3 Religious and spiritual use of cannabis

Religious and spiritual use of cannabis

Sacramental, religious and spiritual use of cannabis refers to cannabis used in a religious or spiritual context. Cannabis has an ancient history of ritual usage as an aid to trance and has been traditionally used in a religious context throughout the Old World. Herodotus wrote about early ceremonial practices by the Scythians, thought to have occurred from the 5th to 2nd century BCE. Itinerant sadhus have used it in India for centuries, and in modern times it has been embraced by the Rastafari movement. Rastafarians and Sikhs are among the largest consumers of cannabis, as their religious and spiritual rites. Anthropologist Sula Benet's evidence was confirmed in 1980 by the Hebrew Institute of Jerusalem[1] that the Holy anointing oil used by the Hebrews to anoint all priests, and later kings and prophets, contained cannabis extracts, "kaneh bosm" (קְנֵה-בֹשֶׂם), and that it is listed as an incense tree in the original Hebrew and Aramaic texts of the Old Testament. [2][3] The Unction, Seal, laying on of hands, the Counselor, and the Holy Spirit are all often synonymous with the Holy anointing oil.[4] Many early Christian and Gnostic texts indicate that the Chrism is essential to becoming a Christian.[5][6]


Ancient Africa

According to Alfred Dunhill, Africans have had a long tradition of smoking hemp in gourd pipes, asserting that by 1884 the King of the Baluka tribe of the Congo had established a "riamba" or hemp-smoking cult in place of fetish-worship. Enormous gourd pipes were used. [7]Cannabis was used in Africa to restore appetite and relieve pain of hemorrhoids. It was also used as an antiseptic. In a number of countries, it was used to treat tetanus, hydrophobia, delirium tremens, infantile convulsions, neuralgia and other nervous disorders, cholera, menorrhagia, rheumatism, hay fever, asthma, skin diseases, and protracted labor during childbirth.[8]

According to Sula Benet almost all ancient peoples considered narcotic and medicinal plants sacred and incorporated them into their religious or magical beliefs and practices. In Africa, there were a number of cults and sects of hemp worship. Pogge and Wissman, during their explorations of 1881, visited the Bashilenge, living on the northern borders of the Lundu, between Sankrua and Balua. They found large plots of land around the villages used for the cultivation of hemp. Originally there were small clubs of hemp smokers, bound by ties of friendship, but these eventually led to the formation of a religious cult. The Bashilenge called themselves Bena Riamba, "the sons of hemp", and their land Lubuku, meaning friendship. They greeted each other with the expression "moio", meaning both "hemp" and "life."

Each tribesman was required to participate in the cult of Riamba and show his devotion by smoking as frequently as possible. They attributed universal magical powers to hemp, which was thought to combat all kinds of evil and they took it when they went to war and when they traveled. There were initiation rites for new members which usually took place before a war or long journey. The hemp pipe assumed a symbolic meaning for the Bashilenge somewhat analogous to the significance which the peace pipe had for American Indians. No holiday, no trade agreement, no peace treaty was transacted without it (Wissman et al. 1888). In the middle Sahara region, the Senusi sect also cultivated hemp on a large scale for use in religious ceremonies (Ibid).

Ancient China

The sinologist and historian Joseph Needham concluded "the hallucinogenic properties of hemp were common knowledge in Chinese medical and Taoist circles for two millennia or more",[9] and other scholars associated Chinese wu (shamans) with the entheogenic use of cannabis in Central Asian shamanism.[10]

The oldest texts of Traditional Chinese Medicine listed herbal uses for cannabis and noted some psychodynamic effects. The (ca. 100 CE) Chinese pharmacopeia Shennong Ben Cao Jing (Shennong's Classic of Materia Medica) described the use of mafen 麻蕡 "cannabis fruit/seeds", "To take much makes people see demons and throw themselves about like maniacs (多食令人見鬼狂走). But if one takes it over a long period of time one can communicate with the spirits, and one's body becomes light (久服通神明輕身)".[11][12] Later pharmacopia repeated this description, for instance the (ca. 1100 CE) Zhenglei bencao 證類本草 ("Classified Materia Medica"), "If taken in excess it produces hallucinations and a staggering gait. If taken over a long term, it causes one to communicate with spirits and lightens one's body."[13] The (ca. 730) dietary therapy book Shiliao bencao 食療本草 ("Nutritional Materia Medica") prescribes daily consumption of cannabis, "those who wish to see demons should take it (with certain other drugs) for up to a hundred days."

