It’s that time of year when magic is in the air–Halloween is just behind us, the harvest is upon us and we feel the most in touch with our pagan roots. Many of the pagan, ancient and classic religious traditions that still exist today, or cultural rituals involved in harvesting, use cannabis in their practices. Here’s a look at how religions and cultures across time and the planet have used cannabis as a sacrament, a healing herb and a part of their daily lives and rituals.
Cannabis, love and sex go hand in hand, and this has been the case since the days of the ancient Germanic pagans. According to “The History of Hemp in Norway,” an article published in The Journal of Industrial Hemp by Jan Bojer Vindheim, cannabis and fertility have long been associated in ancient Norse mythology. The herb was associated with Freya, the goddess of love, and was consumed and harvested at the ironically titled “High Festival,” where fertility was celebrated. The Norse people believed that Freya’s feminine, erotic energy was contained in the flowers of the plant, which would give sexual power to those who consumed them. The article also points out that two ancient Norwegian women were discovered with hemp seeds in their pouch and a hemp cord on their persons, alluding to more practical uses for the cannabis family as well.
Central Asian Mysticism
There is much historical evidence that the people of Central Asia have been turning to cannabis for thousands of years, both in ritual and relaxation. The ancient Greek Historian Herodotus recorded in his book Histories that the Scythians, a group of ancient Iranian Nomads, would make steam baths out of cannabis. They would erect crude saunas out of animal skin stretched around poles, put some hemp seed on hot coals, and then stand inside the booths soaking up the steam and the euphoric effects.
Additionally, according to Martin Booth’s Cannabis: A History, Tarim mummies from ancient Northern China have been discovered with bags full of cannabis buried in their tombs. It is believed that these men were shamans, and wanted to bring their sacred herb with them into the next world so they could continue practicing their craft. The shaman mummies have also been found with bowls and various other hemp-related items in their tombs, suggesting that this ancient people ate and imbibed cannabis as well as used hemp for fiber.
Cannabis Rites in Africa
When it comes to the history of Africa and cannabis, the roots go a lot deeper than the relatively recent advent of the Rastafari religion. Alfred Dunhill, the British historian who spent time studying the history of cannabis in Africa and wrote The Pipe Book, claimed that Africans have used gourd pipes to smoke cannabis since ancient times. The Baluka tribe also formed a hemp-smoking cult at one point in time, called the Riamba, in order to smoke cannabis together in community and honor the herb.
According to Pogge and Wissman, two explorers who chronicled the Bashilenge tribe in 1881, there were both clubs of hemp smokers and religious cults. The tribe allegedly referred to themselves as “sons of hemp” and used “hemp” as a greeting when addressing each other. Members of the religious cannabis cults would show their devotion by smoking as frequently as possible, and believed that the magic of hemp would outweigh the negative energy they built up when they had to do things like go to war. They also passed around a guard to smoke out of as a kind of peace pipe whenever making important agreements or deals.
The continent also has a history of using the plant for healing purposes since ancient times across various countries.
Sikhism and Sacred Smoke
Those who practice the Sikh religion today more than likely abstain from cannabis–the modern Sikh teachings outline that intoxication is a distraction from true understanding of God and something that only gets in the way of faith. However, cannabis is a hugely entrenched part of their history, and there are sects of the religion that still stand by its healing powers today.
According to the website Amrit World’s interpretation of Sikh lore, the Sikhs who fought in the Second Battle of Anandpur in 1701 were being persecuted and constantly pursued by Mughal forces. Because of this, the warriors were always on the run and did not have good access to food, sometimes having to resort to eating things like tree bark. When this happened, they turned to the plentiful weed, bhang or cannabis, to deal with the pains caused by eating such a poor diet. They also used it to help with pain when they became injured in combat and had to remain on the run. As a result, some Sikhs today still ritually use cannabis, and an exception for imbibing is often made on certain holidays.
Hindu Hemp Lore
Many Hindus still embrace hemp as a part of their religion–on the festival day of Holi, bhang or cannabis flowers are ritually consumed. According to Mia Touw’s The Religious and Medical Uses of Cannabis in China, India and Tibet, Hindu mythology states that Shiva created cannabis from his body in order to purify the elixir of life that helped to kick start the world. Another version of the myth states that when the elixir of life touched the ground, the cannabis plant sprang up. Therefore, as long as you are imbibing cannabis in a ritualistic manner, as a sacrament, some Hindus believe it can cause insights about the future and cleanse past sins.