It’s not just the Rastas who honor the herb.
Cannabis has played a pivotal role in human evolution on several fronts: It has influenced advances in medicine, exploration, and language, and in the spiritual realm it has acted as an “entheogen” or “God-inducer.”
Looking back at least 7,000 years, we find cannabis in the Hindu creation myth. Listed as one of the five nectars of the gods, it was named “Reliever of Suffering.” Hindu priests called sadhus were happily worshiping Shiva and his son, the elephant-headed Ganesha, by puffing great clouds from giant spliffs, probably filled with the precursor of what we now know as Kush.
Mahayana Buddhists cite the legend of Buddha subsisting on nothing but hemp seeds for six years as a clue to its usage, and Tantric Buddhists use the plant to access heightened perception as well as deep meditative states.
Shinto priests in Japan often made their religious garb from hemp fibers, as they associated the plant with purity. They also would use a short stick made from hemp fiber, called a gohei, to purify an area and create sacred space.
For Chinese Taoists, a tea made from ginseng and weed was drunk to see the future, and by the first century BCE, Taoist priests recommended making incense with a blend of cannabis and cedar as a means of achieving immortality. Taoist temples were filled with this heavenly smoke, and it was said to induce feelings of well-being and spiritual ecstasy.
Though modern orthodox Muslims forbid using cannabis, Mohammed didn’t, and historically Muslims have looked to weed as a holy medicine, often referring to it as kannab. Sufis also use grass and hashish to enrich their connection to Allah and facilitate a truer understanding of self.
Several tribes in south-central Africa also use ganja as a ward against harm, a symbol of protection from all sorts of ills, and as a plant of peace and friendship, considering their hemp usage a duty to safeguard the rest of the village.
Coptic Christians use weed as an offering of devotion, calling it “The Weed of Wisdom,” “Angel’s Food,” and “The Tree of Life.” They point to evidence in the Old and New Testament as proof God gave grass to mankind as a gift.
Maybe the most famous believers are the Rastafarians. In their worldview, “Herb is the key to new understanding of the self, the universe, and God. It’s the vehicle to cosmic consciousness.”
Modern energy workers and New Age practitioners use grass to help open the chakras and increase chi or energy flow in the body. They believe it can repair the “energetic body” as well as the physical body by raising vibrational frequencies in the imbiber.
Witches have been using weed for centuries in their “flying ointment,” a salve brewed and smeared over the body to induce visions, accompanied by a sense of flying. Modern witches still use cannabis to induce hypnagogic states and to enhance their natural intuition.
Today, “cannabis churches” are springing up across America. Greenfaith Ministries, THC Ministries, and The First Church of Cannabis are just a few of those receiving tax-exempt status from the government. Each provides legal backing for people who smoke in states where weed isn’t legal, allowing parishioners to cite religious practice as protection. But these churches also profess a belief that pot is providing more than a high, it’s getting people to a higher ground.
Originally published at Seattle Weekly.