historyHistory and literature

Cannabis and ritual - the religious history of cannabis

Cannabis had a tremendous influence on the development of religious faith almost everywhere he came and his influences on the mind separated him from the rest of the medicinal plants and earned him a holy status. Guy Karlinsky describes how cannabis was part of the world's religions and served as an inseparable part of their whale and development.

By: Guy Karlinsky

Guy Karlinsky
Guy Karlinsky

Since the dawn of history, the cannabis plant has been used in human use for a variety of purposes. Cannabis sativa was grown in China more than 5000 years ago and it is believed that cannabis domestication has actually begun agriculture in China.

Throughout history, almost every culture encountered by the plant attributed to it many medical and spiritual qualities. The story of the cult of cannabis is actually a story about world religions.

There are many testimonies and findings that show that cannabis used medicine extensively in the ancient world. The hallucinatory qualities of cannabis also caused a spiritual interest in it and its integration into the cult of many religions.


Cannabis has been used in ritual practice in India continuously from antiquity to the present. The Hathra-Veda, a sacred Hindu text written between 1400-2000 BC, mentions cannabis as one of five "sacred plants" and refers to it as "pleasure," "source of happiness," and "liberator." Indian sacred literature forbids the direct worship of the plant (it is not a god unto itself), but acquires great respect and links it with idolatry. One of the names for Cannabis in Sanskrit is "Indra-Kana" - the food of the gods.

see also: Cannabis and sex in the Indian tradition

Kanabakhshos - Alex Gray, 2006
Kanabakhshos - Alex Gray, 2006

According to Indian tradition, cannabis is associated with the worship of God "Shiva," one of the three chief gods, also known as the "destroyer" or "the transformer." Hinduism predicts that the end of the world will result from a destructive dance of Shiva that will destroy everything. Shiva is usually presented as an ascetic kogi immersed in meditation in the Himalayas.

Indian faith explains the origin of cannabis in Amrita - a potion created by the gods and demons in the ocean tour - a story in Indian folklore where gods and demons join together and mix seawater like milk scrambling to make butter. According to the story, a drop of Amrita fell to the land of Eden, from which the cannabis first grew. According to another tradition, Shiva created the cannabis from his body, in order to purify the potion of life from poison. The equal Indians see Shiva as the main god, concentrating on his prayer and believing that cannabis purifies sin, helps in spiritual search and unites the soul of the believer with Shiva's soul.

see also: About the village of Melana in Indian Himalaya

Production method Charas (Traditional Indian hashish) includes rubbing the plant's inflorescence with the hands to collect oils from it. The product is usually smoked in a clay pipe called Chilom.

A drink containing parts of cannabis called "Bhang"Exists in India and drinking is an ancient custom. According to Indian tradition Bhang was the favorite drink of Indra - the king of the gods. Lahang ritual use - drinking Bhang for pleasure is not accepted in the traditional Indian culture that considers it sacred.

Like the rest of the world, cannabis in India is illegal. However, plant growth and consumption are still deeply rooted in Indian culture. Sedentary ascetics, known as "sadhu", use cannabis to smoke chilom. The Indian government, despite the official ban, approves and supervises Bhang's sale of specialty stores in some cities in northern India. During the High Holidays in Heang, he was openly and tolerated by the law enforcement authorities.

see also: How is cannabis illegal in India?

Bahang store with government approval in Rajasthan, India
Bahang store with government approval in Rajasthan, India


The use of cannabis is widespread in ancient China for a variety of medical and spiritual purposes. The Chinese sign for cannabis is "mama," its shape symbolizes two hanging plants in reverse of drying under a cilia.

麻 ma - Chinese sign of cannabis (Hemp)
麻 ma - Chinese sign of cannabis (Hemp)

Chinese tradition attributes the discovery of the plant to "Shen Nong" - the legendary ruler of China who lived before 5000 for years. The meaning of the name Shen Nong is "the sublime farmer." He was an emperor with great botanical knowledge, who taught the people how to engage in agriculture. Xunong experimented with taking hundreds of different herbs to gain knowledge of their properties and finally died when he ate a poisonous plant. His discoveries are the basis of traditional Chinese medicine. Knowledge attributed to Shennong was written about 100 AD in the book "Shennong Bin Kao Jin" - "Medical Materials of the Sublime Farmer." The book refers to the use of "mah-fen" - a term that literally means "fruit of cannabis" and says: "Taking excessively makes people see demons and act like madmen, but a person who has been taken for a long time can communicate with spirits and his body becomes light." .

Beginning in the 4th century AD, Taoist writings refer to the use of cannabis as incense. These writings explain that in order to practice the Tao it is unnecessary to go on mountain journeys, but to be cleansed and purified in the incense smoke, to which attributes of eternity and immortality are attributed.

