Secret Societies of All Ages - Charles Heckethorn

IV. The Druses

157. Origin of Sect of Druses.—The Ishmaelites of Egypt and Syria may be found even to this day in some of the sects of Islam. Their primitive physiognomy reveals itself but faintly; but their profile is seen in the lineaments of some of the heretical families wandering in the wilderness or on Mount Lebanon; objects of inquietude to the Turkish Government, of wonder to travellers, and of study to science. Of these, the Druses, living in Northern Syria, and possessing about forty towns and villages, are perhaps the most remarkable. Their sect may be said to date its rise from the supposed incarnation of God in Hakem Biamr Allah, publicly announced at Cairo in 1020. This Hakem was the sixth caliph of Egypt; and Darazi, his confessor, took an active part in promoting the imposture, which, however, was at first so badly received that he was compelled to take refuge in the deserts of the Lebanon, where, receiving liberal pecuniary support from Hakem, he found hearers among the Arabs, and soon made converts.

According to other accounts, Darazi was killed for preaching his doctrine, and thus became the first martyr to the new religion. A footing thus gained, corespondence was opened with Egypt, and Hamze, a Persian mystic and vizier of Hakem, who had from the first been a zealous supporter of Hakem's divinity, hastened to avail himself of the favourable opening. Ten years did not elapse before the two clever rogues or fiery fanatics had converted nearly all the Arab tribes inhabiting the Lebanon, while one portion of them were set apart and initiated into the mysteries of the doctrines of Hamze. But he did not give his name to the sect; by a natural etymology the disciples of Darazi, the first teacher, obtained the name of Druses, though they reject it, and call themselves Unitarians. We may thus look upon the Fatimite Caliph Hakem, the Persian Hamze, and the Turk Darazi as the founders of the Druse system, Hakem being its political founder, Hamze its intellectual framer, and Darazi its expositor and propagator.

158. Religious Books of the Druses.—Hamze associated with himself four assistants, to whom, as well as to himself, he gave high-sounding names. He called himself, for instance: Universal Reason, the Centre, the Messiah of Nations, Jesus, the United, i.e., He who is ever united with the god Hakem. He had, moreover, 159 disciples, who went about preaching. The Druses call their religious books, "The Sittings of the Rulers and their Learned Men;" they are comprised in ix volumes: the first has the title, "The Diploma;" the second, "The Refutation;" the third, "The Awakening;" the fourth, "The First of the Seven Parts;" the fifth, "The Staircase;" and the sixth, "The Reproaches." In 1817, the Druses obtained a seventh volume from a Christian, who alleged to have found it in an Egyptian school, and which they call "The Book of the Greeks."

159. Murder of Hakem.—Hakem was one of the most cruel monsters on record, a Saracenic Nero. Amidst carnage and the most revolting persecutions he spread his doctrine. But in Egypt, where he resided, his heresy outraged the true believers, and his savagery the whole people. Sitt El Mulk, his own sister, headed the malcontents, and one evening when, according to his custom, he took his ride on a white ss, she caused him to be assassinated by some trusty followers, who, after having despatched him with their daggers, undressed him and securely concealed the naked body. They then carefully fastened up his clothes again, by order of his sister, who did not wish the belief in his divinity to be destroyed. At last, when the caliph did not return, and those sent to look for him returned with the news that they had found his clothes but not his body, it was said that Hakem had simply rendered himself invisible, to test the faith of his followers, and to punish apostates on his return. And the Druses, to explain the miracle say that Hakem possessed a body of a more subtile substance than the usual human body, and could go forth out of his clothes without opening or tearing them. The dagger cuts in them are explained away as mysterious indications of certain purposes of their deity.

160. Hakem's Successor.—Hakem left two sons, but the sect did not acknowledge them as such. Ali Ess Ssahir, who succeeded his father as caliph, is reported to have said to Hamze, "Worship me, as you worshipped my father;" but Hamze replied, "Our Lord, who be praised, neither begat nor was he begotten." Ali replied, "Then I and my brother are illegitimate?" Hamz answered, "You have said it, and borne testimony against yourself." Thereupon the enraged Ali ordered the wholesale murder of the Unitarians unless they returned to the true Moslem faith. Those who refused were either slain or fled to Syria to their co-religionists. Ali, to conciliate the people, who had by his father's despotism and oppression been greatly embittered against his dynasty, gave up all title to divine honours and the rights it implied.

161. Doctrines.—The Druses believe in the transmigration of souls; but probably it is merely a figure, as it was to the Pythagoreans. Hakem is their prophet; and they have seven commandments, religious and moral. The first of these is veracity, by which is understood faith in the unitarian religion they profess, and the abhorrence of that lie which is called polytheism, incredulity, error. To a brother perfect truth and confidence are due; but it is allowable, nay, a duty, to be false towards men of another creed. The sect is divided into three degrees, Profanes, Aspirants and Wise. A Druse who has entered the second, may return to the first degree, but incurs death if he reveal what he has learned. In their secret meetings they are supposed to worship a calf's head; but as their religious books are full of denunciations against idolatry, and as they also compare Judaism, Christianity, and Mahommedanism to a calf, it is more probable that this effigy represents the principle of falsehood and evil, Iblis, the rival and enemy of Hakem.