Beginning around the 4th century, Taoist texts mentioned using cannabis in censers. Needham cited the (ca. 570 CE) Taoist encyclopedia Wushang Biyao 無上秘要 ("Supreme Secret Essentials") that cannabis was added into ritual incense-burners, and suggested the ancient Taoists experimented systematically with "hallucinogenic smokes".[14] The Yuanshi shangzhen zhongxian ji 元始上真眾仙記 ("Records of the Assemblies of the Perfected Immortals"), which is attributed to Ge Hong (283-343), says, "For those who begin practicing the Tao it is not necessary to go into the mountains. … Some with purifying incense and sprinkling and sweeping are also able to call down the Perfected Immortals. The followers of the Lady Wei and of Hsu are of this kind."[15] Lady Wei Huacun 魏華存 (252-334) and Xu Mi 許謐 (303-376) founded the Taoist Shangqing School. The Shangqing scriptures were supposedly dictated to Yang Xi 楊羲 (330-386 CE) in nightly revelations from immortals, and Needham proposed Yang was "aided almost certainly by cannabis". The Mingyi bielu 名醫別錄 ("Supplementary Records of Famous Physicians"), written by the Taoist pharmacologist Tao Hongjing 陶弘景 (456-536), who also wrote the first commentaries to the Shangqing canon, says, "Hemp-seeds (麻勃) are very little used in medicine, but the magician-technicians (shujia 術家) say that if one consumes them with ginseng it will give one preternatural knowledge of events in the future."[16][17] A 6th-century CE Taoist medical work, the Wuzangjing 五臟經 ("Five Viscera Classic") says, "If you wish to command demonic apparitions to present themselves you should constantly eat the inflorescences of the hemp plant."[18]

Yangshao culture (ca. 4800 BCE) amphora with hemp cord design

Cannabis has been cultivated in China since Neolithic times, for instance, hemp cords were used to create the characteristic line designs on Yangshao culture pottery). Early Chinese classics have many references to using the plant for clothing, fiber, and food, but none to its psychotropic properties. Some researchers think Chinese associations of cannabis with "indigenous central Asian shamanistic practices" can explain this "peculiar silence".[19] The botanist Li Hui-Lin noted linguistic evidence that the "stupefying effect of the hemp plant was commonly known from extremely early times"; the word ma "cannabis; hemp" has connotations of "numbed; tingling; senseless" (e.g., mamu 麻木 "numb" and mazui 麻醉 "anesthetic; narcotic"), which "apparently derived from the properties of the fruits and leaves, which were used as infusions for medicinal purposes."[20] Li suggested shamans in Northeast Asia transmitted the medical and spiritual uses of cannabis to the ancient Chinese wu "shaman; spirit medium; doctor".

The use of Cannabis as an hallucinogenic drug by necromancers or magicians is especially notable. It should be pointed out that in ancient China, as in most early cultures, medicine has its origin in magic. Medicine men were practicing magicians. In northeastern Asia, shamanism was widespread from Neolithic down to recent times. In ancient China shamans were known as wu. This vocation was very common down to the Han dynasty. After that it gradually diminished in importance, but the practice persisted in scattered localities and among certain peoples. In the far north, among the nomadic tribes of Mongolia and Siberia, shamanism was widespread and common until rather recent times.[21]

Ancient Central Asia

Both early Greek history and modern archeology show that Central Asian peoples were utilizing cannabis 2,500 years ago.

The (ca. 440 BCE) Greek Histories of Herodotus record the early Scythians using cannabis steam baths.

[T]hey make a booth by fixing in the ground three sticks inclined towards one another, and stretching around them woollen felts, which they arrange so as to fit as close as possible: inside the booth a dish is placed upon the ground, into which they put a number of red-hot stones, and then add some hemp-seed. … The Scythians, as I said, take some of this hemp-seed, and, creeping under the felt coverings, throw it upon the red-hot stones; immediately it smokes, and gives out such a vapour as no Grecian vapour-bath can exceed; the Scyths, delighted, shout for joy, and this vapour serves them instead of a water-bath; for they never by any chance wash their bodies with water.[22]

What Herodotus called the "hemp-seed" must have been the whole flowering tops of the plant, where the psychoactive resin is produced along with the fruit ("seeds").[23]

Several of the Tarim mummies excavated near Turpan in Xinjiang province of Northwestern China were buried with sacks of cannabis next to their heads.[24] Based on additional grave goods, archaeologists concluded these individuals were shamans: "The marijuana must have been buried with the dead shamans who dreamed of continuing the profession in another world."[25] A team of scientists analyzed one shamanistic tomb that contained a leather basket with well-preserved cannabis (789 grams of leaves, shoots, and fruits; AMS dated 2475 ± 30 years BP) and a wooden bowl with cannabis traces. Lacking any "suitable evidence that the ancient, indigenous people utilized Cannabis for food, oil, or fiber", they concluded "the deceased was more concerned with the intoxicant and/or medicinal value of the Cannabis remains."[26]

