MYTH, MAGIC & MEDICINE:
A Look at the Sociology of Cannabis Use Throughout World History
Contrary to popular perception, marijuana is not a phenomenon rooted in the 1960s. Cannabis hemp is part of our global heritage and was the backbone of our most stable and longest surviving cultures.
Recent psycho-pharmacological studies have discovered that THC has its own unique receptor sites in the brain, indicating man and marijuana have a pre-cultural relationship - indeed, human culture could very well prove to be the blossom of our symbiosis with cannabis.
Whats in a Name?
The name hemp, from the Old English, hanf, came into use in Middle English by 1000 A.D. and still belongs primarily to cannabis sativa. It is also used to designate the long fiber obtained from that plant: the earliest, best-known and, until recently, the most widely used textile fiber on Earth.
It has long been regarded as the standard among long fibers. As such, its name has come to be used as a generic term for all long fibers, whereas Indian hemp or true hemp denotes cannabis hemp. Now commodity markets list names like Manila hemp, abaca; sisal and henequen; Mauritius hemp, for Furcraea fiber; New Zealand hemp, phormium; Sunn Hemp, Crotalaria; and India hemp, for jute. All these plants are unlike true hemp in appearance and in economic properties. Curiously, the name hemp is never applied to flax, which is more nearly like hemp than any other commercial fiber.
True hemp is known in different languages by the following names: cannabis, Latin; chanvre, French; canamo, Spanish; canhamo, Portuguese; canapa, Italian; canep, Albanian; konopli, Russian, Konopi and penek, Polish; kemp, Belgian; hanf, German; hennup, Dutch; hamp, Swedish; hampa, Danish; tai-ma, dai-ma and tse-ma, Chinese; asa and taima, Japanese; nasha, Turkish; kanabira, Syrian; kannab, Arabic.
First Known Cannabis Users
Ancient and modern historians, archaeologists, anthropologists, and philologists cite physical evidence (artifacts, relics, textiles, cuneiform, languages, etc.) indicating that cannabis is one of mankinds oldest cultivated crops. The weaving of hemp fiber as an industry began 10,000 years ago, at approximately the same time as pottery making and prior to metal working.
By the 27th Century B.C.E., the Chinese cultivated Ma (cannabis hemp) for fiber, medicine and herbal use. Three thousand seven hundred years later (circa 1000 A.D.), China called cannabis Tai-Ma, or great hemp, to differentiate it from the minor fiber plants, which were now grouped under the generic fiber term Ma. Their pictogram for true or great hemp is a large Man, indicating the strong relationship between man and hemp.
Between 2300 B.C. and 1000 B.C.
Nomadic tribes, probably from central Asia and Persia (Iran and Iraq), referred to in legend as Aryans, invaded and overran virtually the entire Mediterranean and Middle East and spread out over the Caucasus and west into Europe.
In the course of these movements and invasions, the nomads introduced cannabis and its various uses north and west through Greece, Europe, the Middle East, to Egypt and Africa, as well as south and east over the Himalayas to India.
Hemp was incorporated into the cultures of the Middle East and India for its vast food, oil, fiber, medicinal and drug uses. Not only was hemp a staple of everyday life; hemp medicines and drugs were a ritual link to the gods.
Hemp and the Scythe
Cannabis was undoubtedly used by the Scythians for many reasons. For example, the ancient Scythians grew hemp and harvested it with a hand reaper that we still call a scythe. Cannabis inhalation by the Scythians in funeral rituals was recorded by the Greek historian Herodotus in the early 5th Century B.C.E. The nomadic Scythians introduced the custom to other races such as the Thracians.
Thread of Civilization
From at least the 27th Century B.C.E. until this century, cannabis was incorporated into virtually all the cultures of the Middle East, Asia Minor, India, China, Japan, Europe, and Africa for its superior fiber, medicines, oils, food and for its meditative, euphoric, and relaxational uses.
Hemp was one of our ancestors most important overall industries, along with toolmaking, animal husbandry and farming.
Hemp to Enforce the Law
The hemp plant has had a curious relationship with the worlds legal codes throughout the ages. As noted before, it has been legal to grow hemp at different times. But hemp has also played a direct role in law enforcement.
