Cannabis in Religion
When we think of cannabis today, we often think of the two things. First, the stereotype of the 'stoner' comes to mind and then the medical side. We often forget or are unaware of its third main use: religious. Cannabis has been used in religious and sacred ceremonies all across the world for thousands of years and predates written history. It has been used by spiritual leaders as a way to commune with other realms and spirits. It has also been used by individuals looking for spiritual healing. While cannabis entered the mainstream, it's important to remember that for many, this isn't just a recreational or even medicinal only plant.
Taoism is a Chinese religion dating as far back as the fourth century BCE. It follows the teachings of the philosopher Lao Tzu. Taoism focuses on natural laws and going with these natural currents. Tao is the cosmic life force that flows through all living things and strives to exist in balance with the universe. Cannabis was added to ritual incense burners and inhaled regularly by Taoists at the beginning of the fourth century. It is believed that using cannabis allowed the priests and shamans to give up selfish desires and to connect with their Tao.
The sacred texts, the Vedas, of Hindusim mentions the use of cannabis dates back to 1500 BCE. Cannabis is one of the five sacred plants. It is believed that the gods sent hemp to humans so they could be happy and lose their fear. It is also suggested to have come from a drop of nectar from Heaven. Shiva, one of the more prominent Hindu gods drank a poison called Halahala in order to save others. The poison caused him extreme pain and his throat turned blue. Cannabis was offered to help ease his pain.
Currently, cannabis is still used and often in the form of "bhang". Bhang is a cannabis drink made from milk, almonds, rosewater and often ghee. It is Frank at religious rites as a cleansing of the soul and also at festivals like Holi or Shivrati.
Cannabis has been recorded to have been used in the Old Testament. Kaneh bosm is a term that was used and mistranslated into calamus. Calamus was an herb frequently used to make fragrances. However, kaneh bosm actually refers to cannabis according to the Polish scholar Sula Benet. Kaneh bosm or cannabis shows up multiple times in the books Exodus, Song of Songs, Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel, all books in the Old Testament. Moses is instructed by God to create a holy oil using kaneh bosm as the main ingredient. This oil was used in ceremonies to be poured over the head and body of a priest and the psychoactive ingredients would be absorbed through the skin. This is just one example of its use in the Bible.
This is perhaps the most well-known religion associated with the use of cannabis. It is a social movement that began in the 1930s by a Jamaican priest named Leonard Howell. It condemns the use of cannabis to get high along with any other dugs. Cannabis is meant to be used as a gateway to understanding and is the “wisdom weed”. It is consumed in a ritual called “reasoning sessions” and is used in a shared pipe and passed around like a Christian communion cup. These reasoning sessions involve group meditation and used to enter a trance state where the users are able to understand their inner spiritual self and get closer to God.
Cannabis and religion have gone hand in hand for thousands of years. Like many herbs, it is considered sacred by many people and is held in a place of great respect. It’s easy to forget that it has these sacred roots in today’s mainstream culture. While you may not practice any of the above religions or any religion, perhaps you can also use cannabis in a sacred way.