Readers, please enjoy this guest blog post by Philip H. Farber, author of Brain Magick and the new High Magick: A Guide to Cannabis in Ritual & Mysticism.
Right now, as I write this, the state in which I live is about to have a historic vote on the legalization of cannabis. The vote narrowly missed passing last year—and it wasn’t because anyone in our state legislature was outright opposed to legalization; they were essentially quibbling over the details. Which means that it’s going to pass, maybe this time, maybe the next time. It’s all a very good thing—people will cease to be jailed and persecuted over their own cognitive choices, the pursuit of happiness guaranteed to all of us in the founding documents of our nation.
But, there’s something missing. The upcoming legislation addresses medical use—a wonderful thing for the many patients who may find relief and healing from cannabis—and it addresses recreational use. While both medical and recreational use of cannabis have long historic precedents, an important reason that people used cannabis throughout history—possibly even the main reason it was used—isn’t even mentioned.
In the year 2737 BC, the Chinese Red Emperor, Shennong, created the world’s first written pharmacopoeia, or so the legend goes. In his collection of herbal information, he gave an honored place to cannabis. Not only was the plant good for a variety of healing tasks, he said, it also had the power to transform a mortal into a transcendent being. Cannabis, he claimed, enabled seekers to forget their own consciousness and attain the Tao. And so the earliest written account of cannabis tells us about one of its earliest uses: spirituality.
Many of the world’s religions can trace their origin back to a collection of tribes known as the Indo-Europeans. Between 4000 and 1000 BC, the Indo-Europeans migrated into India, Mesopotamia, and a big part of what would become Europe. The central ritual of their culture, which they carried wherever they went, involved a sacrament known as sauma or soma. The soma ritual took root everyplace the highly mobile Indo-Europeans visited. While the “moon plant” that was originally used to create the sacramental beverage may have changed and been subject to substitution down through the eons, the original, archaeologists suggest, was most likely cannabis.
The soma rite spread widely. In the middle east, it became Haoma, the sacrament of the Avestan religions. A nomadic people known as the Scythians inherited the rite from the Indo-Europeans and carried it with them as they conquered much of the known world, from India to the British Isles, and south into Africa. In India, soma became the sacrament of Indra, and then Shiva. Followers of Shiva explored yoga and meditation, tantra and more, with cannabis as their ally. To this day, sadhus, the ascetic devotees of Shiva, still smoke and drink their sacrament while meditating.
Every place on planet Earth that the cannabis plant was introduced, a spiritual tradition would arise. Cannabis became important in alchemy, ritual magick, and witchcraft. Much of the cannabis tradition continued in secrecy, as it was closely associated with pre-Christian Pagan and shamanic traditions and getting caught with it meant a trip to your local Inquisitor. Closer to modern times, occultists including P.B. Randolph and Aleister Crowley would become more open about their magical use of the herb. But, by then, a racist program to persecute black and brown people would result in the prohibition of cannabis in the USA and throughout the world. Not only did prohibition remove a common medicine from drugstore shelves, it buried the spiritual tradition which, in just a few short decades, would become almost forgotten.
As cannabis becomes re-legalized in the USA and elsewhere, people are starting to rediscover some of the meditative and magical qualities of this ancient ally plant. “420 Yoga” classes are becoming popular in legal states, and cannabis-using traditions such as the Rastafari, the Zion Coptic Church, the Way of Infinite Harmony, THC Ministries, and many others are experiencing resurgence. It’s now time for us to rediscover and relearn the Pagan and magical traditions of cannabis, too.
This plant has been an ally and partner of humans since Paleolithic times. Prohibition, in comparison to the history of cannabis, has been a blip, not even a hundred years out of the tens of thousands during which we co-evolved with the plant. Most of us, if we look back to ancient history, may discover that, somewhere along the line, our ancestors were spiritual users of cannabis. Prohibition and witch hunts have left an empty place where we once had a sacrament. But this plant is a powerful being that perseveres and is now more popular and widely-used than ever in history, in spite of reefer madness. Are you ready to remember and reclaim this important ally for yourself? Check out my latest book, High Magick: A Guide to Cannabis in Ritual & Mysticism.
Our thanks to Philip for his guest post! For more from Philip Farber, read his article “Paying Attention to the Magickal Wisdom of Plants.”