For example, the most serious punishment/rehabilitation meted out in many African tribes for capital crimes was forcing the transgressor to smoke or consume massive amounts of dagga (cannabis) non-stop for hours on end in a small, enclosed hut until he passes out - literally unconscious from inhaling the fumes. The equivalent of a year or twos supply for a heavy American smoker is consumed in just an hour or so. Does it work? African users say the rate of repeat criminal offenses after dagga treatment is virtually non-existent.
European and American cultures used hemp to enforce their laws in a more terminal form of capital punishment: the hangmans noose of hempen rope.
Cannabis Herbal Medicines
The secret art of hemp medicine was found effective as a wound healer, muscle relaxant, pain reliever, fever reducer and an unparalleled aid to childbirth, not to mention hundreds of other medicinal applications.
The division of information about this sacred herb and its industrial hemp uses were strictly maintained by the priests for thousands of years, until the last few centuries. Those outside the priestly class who possessed drug knowledge were considered (by the priests, of course) to be witches/soothsayers/outlaws, and were often condemned to death.
The Mystic Philosophers
Cannabis legend and consumption are fundamental aspects of many of the worlds great religions. For example:
SHINTOISM (Japan) - Cannabis was used for the binding together of married couples, to drive away evil spirits, and was thought to create laughter and happiness in marriage.
HINDUISM (India) - The God Shiva is said to have brought cannabis from the Himalayas for human enjoyment and enlightenment. The Sadhu Priests travel throughout India and the world sharing chillum pipes filled with cannabis, sometimes blended with other substances. In the Bhagavad-gita, Krishna states, I am the healing herb (Ch.9:16), while the Bhagarat-purana Fifth Canto describes hashish in explicitly sexual terms.
BUDDHISM (Tibet, India and China) - from the 5th Century B.C.E. on - ritually used cannabis; initiation rites and mystical experiences were (are) common in many Chinese Buddhist sects. Some Tibetan Buddhists and lamas (priests) consider cannabis their most holy plant. Many Buddhist traditions, writings, and beliefs indicate that Siddhartha (the Buddha) himself, used and ate nothing but hemp and its seeds for six years prior to announcing (discovering) his truths and becoming the Buddha (Four Noble Truths, the Eightfold Path).
Regarding the ZOROASTRIANS or Magi (Persia, circa 8th to 7th Centuries B.C. to 3rd to 4th Centuries A.D.), it is widely believed by many Christian scholars, commentators, etc., that the three Magi or Wise Men who attended the birth of Christ were cult references to the Zoroastrians. The Zoroastrian religion was based (at least on the surface) on the entire cannabis plant, the chief religious sacrament of its priest class, and its most important medicine, (e.g., obstetrics, incense rites, anointing and christening oils), as well as lighting of fire oils in their secular world. The word magic is generally considered derived from the Zoroastrians - Magi.
The ESSENES (ancient Israeli sect of extreme Hebrewites, approx. 200 B.C. to 73 A.D.) - used hemp medicinally, as did the THERAPUTEA (Egypt), from whom we get the term therapeutic. Both are believed by some scholars to be disciples of, or in a brotherhood with, the priests/magicians of the Zoroastrians.
EARLY JEWS - As part of their holy Friday night services in the Temple of Solomon, 60-80,000 men ritually passed around and inhaled 20,000 incense burners filled with kanabosom (cannabis), before returning home for the largest meal of the week (munchies?).
SUFIS OF ISLAM (Middle East) - Moslem mystical priests who have taught, used and extolled cannabis for divine revelation, insight and oneness with Allah, for at least the last 1,000 years. Many Moslem and world scholars believe the mysticism of the Sufi Priests was actually that of the Zoroastrians who survived Moslem conquests of the 7th and 8th Centuries A.D. and subsequent conversion (change your religion and give up liquor or be beheaded).
COPTIC CHRISTIAN (Egypt/Ethiopia) - Some sects believe the sacred green herb of the field in the Bible (I will raise up for them a plant of renown, and they shall be no more consumed with hunger in the land, neither bear the shame of the heathen any more Ezekiel 34:29) and the Biblical secret incenses, sweet incenses and anointing oils to be cannabis.
