“Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you. And as I gave you the green plants, I give you everything”. Genesis 9:3. Opinions on cannabis are very diverse. If we took 10 people, we would probably get 10 different answers. Cannabis is spreading and becoming more and more popular. Due to this, even more diverse groups have their say about this topic. Many religions worldwide accept cannabis, and it is interesting to take a look at the historic relationship between cannabis and religion.
Besides well-known cannabis supporting religions group such as Rastafari, there are many modern religions that focus on cannabis. They were created to celebrate the connection between cannabis and religion. These are groups such as: Cantheism, The Cannabis Assembly, The Church of the Universe, The Free Marijuana Church of Honolulu, and The First Church of Cannabis, just to name a few.
However, there are also more mystical, ancient religions which use cannabis as a part of the spiritual healing. For example, Taoism goes back to 4th century China, and uses cannabis for cleansing. While Norse mythology references cannabis with beauty, fertility, and love. These are only a few examples of cannabis implementation to holy and ancient rituals. In this article we will discuss the content of various religious books (the most famous one as well) on the topic of the most controversial plant in the history. Let’s take a look at the role of cannabis and religion in the world history.
THE BIBLE, CHRISTIANITY, AND JUDAISM
Cannabis history goes back to the ancient times and people started to discuss the role of this plant in the Bible. Did Jesus smoke cannabis? Opinions between religions groups are divided and currently there is no way of proving these claims.
Through the years cannabis brought a certain pit between Christians that believe cannabis use is a sin and those who believe that God created cannabis to help people. Naturally, opinions vary between different Christian groups. However, many are searching for evidence in the most well-known religious text, The Bible. Supporters of pro-cannabis theory claim that cannabis use is no more sinful than the use of tobacco, coffee, or alcohol.
The Use of Word Cannabis
It is interesting that the Bible does not clearly reference the word “cannabis” in the text. The only openly mentioned substance is alcohol. However, messages about intoxication in different parts of the text can be conflicting at times. The common message is that any intoxicating substance is a sin. The confusion on the Bible interpretation led to a great opinion division on the role of cannabis and religion.
Even though cannabis “marijuana” is not directly mentioned in the Bible, that is not the case for hemp (its mentioned often). Furthermore, even more interesting is the fact that the well-known expression “Kaneh-bosm” (which is the main ingredient of anointing oil that Jesus used for healing) was the first term used for cannabis. The word “kan” means cannabis and “bosm” aromatic.
The Probability of Cannabis Use in Biblical Times
Is it very probable that cannabis was used in biblical times? Realistically, the probability is very high and not only in the relation between cannabis and religion. Cannabis was present and used for thousands of years, so it is not that crazy to conclude that the writers of the Bible were aware about the existence and effects of this plant. When we take a look at how often the word cannabis is used in the Bible, it is clear why so many people conclude it was created by God. Furthermore, the plants and their cultivation are specifically mentioned in the following parts: Genesis (1:12, 28-31), Ezekiel (34:29), and Exodus (22:1-2)
In Genesis 1:29, God tells Adam that “Every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth and every tree with seed in its fruit, you shall have them for food”. And cannabis is no exception. This also makes cannabis kosher and can be consumed in Jewish religion.
Researcher Yosef Glassman set on a path to discover if cannabis was used in the ancient Jewish times for medicinal purposes. When cannabis became more accepted, he decided to publish his findings. He found a great deal of connections and claims that cannabis use is a part of Jewish laws and tradition, that was buried for a long time. It needs to resurface and be researched further. “There is no doubt that this plant has a holy source, God himself and is mentioned in several rituals”, claims Glassman. He also found many references for non-medical use. The use of cannabis for clothing and accessories was very common (as well as for canvas and all types of textiles).
The archeological findings at Tel Arad in Negev desert (35 miles south of Jerusalem) are also fascinating. Archeologists dug up an ancient Jewish altar and found burnt cannabis traces on it. This is the first evidence that points to cannabis use as a part of religious life in the ancient Jewish kingdom. Tel Arad includes the remains of a city and a fort dating back between 10th and 6th century B.C.
The Song of Songs
In the Song of Songs, king Solomon admires and poetically describes his new bride. He compares her qualities to a variety of desirable plants, fruit, and oils. In the Song of Songs 4:14, fragrant calamus is one of the comparisons (they believe calamus is an incorrect translation for “cannabis”).
Speculations exist that Isaiah 18:4-5 references cannabis harvest. In Isaiah 43:24 the people of Israel are chided for their hypocritical worship traditions. It is mentioned that the Israelites did not buy “sweet cane” as a gift to God. This so-called sweet cane is believed to actually be an ingredient of the Holy anointing oil with the same name. Many researchers believe this was cannabis.
