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Historical Cannabis Use In World Religions

Governments across the world have been mulling over the legalisation of cannabis, now people have started using cannabis for alleviating a range of diseases, such as diabetes, obesity, cancer, depression, and arthritis.

Whilst there are still many barriers to good quality research, scientists and Pharma companies alike are keen to accelerate modern studies verifying the effectiveness of the drug. For example, they have found that the combination of cannabinoids and psilocybin can be used in colon cancer, heart ailments, and infertility.   

However, whilst the research may be new, Cannabis use is not - and this is not a new drug off the shelf. The medical use of the plant has long been known to our ancestors.

Holy books and stories of various religions are believed to have references to marijuana. Many historians debate that ancient civilisations banned alcohol and not cannabis. Ancient people were aware of the substance’s medicinal values and euphoric properties. The Ancient Chinese are believed to have used it to alleviate rheumatism, malaria, and even absent-mindedness. In India, there are mentions of it with regards to dysentery, sunstroke, and anxiety. Below is a brief rundown of how cannabis has been an essential feature in many world religions.

 

1.   Hinduism 

In Hinduism, Cannabis is one of the five sacred plants along with Tulasi (Basil), Sandalwood, Jasmine, and Neem. The Vedas, the oldest religious texts, mention cannabis as a liberator and a joy-giving elixir of life.

The Hindu God, Shiva, used it to nullify the effects of poison. The ancient Hindus were well aware of its hallucinating properties too. People have bhang, a drink made of marijuana and milk, during festivals like Mahashivratri and Holi.

It is believed to be an omen of success and prosperity. The Rajput kings had the herbaceous weed before going to the war field, and they believed that it made them bold and brave.

 

2.   Buddhism

As per the five precepts of Buddha, one has to avoid anything that affects the mind or clouds it. Buddhist monks used substances like hemp during meditation. They argue that it helps them get closer to reality. Many texts belonging to Tantric Buddhism refer to psychoactive plants like cannabis and datura.

They were part of home-rituals, practice elements, psychospiritual activities, and medicine. The monks explored mind-altering mechanisms by using cannabis. People from Nepal and Tibet, who follow the Vajrayana tradition still use the entheogenic substances.

 

3.   Taoism

There are archeological pieces of evidence that suggest the use of hemp in central Asia began ten thousand years ago. People used it for making things like pottery and shoe soles. It was a food crop and a source of fibre for the natives. They were also aware of its medicinal properties.

In Chinese Folk-history, around 2800 BC, emperor Shennung, who was also an excellent farmer, began to look for plant-based medicines for various diseases. In folktales, he is known as the Father of Medicine, and used cannabis to cure absent-mindedness, digestive disorders, malaria, and menstrual problems.

Surgeries and sutures were said to have become painless with its use. Spiritually, Hemp was also associated with immortality and for making prophecies. The emperor believed that the flowers and leaves of the plant could help one communicate with spirits.

By 200 BC, incense braziers became common in Tao culture. Hemp was a must to join the immortals, to gain knowledge of the future, and to command the demons. The Taoists worship cannabis as a deity, and in earlier days, they had auspicious times for gathering it. 

 

4.   Christianity and Judaism

Similar to other religions, the Holy Bible rejects anything intoxicating. Moreover, the Western world has argued that there is no direct mention of cannabis in Christian scriptures.

But many people believe that the Hebrew word kaneh bosm in the Old Testament translates to cannabis. The word occurs in the Song of Songs, Isaiah, and Jeremiah. Moreover, as per Judaism, all plants are kosher. The jews used hemp as incense sticks during religious ceremonies and wore cloth made of hemp as it could keep away spiritual impurities. Archaeologists have found cannabis residue from an eighth-century Jewish temple.

In the book of Exodus, Moses communicates with God after he observes a bush on fire yet not burning. All further communion happens in a cloud of smoke. God gives the recipe of the holy anointing oil, which again contains kaneh bosm. Some of the priests suggested that cannabis was behind the miraculous healing. Apostle Mark, in his gospel, wrote about the rubbing of a plant as a requirement for receiving divine knowledge. It again may refer to the use of cannabis Seed.

 

5.   Cannabis in Africa

The use of cannabis as a medicine was prevalent in Pharaonic Egypt. They used it for ceremonial purposes too. In the early 90s, Egyptologists found traces of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) in Egyptian mummies dating 950 B.C.

The ancient medical texts, such as Ramesseum III Papyrus, Ebers Papyrus, include the use of cannabis for aiding childbirth and treatment of glaucoma. The Egyptian Goddess of wisdom, knowledge, and writing is depicted featuring a seven-pointed emblem resembling the weed, on her head.  

Many African tribes also associated cannabis with rituals. The Bashilenge tribes from present-day Congo, call themselves the son of hemp. They consider the weed as God and the pipe as a symbol of peace.

 

Final thoughts 

Ancient civilisations were aware of cannabis and its psychoactive properties. It was a sacred plant and used for rituals and medicinal purposes. Chinese shamans, Buddhist monks, and Hindu priests associated it with mysticism. Jewish Rabbis believe that the Shabbat wick was made of hemp.

Sefer Raziel, a 13th-century Jewish book, mentions using cannabis and wormwood for scaring away demons. Ancient Greek historians wrote about the smoke of marijuana for inducing trance-like experiences. And the Rastas group of Jamaica believes that cannabis is the tree of life mentioned in Genesis.

Thus people across the world considered the hemp plant as a sacred entity, and handled it with caution.

 

This is a guest post by Jessica of WeedBlogPro | Cover art by Sara Shakeel