The RASTAFARIANS (Jamaica and elsewhere) are a contemporary religious sect that uses ganja as its sacred sacrament to communicate with God (Jah).
United States government funded studies at St. Louis University Medical School in 1989, and the U.S. Governments National Institute of Mental Health in 1990, moved cannabis research into a new realm by confirming that the human brain has receptor sites for THC and its natural cannabis cousins to which no other compounds known thus far will bind.
In order for a chemical to affect the brain it must bind to a receptor site capable of receiving it.
Although morphine fits the receptor sites of beta-endorphin roughly, and amphetamines correspond loosely to dopamine, these drugs, as well as tricyclics and other mood-altering drugs, present grave danger to the subtle balance of the nerves vital fluids. Omni and the Washington Post cited no physical dangers in natural cannabis.
One reason cannabis is so safe to use is that it does not affect any of the involuntary muscles of breathing and life support. Rather, it affects its own specific receptor cites for motion (movement strategy) and memory (mental strategies).
On the molecular level, THC fits into receptor sites in the upper brain that seem to be uniquely designed to accommodate THC. This points to an ancient symbiosis between the plant and people.
Perhaps these neuronal pathways are the product of a precultural relationship between man and cannabis. Carl Sagan proposed evidence using the Bushmen of Africa to show hemp to have been the first plant cultivated by man, dating to when he was a hunter-gatherer. Some scientists assume that these receptor sites did not evolve for the purpose of getting high: There must be some kind of neuronal pathway in the brain that developed, whether there were cannabis plants or not, speculated mystified St. Louis University pharmacology professor Allyn Howlett in 1989.
But, maybe not. In his book Intoxication: Life in Pursuit of Artificial Paradise, Dr. Ronald K. Siegel, psychopharmacologist at UCLA, indicates the motivation to achieve altered states of consciousness or moods is a fourth drive akin to hunger, thirst and sex. Siegel recorded numerous observations of animals intentionally getting intoxicated during his experiments.
Cannabis hemp is part of our cultural, spiritual and physiological heritage, and was the backbone of our most stable and long-surviving cultures. So, if you want to know or see the long-term effects of marijuana use...look in the mirror!
Cloaked in Secrecy
The dawn or basis of religious beliefs in all races and peoples - Japanese, Chinese, Indian, Egyptian, Persian, Babylonian, Greek, Doric, Germanic and other European tribes, as well as African and North, South and Central American tribes - arose as a result of accidental discoveries.
There were near-death experiences, deprivations - starvation, fasting, breath control, thirst, fever - and uncontrolled revelry due to accidental fermentation or extraction of wine, beer, psilocybe and Amanita Muscaria mushrooms, cannabis wine (bhang) and other psychoactives which, when consumed, induced inexplicable, elevated experiences (compared to normal brutish experience). Chemicals in these sacred plants and herbs gave our ancestors unexpected, unprepared for, unbelievable visions and journeys into the far corners of incredible consciousness and, sometimes into feelings of universal brotherhood.
Understanding these drug induced experiences and medications eventually became the most wondrous, desirable and necessary spiritual knowledge for each tribe. Healing! From which extraction? At what dose?
Holding this mystical tribal knowledge for future generations was a priceless task. To know which plants induced which experiences, at what levels and mixtures, meant power for the bearer of such wisdom!
Thus, this sacred store of knowledge was jealously guarded by the herbal doctor/priest, and cryptically encoded in oral and written traditions and myths. Plants with psychoactive powers were imbued with human or animal attributes, for example, the Amanita Muscaria mushrooms ring was represented by faeries.
To keep their political power, the priests, witch doctors and medicine men deliberately withheld these traditions from the common tribal members (and all other tribes). This also prevented the dangerous sin of accidental ingestion, concoction, or experimentation by the children of the tribe; nor could captured tribal members give up this sacred knowledge to their enemies.
These old-time drug and out-of-body religions and rituals, dating back to pre-history, were called Oriental Mystery Religions by the Romans from the Caesars time on.