The most notable cannabis reference might originate from the Old Testament in the book of Exodus. Moses starts communicating with God, after he begins investigating the burning bush. He notices that it is on fire but not burning up (Eksodus 3:2-5). God then instructs Moses to lead the Israelites out of Egypt, where they lived in suppression. When Moses achieves this, God continues to come to him with divine information and instructions. Some researchers claim that this communication took place under the influence of cannabis. Throughout Exodus God is also depicted to make his Earthly visits in clouds of smoke.
In Exodus 19:9, God tells Moses: “I will come to you in a dense cloud so that the people will hear me speaking with you and will always put their trust in you”. Moses was instructed by God to set up an altar in his tent for the purpose of burning incense (may have been cannabis) Exodus 30:1-9. When the cloud of smoke could be seen at the entrance, his follower gathered and started praying.
Did Jesus Use Cannabis?
New Testament offers many examples in which Jesus most likely used the Holy anointing oil. It is very much possible that Jesus performed many of his miracles and healings with the help of highly concentrated cannabis.
In the Bible, Jesus introduces himself simply as “Jesus from Nazareth”. “Christ” was a title given to him by his disciples and originates from the Greek word ”Christos” – a translation of Hebrew and Aramaic Messiah, which means “anointed”.
Jesus, however, did anoint common people with his healing oil, who reported miraculous recoveries. Matthew 4:24 said: “News about Him spread all over Syria and people brought to Him all who were ill with various diseases, those suffering severe pain, the demon-possessed, those having seizures, and the paralyzed; and he healed them all”.
The medical conditions Jesus was credited for include:
- Severe and painful skin conditions such as leprosy, dermatitis, eczema, and psoriasis.
- Muscle conditions such as rheumatism and multiple sclerosis – Jesus is referred to as “the straightener of the crooked limbs” in Acts of Thomas.
- Eye disease, such as glaucoma.
- Issues related to menstruation, such as dysmenorrhea (painful menstruation), menorrhagia (abnormally heavy or prolonged bleeding), and uterine hemorrhage related to childbirth.
- Epilepsy, the symptoms of which would have likely been viewed as demonic possession in Biblical times.
Interestingly, in the last year cannabis has been very successful in treating conditions listed above. If Jesus applied this highly concentrated cannabis oil to the skin of those suffering from these conditions, it makes sense that dramatic results and improvements could be seen. It is no wonder that the people witnessing these effects would call them miracles. Cannabis and religion existed in harmony.
Recipe For the Holy Anointing Oil
Recipe for this oil is directly described in Exodus 30:22-23: “500 shekels of liquid myrrh, half as much of fragrant cinnamon, 250 shekels of kaneh-bosm (or “fragrant calamus”), 500 shekels of cassia, and a hind of olive oil”. Shekels were units of both money and weight in the Biblical times. Exact measure for the shekel changed throughout time from country to country, however the values was usually between 7 to 17 grams. This means that approximately 2.5 kg of cannabis was used in 6.5 l of olive oil base. The result would have been a very potent olive oil.
This oil was topically applied to the skin of the Holy men and would have undoubtably altered their state of mind, maybe even open the ability to communicate with God on a completely different level compared to prayer. Furthermore, another argument this oil was made with cannabis and not calamus is that in these quantities, thalamus would be highly toxic and capable of damaging the liver, kidneys, and heart. The same amount of cannabis would not be toxic at all – however psychoactive effects would be very strong.
Of course, everyone does not agree with this. For example, Lytton John Musselman, a professor of botany insists, that calamus has very strong healing effects on its own. He states examples from Sri Lanka and Native Americans in the USA. Moreover, it is also used in Ayurvedic medicine.
Some Christians think that cannabis as well as other harmful substances were created by God. However, this does not mean that it is Gods wish for people to consume them. Old and New Testament clearly state that intoxication is not acceptable: “Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit”. They believe this statement includes cannabis as well. Of course, this is not explicitly stated anywhere in the Bible.
However, there are many claims that religions texts describe the use of cannabis by Jesus and see him as the first cannabis activist, that spread the knowledge of this herb with his anointing oil. In the end at least for now, neither side can prove its claims. The relationship between cannabis and religion will be debated in Christianity for some time to come.
ISLAM AND WESTERN ASIA
Cannabis was used as an intoxicant in India and Iran from 1.000 B.C. on. Muslim Western Asia adopted it 1.800 years later, two centuries after the death of prophet Mohammed. In his lifetime the use of cannabis (in this part of the world known as hashish, which means “grass” in Arabic) was unknown. This might be the reason why the prophet never explicitly forbade the use of cannabis in Quran, opposite to fermented drinks (alcohol, wine, beer…).
