Cannabis has a long history of spiritual use, especially in India, where it has been used by wandering spiritual sadhus for centuries. The most famous religious group in the West to use cannabis in a spiritual context are the Rastafari movement, though they are by no means the only group. Some historians and etymologists have claimed that cannabis was used by ancient Jews, early Christians and Muslims of the Sufi order.
It is not known when Rastafari first made cannabis into something sacred, though it is clear that by the late 1940s Rastafari was associated with cannabis smoking at the Pinnacle community of Leonard Howell. Rastafari claim to know that cannabis 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. (The flaming chalice is also the symbol of Unitarian Universalism.) 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. In this way Rastafari believe that cannabis brings the user closer to Jah.
The holy anointing oil mentioned in various sacred Hebrew texts contained, among other ingredients, an herb known as kaneh-bosm (fragrant cane). Historically interpreted to mean calamus, there is some evidence that the correct interpretation of 'fragrant cane' may in fact be cannabis.
The word kaneh-bosm (the singular form of which would be kaneh-bos) appears 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 word also appears in Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and Song of Solomon. Polish anthropologist Sula Benet published etymological evidence that suggested a word believed to be 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". Other published evidence suggests that cannabis may have been used as a topical psychoactive substance in this time period. As anointment is the application of topical fragrant, emollient, or medicinal ointment for ritual or therapeutic purposes, it is possible that cannabis may have been an ingredient in holy anointing oil, producing spiritual experiences due to the psychoactive properties of the ingredients.
Rabbinical scholars appear to be divided on the question of what kaneh-bosm means. Exodus lists kinamon-bosm (qnmn-bsm) and kaneh-bosm (qnh-bsm) separately as ingredients of the holy anointing oil used by temple priests, romanized as "v'th qx-lk bsmym r's mr-drvr xms m'vt vqnmn-bsm mx&ytv xmsym vm'tym vqnh-bsm xmsym vm'tym". Rabbi Diana Villa confirms that "'Kinamon' or 'kinman bosem' is definitely cinnamon" but disputes that kaneh-bosm is cannabis, offering a number of other possible interpretations from other published sources. Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan's annotated Torah translation entitled "The Living Torah" includes cannabis among several other possible interpretations of kaneh-bosm . In Israel some synagogues engage in the smoking of cannabis before the holy sabbath to explore a "higher" spiritual learning.
Elders of 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. The word "Christ" actually means "the anointed one."
The first miracle attributed to Jesus took place in Cana, a name which some claim to refer to a place where hemp was grown. Pro-cannabis advocates in modern times interpret various parts of the New Testament to mean that the "new wine" which Jesus provided at the wedding feast was actually cannabis.
Like the Rastafari, some Gnostic Christians have asserted that cannabis is the Tree of Life.
Generally in orthodox Islam, the use of cannabis is deemed to be khamr, 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") 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".
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.)
This story is most likely a myth or a simplification but an interesting account nonetheless.
In addition, the warrior sect of the Hashashin were said to have smoked cannabis and were given the name "Hashasin" accordingly. This notion, traditional in the West, is largely inferred from Marco Polo's account of his travels, though it has been disputed.
Cannabis is believed to have been used in India as early as 1000 B.C.E.. In mainstream, lay religious usage, it is usually taken in liquid form as bhang and used during religious ceremonies such as marriage, as well as the Hindu celebrations of Holi and Baisakhi.
Hashish, or charas, is widely smoked by Shaivite devotees, and cannabis itself is seen as a gift of Shiva to aid in sadhana. Wandering ascetic sadhus are often seen smoking charas with a chillum.
The Indian Hemp Drugs Commission Report describes some traditional Hindu spiritual uses of cannabis.
Connection of ganja with the worship of Siva.
435. It is chiefly in connection with the worship of Siva, the Mahadeo or great god of the Hindu trinity, that the hemp plant, and more especially perhaps ganja, is associated. The hemp plant is popularly believed to have been a great favourite of Siva, and there is a great deal of evidence before the Commission to show that the drug in some form or other is now extensively used in the exercise of the religious practices connected with this form of worship. Reference to the almost universal use of hemp drugs by fakirs, jogis, sanyasis, and ascetics of all classes, and more particularly of those devoted to the worship of Siva, will be found in the paragraphs of this report dealing with the classes of the people who consume the drugs. These religious ascetics, who are regarded with great veneration by the people at large, believe that the hemp plant is a special attribute of the god Siva, and this belief is largely shared by the people. Hence the of many fond epithets ascribing to ganja the significance of a divine pro-party, and the common practice of invoking the deity in terms of adoration before placing the chillum or pipe of ganja to the lips. There is evidence to show that on almost all occasions of the worship of this god, the hemp drugs in some form or other are used by certain classes of the people it is established by the evidence of Mahamabopadhya Mahesa Chandra Nyayaratna and of other witnesses that siddhi is offered to the image of Siva at Benares, Baidynath, Tarakeswar, and elsewhere. At the Shivratri festival, and on almost all occasions before the on which this worship is practised, there is abundant evidence Commission which shows not only that ganja is offered to the god and consumed by these classes of the worshippers, but that these customs are so intimately connected with their worship that they may be considered to form in some sense an integral part of it...
