- This article is about cannabis used as an entheogenic drug in a spiritual or religious context.
The cannabis plant 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, which are thought to have occurred from the 5th to 2nd century BC. In India, it has been engaged by itinerant sadhus for centuries, and in modern times the Rastafari movement has embraced it. Etymologist Sula Benet hypothesizes that holy anointing oil used by the Jews might have contained cannabis extracts. Christians may have also used cannabis oil for medicinal use. Some Muslims of the Sufi order have used cannabis as a tool for spiritual exploration.
Ancient Pagan use
In ancient Germanic culture
was associated with the Norse
love goddess, Freya
. The harvesting of the plant was connected with an erotic high festival
. 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 (Rätsch 2003). The Celts
may have also used cannabis, as evidence of hashish
traces were found in Hallstatt
, birthplace of Celtic culture.
Cannabis was used in Hindu culture as early as 1500 B.C., and its ancient use is confirmed within the Vedas (Sama Veda Rig Veda and Atharva Veda).
During the Hindu festival of Holi, people consume a drink called bhang which contains cannabis flowers.
Charas, is smoked by some Shaivite devotees and cannabis itself is seen as a gift ("prasad" or offering, not a poison like ethyl-alcohol) of Shiva to aid in sadhana. Some of the wandering ascetics in India known as sadhus smoke charas out of a clay chillum.
The Indian Hemp Drugs Commission Report describes some traditional Hindu spiritual uses of cannabis.
Connection of ganja with the worship of Shiva.
Worship of the hemp plant
Ancient Hebraic use
According to Aryeh Kaplan
, cannabis was an ingredient of holy anointing oil
mentioned in various sacred Hebrew
texts. The herb of interest is most commonly known as kanah-bosem
(קְנֵה-בֹשֶׂם; the singular form of which would be kanah-bos
) which is mentioned several times in the Old Testament
as a bartering material, incense, and an ingredient in holy anointing oil used by the high priest of the temple.
The Septuagint (300AD) translates kanah-bosem as calamus, and this translation has been propagated unchanged to most later translations of the Torah (1500BC+). However, 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', with the root kan meaning reed or hemp and bosm meaning fragrant. Both cannabis and calamus are fragrant, reedlike plants containing psychotropic compounds. While Benet's conclusion regarding the psychoactive use of cannabis is not universally accepted among 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.
Generally in orthodox Islam
, the use of cannabis is deemed to be khamr
(intoxicant), and therefore haraam
(forbidden). As with most orthodoxies, early practices differ in this. Some say that, as hashish was introduced in post-Koranic
times, the prohibition of khamr (literally, "fermented grape" but generally understood to mean anything that clouds consciousness) did not apply to it. Others point to various hadith
, which equate all intoxicants with khamr
, and declare them all haraam
, "if much intoxicates, then even a little is haraam". Because some Muslims have attributed the cannabis state of consciousness with higher states of awareness, whether its effects are even considered intoxicating is controversial. Before the demonization in the West (e.g. United States) cannabis was generally never looked down upon.
Although cannabis use in Islamic society has been consistently present, often but not exclusively in the lower classes, its use explicitly for spiritual purposes is most noted among the Sufi. An account of the origin of this:
According to one Arab legend, Haydar, the Persian founder of the religious order of Sufi, came across the cannabis plant while wandering in the Persian mountains. Usually a reserved and silent man, when he returned to his monastery after eating some cannabis leaves, his disciples were amazed at how talkative and animated (full of spirit) he seemed. After cajoling Haydar into telling them what he had done to make him feel so happy, his disciples went out into the mountains and tried the cannabis for themselves. So it was, according to the legend, the Sufis came to know the pleasures of hashish. (Taken from the Introduction to A Comprehensive Guide to Cannabis Literature by Ernest Abel.)
religion developed in the Punjab
times. The common use of bhang
in religious festivals by Hindus
carried over into Sikh practice as well. Sikhs were required to observe Dasehra
with bhang, in commemoration of the founder of the Sikh religion, Guru Nanak.
The Indian Hemp Drugs Commission Report describes the traditional use of cannabis in the Sikh religion.
Members of the Rastafari movement
use cannabis as a part of their worshiping of God, Bible study and Meditation. The movement was founded 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, said, "the herb ganja
is the healing of the nations." The use of cannabis, and particularly of large 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 cannabis as having the capacity to allow the user to penetrate the truth of how things are much more clearly, as if the wool had been pulled from one's eyes. Thus the Rastafari come together to smoke cannabis in order to discuss the truth
with each other, reasoning it all out little by little through many sessions. They see the use of this plant as bringing them closer to nature. In these ways Rastafari believe that cannabis brings the user closer to Jah
, Haile Selassie I, and pipes of cannabis are always dedicated to His Imperial Majesty before being smoked. While it is not necessary to use cannabis to be a Rastafari, some feel that they must use it regularly as a part of their faith. "The herb is the key to new understanding of the self, the universe, and God. It is the vehicle to cosmic consciousness" according to Rastafari philosophy, and is considered to burn the corruption out of the human heart. Rubbing the ashes from smoked cannabis is also considered a healthy practice.
Other modern religious movements
Elders of the modern religious movement known as the Ethiopian Zion Coptic Church
consider cannabis to be the eucharist
, claiming it as an oral tradition from Ethiopia
dating back to the time of Christ
Like the Rastafari, some modern Gnostic Christian sects have asserted that cannabis is the Tree of Life.
Other organized religions founded in the past century that treat cannabis as a sacrament are the THC Ministry, the Way of Infinite Harmony, Cantheism, the Cannabis Assembly, the Church of Cognizance, the Sinagogue of Satan and the Church of the Universe.
Modern spiritual figures like Ram Dass and Eli Jaxon Bear openly acknowledge that the use of cannabis has allowed them to access "another plane of consciousness" and use the drug frequently.
- Booth, Martin. (2004). Cannabis: A History. St. Martin's Press. ISBN 0-312-32220-8
- Shields, Rev. Dennis (1995). The Holy Herb. Source: (Accessed: Thursday, March 01, 2007)
- Bennett, Chris; Lynn Osburn & Judy Osburn (1995). Green Gold the Tree of Life: Marijuana in Magic & Religion. CA: Access Unlimited. ISBN 0-9629872-2-0
- The Sacred Plants of our Ancestors by Christian Rätsch, published in TYR: Myth—Culture—Tradition Vol. 2, 2003–2004 - ISBN 0-9720292-1-4