There is a ritualistic quality to smoking cannabis. Procuring cannabis flower, using a trusty old grinder, and rolling the sticky stuff up in a joint is a repeated event, much like a ritual. Even the burning of cannabis is similar to the release of incense, filling the room with a perhaps, less inviting smell. Many people do it at the same time of day, like at 4:20, and with a similar group of people. The bond people form by getting high together is often profound, founded by a euphoric change in mental state. For many, cannabis and religious rituals intertwine. What many don’t know is that cannabis and religion have a long history.
For thousands of years, people have used cannabis as an essential part of religious rituals and continue to do so to this day. From the Far East to Western cultures, there is significant evidence of people intertwining cannabis and religion due to archaeological research. Additionally, many religions today still place an essential emphasis on the use of the cannabis plant. From the well-known Rastafarianism beliefs to Hindu rituals, ancient cannabis rituals hold a crucial role in religious practices. Here are some examples of the astounding relationship between cannabis and religion.
The existence of cannabis dates back thousands of years and originated in Asia. The use of cannabis traces back to 8000 BC in Japan, making it one of the earliest cultivated plants. The earliest documented use was in 2800 BCE when it appeared in Chinese Emperor Shen Nung’s medicinal records. Ancient therapeutic records stretch from China to Greece, showing the widespread usage of the cannabis plant. Furthermore, medicine was not the only use for cannabis, as many ancient cultures used cannabis in religious rituals.
Recent archeological finds discovered ancient Western Chinese cultures used cannabis 2,500 years ago at a burial ground. Archeologists found traces of THC in old wooden pots inside large rooms at burial sites. Scientists contend that these cultures likely lit cannabis in these pots and inhaled the vapors in a closed-off room. The event was likely a religious ritual that would bring participants closer to the deceased through the psychoactive effects of cannabis.
Another archaeological find found traces of cannabis at a Judeo-Christian holy site in Israel, dating back to a similar era as the Chinese site. A Judahite shrine in Tel Arad, Israel, shows that these Judeo-Christian cultists store cannabis in a room dedicated to sacred rituals. They mixed it with frankincense, another substance in incense. Similarly to the Chinese site, archeologists believe that these people consumed cannabis as a group by inhaling the vapors produced from a combination of cannabis and other substances. The event likely played an essential role in a religious ritual.
Additionally, other sites in the Himalayas, Africa, and Brazil show similar usage of cannabis, likely in a religious ritual. Furthermore, there are many recorded uses of cannabis and religion acting in concert during rituals, and some continue to this day.
Cannabis and Religion: Rituals
One of the earliest recordings of cannabis use in a religious ritual comes from Taoism, a Chinese religion. Taoists believe in a great energy that flows through the universe and desire to harmonize with it. Many people likely know of Taoism’s most famous symbol, the Ying-Yang, which signifies balance and shows everything in the universe is connected. In the 4th century, Taoist records showed believers used cannabis in censures, which burn incense. They would partake in the burning gases and experiment with psychoactive highs. Additionally, a famous Taoist scholar, Yang Xi, might have used cannabis to write religious scriptures. Yang Xi wrote down scriptures dictated by immortals, and many historians contend Xi used cannabis to facilitate the religious connection. Clearly, cannabis played an essential role in the Taoist religion.
Cannabis plays a significant role in another Eastern religion, Hinduism. Hinduism is a vast religion that has no central belief system. Instead, it is an umbrella term for a family of religions with different practices. However, there is still a strong sense of unity, and many Hindu followers practice identical rituals. One of these rituals is the consumption of bhang lassi, a cannabis-infused drink. Cannabis is strongly associated with Shiva, one of the holiest Gods in the Hindu faith. Some stories say when Shiva spilled the elixir of life, amrita, cannabis sprung up in its place. Therefore, consuming cannabis-infused bhang is a tradition for many Hindus. They drink it during religious festivals to cleanse themselves of sins and grow closer to Shiva. Drinking bhang is a tradition that continues to this day in festivals across India.
Many other religious participated in similar rituals, and some religions even place cannabis at the core of their belief system.
Cannabis and Religion: Beliefs
Undoubtedly, the religion associated the closest with cannabis is Rastafari, also known as Rastafarianism. Although many people associate Rastafari with large hats, reggae music, and cannabis, there is much more to the religion.
Rastafari began in 1930s Jamacia. It is classified both as a religion and a social movement. It centers around the black diaspora and is an Afro-centric religion. Rastafari religion centers around the belief that the Bible records the story of early Africans and that Africans are God’s chosen people. The religion is not centralized, meaning Rastafarians are encouraged to develop their own moral code from their worldview. However, there are some core beliefs most Rastafarians believe, including using cannabis.
Constructed from an interpretation of Bible passages, Rastafarians believe cannabis is a sacred herb. Furthermore, the consumption of cannabis is a sacrament among Rastafarians, so using cannabis is a holy experience. For Rastafarians, the consumption of cannabis is essential even when it is illegal, a form of protest against the unjust. Cannabis not only plays a vital role in Rastafari, it is a key element of the religion.
Lighting up a joint with your buddies is ritualistic, but it is not a religious experience. However, consuming cannabis is an essential religious ritual for countless people, both past and present. Time will tell what the future has to bring for cannabis and religion.