Cannabis:Religion, Myth and Folklore – II

A Censer

The Pen Ts’ao Ching attributed to the legendery emperor of China, Shen Nung (2700 B.C.) provides evidence that the Chinese were aware of the psychotropic properties of Cannabis from the earliest times. This work claimed that Ma Fen (fruit of Hemp) if taken in excess would make you see devils and taken over a long time makes you communicate with the spirits and lightens your body. 

A Taoist priest wrote in his work titled, Ming-I Pieh Lu, that Cannabis is used by necromancers in combination with ginseng to set forward time in order to reveal future events.

The’ hallucinogenic’ use  of Cannabis is believed to have been associated with Central Asain shamanistic practices.

Source: Touw, Mia. “The religious and medicinal uses of Cannabis in China, India and Tibet”. J Psychoactive Drugs 13 (1).

The Akali Sikhs or Khalsa (saint-warriors of Sikhism in India) (later known as Nihangs) believed in asceticism and celibacy. They also believed in the use of bhang (hashish) also called Sukha or Sukh Nidhan (treasure of bliss) for meditative purposes.


The religious use of cannabis in India is thought to have preceded its medical use (Blum and Associates, II, 1969: 73; Snyder, 1970: 125). The religious use of cannabis is to help “the user to free his mind from worldly distractions and to concentrate on the Supreme Being” (Barber, 1970: 80).

Cannabis is used in Hindu and Sikh temples and at Mohammedan shrines. Besides using the drug as an aid to meditation, it is also used to overcome hunger and thirst by the religious mendicants. In Nepal, it is distributed on certain feast days at the temples of all Shiva followers (Blum & Associates, 1969, 11: 63).

The Hindus spoke of the drug as the “heavenly guide,” “the soother of grief.” Considered holy, it was described as a sacred grass during the Vedic period (Fort, 1969: 15). A reference to cannabis in Hindu scriptures is the following:

To the Hindu the hemp plant is holy. A guardian lives in bhang … Bhang is the joy giver, the sky filer, the heavenly guide, the poor man’s heaven, the soother of grief … No god or man is as good as the religious drinker of Bhang. The students of the scriptures of Benares are given bhang before they sit to study. At Benares, Ujjain and other holy places, yogis take deep draughts of Bhang that they may center their thoughts on the Eternal . . . By the help of Bhang ascetics pass days without food or drink. The supporting power of Bhang has brought many a Hindu family safe through the miseries of famine (Snyder, 1970: 125).

Scource: History of Marihuana Use: Medical and Intoxicant.(From: Marihuana, A Signal of Misunderstanding, the Report of the US National Commission on Marihuana and Drug Abuse, 1972)

In Africa, there were a number of cults and sects of hemp worship. Pogge and Wissman, during their explorations of 1881, visited the Bashilenge, living on the northern borders of the Lundu, between Sankrua and Balua. They found large plots of land around the villages used for the cultivation of hemp. Originally there were small clubs of hemp smokers, bound by ties of friendship, but these eventually led to the formation of a religious cult. The Bashilenge called themselves Bena Riamba, “the sons of hemp”, and their land Lubuku, meaning friendship. They greeted each other with the expression “moio“, meaning both “hemp” and “life.” Each tribesman was required to participate in the cult of Riamba and show his devotion by smoking as frequently as possible. They attributed universal magical powers to hemp, which was thought to combat all kinds of evil and they took it when they went to war and when they traveled.  In the middle Sahara region, the Senusi sect also cultivated hemp on a large scale for use in religious ceremonies.

Source: ^ “History of Marihuana Use: Medical and Intoxicant”.

Beginning around the 4th century, Taoist texts mentioned using cannabis in censers (vessels made for burning incense). Needham cited the (ca. 570 CE) Taoist encyclopedia Wushang Biyao 無上秘要 (“Supreme Secret Essentials”) that cannabis was added into ritual incense-burners, and suggested the ancient Taoists experimented systematically with “hallucinogenic smokes”. The Yuanshi shangzhen zhongxian ji 元始上真眾仙記 (“Records of the Assemblies of the Perfected Immortals”), which is attributed to Ge Hong (283-343), says, “For those who begin practicing the Tao it is not necessary to go into the mountains. … Some with purifying incense and sprinkling and sweeping are also able to call down the Perfected Immortals.

Source: Chemistry and chemical technology, Volume 5, p. 150-152, by Joseph Needham, Gwei-Djen Lu, Cambridge University Press, 1974


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