Today in America we talk a lot about medical marijuana and recreational marijuana. The other day I read about legalization in Jamaica, where the use of marijuana is a central practice in a major indigenous religion, Rastafarianism. Possession of less than 2 ounces will be decriminalized and a legal system will be put in place for medical and sacramental use of cannabis. Sacramental Cannabis – Marijuana has been used in entheogenic contexts for at least 4,000 years. Entheogenic: Using a chemical – naturally occurring or synthesized, for a religious or spiritual purpose. Both modern and ancient is the ritualistic use of cannabis for mind expansion. I myself am a religious person and the thought of being guided on a spiritual cannabis journey by one of my communities wisest and holiest is quite appealing.
The atharvaveda, or the fourth veda, is one of the ancient spiritual texts of Hinduism. It was written sometime between 1500 BCE and 1000 BCE. This veda refers to ganja as one of its five sacred plants. It was not the highly bred THC monster that we know and love, rather a weedy version of our modern weed, but it did the trick. Ancient Hindus consumed marijuana in three forms; bhang, ganja and jaras. Jaras is similar to hashish. It consists of the resinous buds or extracted resins from leaves and flowers of the marijuana plant. Ganja is the plant tops and leaves when smoked. And lastly, and most common, is Bhang. Bhang refers to leaves and plant tops when infused into a beverage. Bhang is a deliciously intoxicating beverage, often consisting of cannabis boiled in milk along with cinnamon, poppy, various nuts, sugar and ginger.
Hindus believe that cannabis was a gift from Shiva to bring them happiness and eliminate fear. One of the prevailing mythologies attributing bhang to Shiva is this; he was walking angrily through the forest trying to shake off some residual anger from a large family argument. He laid down to rest and when he awoke he found himself under a large cannabis plant. He tasted the plant and became elated. From then on he drank bhang regularly and thus began his legacy.
Cannabis is still very prevalent in modern India and Nepal. Shadus, Hindu ascetics who praise and serve Shiva, fast, pray and use marijuana sacramentally to attain spiritual clarity. Common laborers will drink some bhang after a hard day’s work just to take a load off. Large Shiva festivals abound where children enjoy sweet Bhang Lassi and Shadus smoke chillums freely. And yet, it is worth noting, marijuana is still illegal in India, though the laws are stricter on paper than actually enforced.
by Suzanna Mountain