Worship of the hemp plant
449. The custom of worshipping the hemp plant, although not so prevalent as that of offering hemp to Shiva and other deities of the Hindus, would nevertheless appear from the statements of the witnesses to exist to some extent in some provinces of India. The reason why this fact is not generally known may perhaps be gathered from such statements as that of Pandit Dharma Nand Joshi, who says that such worship is performed in secret. There may be another cause of the denial on the part of the large majority of Hindu witnesses of any knowledge of the existence of a custom of worshipping the hemp plant in that the educated Hindu will not admit that he worships the material object of his adoration, but the deity as represented by it. The custom of worshipping the hemp plant, though not confined to the Himalayan districts or the northern portions of India alone, where the use of the products of the hemp plant is more general among the people, is less known as we go south. Still even far south, in some of the hilly districts of the Madras Presidency and among the rural population, the hemp plant is looked upon with some sort of veneration. Mr. J. H. Merriman (witness No. 28, Madras) says: "I know of no custom of worshipping the hemp plant, but believe it is held in a certain sort of veneration by some classes." Mr. J. Sturrock, the Collector of Coimbatore (witness No. 2, Madras), says: "In some few localities there is a tradition of sanctity attached to the plant, but no regular worship. "The Chairman of the Conjeveram Municipal Board, Mr. E. Subramana Iyer (witness No. 143, Madras) says: "There is no plant to be worshipped here, but it is generally used as sacrifices to some of the minor Hindu deities. "There is a passage quoted from Rudrayanmal Danakand and Karmakaud in the report on the use of hemp drugs in the Baroda State, which also shows that the worship of the bhang plant is enjoined in the Shastras. It is thus stated: "The god Shiva says to Parvati-- 'Oh, goddess Parvati, hear the benefits derived from bhang. The worship of bhang raises one to my position. In Bhabishya Puran it is stated that "on the 13th moon of Chaitra (March and April) one who wishes to see the number of his sons and grandsons increased must worship Kama (Cupid) in the hemp plant, etc.".
The Sikh religion developed in the Punjab in Mughal 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.
Among the Sikhs the use of bhang as a beverage appears to be common, and to be associated with their religious practices. The witnesses who refer to this use by the Sikhs appear to regard it as an essential part of their religious rites having the authority of the Granth or Sikh scripture. Witness Sodhi Iswar Singh, Extra Assistant Commissioner, says :"As far as I know, bhang is pounded by the Sikhs on the Dasehra day, and it is ordinarily binding upon every Sikh to drink it as a sacred draught by mixing water with it. Legend--Guru Gobind Singh, the tenth guru, the founder of the Sikh religion, was on the gaddi of Baba Nanak in the time of Emperor Aurangzeb. When the guru was at Anandpur, tahsil Una, Hoshiarpur district, engaged in battle with the Hill Rajas of the Simla, Kangra, and the Hoshiarpur districts, the Rains sent an elephant, who was trained in attacking and slaying the forces of the enemy with a sword in his trunk and in breaking open the gates of forts, to attack and capture the Lohgarh fort near Anandpur. The guru gave one of his followers, Bachittar Singh, some bhang and a little of opium to eat, and directed him to face the said elephant. This brave man obeyed the word of command of his leader and attacked the elephant, who was intoxicated and had achieved victories in several battles before, with the result that the animal was overpowered and the Hill Rajas defeated. The use of bhang, therefore, on the Dasehra day is necessary as a sacred draught. It is customary among the Sikhs generally to drink bhang, so that Guru Gobind Singh has himself said the following poems in praise of bhang: "Give me, O Saki (butler), a cup of green colour (bhang), as it is required by me at the time of battle (vide 'Suraj Parkash,' the Sikh religious book). "Bhang is also used on the Chandas day, which is a festival of the god Sheoji Mahadeva. The Sikhs consider it binding to use it on the Dasehra day-The quantity then taken is too small to prove injurious." As Sikhs are absolutely prohibited by their religion from smoking, the use of ganja and charas in this form is not practised by them. of old Sikh times, is annually permitted to collect without interference a boat load of bhang, which is afterwards. distributed throughout the year to the sadhus and beggars who are supported by the dharamsala.
Organized religions founded in the past century are Ethiopian Zion Coptic Church, Religion of Jesus Church, THC Ministry, Way of Infinite Harmony, Cantheism and Cannabis Assembly. Many individuals also consider their use of cannabis to be spiritual regardless of organized religion.
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