, cunning man and a manifold dogma……there shall be others of those who are outside our number who name themselves bishop and also deacons, as if they have received their authority from God. They bend themselves under the judgment of the leaders. These people are dry canals.

The belief in the Resurrection of Jesus is also rejected in the Islamic world, which teaches that God transformed another man to look identical to Jesus, and he was crucified in his place. A surviving Gnostic sect in the Arabian Peninsula,  the Sabians, reject Jesus’ divinity outright, and instead pay homage to John the Baptist. Other groups in the Mid-East claim Jesus survived the cross and lived in the area.

A Sufi\Christian group in Western Afghanistan, the followers of Isa, son of Maryam — Jesus the son of Mary, claim to have secret knowledge concerning the life of Christ after his crucifixion. In an account given in Among the Dervishes, by O.M.Burke, (1973), the author states that at first he assumed this group, estimated to contain about one thousand members, were converted to Christianity by early European missionaries, and then goes on to state; “But, from their own accounts and what I could observe, they seem to come from some much older source”

According to these People, Jesus escaped from the Cross, was hidden by friends, was helped to flee to India, where he had been before during his youth, and settled in Kashmir, where he is revered as an ancient teacher, Yuz Asaf. It is from this period of the supposed life of Jesus that these people claim to have got their message. (Burke 1973)

Holger Kersten also referred to this curious and little known tradition of Jesus’ life after the cross and points out the title that the Afghani followers placed on the figure they claim is the post-crucifixion Jesus, Yuz Asaf, goes back some centuries. It is referred to “in the  Farang-i-Asafia, an ancient work recounting the history of Persia, which relates that Jesus (Hazrat Issa) healed some lepers, who were thereafter called Asaf–‘the purified’–having been cured of their complaint.  Yuz means ‘leader,’ so Yuz Asaf can be taken to mean ‘leader of the healed,’ a common epithet for Jesus.”(Kersten 1986).

These Islamic traditions of a wandering Jesus are likely a carryover from Gnostic accounts, like the 2nd century AD, The Acts of Peter and the Twelve Apostles, which describe a wandering and disguised Jesus with an “unguent box” and a “pouch full of medicine”.

Idries Shah refers to a Dervish tale,’ The Four Treasures’, which involves a magic mirror, magic cup, magic staff and magic cloak, and sacred medicines which some have seen as a “disguised reference to the claim that Jesus did not die on the cross” (Shaw, 1967). Elsewhere Shah refers to “the dervish practice of ceremonially rejecting a cross with the words, ‘You may have the Cross, but we have the meaning of the Cross,’ which is still in use. This, incidentally, could be the origin of the Templar habit, alleged by witnesses, that the Knights ‘trod on the Cross’” (Shah, 1964).

Among the medical effects of cannabis extracts, is its ability to put one safely into a deathlike coma, and such a preparation was used in ancient China for surgeries. Clearly the indications of the accounts of the Hashishin’s death and rebirth initiations fall into this same category, and claims that Jesus ingested such a cannabis infused wine on the cross to ease his pain go back well over a century. The idea that Jesus could have used some sort of narcotic preparation to feign death on the cross was popularized by Dr. Hugh Schonefield’s The Passover Plot in 1965. See my article The Cruci-Fiction? for a detailed role on how cannabis may have been used in this context.

It is also worth noting that, one of the first accounts in European literature, which is generally assumed to be a reference to ‘hashish’, although it is not named directly, occurs in the classic work the The Decameron (1353), by Giovanni Bocaccio, and this identifies exactly the sort of use we have been discussing. This reference appears in a  story of an Abbot who drugged a man named Ferondo, to the point of fooling both the victim and witnesses that he had died:

…he [the Abbot]  sought out a powder of marvellous virtue, which he had gotten in the parts of the Levant of a great prince who avouched it to be that which was wont to be used of the Old Man of the Mountain,* whenas he would fain send any one, sleeping, into his paradise or bring him forth thereof, and that, according as more or less thereof was given, without doing any hurt, it made him who took it sleep more or less [time]on such wise that, whilst its virtue lasted, none would say he had life in him. Of this he took as much as might suffice to make a man sleep three days and putting it in a beaker of wine, that was not yet well cleared, gave it to Ferondo to drink in his cell, without the latter suspecting aught; after which he carried him into the cloister and there with some of his monks fell to making sport of him and his dunceries; nor was it long before, the powder working, Ferondo was taken with so sudden and overpowering a drowsiness, that he slumbered as yet he stood afoot and presently fell down fast asleep.

The abbot made a show of being concerned at this accident and letting untruss him, caused fetch cold water and cast it in his face and essay many other remedies of his fashion, as if lie would recall the strayed life and senses from [the oppression of]some fumosity of the stomach or what not like affection that had usurped them. The monks, seeing’ that for all this he came not to himself and feeling his pulse, but finding no sign of life in him, all held it for certain that he was dead. Accordingly, they sent to tell his wife and his kinsfolk, who all came thither forthright, and the lady having bewept him awhile with her kinswomen, the abbot caused lay him, clad as he was, in a tomb; whilst the lady returned to her house and giving out that she meant never to part from a little son, whom she had had by her husband, abode at home and occupied herself with the governance of the child and of the wealth which had been Ferondo’s. Meanwhile, the abbot arose stealthily in the night and with the aid of a Bolognese monk, in whom he much trusted and who was that day come thither from Bologna, took up Ferondo out of the tomb and carried him into a vault, in which there was no light to be seen and which had been made for prison of such of the monks as should make default in aught. There.they pulled off his garments and clothing him monk-fashion, laid him on a’ truss of straw and there left him against he should recover his senses, whilst the Bolognese monk, having been instructed by the abbot of that which he had to do, without any else-knowing aught thereof, proceeded to await his coming to himself.*

*The Decameron of Giovanni Boccacci, Villon society, (1886).