Hemp was a major industry in biblical times. As in other cultures throughout the Middle East, the Hebrew tradition of mysticism (e.g., Cabala) was aware of, and entwined with, regional sects using natural intoxicants in their rituals. As usual, they hid this knowledge behind rituals, symbols and secret codes to protect natural herbs, including cannabis.
What Does the Bible Say?
Finding the encoded references to cannabis and other drugs is made more difficult by the lack of botanical names, discrepancy in translations, use of different books by different denominations, commentaries added to original texts, and periodic priestly purges of material considered inappropriate.
However, we find that the use of cannabis is never forbidden or even discouraged in the Bible. Some passages directly refer to the goodness of using herbs like cannabis - and even go on to predict prohibition.
And the Earth brought forth grass and herb yielding seed after its kind and the tree yielding fruit, whose seed was in itself after its kind: and God saw that it was good. Genesis: Chapter 1: Verse 12 (King James Version of the Bible, unless noted).
God makes the Earth yield healing herbs, which the prudent man should not neglect. Sirach:38:4 (Catholic Bible).
Not that which goeth into the mouth defileth a man; That which cometh out of the mouth defileth a man. Jesus, quoted: Matt. 15:11
In later times, some shall...speak lies in hypocrisy...commanding to abstain from that which God hath created to be received with thanksgiving of them which believe and know the truth. Paul: 1 Tim. 4:1
Historians, early artworks, Bibles, manuscripts, Dead Sea Scrolls, Gnostic Gospels, letters from early church fathers, etc., indicate that for the first 300-400 years A.D., many early Christian sects were gentle and loving. They were usually open, tolerant and unstructured; a poor mans or slaves religion.
Rome considered Christianity to be simply another bothersome Oriental Mystery Cult, like those of Mithra or Isis, then the most popular in the Empire.
The Holy Roman Empire
Faced with a crumbling empire, political corruption and a series of ruinous wars with barbarians, the old Roman Empire hovered on the brink of disaster. The religious contortions undertaken by the ruling body in Rome to maintain its earthly power led the political leaders to crack down on healthy diversity in the field of individual cults and religions.
To save itself politically, the formerly pantheistic (meaning tolerant of different worships) government of the empire changed its policy.
Starting in 249 A.D., various emperors launched a string of bloody persecutions, which included the troublesome Christians. By 306 A.D., it was clear that this was not working. Emperor Constantine called off the executions and began to patronize the Christian clergy, which promptly adopted a dogma lifted from Mithraism, among other religions: Royal Blood by Birth, or the Divine Right to Rule Other Humans.
The ambitious Constantine saw that while underground, the church had developed into an intolerant, tightly-knit hierarchy; a well organized network second in influence only to his own. By combining church and state, each was able to double its power and seek out the crimes/sins of all its political rivals and enemies with the full support/blessing of the other.
Constantine soon converted to Christianity and declared one mandatory, monistic, state-empowered religion: the Roman Catholic Church; literally, the Roman Universal Church (catholic is Latin for universal). This was now the absolute and official religion of the empire. In one sweep, all secret societies were outlawed which might have threatened his (and Romes) mandate to rule the known world, as they had for the previous 400 consecutive years.
After running from the Roman Empires police for almost 300 years, Christian Orthodox priests had become their bosses. Starting in the 4th, 5th, and 6th Centuries A.D., pagan religions and all the different Christian sects, belief systems, knowledge, gospels, etc., such as the Essenes, Gnostics, and Merovingians (Franks), were either incorporated into or edited out of official doctrine and hierarchy.
Finally, in a series of councils, all contrary dogmas (e.g., that the Earth was round, and the sun and stars were more than five to 17 miles away) were summarily outlawed and driven underground during the Dark Ages, 400-1000+ A.D.
By the early Middle Ages, at the beginning of the 11th Century A.D., virtually all powers were placed in the hands of the Church and Pope; first by Germanic conquerors, and later by Spanish and French kings and powerful Italian merchants and nobles (the Borgias, Medicis and other megalomaniacs), probably to protect their trade secrets, alliances and sources of wealth.
All European people were forced to adhere to the Holy Roman Empire policy: zero tolerance by a fundamentalist church/police-state with blind faith in one, unquestioned version of how to worship God...and the Popes infallibility.
