Sacred Cannabis: Used Throughout History in Rituals

Did you know that Cannabis is regarded as a sacred plant, and was largely used in rituals throughout history? No? I didn’t either.

Last week I had an experience with a Shaman in which he told me to me to give thanks to the Cannabis plant before I use it because it is a sacred plant.

So I got to work researching, as I love to do, and I’m excited to share what I have found in regards to its sanctity.

One of the earliest discoveries of Cannabis in ritual practices was discovered by Oxford Archelogist Andrew Sherrat at the gravesite of Proto-Indo Europeans. These early humans are referred to as the Kurgans from the early Scythian Culture who occupied what is now Romania 5000 years ago.

Stories of these “hemp rituals” were thought to be myths until these gold artifacts (below) were discovered with a black sticky substance, which turned out to be cannabis and opium residue. Soul and mind cleansing rituals were held when deaths of leaders occurred. They would erect small tee-pee like structures, create a fire, and when the coals were red-hot, they would throw the hemp seeds on the coals, or use a vessel like the one below to create a vapor bath inside the tee-pee to inhale, and “purify” the body.

Solid Gold Artifacts displayed on Russian TV, from The Digital Journal

Archeologist Andrew Sherrat references even older tripod bowls from China used for cannabis as evidenced by their impressions of the hemp plant on their surface, pointing to humankind’s ancient relationship with cannabis. He states “that the early use of cord-impressed pottery in China, the so called Sheng-wen horizon – was associated with an early use of hemp and an appreciation (explicit in the early historical records) of its narcotic properties” (Sherratt, 1997).

The earliest Medicinal use of the plant is dated to 2800 BCE from the Chinese medical compilation, Pen Ts’ao. Chinese emperor Shen-Nung, referred to as the father of Chinese medicine, prescribed chu-ma (the female Cannabis plant, as opposed to the male ma) for the treatment of “absentmindedness, constipation, malaria, beriberi (vitamin B1 deficiency), rheumatism, and menstrual problems.” He even went so far as to deem it one of the “Superior Elixirs of Immortality” (Bennett, 2010). In the Chinese cosmology, the universe is composed of two elements-Yin & Yang, with Yang representing the strong & active masculine force, and Yin the weak, passive female influence. This concept is applied to the balance of forces in humans. When the body has a healthy dose of these opposing forces, balance is achieved; if not, the result is dis-ease. Shen-Nung determined the female plant, the one that contains psychoactive THC as opposed to the THC- lacking male plant, was the most beneficial.

As Cannabis continued to be used in Chinese medicine, one instrumental use came from Chinese Surgeon Hua T’o, who according to the Records of Three Kingdoms (c. AD 270) and the Book of the Later Han (c. AD 430), performed surgery almost 2000 years ago under general anesthesia using a formula he had developed by mixing wine with a mixture of herbal extracts that he called mafeisan, with ma referring to cannabis, fei referring to boiling, and san referring to breaking up or scattering . This word is likely where the modern-day term “morphine” originates.

While Hemp was also commonly used in China for its fiber like many other cultures, “…the hallucinogenic properties of hemp were common knowledge in Chinese medical and Taoist circles for two millennia or more” (Needham, 1974). Furthermore, “according to a Neolithic Chinese legend, the gods gave humans one plant to fulfill all needs. The plant was Cannabis sativa…. This assertion is not so far-fetched; Cannabis assuredly ranks among the world’s most remarkable plants” (Pooja, 2005).

With the belief it was given by God, it was also used to connect back to God. Ancient Chinese Shamans carved serpents on the stalks of the hemp plants, symbolizing their mystical powers, and used them as a wand during their healing ceremonies. A Taoist priest also wrote in the 5th century BCE that cannabis was utilized by “necromancers, in combination with Ginseng, to set forward time and reveal future events” (Schultes and Hofmann, 1979).