As a footnote to the 19th century translation of The Decameron, from which this quote came, notes of this  preparation:

The well-known chief of the Assassins (properly Heshashin, i.e. hashish or hemp eaters).’ The powder in question is apparently a preparation of hashish or. hemp.’ Boccaccio seems to have taken his idea of the Old Man of the “Mountain from Marco Polo, whose travels, published in the early part of the fourteenth century, give a most romantic account of that chieftain and his followers.

Just the idea that Jesus could have feigned death on the cross with a potion, would have been the most horrendous heresy the medieval Church could have known. The whole concept of the religion itself, is based on the concepts of Original Sin, and Redemption by Christ’s Sacrifice on the Cross, and the only way to receive Christ’s Redemption, was through the Church. This was the “doctrine of a dead man” ridiculed in by the Gnostics as a “doctrine to fear and slavery” (The Second Treatise of the Great Seth, 3rd Century AD). As Elaine Pagels so eloquently noted, the doctrine of the crucifixion “legitimized a hierarchy of persons through whose authority all others must approach God. Gnostic teaching,.. was potentially subversive of this order: it claimed to offer to every initiate direct access to God of which the priests and bishops themselves might be ignorant”(Pagels 1979).

…[T]he doctrine of the resurrection…serves an essential political function: it legitimizes the authority of certain men who claim to exercise exclusive leadership over the churches as successors of the apostle Peter. From the second century, the doctrine has served to validate the apostolic succession of bishops, the basis of papal authority to this day.  Gnostic Christians who interpret resurrection in other ways have a lesser claim to authority:  when they claim priority over the orthodox, they are denounced as heretics.(Pagels 1979).

Not surprisingly, I am not the first to mix Schonefield’s theory with the account of the Templars. In A to Z of the Knights Templar: A Guide to Their History and Legacy we read “When Jesus was crucified his closest disciples supposedly supplied him a drug so that he would appear to have died, intending afterwards to be revived by his followers” (Napier, 2011). The Templar Revelation – “Hugh Schonfield’s The Passover Plot elegantly and persuasively explains how this happened…” (Picknett & Prince, 2004). A connection first made in the conspiracy classic The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail (1982) as noted. If the Templars had become aware of ancient Gnostic knowledge in the Holy Land, and the use of cannabis and possibly other substances to induce a death like coma, through the Hashishin or possibly other esoteric Islamic/Gnostic sources, it would certainly address their alleged rejection of the Cross as well as the desire of the Church and Religious authorities to make sure this secret was never released… Thus explaining the mass arrests and executions of the Templar Knights, and all the obscurity and rumours around their history.

Writing in the 18th century, Joseph von Hammer-Purgstall claimed that the  Templars had adopted the creed of the first leader of the Hashishin, Hassan i-Sabbah, “Nothing is true, everything is permitted” a statement that relates to the Islamic concept of  Qiyamat, which has to do with the end of religion and religious law.  This also relates to a phrase attributed to i-Sabbah’s grandson, Hassan II, “The Chains of the Law Have Been Broken.” Midway the month long fasts of Ramadan, from his mountaintop fortress at Alamut, Hassan II proclaimed Qiyamat, ‘the Great Ressurection”. “For Ismailis, the Qiyamat symbolizes the end of time and also of all religious law. Hasan on this day effectively broke the chains of Islamic law by ordering all to break their fast with food and wine, the latter substance expressly forbidden by the Qur’an for consumption at any time” (Eberly, 2004).

It is not hard to connect the significance of this action taken by Hasan with the fulfillment of the duty of the Hidden Imam who will appear at the end of time. Ismailis perhaps felt that the Qiyamat amounted to the manifestation of prophecy, and yet for the mainstream Shi’ite the whole affair amounted to a vile and contemptible heresy….

Jabir Ibn Hayyan… foresaw Hasan’s declaration of the Qiyamat when he describes the Glorious One. The Glorious One was said to be an ex-patriot come from afar who would require no long initiation or Master. He proclaims the esoteric meaning of the end of religion and the end of linear time with the announcement of Eternal Life, spoken in an immaterial diction. (Eberly, 2004)

The heretical use of wine in this association, also brings to mind the used of hashish infused wines, which as we have noted seem to be the Hashishins method of ingestion, as well as possibly the Templars. If as is being hypothesized here, the Templars did use a cannabis infused wine, and related this to the crucifixion being a hoax, this would have been a certain means of realizing the Qiyamat in Europe, and a sure reason for their suppression and persecution.

“Jacques de Molay, thou art avenged”!

However the Templars as an avenue of cultural transference of cannabis use into Europe remains somewhat speculative. Confirmation of the Templar use of cannabis infused wines as the elixir of Jerusalem, would go a long way in shoring up this case. A much surer avenue of Islamic cannabis knowledge into Europe can be found in Magical grimoires, like the Picatrix and in the works of alchemical of figures like Zosimos, Avicenna, and others, as I fully document in Liber 420: Cannabis Magickal Plants, and the Occult. Where you can also find a much more detailed account of the above information about the Assassins, Templars, the Grail and the connections to cannabis as well as a bibliography for the  references used in this article.

Chris Bennett
Chris Bennett

Chris Bennett has been researching the historical role of cannabis in magic and religion for over a quarter century, his books include 'Green Gold the tree of Life: Marijuana in Magic and Religion' (1995); 'Sex, Drugs, Violence and the Bible' (2001); 'Cannabis and the Soma Solution' (2010. He Currently resides in Vancouver, BC, Canada, where he runs his ethnobotanical shop The Urban Shaman.