Marijuana has held a part in the religious rituals and beliefs of many countries and cultures around the World. This involvement can range from enhancement of religious experiences, to complete worship of ‘The Herb’. Here we take a brief look at how Marijuana has featured in spiritual development in its many guises throughout history.
The Indian vedas sang of Cannabis as one of the divine nectars, able to give man anything from good health and long life, to visions of the gods. Tradition in India says that the Gods sent man the Hemp plant so that he might attain delight, courage, and have heightened sexual desires and experiences.
When nectar dropped down from heaven, Cannabis sprouted from it. In another story, the Gods, aided by Demons, churned up the milk ocean to obtain Amrita (nectar). One of the resulting nectars was Cannabis. It was consecrated to Shiva and was Indra’s favourite drink. This plant of the Gods has been held in India to bestow supernatural powers on its users.
The Pen Tsao Ching, written in 100 A.D., but based on the work of Emperor Shen-Nung 2000 years previously, is a good indicator that the Chinese knew of and probably used the hallucinogenic properties of Marijuana. It was said that if taken to excess it will produce hallucinations and if taken long term, it makes one communicate with spirits and lighten’s one’s body.
In the 5th Century B.C. a Taoist priest wrote that Cannabis was used by ‘necromancers, in combination with Ginseng, to set forward time and reveal future events’.
In the context of religion, it is perhaps in the mountains of Tibet and India that hallucinogenic Cannabis preparations really took on in importance. The Tibetans consider Cannabis as sacred. One Mahayana Buddhist tradition believes that during the six steps leading to his enlightenment, Buddha lived on one Hemp seed a day. In Tantric Buddhism, Cannabis plays a very significant role in the meditative ritual used to enable deep meditation and heighten awareness. Marijuana is so widely used in this region that is taken for granted as an everyday necessity!
In Africa, in an ancient tribal ceremony in the Zambesi Valley, participants inhaled from a smoldering pile of Marijuana and later, when tubes and pipes had become involved, it was burnt at an altar. The Kasai tribes of the Congo have revived an old cult in which Hemp, was elevated to a God, a protector against physical and spiritual harm. Marijuana smoking and Hash sniffing cults exist in many parts of East Africa, especially near Lake Victoria.
Marijuana has not really made an impact on Native American religious beliefs. There are of course, a few exceptions!. The Tepecano Indians in NW Mexico sometime use Marijuana when Peyote is not available. It has recently been discovered that Indians in the Mexican states of Veracruz, Hidlago and Puebla, use Cannabis during a communal curing ceremony. Although the ceremony is based mainly on Christian elements, the plant is worshipped as an earth deity and is thought to be alive and to represent a part of the heart of God. The participants in this cult believe that the plant can be dangerous and that it can assume the form of a man’s soul, make him ill, enrage him, and even
Rastafarians – members of a Jamaican messianic movement dating back to the 1930’s. In 1974 it was estimated that there was 20,000 in Jamaica alone. Rastafarians belive that the only true God is the late Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie (originally known as Ras Tafari), and Ethiopia is the one true Zion. They believe that Adam and Jesus were black and the Scriptures were perverted by white Christian preachers and missionaries. Marijuana is believed to be the biblical weed of wisdom and it is used is many of their rituals. Rastafarians believe in black separatism and advocate a return to Africa, which they regard as the spiritual home of all black people.
The value of Marijuana in folk medicine has been closely tied with its euphoric and hallucinogenic properties. Primitive man, trying all sorts of plant materials as food, must have quickly come to realize the hallucinatory effects of Cannabis. This was an intoxicating introduction to an other-wordly state, often leading to religious beliefs. Thus it was viewed as a gift from the Gods, a form of communion with the spirit world.