Through infinite harmony
"The Way of Infinite Harmony"

The Taoist pharmacist Tao Hong Ling (456-536 AD) tells of the magic technicians - artists, idol doctors, who eat cannabis seeds Combined with ginseng, an ancient medicinal herb, to move forward in time and see into the future.

During the Han Dynasty (206 BC-220 AD) the spiritual-religious use of cannabis was almost entirely abandoned in the transition of religion that controls Taoism to Confucianism. As a result of this transition, China began to link the cult of cannabis to underdeveloped and superstitious peoples. Modern Taoist use of cannabis can be found in the way of infinite harmony. A small faction in Taoism that was almost erased in the Cultural Revolution of Communist China. This faction worshiped the "mah-gu" - the "girl of cannabis," a mythological Chinese figure. Believers are believed to eat, drink and smoke cannabis that they see as related to her because of her name.

a prize

Zoroastrianism, or Zoroastrianism, is an ancient Persian religion, founded in Central Asia by Zoroastra, the prophet of religion who according to faith lived in Persia around the year 1000 BC. Zoroastrianism was the main religion of the Persian Empire between the fifth century BC and the seventh century CE, and today there are only a few hundred thousand believers in the world. Religion concentrates on a constant struggle between good and evil and sees in the material world a struggle between the forces of light and the forces of darkness.

Symbol of the Zoroastrian religion
Symbol of the Zoroastrian religion

According to Zoroastrianism, the best in the world was created by the "good God" - Ahura Mazda, and evil was created by the "evil entity" - Ahriman. Religious texts often refer to a plant called "Hauma" - a high-fragrant, green-gold plant that grows in the mountains and helps in health, sexual arousal, physical strength, awareness, with no side effects and nourishes the body and soul. The word 'nation' corresponds to the word 'soma', an ancient Indian name for a plant.

Over the years, the precise identity of the nation was lost, and a variety of hypotheses were raised for its botanical identification. Among other things, the mushrooms were offered Amanita Muskaria וPsilocybin (With hallucinatory properties), and the plants ephedra (medicinal plant) and cannabis. Plant descriptions and effects support the claim that Cannabis Sativa is the most likely candidate for the identity of the 'nation'. The nation also appears in the form of a sublime being who meets Zoroastra, with green-green eyes. The nation is presented as a wise and insightful priest and as a protector of plants on the mountaintops.

Another and more certain mention of cannabis can be found in Zand-Aosta, a Zoroastrian holy book in which there is a drink called "Bahanga," "the good intoxicant of Zoroastra," a term that teaches us about Zoroastra's love for the plant. The book tells of two people whose souls were sent to heaven, and with the help of sacred drinking of the Bhanga they discovered all the mysteries of existence. The identity of the Bahanga is clearer since today, too, the term "Bhang" is used in India to denote cannabis and cannabis itself.


Scythians were a group of peoples who lived in the southern Ukraine between the eighth and the first centuries BCE. The Scythians did not leave written testimony about their beliefs or their way of life, and most of the information about them comes from Greek documentation of the period.

The Greek historian Herodatus, known as the "father of history" and considered one of the first proponents of history in the world, describes in his book "Hysterius" (440 BC) the Scythians "bathing" in the sauna of cannabis incense.
The description includes the structure of the incense plant - a small tent covered with wool with a plate containing incandescent coals.

Ancient Cannabis Canning Tools
Ancient Cannabis Canning Tools

Herodotus tells how the Scythians used to throw away the seeds of cannabis (apparently referring to the entire inflorescence of oil - seeds, flowers and stems, not just the seed itself) on the coals, which released steam "more than any Greek sauna". According to Herodatus, this was the only bathhouse of the Scythians, and they never washed in water.

In the northwest China's Xinjiang region, mummies apparently belonged to Scythian shamans. Cannabis sacks were found near the heads of the bodies, and it is assumed that the deceased found a spiritual interest in the plant.

see also: Cannabis was allowed long before it was forbidden


The Nordic peoples lived in Scandinavia and northern Germany in the Viking era, and their faith included an extensive pantheon of violence. The Norse connected the cannabis to the female "Priya" - goddess of fertility, love, beauty and sexuality.

Priya - Nordic Hemp goddess
Priya - Nordic Hemp goddess

They believed that Feria lived in the flowers of the cannabis, and that the flowering was beneficial for fertility and sacred influence. During the Cannabis harvest, the Vikings would hold a big sex festival to honor those, and Latin writers from the period would mark the festivities, but not speculate, arguing that their character was too crude.

In August, a Viking ship was discovered that was well preserved at a dig at the Osberg farm in Norway. The ship contained the skeletons of two women, apparently of a high class, with cannabis seeds. Conventional wisdom is that these are shamans, priestesses of the goddess Priya.