Ancient Europe

In ancient Germanic paganism, cannabis was associated with the Norse love goddess, Freya.[27][28] The harvesting of the plant was connected with an erotic high festival.[27] It was believed that Freya lived as a fertile force in the plant's feminine flowers and by ingesting them one became influenced by this divine force.[29] Linguistics offers further evidence of prehistoric use of cannabis by Germanic peoples: The word hemp derives from Old English hænep, from Proto-Germanic *hanapiz, from the same Scythian word that cannabis derives from.[30] The etymology of this word follows Grimm's Law by which Proto-Indo-European initial *k- becomes *h- in Germanic. The shift of *k→h indicates it was a loanword into the Germanic parent language at a time depth no later than the separation of Common Germanic from Proto-Indo-European, about 500 BC.

The Celts may have also used cannabis, as evidence of hashish traces were found in Hallstatt, birthplace of Celtic culture.[31] Also, the Dacians and the Scythians had a tradition where they would make a big fire and on top of it they would place dried cannabis plants.

Hashish is known as the real Dionysos "wine".[32]

Ancient and modern India

Sadhu offering charas to Shiva.

The earliest known reports regarding the sacred status of cannabis in India come from the Atharva Veda estimated to have been written sometime around 2000 - 1400 BC,[33] which mentions cannabis as one of the "five sacred plants".[34]

There are three types of cannabis used in India. The first, bhang, consists of the leaves and plant tops of the marijuana plant. It is usually consumed as an infusion in beverage form, and varies in strength according to how much cannabis is used in the preparation. The second, ganja, consisting of the leaves and the plant tops, is smoked. The third, called charas or hashish, consists of the resinous buds and/or extracted resin from the leaves of the marijuana plant. Typically, bhang is the most commonly used form of cannabis in religious festivals.

Cannabis or ganja is associated with worship of the Hindu deity Shiva, who is popularly believed to like the hemp plant. Bhang is offered to Shiva images, especially on Shivratri festival. This practice is particularly witnessed at the temples of Benares, Baidynath and Tarakeswar.[35]

Bhang is not only offered to Shiva, but also consumed by Shaivite yogis. Charas is smoked by some Shaivite devotees and cannabis itself is seen as a gift (prasad, or offering) to Shiva to aid in sadhana.[36] Some of the wandering ascetics in India known as sadhus smoke charas out of a clay chillum.

During the Indian festival of Holi, people consume bhang which contains cannabis flowers.[35][37] According to one description, when the amrita (elixir of life) was produced from the churning of the ocean by the devas and the asuras, Shiva created cannabis from his own body to purify the elixir (whence, for cannabis, the epithet angaja or "body-born"). Another account suggests that the cannabis plant sprang up when a drop of the elixir dropped on the ground. Thus, cannabis is used by sages due to association with elixir and Shiva. Wise drinking of bhang, according to religious rites, is believed to cleanse sins, unite one with Shiva and avoid the miseries of hell in the after-life. In contrast, foolish drinking of bhang without rites is considered a sin.[38]

In Buddhism, the Fifth Precept is to "abstain from wines, liquors and intoxicants that cause heedlessness." Most interpretations of the Fifth Precept would therefore include all forms of cannabis among the intoxicants that a Buddhist should abstain from consuming. However, the Precepts are guidelines whose purpose is to encourage a moral lifestyle rather than being strict religious commandments, and some lay practitioners of Buddhism may choose to consume cannabis and other mild intoxicants occasionally. Cannabis and some other psychoactive plants are specifically prescribed in the Mahākāla Tantra for medicinal purposes. However, Tantra is an esoteric teaching of Hinduism and Buddhism not generally accepted by most other forms of these religions.[39]


The Sikhs from the Punjab in northern India, are among the biggest consumers of cannabis, Sukha ( ਸੁੱਖਾ ਪ੍ਰਰਸਾਦ ), "peace-giver", is the term Sikhs use to refer to it..[40] [41][42]

Sikhs preparing cannabis to drink as Sukha (peace giver)

Initiated by the tenth guru of the Sikhs, Guru Gobind Singh, cannabis or bhang (ਭੰਗ) was used to help in meditation and was also used before battles to aid as a painkiller, growing naturally all over Punjab. Narrated by many historical and native accounts cannabis is pounded by the Sikhs, especially during religious festivals like Hola Mohalla.[43]

Even today, Nihang Sikhs gather in their thousands at Anandpur, on the occasion of the festival of Hola Mohalla and display their martial skills and ofcourse cannabis is pounded by the Nihang Sikhs. This tradition has been in place since the time of Guru Gobind Singh. Their fighting style is referred to as shastar vidiya, which is among the most intimidating and brutal martial art. The compositions from the Sri Dasam Granth are used in unison with the battle maneuvers.

