If you think the ‘flower children’ in the 1960s was where today’s love of pot started, you need to go back further.
Keep on going past the beatniks spouting poetry high on the reefer in the 1950s, or the crazy hopheads in the 1920s digging the new sounds of American jazz.
The ceremony of social activity centered around preparing a special plant in a special pipe has actually been an important part of many Western and Eastern cultures for thousands of years.
From very early on, production and use of marijuana has had a spiritual aspect permeating the cultures that embraced the plant.
Even in our often-rootless Western society, a feeling of community has developed among users who discovered mutual kinship in the practice of smoking together.
Until recently, at least. With increased legalization and more modern methods available for personal consumption, cannabis has become more individualized, and commercial production seems more about business.
Historically, whether recreational or religious, there is evidence of humans employing and enjoying the psychoactive effects of cannabis dating back millennia.
Until the first written references to this plant appeared, archeologists have had to make some educated guesses as to its actual purpose in early societies.
But many believe its use was for euphoric reasons, perhaps relaxation and enjoyment, or more spiritual or shamanic practices.
We may never know how humans happened upon a relationship with cannabis but it seems like a common trait of Homo Sapiens is to find some sort of tool to take them out of their normal state of consciousness, whether it’s turning fermented fruit into alcohol or harvesting cannabis.
The oldest known writings that give evidence of cannabis use appear in the Hindu religious texts known as the Rg Veda, based on oral traditions dating from 3500 BCE.
The writings talk about one of the main gods, Lord Shiva, considered both the creator and the destroyer, as well as the deity responsible for cannabis. Hindus worldwide invoke his name when they partake in certain sacraments, and there are major holidays centered in reverence to Shiva and use of this plant.
I recently spoke with Lasata, a young Nepalese woman currently studying at an university in the U.S. who, along with multiple generations of her family, have first-hand experience participating in a festival for Shiva in Kathmandu, Nepal.
Lasata described the Shivaratri festival at the ancient temple of Pashupatinath. Known as the “Night of Shiva,” it is held on a moonless night in the Hindu month of Maagh or Phalgun, which corresponds with either February or March on our calendar.
Festivities center around the union of Shiva and the goddess Parvati, and Lord Shiva’s role as the god of destruction as well as his role in regeneration. One of the main forms of worship is to consume cannabis as the embodiment of a god to reach a state of oneness.
Lasata said that some worshipers drink Lassi, a drink of milk and yogurt infused with cannabis. Others eat Ladoo, a pastry of sweetened dough filled with cannabis oil and the prepared plant. It also can be smoked.
Regardless of how cannabis consumed, it is always seen as the body of Lord Shiva, and its effects are meant to bring followers closer to the deity, much like Holy Communion in Christian faiths.
A group of devout Hindus use cannabis in ways that are unchanged from ancient times. Saddhus are the ascetic followers of Lord Shiva, and using cannabis is an affirmation of the plant’s sacred nature. Cannabis, or ganja as they call it, is central to their life and an important aspect in their meditative practices.
The life of a saddhu is one of privation and denial of the comforts that most people take for granted. With ganja they are able to overcome hunger and thirst as well as pain.
Since the use of ganja has not been demonized in Hindu culture like in the West, these religious mendicants can be found all over India and Nepal and are actually revered by the general population for their voluntary life of simplicity.
They can be found living naked, without shelter, with long hair and unkempt beards, their bodies covered in ash. There are different sects that choose various disciplines to express their devotion to Lord Shiva, but their common bond is the use of ganja to attain spiritual goals. Regardless of their individual circumstance, they use the plant to ask the blessing of the elements that make its existence possible, the sun, the water and the earth all embodied by their master, Lord Shiva.
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