As we know by now, the history of people using cannabis dates back thousands of years. What may be less known is the history of cannabis and religion – which surprisingly also dates back thousands of years. There is evidence that marijuana was used for religious and spiritual purposes as far back as 2000 BCE, in Greek mythology. Herodotus wrote about using it in ceremonial practices, and Hindu saints have used it in Nepal and India for centuries. So what is the religious breakdown of marijuana? Let’s take a closer look:
The oldest texts in Chinese medicine listed cannabis as a medicinal herb. In religion, Taoist texts discuss using cannabis in censers (ritual incense burners). However, cannabis consumption was reserved exclusively for religious officials. Taoist shamans believed cannabis could help reveal truths about the future and communicate with spirits. The use of cannabis for religious purposes disappeared in China when the country embraced Confucianism.
Ancient texts in India and Nepal, written around 2000-1400 BCE, describe cannabis as one of the “five sacred plants.” The use of bhang (a type of cannabis) is believed to cleanse sins, avoid miseries of hell, and unite with Shiva. The spiritual use of cannabis was not popular until 200 CE, but its spiritual roots hold a sacred spot in Hindu religion. The Hindu theories about the origins of cannabis include stories of cannabis originating from a “spot of nectar dropped from heaven” and from gods and demons churning milk into immortality. Other religions in India with a history of using cannabis are Buddhism and Sikhism.
Tibet and India not only share a border but also a religious history of cannabis use. Buddhism historically dominates the religious scene in Tibet. In Mahayana Buddhism, Gautama Buddha lived on one hemp seed a day for six years, to help in his search for enlightenment. Buddha is also sometimes depicted as holding a bowl of cannabis leaves. In religious practice, Buddhist practitioners would consume cannabis to facilitate meditation and increase awareness during religious ceremonies.
As mentioned above, there is strong evidence of cannabis use for spiritual purposes in ancient Greece. Ancient cultures of that time were known to use cannabis as incense for religious ceremonies. Herodotus described these religious ceremonies, writing that hemp plants were burned in censers, and participants would inhale the smoke together for ritual and euphoric purposes. The ancient culture of Assyria used cannabis incense to ward off evil spirits in their religious ceremonies.
The history of cannabis use for spiritual purposes is much more prominent in ancient eastern religions. But this doesn’t mean the people of the Old Testament didn’t use the cannabis plant as well. There is still hot debate about how prevalent cannabis was to ancient Judaic and Christian societies. One etymologist, Sula Benet, suggested a plant commonly mentioned in the Hebrew Bible known as kaneh bosm was actually cannabis. If this is the case, it would mean the Old Testament referenced this plant in Exodus, Song of Songs, Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekial.
Today, the most well-known religious use of marijuana comes from the Rastafari movement and Rastafarianism religion. This religion began in Jamaica in the 1920s and 30s. The most famous Rastafarian is arguably Bob Marley, whose music brought international attention to the Jamaican movement. Rastafarians see cannabis as a deeply beneficial plant, which comes from the Tree of Life. They use cannabis as a sacrament and aid to meditation and believe it will bring them closer to God by allowing the user to “penetrate the truth of things more clearly.”
Yes, you just read that correctly. The First Church of Cannabis is dedicated to the spiritual worship of marijuana. The first prayer you learn in this church goes like this: I love you. The doors to this church first opened in June 2015, when members of the group began meeting officially. Despite the dedication to cannabis consumption, this religion also includes people who don’t smoke at all. These “Cannatarians” preach love, and the community forms around something more than a bunch of pot heads and political activists.
These aren’t the only religious proponents of cannabis. Other pro-pot modern organized religions include the THC Ministry, Cantheism, The Cannabis Assembly, the Church of Cognitive Therapy, Temple 420, The Church of the Universe, the Free Marijuana Church of Honolulu and many more.
So the next time someone tells you marijuana has no place in religion, let them know just how long cannabis has been used for religious and spiritual purposes. Just because modern people placed a prohibition on marijuana doesn’t mean people in ancient times felt the same way.