Shamans and Magicians have used cannabis among other spiritual plants to alter consciousness as they enter into the magical realms. Rituals around cannabis have been recorded as long ago as 5000 years ago. It’s been used in initiation ceremonies and various rites throughout Asia, Africa, and Europe. The ancient Sythians burned cannabis in their funerary rites for kings, as described by Herodotus in about 450 B.C.E. and corroborated by archeologists who’ve found the remains of the tent structures, offering vessels, and burnt cannabis seeds at ancient Sythian dig sites. The Kurgans, a Proto-Indo-European people who lived five thousand years ago in the region today known as Romania, used cannabis in their religious rites. Early Chinese necromancers, too, used cannabis to move through time and see future events. As a Spiritual ally, cannabis has helped Shamans and others delve into the mysteries of what it means to be human, how we fit into this earthly realm, and to heal deep wounds for the people. It’s rumored cannabis was one of the plants in the holy oil Jesus used to anoint his apostles and later to perform miracle healings. This is the same oil the early Gnostic Christians described as being the true means by which one is baptized, or anointed. The recipe for Holy oil, according to Exodus, included cinnamon, cassia, myrrh, and cannabis.
Magically, cannabis has been used for healing, love, visions, and meditation. It’s been used in the form of fiber, seed, tops, and buds for divination. For instance, the buds, tops, and seeds were added to incense for divination and scrying. The seeds have been used in love spells and for divining one’s true love.
Cannabis Use in India
Cannabis has been used in Ayurvedic and Indian medicine for at least three thousand years to treat a variety of health conditions, including nausea and wasting syndromes. It is also prescribed for general health and longevity. To this day body builders in India use cannabis as a part of their training regiment to gain muscle mass, promote digestion, and build strength.
The spiritual aspects of cannabis are considered so profound in South Asia that many religious groups including Buddhists, Naths, Shaivites and Goddess Worshippers have incorporated it into meditation practices, as a means to stop the mind and enter into a state of profound stillness, also called Samadhi. Cannabis holds a prominent place among Tantrics in India, Nepal, Sikkim, and Tibet to this day. In the Mahayana tradition of Buddhism, it is said that Buddha subsisted for six years on nothing but hemp seeds. Various spiritual texts, including the Buddhist Tara Tantra, list cannabis as an important aide to meditation and spiritual practice. In the Tantric Buddhism of the Himalayas and Northern India, cannabis still plays a significant role in meditative rituals to facilitate deep meditation and heighten awareness. Cannabis is even mentioned in the Indian creation myth, where it is named as one of the five nectars of the gods and designated a “Reliever of Suffering.” In the original myth, the gods churn the Ocean of Milk in search of Amrita, the elixir of eternal life. One of the resulting nectars was cannabis. In the Vedas cannabis is referred to as a “source of happiness.”
Cannabis is most closely associated with the worship of Shiva, one of the three principal deities of India. Cannabis is considered Shiva’s favorite herb due to its spiritual properties. It is commonly consumed by Shaivite yogis, ascetics, and worshippers of Shiva, as an aid to their sadhana (spiritual practice). Wandering ascetics, known as sadhus, are often seen smoking cannabis out of a clay chillum as a part of their spiritual practice.
One of the most commonly consumed preparations of cannabis in India is called Bhang. Bhang is offered to Shiva images and statues throughout India, especially on the festival of Shivratri. Cannabis is such an important part of the religious culture of Benaras, the main city of Shiva worship, that it is sold in government-run shops and used by pilgrims and common folks alike, being part of the religious culture. Ayurvedic and Indian doctors still prescribe cannabis to treat a range of conditions. Slowly the west is finally beginning to recognize the true values of this remarkable plant.
Cannabis Use in Ancient Europe
According to Nikolaas J. van der Merwe (Department of Archaeology, University of Cape Town, South Africa) the peasants of Europe have been using cannabis as medicine, ritual material, and to smoke or chew as far back as oral traditions go.
The ancient cultures of Scythia and Assyria were known to use cannabis incense for religious ceremonies. Herodotus, a Greek historian from the fifth century B.C.E. known as the “Father of History,” wrote that the Scythians held religious ceremonies in tent-like structures where they burned hemp plants in censers on wooden tripods (see image below). Participants communally inhaled smoke vapors for ritualistic and euphoric purposes. Assyrians are believed to have used cannabis incense as early as the 9th century B.C.E., though there is not yet archaeological evidence to support this claim. It is known, however, that Assyrians used cannabis incense to ward off evil spirits. It was commonly burned during funerary rituals and to cast out wicked spirits from children’s rooms.