Cannabis’ Influence in the Ancient Mideast

Civilizations of these Scythian tribes referenced in the beginning of this article are likely responsible for the spread of Cannabis to the rest of the ancient world. (Note: Scythians are an ancient nomadic people living primarily in the region known as Scythia, which today comprises the Eurasian steppes of Kazakhstan, the Russian steppes of the Siberian, Ural, Volga and Southern regions, and eastern Ukraine). Because they were so nomadic, and were credited to be one of the earliest people to master the art of riding and utilizing horses to tow their carriages, they are hypothesized to have spread the Cannabis plant and its culture to the Mideast

It is hard to credit any certain civilization for the exact first use of Cannabis, but it is worth noting that in the first culture to develop a practical form of writing, Cannabis is referenced. It was the Sumerians (southern Mesopotamia or Iraq), that are credited with developing Cuneiform (logo-syllabic) writing that was not just pictographs at around 3000 BC. While there is still debate over the meanings of certain words from these clay tablets, and if cannabis was used medically and not just as “industrial hemp” as we would call it, the evidence points to medical usage for how many references in medical texts are made to the plant that could also be spun into cloth or used in rope making. One such example is the word “A-ZAL-LA, with the ‘ZAL’ part meaning to “SPIN,” such as in, the plant used in spinning etc. (Thompson, 1936).

The term “qunabu (qunapy, qunnunu, qunbu)” turned up in the second quarter of the first millenium BCE in Ancient Mesopotamia to reference a source of oil, fiber, and medicine (Barber 1989). This term has been confirmed by many scholars to be a reference to Cannabis (Meissner 1932-33; Benetowa 1936; Benet 1975; Schultes and Hofmann 1979; Abel 1982).

Cannabis was used topically as a medical ointment as referenced by an Assyrian medical tablet now held in the Louvre translating to, “so that god and man should be in good rapport: -with hellbore, cannabis and lupine you will rub him in,” stated by cannabinoid expert Ethan Russo in his 2007 paper, “Clinical Cannabis in Ancient Mesopotamia: A Historical Survey with Supporting Scientific Evidence”. He evidences many different topical applications of medical cannabis in many ancient documents. One ailment called “Hand of Ghost,” which is now thought to be epilepsy, is one such instance in which a topical preparation of Cannabis was utilized. Cannabis was used in many other remedies for diseases of the chest and lungs, stomach problems, skin lesions, lice, swollen joints, and many others (Russo 2007).

sm-sm-tthe Egyptian word for cannabis

The term sm-sm-t” or “shemshemet” later came up in Egypt, and was thought to reference Cannabis as a gift from the Sun God, Ra. This term was utilized in many medical texts such as Ramesseum III Papyrus(1700 BCE), Eber’s Papyrus (1600 BCE), the Berlin Papyrus (1300 BCE) and the Chester Beatty VI Papyrus (1300 BCE). Apart from literary references, pollen analysis of ancient soil layers and deep tissue samples from Egyptian mummies indicate Cannabis played a big role in Egyptian society. “According to the Codex of Ancient Egyptian Plant Remains, (1997) pollen has been identified at Egyptian sites dating from the Predynastic period (c.3500-3100 BCE); the 12th Dynasty (c.1991-1786 BCE) includes not only pollen, but also a hemp “fibre (ball)”; from the 19th Dynasty (c.1293-1185 BCE) found on the Mummy of Ramses II; and the Ptolemaic period (323-30 BCE) (Vartavan & Asensi, 1997)” (Bennett 2010).

Cannabis in Biblical References

With the spread of Cannabis to, and usage within, every culture leading up to the time of Jesus, it should be no surprise that there are many biblical references to Cannabis.

There are many claims that the terms “honeywood” and “honeycomb” are references to a commonly-used honey-cannabis mixture of the time, however the most profound piece of evidence of Hebraic use comes in 1936 from a Polish etymologist from the Institute of Anthropological Sciences in Warsaw named Sula Benet (a.k.a Sara Benetowa).

Benet purports through her comparative etymological study that there are references to hemp as incense, and therefore religious celebration, as well as an intoxicant. Benet documents that through the Aramaic translation of the Hebrew Scriptures, the Targum Onculos, Cannabis is termed “q’neh bosm,” which is also translated to “kaneh bosem”, “keneh bosem“, or “kaniebosm“, and is also translated to Hebrew as “kannabos“, or “kannabus“. The root “kan” means “reed, or “hemp”, and “bosm” means “aromatic”, and appears in Exodus 30:23, Song of Songs 4:14, Isaiah 43:24, Jeremiah 6:20, and Ezekiel 27:19 (Bennett 2010).

