Marijuana and Religion
The use of marijuana in religion dates back to the second millennium B.C. and continues still today. In the past, ancient Chinese belief systems, the Scythian people group of Central Asia, ancient Germanic paganism, and Hinduism, all used marijuana for religious reasons. The Jamaican-born Rastafari movement is the most well-known modern religion that uses marijuana for spiritual purposes.
The religion most widely associated with marijuana today is Rastafari. Many devotees believe marijuana is the Tree of Life mentioned in Genesis, the first book of the Bible. Many followers also believe that marijuana aids in the worship of God, Bible study, and meditation. Although not all adherents use marijuana, most believe it will bring a person closer to God. (For more, see Rastafari and the symbols of Rastafarianism.)
Ancient Chinese medical texts from 100 A.D. recommend marijuana for medical purposes, but they also teach that if it's consumed over a long period of time, the user will develop the ability to speak to spirits. An 8th century book on nutrition called Shiliao corroborates this belief. The text prescribes consuming marijuana on a daily basis for one's general health; however, if one desires to commune with spirits then it's recommended it should be consumed for 100 consecutive days. (Learn more about Chinese religion here.)
Some ancient Taoists texts mention marijuana being burned in religious censors. The Shangqing, an ancient Taoist Scripture, was reportedly revealed to its author, Yang Xi, aided by his use of marijuana. A follower named Tao Hongjing, a commentator on the Shangqing, taught that if one consumed marijuana with ginseng it would enable the user to see the future. (Learn more about Taoism here.)
The Greek historian Herodotus (484-425 B.C.) wrote that the Scythians, an ancient nomadic people group in the geographical proximity of modern-day Iran, whose religious beliefs included mythology and horse sacrifice, used marijuana in sacred ceremonies.
[T]hey make a booth by fixing in the ground three sticks inclined towards one another, and stretching around them woollen felts, which they arrange so as to fit as close as possible: inside the booth a dish is placed upon the ground, into which they put a number of red-hot stones, and then add some hemp-seed. … The Scythians, as I said, take some of this hemp-seed, and, creeping under the felt coverings, throw it upon the red-hot stones; immediately it smokes, and gives out such a vapour as no Grecian vapour-bath can exceed; the Scyths, delighted, shout for joy, and this vapour serves them instead of a water-bath; for they never by any chance wash their bodies with water. (The Histories, 4.75)
It is believed that what Herodotus called the "hemp-seed" was the flowering top of the cannabis plant. The Scythians also used marijuana to induce trance-like spiritual experiences and for divination.
Marijuana was used in Hinduism as far back as the second millennium B.C. It was used in the worship of the Hindu deity, Shiva. Marijuana has also been used by yogis to enhance their religious experience and during the spring festival, Holi. Furthermore, Bhang, a drink that contains marijuana flowers, is believed to cleanse a user of their sins, help them become one with Shiva, and avoid hell. (Learn more about Hinduism here.)
Ancient Germanic Paganism
Ancient Germanic Paganism associated marijuana with the Norse love goddess, Freya. It was believed that Freya lived in the plant's flowers, so consuming them meant being filled with divinity. The Celts may have also used marijuana as evidence of it has been found where the people group once resided. (Learn more about Germanic-Paganism here.)
References & Sources
- "Rastafarians." Oxford Concise Dictionary of World Religions
- "Haile Selassie." Encyclopædia Britannica Premium Service (accessed August 2006).
- "About H.I.M. Haile Selassie." Jamaicans.com
- "The Holy Piby: The holy text of the Rastafari" - BobMarley.com
- "Rasta's Symbolism" - The Afrocentric Experience
- B. Chevannes, Rastafari and Other African-Caribbean Worldviews (Rutgers University Press, 1998), 17-18.
- "The Rastafarian Orders/Sects." Jamaicans.com