It was traditionally crushed and taken as a liquid or baked in with food (ਪਕੌੜਾ) and eaten. The mouth is also covered while preparing Sukha for hygienic reasons.

The point is to use it but not to abuse it. Guru Gobind Singh himself has made this clear in one account where he was offered bhang by one of his devotees. Babur said to the Guru, "Guru Ji, drink the bhang so your mediation may be stimulated". However Guru Gobind Singh replied, "Meer Ji, I have drank the Bhang, whose stimulation never ends". Babur asked, "Which is the bhang, whose stimulation never ends?". Guru Gobind Singh replied, "Waheguru(God) is my bhang, drinking the bhang the stimulation will end but meditating on gods name whose stimulation never ends."


Members of the Rastafari movement use cannabis as a part of their worshiping of their King, Haile Selassie I of Ethiopia, and as an aid to meditation. The movement was founded in Jamaica in the 1930s and while it is not known when Rastafarians first made cannabis into something sacred it is clear that by the late 1940s Rastafari was associated with cannabis smoking at the Pinnacle community of Leonard Howell. Rastafari see cannabis as a sacramental and deeply beneficial plant that is the Tree of Life mentioned in the Bible. Bob Marley, amongst many others, have quoted Revelation: 22:2, "... the herb is the healing of the nations." The use of cannabis, and particularly of long-stemmed water-pipes called chalices, is an integral part of what Rastafari call "reasoning sessions" where members join together to discuss life according to the Rasta perspective. They see the use of cannabis as bringing them closer to God, whom they call (Jah), allowing the user to penetrate the truth of things much more clearly, as if the wool had been pulled from one's eyes. Thus Rastafari smoke cannabis together in order to discuss the truth with each other, reasoning it all out little by little through many sessions. While it is not necessary to use cannabis to be a Rastafari, some feel that they use it regularly as a part of their faith, and pipes of cannabis are always dedicated to His Imperial Majesty Haile Selassie I before being smoked. "The herb is the key to new understanding of the self, the universe, and God. It is the vehicle to cosmic consciousness"[44] and is believed to burn the corruption out of the human heart. Rubbing the ashes from smoked cannabis is also considered a healthy practice.[45]

Ancient Israel

Cannabis may have been an ingredient in the Holy anointing oil mentioned in various sacred Hebrew texts. [46] Polish anthropologist Sula Benet published etymological arguments that the Aramaic word for hemp can be read as kannabos and appears to be a cognate to the modern word 'cannabis',[47] with the root kan meaning reed or hemp and bosm meaning fragrant. Both cannabis and calamus are fragrant, reed-like plants containing psychotropic compounds. While Benet's conclusion regarding the psychoactive use of cannabis is not at this time universally or generally accepted among most Jewish scholars, there is general agreement that cannabis is used in talmudic sources to refer to hemp fibers, as hemp was a vital commodity before linen replaced it.[48]


The Quran does not forbid cannabis; however, cannabis is deemed to be khamr (an intoxicant) by many religious scholars and therefore generally believed to be haraam (forbidden).[49][50]

Other modern religious movements

Elders of the modern religious movement known as the Ethiopian Zion Coptic Church consider cannabis to be the eucharist,[51] claiming it as an oral tradition from Ethiopia dating back to the time of Christ.[52]

Like the Rastafari, some modern Christian sects (many Gnostic) have asserted that cannabis is the Tree of Life.[53]

Other organized religions founded in the past century that treat cannabis as a sacrament are the Santo Daime church, the THC Ministry, the Way of Infinite Harmony, Cantheism, the Cannabis Assembly, Temple 420, Green Faith Ministries, the Church of Cognizance,[54] the Church of the Universe,[55][56] The Free Marijuana Church of Honolulu,[57] The Free Life Ministry Church of Canthe[58].

Modern spiritual figures like Ram Dass[59] and Eli Wyld openly acknowledge that the use of cannabis has allowed them to gain a more spiritual perspective and use the herb frequently for both its medicinal and mind-altering properties.

In Mexico, followers of the growing cult of Santa Muerte regularly use marijuana smoke in purification ceremonies, with marijuana often taking the place of incense used in mainstream Catholic rituals.[60]

See also


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Further reading

External links

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