Cannabis Use in China
Hemp has a long history in China. At one point it was so prized that the Chinese called their country “the land of mulberry and hemp.” Cannabis was a symbol of power over evil and in emperor Shen Nung’s pharmacopoeia and was called the “liberator of sin.” The Chinese believed that the legendary Shen Nung first taught the cultivation of hemp in the 28th century B.C. Shen Nung is credited with developing the sciences of medicine from the curative power of plants. So highly regarded was Shen Nung that he was deified and today he is regarded as the Father of Chinese medicine.
A Chinese Taoist priest wrote in the fifth century B.C. that cannabis was used in combination with Ginseng to set forward time in order to reveal future events. It is recorded that the Taoists recommended the addition of cannabis to their incense burners in the 1st century A.D. and that the effects thus produced were highly regarded as a means of achieving immortality. In the early Chinese Taoist ritual, the fumes and odors of incense burners were said to have produced a mystic exaltation and contribution to well being.
Cannabis Use in Japan
Hemp was used in ancient Japan in ceremonial rights and for purification with and emphasis on driving away evil spirits. In Japan, Shinto priests used a gohei, a short stick with undyed hemp fibers to create sacred space and purity. According to Shinto beliefs, evil and purity cannot exist alongside one another, and so by waving the gohei the evil spirit inside a person or place would be driven away. Clothes made of hemp were especially worn during formal and religious ceremonies because of hemp’s traditional association with purity.
Cannabis Use in Tibet
India and Tibet share not only a border, but also a rich tradition of religious cannabis consumption. Tibet is a historically Buddhist nation. In Mahayana Buddhism, one of the two main branches of the religion, it is said that Guatama Buddha subsisted on one hemp seed a day for six years to aid in his path to enlightenment. Buddha is sometimes depicted holding a bowl of “soma” or cannabis leaves. Buddhist practitioners would often consume cannabis to facilitate meditation or heighten awareness during religious ceremonies.
Cannabis Use in Africa
In south central Africa, cannabis is held to be sacred and is connected with many religious and social customs. Cannabis is regarded by some sects as a magical plant possessing universal protection against all injury to life, and is symbolic of peace and friendship. Certain tribes consider hemp use a duty. Members of the Rastafari movement use cannabis as a part of their worship of God and for Bible study and meditation. Rastafarians see cannabis as a sacramental and deeply beneficial plant and consider it to be 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 the use of large pipes called chalices, is an integral part of what Rastafarians call “reasoning sessions” where members join together to discuss life according to the Rasta perspective.
According to Rastafari philosophy, “the herb is the key to new understanding of the self, the universe, and God. It is the vehicle to cosmic consciousness” and is believed to burn the corruption out of the human heart.
Cannabis Use and Islam
It is interesting to note that the use of hemp was not prohibited by Mohammed (570-632 A.D.) while the use of alcohol was strictly prohibited. Despite the fact that Mohammed did not disallow cannabis, orthodox groups of Muslims today consider cannabis to be forbidden.
However, many historical groups of Muslims considered hemp as a “Holy Plant.” Medieval Arab doctors used hemp as a sacred medicine which they called among other names kannab. The Sufis (Muslim mystics) originating in 8th century Persia used hashish as a means of stimulating mystical consciousness and appreciation of the nature of Allah. They maintained that hashish gave them otherwise tremendous interiority and basic insight into themselves. They also claimed that it gave happiness, reduced anxiety, and increased music appreciation. According to one Arab legend Haydar, the Persian founder of the religious order of Sufis 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 full of spirit he was. His disciples went out into the mountains and tried the cannabis themselves. So it was, according to the legend, that the Sufis came to know the pleasures of hashish.
Cannabis Use in Ancient Iran
Ancient Iran was the source for the great Persian empire. According to Mircea Eliade, “Shamanistic ecstasy induced by hemp smoke was known in ancient Iran.” In the Zend-Avesta, hemp occupies the first place in a list of 10,000 medicinal plants.
One of the few surviving books of the Zend-Avesta, called the Venidad, “The Law Against Demons”, calls bhanga (marijuana) Zoroaster’s “good narcotic,” and tells of two mortals who were transported in soul to the heavens where, upon drinking from a cup of bhang, they had the highest mysteries revealed to them.
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