Rastafari is a religious movement established in Jamaica in the 30 of the twentieth century. The movement worships Emperor Haile Selassie from Ethiopia and sees him as the embodiment of God on earth. The Rastafarian faith has become famous in the world mainly for the reggae music, especially the singer Bob Marley.

see also: An accused of marijuana is acquitted after claiming that cannabis is part of the Rastafarian religion

The Rastafari is perhaps the most religious movement identified with cannabis, a major part of life. Rastafarians' ritual use of cannabis existed from a very early stage in religion, and is already documented in the 40, about a decade after the founding of the movement.


The Rastafari identify the cannabis plant as the Biblical "Tree of Life" and therefore consider it sacred. Cannabis is an inseparable part of the "reasoning," a practice in which men sit together and discuss life and faith while smoking cannabis from chalis - smoking tools made of coconut and a tube. Reising is a search for "truth" and cannabis helps them to see the truth.

According to Rastafari cannabis, or Ganja, helps purify, sedate, calm and bring the soul closer to the ga. Rastafari believe in the Old and New Testaments and interpret many verses in them as related to cannabis. According to the belief, Cannabis was the first plant to grow and encircle King Solomon's tomb. Ganga smoking is an ancient custom originating in the African culture from which their ancestors were kidnapped into slavery in the West. The faithful see the ceremony as a connection to their African roots.

Researchers believe that the source of the sacred status of the plant stemmed from the mass migration of Indians to the Caribbean region after the period of slavery. It is estimated that the Jamaicans learned from the Indian immigrants the cult of the plant, along with many parts of Hindu culture.

Evidence of this view can be seen in the most common Rastafari term for the plant - "Ganja", an Indian word meaning cannabis, as well as the external resemblance between Sadhu - Indian monks and dreadlocks - Rastafarian clerics who do not usually cut or shave hair, - long braids naturally created in the hair (Dardalox), and they maintain a vegan lifestyle.

Bob Marley smokes Ganja in Challis
Bob Marley smokes Ganja in Challis

Archaeological findings show that chalis, a Rastafarian smoking vessel, originated in the South Asian region where smoking utensils were found made from coconut.

The Rastafarian movement arose in a world where Cannabis was already outlawed in many countries, including in Jamaica, where the plant ban began on 1913. The Rastafarians refer to the prohibition of persecution. They see the Babylonian governments as interpreting biblical prophecy as a corrupt force that prevents economic interests and includes governments, corporations, media, and other things that are perceived as "corrupt." Cannabis is identified as a powerful material with a huge influence which opens the minds of people to the truth, something that clearly stands against the interests of Babylon and is therefore pursued by law.


Conventional wisdom over the years was that cannabis does not appear in Jewish sources and is not related to the worship of God in Judaism. Today, most religious Jews still view cannabis as a "dangerous drug." Studies that claim otherwise are being reinforced by the public and are changing perceptions of Jewish sources of cannabis.

see also: Biblical sources of Jewish use of cannabis
see also: Would the Rambam support legalization?

The first connection between Cannabis and the Bible was made by the Polish anthropologist Shula Bennett at 1936. Bennett shows that the origin of the word "cannabis", which came from Latin from the Scythian word to plant (cannabis), is actually the Semitic term "buy perfume" that also appears in the Bible.

see also: Cannabis in the Bible

Etymologists suggest that the word continued to develop into "cannab", "kanaf" and finally to the English word "hamp" that describes the plant.

A perfume store appears in the Bible in the instructions given by God to Moses to prepare "Shemen Meishat Kadesh" (buy a perfume mixed with Mor, cinnamon and olive oil) for burning in the Ohel Matal. In the time of the Bible, the ointment was granted a holy status, it was minced in the Temple, and was used to emulate kings.

When the Bible was translated into Latin, the perfume was translated as "Klamus," a medicinal plant. The translation took root and was considered accurate until recently. The expression "drug incense" appears as a description of the worship of Aaron the High Priest. The word "kena" describes a plant grown as a sacrifice. The use of incense, the connection to the tents, and the ritual interest are reminiscent of the use of the Scythian peoples in the plant. This similarity is explained by the geographic proximity of the peoples and the close commercial relations they have maintained.

see also: Cannabis in Christianity - Did Jesus Use Marijuana?


Cannabis had a tremendous impact on the development of religious faith almost everywhere he came. His effects on the psyche separated him from the rest of the medicinal plants and earned him a holy status. The clerics and the wise in the past saw cannabis as a gift from the gods, and a tool that connects people and the soul of man to the rest of creation.

Even today, with the decline of religious status in the Western world, cannabis opens the door for many people to a spiritual world and inner peace. Even without religion, cannabis can provide a significant mystical experience for the user.

The ban on the plant and its persecution in the last hundred years has created a negative image for it and its users. What once in some places is considered to be the key to the mind, linked to learning and identified with the sages of society, is now perceived by the public as a suppressor of ambitions and linked to idleness and deviation from normal society.

see also: Cannabis - the whole history on one foot

Cannabis fines

(Starting with 1 in April 2019)

Based on a figure revealed by Minister Erdan. Police refuse to reveal official figureDetails here)

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