Author: Robert Kane
If you asked most people to think of a “marijuana religion”, they instantly think of Rastafarians and nothing more. But while many religions are as condemnatory of cannabis as they are of any other intoxicant, there is a recorded history of religions using marijuana seeds and leaves that stretches back for thousands of years. Almost every major world religion, it seems, has made use of the drug, usually for spiritual purposes – look at the list below!
Ancient Chinese Taoists were at first sceptical about the use of cannabis; their religion regarded it as “the liberator of sin” for some time. However, while they continued to condemn the hallucinations brought on through excessive use (which they regarded as leading to “seeing devils”), by the first century AD the followers of this religion used marijuana seeds in their incense burners while meditating, believing that the milder effects of the drug gave them a heightened spiritual awareness.
“Jesus was a stoner” may sound like the slogan on a counterculture t-shirt, but it may have a grain of truth to it. Some historians believe that oil derived from marijuana seeds was a central ingredient in Jewish and Christian holy anointing oils. Some of the healing miracles of Jesus have even been attributed to the marijuana in the anointing oils – the drug can take effect through skin absorption, and marijuana can relieve the effects of glaucoma, skin ailments and menstrual pains.
In addition to this, Rastafarians and some modern Gnostic Christians believe that the Tree of Life referred to in one Biblical passage (“the leaves of the Tree of Life [that] are for the healing of the nations”) refers to the marijuana plant.
Islam has generally condemned the use of marijuana; the religion regards the use of any intoxicants as haraam, or forbidden. Sufism (the mystical offshoot of Islam) takes a somewhat different view. This religion believes in knowing God through ecstatic states of mind, and widespread history of marijuana use has been recorded in Sufi culture over the centuries. Indeed, in one Persian folk tale, the founder of Sufism, a monk called Haydar, was the first Persian to discover marijuana. Out walking in the midst of a depressed mood, he came across the marijuana plant and ate several of its leaves. Finding his mood immediately and dramatically improved, he returned to the monastery and recommended that his brother monks should try it too!
There is a long history of marijuana associated with Hinduism, since about 1500 BC by some records. It is most commonly consumed in a drink called bhang, mixed in with spices, milk and sugar and drunk during Holi and Baisakhi, key festivals of the Hindu religion. The marijuana plant is associated with the god Shiva, and many Shiavites smoke it in clay pipes called chillums, believing it to be a gift from Shiva to help humans reach a higher spiritual level.
Like in most religions, marijuana use is controversial and divisive in Buddhism. The tenets of Buddhism advise against intoxicants, but in many sects of Chinese Buddhism, marijuana has been used in initiation and mystical rituals since the 5th century BC. Some Tibetan Buddhist priests believe it to be the most holy of plants, and there are many written records that suggest that the founder of Buddhism, Gautama Siddhartha, lived primarily on marijuana seeds and leaves in the years before his enlightenment.
About the Author
Robert Kane is the web editor of Sensible Seeds. Based in the UK, the company sells souvenir marijuana seeds and informational books on cannabis to customers all over the world.