Entering the High Garden
Some Early Psychedelic Encounters with the Outside
In Marco Polo’s account of ‘The Old Man of the Mountain’, the Venetian describes how Hasan ibn al-Sabbah kept a beautiful garden in a valley between two great mountains. The garden flowed with wine, milk, honey, water, and was populated by beautiful women who danced, sung and played instruments. It was intended to be a paradise—but with a catch.
Only his soon-to-be assassins could enter the garden having been first given a sleeping potion—awaking in the sensual utopia gifted by the Old Man. Then, when required, they would once again be drugged and returned to al-Sabbah. Distressed at no longer dwelling in paradise, they were told in order to return they would first need to assassinate a particular prince. By means of such illusion and trickery, the Old Man kept a fierce sect.
In the early nineteenth century, several years after the Napoleonic invasion of Egypt and Syria, the linguist and orientalist Silvestre de Sacy gave a lecture in Paris on the Old Man. He claimed that the drug used …
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