Day of the dead is a Christian holiday, where we celebrate and remember all the deceased in our lives. Traditionally, we light candles or bring flowers to the graves to honour the dead. However, culture rituals connected with spirituality and life on the other side have been much different in ancient times. In this article we will take a look at a few cases of cannabis use in rituals in ancient history.
CURRENT DAY OF THE DEAD RITUALS
In the past all time around the winter solstice was dedicated to the dead. Souls of the dead were supposed to return to our world. However, Christianity changed the animistic tradition and showed these souls needing sin redemption to enter heaven. For this they needed the prayers of the living. Families used to hire others to pray for them and often hired less fortunate and kids to pray for them.
Nowadays, masses visit graves of deceased loved ones, light candles, and bring flowers. On this day funeral ceremonies and rituals to honour the dead usually take place around the countries. We dedicate this day to remember the deceased and honour them with a visit to their grave.
Culture rituals were somewhat different in ancient times. You can read how they looked like and what the role of cannabis was in the following of this article.
ANCIENT CHINESE DEATH RITUALS
Pamir mountain range of Himalayas is the location of Jirzankal cemetery, home of eight tombs approximately 2.500 years old. They were discovered in circular holes surrounded by rings made of stone. Rocks with black and white patterns were put on top of them. Research work of Chinese Academy and Max Planck Institute team of scientists published in Science Advances claims, that these tombs are the first evidence of cannabis use in humans.
The most surprising discovery in these tombs was the psychoactive compound tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). They found it in pollen samples extracted from wooden fragments of ten wooden incense burners. Samples were analysed and traces of THC were higher compared to the ones found in wild cannabis. This means that they grew selected cannabis varieties with higher THC specifically for their culture rituals, to get people out of tombs in this case.
Mourners in Elevated State of Consciousness
Scientists believe, that during the burial ritual, cannabis smoke stimulated senses and emotions of the mourners (psychoactive part). With this, it increased the sense of event sanctity. More experienced users could take the time to increase ritual communication with the divine kingdom during the path of the deceased soul to the beyond.
While it was well known that hemp fibre was used to create sails, clothes, and hempseed oil for food, it is quite surprising, that they found and used adapted cannabis cultivation for psychoactive effects.
ANCIENT SCYTHIANS SPREAD CANNABIS USE IN DEATH RITUALS
The Scythians were Iranian nomadic tribes, which populated from Caucasus, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, and Altai Mountain range, and to Mongolia, China, Russia, India, and south Ukraine, and Bulgaria.
Scythian kurgans are spread over Eurasian steppe from Mongolia to the Balkans, over Ukraine, and to the Black Sea. From the artefacts found in the kurgans, archaeologists found much more about the life and art of the Scythians.
Workers who cleaned the path for power lines construction found a huge kurgan in Stavropol, a territorial region of south Russia. Stavropol archaeologists started their dig in the summer of 2013. The findings motivated the authorities to keep this site a secret for a long time.
When the excavation of the kurgan started, archaeological team did not have great expectations to find much, as the kurgan was robbed already in the past. However, after multiple weeks of excavation the team found a thick layer of clay. After careful dig, they found a large rectangle chamber under the clay. It was coated with wide, flat rocks. In it, the team found 2.400-year-old treasure, that the robbers missed. This was a great surprise for the team, as they did not expect to find something like this.
The art on the artefacts is an exciting find. Artefact, which present shoes, haircuts, and clothes of an elder person and warriors is extremely realistic. The lead researcher Belinski has never seen such a detailed depiction of Scythian clothes and weaponry (you could even see how the clothes were sewed together). However, this was not all they found.
Scythian Cult of the Dead and Use of Cannabis and Opium
In the pots they also found black sticky substance. It was a residue of cannabis and opium. With Scythians, cannabis was an important part of the culture rituals (death ceremony) when a leader died. Firstly, they cleaned and clothed the body. Then they carried the body around the region where he ruled for 40 days, so everyone could pay their respect.
After the burial of the leader Scythians cleansed the body by setting up small structures in which they set fire. When only red-hot charcoal was left, they threw cannabis seeds on it or they filled pots with them and set them on the charcoal.
Intoxicating vapor was created and out of body experience was believed to clean the soul and mind. Around year 450 B.C. Herodotus wrote: “When the Scythians take some seeds of this cannabis, they climb under the covers and put seeds on the hot rocks. Scythians driven by the steam, scream out loud”
For a long time, it was believed that these “cannabis ceremonies” are only a myth, however it’s a fact that they really happened. New findings uncover even more secrets from the ancient times.
ANCIENT ISRAELITES BURN CANNABIS DURING WORSHIP
Israelites were a group of semitic tribes, which lived in the ancient Middle East during the iron age. Archaeological study found, that the ancient Israelites burned cannabis as a part of religious tradition.
A well-preserved substance found in a 2.700-year-old temple in Tel Arad was recognized as cannabis. It also contained the psychoactive component THC. Researchers concluded, that cannabis was used to change the mental state of the believers. This is the first evidence of psychotropic substance use in early Judaeo worship.
At first, the temple was discovered in the 1960s in Negev desert, which is located approximately 95 km south of Tel Aviv. Due to very dry climate in this area and the fact that the altars were buried, the remains of burned cannabis could remain well preserved on the altars. On the first altar incense residue was found, which is not surprising according to the holy writings. However, on the second one, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), cannabidiol (CBD), and cannabinol (CBN) were found – three dominant cannabis cannabinoids.
We can see that the ancient culture rituals differed from todays. Maybe it is time to look back in history and uncover what was forgotten. To learn more about cannabis and religion you can read another interesting article here.
G. D. C.
29. 10. 2022