Political rulers aided and abetted the Church in this fraud, as their power now rested only on their new Christian dogma, the patriarchal Divine Right to rule.
They enacted laws with fantastically vicious punishments for even the slightest infraction or heresy. Heretics were mercilessly sought out by fanatical, sadistic inquisitors using perverted forms of torture to extract confessions and as punishment.
This system kept most of the Western worlds inhabitants in a state of constant terror, not only for their own physical safety and freedom but also for their eternal spirit, with Hell lurking mere inches below the surface for those excommunicated by the church.
The Politics of Paper
The masses of people, the commons, were kept in check through a dual system of fear and enforced ignorance. All learning, except the most rudimentary, was controlled and strictly regulated by the priests.
The commons (about 95% of the people) were forbidden to learn to read or write - not even an alphabet - and often were punished or put to death for doing so.
The people were also forbidden to learn Latin, the language of the Bible. This effectively enabled the few priests who could read to interpret the scriptures any way they pleased for about 1,200 years, until the Reformation in Europe, circa 1600.
To prohibit knowledge, people were literally kept in the dark, without a piece of paper to write on. The monasteries preserved and guarded hemps secrets. They saw that cannabis held two threats to this policy of absolute control: papermaking and lamp oil.
Something had to be done.
Cannabis Medicines Forbidden
While embracing wine as a sacrament, and tolerating beer and hard liquor, the Inquisition outlawed cannabis ingestion in Spain in the 12th Century, and France in the 13th. Many other natural remedies were simultaneously banned. Anyone using hemp to communicate, heal, etc. was labeled witch.
Saint Joan of Arc, for example, was accused in 1430-31 of using a variety of herbal witch drugs, including cannabis, to hear voices.
Church Sanctioned Legal Medicines
Virtually the only legal medical cures allowed the people of Western Europe by the Roman Catholic Church Fathers at this time were:
In 1484, Pope Innocent VIII singled out cannabis healers and other herbalists, proclaiming hemp an unholy sacrament of the second and third types of Satanic mass. This persecution lasted for more than 150 years.
Satanic knowledge and masses, according to the Medieval Church, came in three types:
Because medieval priest bureaucrats thought they were sometimes laughed at, ridiculed and scorned by those under their influence - often by the most learned monks, clerics and leading citizens - ingesting cannabis was proclaimed heretical and Satanic.
Despite this centuries-long attack by the most powerful political and religious force in Western civilization, hemp cultivation continued in Northern Europe, Africa and Asia. While the church persecuted cannabis users in Europe, the Spanish Conquistadors were busy planting hemp everywhere around the world to provide sails, rope, oakum, clothes, etc.
Yet, Hemp Endured
The sadistic Ottoman Empire conquered Egypt and, in the 16th Century A.D., tried to outlaw cannabis - because Egyptian hemp growers along the Nile were leading tax revolts. The Turks complained that cannabis use caused Egyptians to laugh and be disrespectful to their Sultan and his representatives. In 1868, Egypt became the first modern country to outlaw cannabis ingestion, followed in 1910 by white South Africa to punish and stop the blacks practicing their ancient Dagga cults and religions.
In Europe, hemp was widely used both industrially and medicinally, from the Black Sea (Crimean) to the British Isles, especially in Eastern Europe. The papal ban on cannabis medicines in the Holy Roman Empire in 1484 was quite unenforceable north of the Alps, and to this day the Romanians, Czechs, Hungarians, and Russians dominate world cannabis agronomy.
In Ireland, already world famous for its cannabis linen, the Irish woman who wanted to know whom she would eventually marry was advised to seek revelation through cannabis.
Eventually, the hemp trades once again became so important to the empire builders who followed (in the Age of Discovery/Reason, the 14th to 18th Centuries) that they were central to the intrigues and maneuverings of all the worlds great powers.
The Age of Enlightenment
The 18th Century ushered in a new era of human thought and civilization. Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness! declared the colonists in America. Liberty, Equality, Fraternity! replied their French cousins. The concepts of modern constitutional government, which guaranteed human rights and separation of church and state, were unified into a policy designed to protect citizens from intolerant and arbitrary laws.
