Cannabis and religion: Hinduism, Rastafarianism, Taoism and Christianity

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Cannabis has been and still is a plant strongly correlated to the spiritual and religious sphere, in many cultures it is even considered sacred and is used by men of faith during religious ceremonies.

But why do some cultures accept and pass on the ceremonial use of cannabis while other religions demonize consumption?  It is not easy to answer this question but in this article, after analyzing the relationship between religion and cannabis we will try to give us an answer.

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The origins of the relationship between cannabis and religion

It is likely that everything started with the use of the plant as ceremonial incense along with other herbs with relaxing powers.  Thanks to the inhalation of fumes with a high THC and CBD content, shamans of many primordial religions may have had the first mystical experiences and decided that these were definitely sacred flowers to be held in high regard.  With the passage of time, these priests and holy men would have considered magic fumes a guaranteed way for contact with divinity, the spiritual world or the natural world.  What is certain is that cannabis is mentioned in many sacred texts of the most important religions in the world among which we can mention Buddhism, Taoism, Shintoism, Sufism and even Christianity as well as being part of the religious oral tradition of many African and South American tribes.

Cannabis in the Old Testament

Will you be curious to know what is the connection between Christianity and marijuana?  Well, it seems that the latter was mentioned in none other than the Old Testament, a theory supported by Suana Benet, an anthropologist whose work revolved around the study of Jewish and Polish religious customs.  She proposed in one of her writings of 1936 that the first translations of the Old Testament from Hebrew to Greek had been misrepresented and that, where the Hebrew words “kaneh”, “kaneh ha-tob” and “kaneh-bosem” (all present several times in the sacred text and referring to the production of sacred oils), it was referred to as the hemp plant and not as suggested by the Greek translations “calamo” or reed. Of course, this is only a hypothesis but many linguists have subsequently believed it to be true.

Rastafarianism and cannabis

Rastafarianism is a monotheistic religion born in the 1930s thanks to Jamaican preacher Leonard Howell who venerates Emperor Haile Selassie I of Ethiopia as the reincarnation of Jesus Christ and identifies Africans as the chosen people and in Ethiopia the promised land.  Rastafarianism is very linked to cannabis, even if in a particular way.  In fact, Rastafarians do not approve the use of cannabis simply to get high and even condemn the use of other substances, such as tobacco, caffeine, alcohol or hard drugs, considered poisons for the body and the mind.  Cannabis is instead considered the herb of wisdom and is consumed in a religious ritual called “reasoning sessions” in a sort of group meditation that brings the inner spiritual ego closer to God or used for its medicinal characteristics by local healers.

Cannabis in Hinduism and Taoism

Chinese Taoism is based on the philosophy of Lao Tzu and emphasizes the importance of doing what is natural and “following the flow” or the Tao, a cosmic force that flows through all living beings and maintains balance in the universe. From the 4th century AD, many Taoist texts mention the use of cannabis that was burned in ritual censers to breathe its “hallucinogenic fumes”.

Even in the Vedas, the most sacred Hindu texts, cannabis is mentioned as one of the five sacred plants: we read that an angel lives in its leaves and that hemp was given to men by gods out of compassion (so that some mortals could reach the  happiness and forget the fear of death for at least a few minutes).  Even today it is enough to go to India to see so many babas and santons smoking cannabis in and out of temples, although for other citizens consumption is severely punished by law.

These are just some examples of religions historically linked to cannabis, some have now forgotten the spiritual value they once attributed to this plant while others maintain their high regard for the hemp plant and its derivatives.

Why are some cultures more likely to accept it and even make it a spiritual issue?  We believe that much depends on how much importance the direct relationship between nature, man and divinity has for these populations. In short, the more religion has a natural spirituality, the more cannabis is accepted and used as a means to feel in communion with what surrounds the man.  It is likely that the connection between cannabis and religious ceremonials has been triggered by the natural positivity and the sense of acceptance that its consumption triggers. Before it, the problems of life often seem marginal and one feels ready to blindly accept the future.

And what is a religion if not a blind acceptance of something we cannot prove?  Surely another point in favour of the positive relationship between religion and marijuana is given by the strong natural component of many religious movements: the more marked this side is and the more probable is that this prodigious herb is not only accepted but also becomes an integral part of the ceremonial specific to the creed in question.

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