The Druses have also been accused of licentious orgies; and are said by Bespier in his "Remarks on Bicaut" [an English diplomatist (d. 1700)] to marry their own daughters; but according to the evidence of resident Christians, a young Druse, as soon as he is initiated, gives up all dissolute habits, and becomes, at least in appearance, quite another man, meriting, as in other initiations, the title of "new-born." The initiated are known by the appellation of Ockals, and form a kind of priesthood in the midst of the general population. According to their traditions, the world was at the appearance of God in the form of Hakem, three thousand four hundred and thirty million years old, and they believe, like the Chiliasts of England and America, that the millennium is close at hand. The Wise often retire into hermitages, whereby they acquire great honour and influence.

When discoursing with a Mahommedan, the Druses profess to be of the same creed; when talking with a Christian, they are Christians. They defend this deception by alleging that it is not lawful to reveal any dogma of their creed to a "Black," or unbeliever; and their secrecy with regard to their religion has led them to adopt signs and passwords, such as are in use among Freemasons and other secret societies. When in doubt whether a stranger with whom they conversed belonged to their sect, they would ask, "Do people in your part of the country sow balm-seed?" If the other replied, "Yes, it is sown in the hearts of the faithful," he probably was a co-religionist; but he might be an Aspirant only, and therefore they would question him further as to some of the secret dogmas; if he did not understand the drift of their question, they would know that he was not initiated into the higher grades. But their signs and test-words and phrases had frequently to be changed, their import having been discovered by the Blacks, which happened especially when the extensive hermit village of Bajjada, near Chasbaia, was destroyed in 1838 by the troops of Ibrahim Pasha, and the sacred books of the Druses were made publicly known.

162. Customs of the Druses.—Every village has its meetinghouses, where religious and political affairs are discussed every Thursday night, the Wise, men and women, attending. The resolutions passed at such meetings are communicated to the district meetings, held in the chief village of every district, which again report to the general assembly in the town of Baklin on Mount Lebanon. This was the fortified seat of government until, in this century, Deir El-Kammar (the moon-monastery) was built as the Lebanon metropolis. At the general assembly the questions raised at the district meetings are discussed, and the deputies from the different villages who have attended, on their return home, announce the decisions arrived at; so that the Druses, in fact, have a regular family council, to which, however, the Wise only are admitted, the uninitiated never being consulted in political or social matters. The civil government of the Druses is in the hands of the Sheiks, who again are subject to the Emir, or Prince of Lebanon. They are warlike and industrious, and two traits in their character deserve notice and commendation; they refuse to give up any man who has sought refuge amongst them, and detest the European tall hat, which they compare to a "cooking-pot," and laugh at.

In the days when Burckhardt visited them, one of their maledictions was, "May God put a hat on you!" The number of Druses does not exceed fifty or sixty thousand, exclusively occupying in the Lebanon upwards of forty large towns and villages, and nearly two hundred and thirty villages with a mixed population of Druses and Christians, whilst in the Anti-Lebanon they are also possessed of nearly eighty exclusively Druse villages.

163. Druses and Maronites.—The Druses were frequently at war with the Maronites, a neighbouring Christian sect, so called after Maro, its founder (circa 400 A.D.), originally fugitive Monothelites, who had settled on Mount Lebanon after the accession of Anastasius II. (496-98), who persecuted them as long as the Turkish Government favoured the Druses, in order to keep down the influence of the Maronites. The former, though the less warlike people, generally prevailed against the latter, but when the ruling Emir, Bence-Schihab, with his family, seceded from Mahommedanism and became Maronite Christians, the Maronites were for a time masters of the situation. In 1860, however, when the Maronites, for the promotion of Christianity, declared war against the Druses, Turkey again assisted the latter. True, the Porte afterwards changed sides, and supported the Maronites, partly because Europe insisted on the Christians being protected, and partly because it suited Turkish policy to so protect them; for the Maronites had by that time been so weakened, that Turkey considered the opportunity favourable to break the power of the Druses also. Since then the latter are under a governor appointed by the Porte.

164. The Ansaireeh or Nuseiriyeh.—This is another Syrian sect, who worship a mystic Triad, consisting of Ali, Mohammad, and an early companion of the latter, Selman el Farsi, whence their mystical name, Ams, formed from the initial letters of the three names. This Triad is ultimately resolved into Light, or the Sky, the Sun, and the Moon, the first being illimitable, the second proceeding from the first, and the last proceeding from the other two. Their religion is largely made up of Christian, Jewish, and Mohammedan elements, but there cannot be a doubt that beneath them all are remnants of the old Sabsean faith. Some of their doctrines, which have become known, advocate the most licentious practices, especially between the priests and the female members of their congregations. They invoke the Deity under extraordinary appellations, such as "Prince of Bees," "Lion," "End of Ends." They are supposed to be the aborigines of Northern Syria, and to have remained in the mountain chain stretching from Mount Cassius to the Lebanon, while successive tides of conquest have swept along the valleys on either side. It is difficult to ascertain exactly the details of their religion, both because it is secret and ill-digested, and because few among them understand it, or have fixed points of agreement or disagreement. They number about two hundred thousand, and derive their name from a sectary called Nusairi. Burckhardt, in his "Travels in Syria and Palestine," gives some curious particulars concerning them, which will not bear transferring to these pages.