In his landmark essay, On Liberty, Ogden Livingston Mills, whose philosophy shaped our democracy, wrote that Human liberty comprises, first, the inward domain of consciousness in the most comprehensive sense: liberty of thought and feeling, ...scientific, moral or theological, ...liberty of tastes and pursuits.
Mills asserted that this freedom of thought or of mind is the basis for all freedoms. Gentleman farmer Thomas Jeffersons immortal words, I have sworn upon the altar of God eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man, are engraved into the marble of his Memorial in Washington D.C.
Abraham Lincoln was an avowed enemy of prohibition. His wife was prescribed cannabis for her nerves after his assassination. Virtually every president from the mid-19th Century until prohibition routinely used cannabis medicines.
Close acquaintances of John F. Kennedy, such as entertainers Morey Amsterdam and Eddie Gordon, say the president used cannabis regularly to control his back pain (before and during his term) and actually planned on legalizing marijuana during his second term - a plan cut short by his assassination in 1963.
More recently, former President Gerald Fords son, Jack, and Jimmy Carters son, Chip, admit to having smoked pot in the White House. George Bushs Vice President, Dan Quayle, had a reputation for smoking grass and using drugs in college. Ronald, and even former First Lady Nancy Just Say No Reagan, are reported to have smoked pot in the California Governors mansion.
Thomas Jeffersons Comparison
Thomas Jefferson wrote and acted on behalf of hemp many times, smuggling rare seeds into America, redesigning the hemp brake, and keeping his farm and garden journals in which, on March 16, 1791, he wrote:
The culture [of tobacco] is pernicious. This plant greatly exhausts the soil. Of course, it requires much manure, therefore other productions are deprived of manure, yielding no nourishment for cattle, there is no return for the manure expended...
It is impolitic. The fact well established in the system of agriculture is that the best hemp and the best tobacco grow on the same kind of soil. The former article is of first necessity to the commerce and marine, in other words to the wealth and protection of the country. The latter, never useful and sometimes pernicious, derives its estimation from caprice, and its value from the taxes to which it was formerly exposed. The preference to be given will result from a comparison of them: Hemp employs in its rudest state more labor than tobacco, but being a material for manufactures of various sorts, becomes afterwards the means of support to numbers of people, hence it is to be preferred in a populous country.
America imports hemp and will continue to do so, and also sundry articles made of hemp, such as cordage, sail cloth, drilling linen and stockings...
Economics: The Very Model of a Modern Inquisition
For cannabis-related knowledge, or hundreds of other sins - owning a devils tool (dinner fork), reading a sorcerers book or speaking in tongues (foreign language), having a different faith, having the witchs habit (taking a bath or falling into a river), etc. - from 10% to as many as 50% of the people in Western Europe were tortured or put to death without trial during the medieval Roman Catholic Churchs 500-year Inquisition (12th to 17th centuries).
While most suffered, some profited handsomely. The Pope could declare anything heresy, and use it as an excuse to legally rob, torture and kill his enemies or anyone else accused. For over 300 years, inquisitors divided up the property forfeited to them by suspected witches and heretics. Whoever denounced you got 1/3 of your property, 1/3 went to the government, and 1/3 went to the Papal hierarchy.
Beware the scribes which...devour widows houses. Jesus, quoted: Luke 20:46
This perverted prosecution-for-profit model, used almost exactly in the same way today by state and federal drug warriors - and just as self-righteously, was given to us at the insistence of president Ronald Reagan in 1984 and was written for Congress by then Congressman Dan Lungren, former California Attorney General. In actuality, once the government seizes a property, more than 90% are never returned by the courts. Everyone from informant, to the police and the prosecutor now share in the bounty of forfeited goods.
In fact, while British common law is the basis for our modern legal system, forfeiture law relies on the medieval concept of the cursed object deodand (from the latin deo god, and dand give; meaning that any object causing human death was forfeited to the crown.) This is the basis for American laws of seizure and confiscation of property, rather than penalties only against persons.
Why? Simple. People have guaranteed legal rights; property does not!
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