Because of its psychoactive properties, it is no surprise that cannabis has played a significant role in religious rites – for thousands of years and in many different parts of the world.
Its use has long been part of both religious enlightenment ceremonies as well as considered a “sacred herb” that in and of itself opens doors to salvation, enlightenment, better health and greater oneness with the universe – however that is explicitly expressed. The following is a brief summary of which religions and faiths have incorporated cannabis specifically as well as for what purpose.
Cannabis in China
Taoist shamans used the drug as part of religious rituals – although use of the drug was limited to priests, not the common folk. When Chinese emperors switched from Taoism to Confucism, the close association of cannabis with mysticism began to change.
However, because at this point the drug had already begun to be recognized as having medicinal properties, the use of the drug moved from “religious” to “scientific” if not medical importance and significance.
Cannabis in India
Hindu mysticism and religious myth holds that the gods sent humanity cannabis out of compassion for the human race – to overcome fear and increase sexual desire. In practice, the locally favoured Hindu deity was offered cannabis (in the form of cannadrinks) during religious festivals while worshippers also partook of the drink as part of the ceremony. Cannabis is also most closely associated with the worship of Shiva (the goddess of war) and the herb considered Shiva’s favourite.
Cannabis in Tibet
Buddhism has a long history of incorporating cannabis into religious practice. In Mahayana Buddism, it is said that Buddha existed on one hemp seed a day for six years to achieve his own path to enlightenment. Buddha is also sometimes depicted as holding a bowl of cannabis leaves. Buddhist practitioners to this day use the plant to facilitate meditation or heighten awareness during religious ceremonies.
Cannabis in Ancient Greece
The cultures that surrounded the Greek empire regularly used cannabis – and it is also believed spread its use from the steppes of Asia through Europe. Both the Scythians and Assyrians were known to use cannabis for religious ceremonies as written about by the Greek historian Herodutus. Both cultures used the plant for religious as well as medical purposes, and further traded it with partners where-ever they travelled.
Cannabis in Japan
Shinto priests used the hemp plant rather than smoked herb to create a sacred space and drive away evil spirits. Clothes made of hemp were worn for religious ceremonies because of the plant’s association with purity.
Cannabis and Islam
Hemp was not prohibited by Mohammed like the consumption of alcohol, although orthodox Muslims today consider cannabis to be forbidden. Historical groups of Muslims however, considered hemp to be a holy plant and Medieval Arab doctors used hemp as a sacred medication as well as plant to be used during holy ceremonies to gain religious insight as well as self-awareness.
Cannabis in Christianity and Judaism
Some scholars believe that cannabis was used and its use was documented by early Christians and by Jews as described in the Old Testament. It is believed that the plant called kaneh bosm in the Book of Exodus might in fact be references to cannabis use. In Exodus, God commanded Moses to make a holy oil consisting of myrrh, cinnamon, cassia and kaneh bosm.
Cannabis in Jamaica
The Rastas believe that God (or Jah) can be better communicated with through the use of cannabis. This use of marijuana was actually harshly penalized in Jamaica during much of the 20th century. These days of course, the island nation is one of the first countries to fully legalize the drug – and for those seeking religious enlightenment or for other purposes.
Cantheism is a word that signifies any and all attitudes towards the plant that regard marijuana itself as well as its use as a religious or spiritual experience. While not technically a religion, it is more a philosophy that examines the relationship of man’s interaction with the plant itself.
The First Church of Cannabis
Those who use cannabis for religious or spiritual purposes continues to grow. In 2015, Bill Levin, a reformed Jew, founded the First Church of Cannabis in Indiana. Monthly dues are $4.20 and the IRS has granted IRS tax-exempt status. The guidelines set out by the church include 12 mandates starting with “Don’t be an asshole” and ends with a peon to cannabis as the church’s holy sacrament.