Quran does not forbid the use of cannabis directly. Among Muslim scholars the interpretation of cannabis use is a hot subject. Some claim that by analogy “qiyas” is similar to “khamr” (alcoholic drink) and believe that it is “haraam” (forbidden). Others claim that cannabis is “halal” (permitted).
Those who claim that it is forbidden refer to prophet Mohammed and his claim on alcoholic drinks: “if it is intoxicating, even a little is haraam”. The early Muslim jurists however separated cannabis from alcohol and even with alcohol restrictions, cannabis use was spread in the Islamic world until the 18th century. Cannabis positive healing effects are far greater than the intoxicating effects, that is why it is believed to be permissible. Nowadays cannabis is still used in some parts of the Islamic world. Even in religions context, especially in the mystical Sufi movement. Their tradition credits the discovery of cannabis to Jafar Sharaz (sheik Haydar), Sufi leader in the 12th century. Other Sufi’s credit its discovery to apocrypha Khidr (“The Green Man”).
ANCIENT GREEK RELIGION
Ancient cultures of Scythia and Assyria were known for their use of cannabis incense for religious ceremonies. Herodotus, the Greek historian from the 5th century B.C., also known as the “Father of History” wrote that Scythians performed religious ceremonies in tent like structures, where they burned cannabis plants in censers on wooden tripods (picture below). Participants inhaled smoke vapor for ritual and euphoria purposes. It is believed that Assyrians used these techniques already in 9th century B.C. , however there is still no archeological evidence for this claim. We do know that Assyrians used cannabis incense to ward off evil spirits. Usually, it was lit during burial ceremonies or in casting out evil spirits from children’s rooms.
INDIA AND HINDUISM
Cannabis and religion have a long history in India; however, it is hidden in legends and religion. The earliest mention of cannabis occurs in Vedas (Hindu sacred texts). These writings are from 2.000 to 1.400 years B.C. Vedas explain that cannabis was one of the five sacred plants and guardian angel lived in its leaves. Vedas refer to cannabis as the source of happiness, bringer of joy, and a plant that frees you. They sympathetically gave it to people, to help them achieve joy and lose the fear in people (Abel, 1980). It frees us from anxiety.
Furthermore, God Shiva is often connected to cannabis. The legend tells a story, that Shiva wandered the fields after an argument with his family. Exhausted from the conflict and scorching sun he fell asleep under a leafy plant. When he woke up, he ate the leaves in curiosity. He instantly felt reborn. For Shiva cannabis became his favorite food and he became known as Lord Bhang (Bhang is a cannabis preparation consumed in India – picture below). The second story is, that the Gods as well as demons mixed the milky ocean and produced “amrita” (Sanskrit for immortality) and with it received cannabis.
Cannabis was popular in India from the beginning of documented history and is often consumed as a drink. They add nuts and spices such as almonds, pistachio, poppy seeds, pepper, ginger, and sugar to it. Then the mixture is boiled in milk. Yoghurt can also be used instead of milk. In the Middle Ages soldiers used to often consume Bhang before battle, similar to Western consumption of whiskey. Nowadays it is most often consumed during religious ceremonies, festivals, and similar events. Interestingly, in Hinduism it is also believed that cannabis has medicinal effects and is used in ayurvedic medicine. Whichever story you believe, there is no doubt, cannabis has a special place in Hinduism.
Shamans in Taoism used cannabis in combination with ginseng to uncover the truth about the future. They believed the plant has the ability to send their spirit further in time. Cannabis use in Taoism was limited to religious officials and was not shared with ordinary people. This might explain the unusual exclusion of cannabis from certain ancient texts. Until the year 200 dynasty Han (of Imperial China) adopted Confucianism, left Taoism and cannabis with it.
BUDDHISM AND TIBET
Not only do India and Tibet share their borders, but also a rich history of cannabis use in religion. Historically, Tibet is Buddhist. In Mahayana Buddhism (one of the two main branches of the religion) it is written that Guatama Buddha lived for 6 years with only one cannabis seed a day. This helped him in the path to enlightenment. Buddha is sometimes depicted with a bowl of “soma” or cannabis leaves in his hands (picture below). Buddhists often used cannabis for easier meditation and to increase the level of consciousness during religious rituals.
When we discuss cannabis, The Bible, and other religious texts there is never only one correct answer. Ancient texts are completely opened to interpretation. However, there is a strong argument for cannabis use in biblical times, and tradition is still ongoing in some cultures. The fact is, that cannabis and religion have been connected in some way since the dawn of man. Different religions used cannabis in different ways, and it could have a different meaning for each religion. The common points were the positive well-being and change in a way how people viewed reality.
To conclude with the writing of Mark 6:13: To be anointed with the Holy Plant meant “to receive divine knowlege”
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G. D. C.
23. 12. 2021