Marijuana and Spirituality

Marijuana and spirituality play a very big role in our cultural history. Marijuana and cannabis have been used in religious ceremonies for hundreds, even thousands of years. As early as the 5th to the 2nd century BC, early ceremonial practices involved the use of cannabis. In fact, marijuana also has roots in Judeo-Christian history. Ancient Hebrew anointing oil used by the Hebrews to anoint the Priests (and later the kings and prophets) contained cannabis extracts known as kaneh bosm. This substance is actually listed as an incense tree in the Old Testament. In addition, some Muslims of the Sufi order have used cannabis as a tool for spiritual exploration. These are not strictly eastern religions, the ancient origins of Christianity, Judaism and Islam incorporated the use of marijuana into holy practices as well.

It is important to note that in most ancient cultures, religious ceremonies and medicine were one in the same. For example, people would go to the town or village priest (or the equivalent) if they were sick. The priests, wise men, priestesses and other religious leaders were expected to have an in depth knowledge of the various herbs and plants used in healing. The healing process was not just a “doctor’s visit” but an intimate spiritual ceremony that was akin to baptism, circumcision or any other modern day religious ceremony.

Just about every ancient culture, African, Asian, European, and Middle Eastern, used cannabis in some form or another during their ceremonies.

ANCIENT INDIA

Being of Indian heritage, this is the culture I have the most familiarity with. Indian people have a long history of cannabis use for medicinal and religious reasons. Cannabis was used in Indian culture as early as 5,000 years ago, possibly even more. The three oldest religious texts, the Vedas (Sama Veda, Rig Veda and Atharva Veda) confirm the ancient use of cannabis in religious ceremonies. India actually used three types of cannabis, Bhang – consisting of the leaves and the plant tops of the marijuana plant (often consumed in beverage form). The second is Ganja, consisting of the leaves and the plant tops, is the type that is smoked. The third, Charas or hashish, consists of the resinous buds or extracted resin from the leaves. Bhang is the type most often used in religious festivals. Ganja is associated with the worship of the Hindu deity Shiva, who is believed to like the hemp plant. Bhang is offered to Shiva images during the Shivratri festival. All of this still happens today in India in fact.

ANCIENT AFRICA

In certain African cultures, ceremonies involving cannabis used the plant to restore appetite and relieve pain from those suffering from hemorrhoids.

ANCIENT CHINA

In Ancient China, cannabis was used for thousands of years for various reasons. Some used it for its psychodynamic effects, often believing that extended use allowed people to communicate with the supernatural world. Cannabis was used in Taoist rituals and in Taoist medicine. It has been cultivated in China since the Neolithic times (roughly 9,500 BC), and early Chinese classics have various references to using the plant for clothes, fibers and even food. Very little reference is made to its psychotropic nature.

ANCIENT CENTRAL ASIA

In early Greek historical writings, Central Asian peoples were shown using cannabis as much as 2,500 years ago. Herodotus (known as the father of history), an ancient Greek writer, wrote about the Scythians using cannabis steam baths. The Scythians were located in what is now modern Iran. It was used in various religious ceremonies as well as for its medicinal purposes. Mummies excavated from the area also show evidence of cannabis use in the burial process.

ANCIENT EUROPE

Germanic tribes used cannabis in rituals and ceremonies focused at the Norse love goddess Freya. Harvesting the plant was connected with an erotic high festival involved in the worship of Freya. In fact, the word “hemp” is derived from an Old English term! The Celts also used cannabis, as evidenced by use of hashish found in Hallstatt, birthplace of Celtic culture.

ANCIENT MIDDLE EASTERN CULTURES

In addition to cannabis being involved in Hebraic anointing oil, Islam also involves cannabis. Among the Sufi, a Persian religious order, cannabis was used after being found in the Persian mountains. The Quran actually mentions a “Heaven Flower” that some interpret to be the cannabis plant.

CURRENT RELIGIOUS USE

In addition to being used in Indian religious ceremonies, other current religious ceremonies utilize cannabis for its spiritual elements. Most popular among current religions using cannabis is the Rastafari movement in Jamaica and other parts of South and North America. Rastafarians use marijuana as part of the worship of God (Jah) as well as in Bible Study and meditation. The movement was founded in Jamaica in the 1930’s and began using marijuana in ceremonies shortly thereafter. They use the verse “Revelation 22:2” in the New Testament to point to marijuana as “herb is the healing of the nations.”

Other religious movements using cannabis include the Ethiopian Zion Coptic Church which considers cannabis to be the Eucharist, claiming it dates back to the time of Christ in their particular order. Some Gnostic sects claim that marijuana is the “Tree of Life.”