This term does not venture far from the previously mentioned Assyrian and Babylonian term “qunubu”, and is an adaptation of the earlier Indo-European term “canna”. The term “Cannabis” shares its traces with other modern-day terms through the shared “-an-“ such as the Indian “bh’an’g“, the French “ch’an’vre“, the Dutch “c’an’vas, and the German “h’an’f” (Bennett 2010).

Cannabis was used as an ingredient in a holy anointing oil, which when bestowed upon a chosen individual, made him “the anointed one,” which in Hebrew was adapted to “Messiah”, and later in Greek as “Christ”.

Linguist and mythologist Carl Ruck, along with equally-educated co-authors, have stated, “Chrisation was a mode of administering healing balms. In the Old Testament, chrismation involves pouring the anointing oil over the head, which functions to purify (obviously in a spiritual sense, not to cleanse physically), and to confer power, strength, or majesty. In Exodus 30,23 sq., Yahweh specifies the ingredients for the chrism, making clear that such unguents contained herbal additives to the oil: Cannabis Sativa is combined with perfuming spices (cinnamon, cassia, and myrrh) in oil. The psychoactivity of the “spices” in the anointing oil, in addition to the Cannabis deserves attention” (Ruck 2001).

Cannabis is also referenced in “Isaiah 43.24 where Yahweh lists it among the slights not received in sacrifice, and Jeremiah 6.20, where Yahweh, displeased with his people, rejects such an offering; and Ezekiel 27.19 where it occurs in a catalogue of the luxurious items in the import trade of Tyre” (Ruck 2001).

Anointing with oil was the common practice in the Bible, as opposed to Baptism with water. In fact, many Christian gnostic groups have referred to anointing with water as an “incomplete baptism,” cititng the fact that Jesus baptized none of his disciples (Rudolph 1987). Conversly, Jesus sent out many of his disciples to anoint with this Cannabis oil mixture, as Mark 6:13 states, “They cast out many devils, and anointed with oil many that were sick, and healed them”. Likewise, James states, “Is any of you sick? He should call the elder of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord” (James 5:14).’

During those times, many diseases that are now known to be cured by Cannabis such as epilepsy were seen as demonic possession. “Miracles” were performed through the use of Cannabis in not just epilepsy, but skin diseases (Matthew 8:1-4, 10:8, 11:5; Mark 1:40-45; Luke 5:12-14, 7:22, 17:11-19), eye issues (John 9:6-15), and menstrual issues (Luke 8:43-48).

As Jesus and his followers continued to anoint, and “spread the healing knowledge of Cannabis around the ancient world, the singular Christ became the plural Christians, that is, those who had been smeared or anointed with the Holy Oil” (Bennett 2010). The Christians, the “smeared,” or “anointed ones” received “knowledge of all things” by the “anointing of the Holy One” (I John 2:20). From that point on, they needed no other teacher, and were endowed with their own spiritual knowledge.

The ritual of anointing with this sacred Cannabis oil was continued into the early Christian period, “Particularly among heretical Gnostic Christian sects, who along with pagan cults, were brutally banned at the inception of the dark ages and the rise of Catholicism” (Bennett 2010).

Though this concept that Cannabis was used by Jesus and his disciples in the anointing, as a healing ointment, or treatment for disease, may seem far-fetched, when this notion is juxtaposed against the belief held by millions that Jesus performed miracles magically, the role of this potent herb in these healing processes may not be so hard to believe. Additionally, if you prescribe to the notion that God created all things, then isn’t it seemingly even more plausible that God created a “magic” herb that Jesus could later use in his work?

Thank you for reading! Much appreciation & gratitude to my supporters, and to the Shaman who prompted me to go down this research path. I’m excited to see where the future takes me as I try to convey the healing potential of Cannabis.

I utilized a book I own for many of these references, thus why there aren’t many outside links like my other posts. The book is called The Pot Book, edited by Julie Holland, which I am so grateful to have in my life. I highly recommend. Furthermore, if there’s any topic regarding Cannabis that you would like me to research, drop me a comment below! Thank you!


Written By: Rylee Josipovich. Host of Let’s Talk About CBD Podcast, Founder of Golden Bee Hemp, COO of True Natural Oils & Natural Pet Oil.

Get to know me better by listening to “Let’s Talk about CBD”


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