When you think of cannabis, you’re probably thinking of a modern coffeeshop or a big fat spliff. Few people connect weed to an ancient shamans performing age-old rituals. Nonetheless, shamans and cannabis were closely linked throughout a history that goes way beyond your weekly trip to the local dispensary.
Today, we’ll take you on a journey to a world full of forgotten rituals and obscure mystic practices. We’re about to enter the world of cannabis and shamanism…
Shamans, Cannabis, And Rituals
Shamans used cannabis in Asia and the “Old World” for many centuries. More recently, shamans of North American indigenous tribes used weed in their rituals. This happened for a multitude of reasons, including these:
- Inducing a stable and long-lasting personal state of trance. This trance enables the spirit of a shaman to ascend to a spiritual realm on a quest for wisdom. Other purposes are the performance of magic, to cast out or subdue evil spirits causing afflictions, and to ease the journeys needed to incur spiritual favors for the community;
- Sharing profound experiences with others, which makes cannabis a very suitable instrument for all kinds of rituals. It was particularly attractive for use in rituals aimed at forging or restoring bonds between people, or intended to negotiate peace;
- Relieving fear and depression. These treatments are oddly similar to the way we presently treat anxiety disorders such as PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder). Ancient healers found cannabis effective in treating practically any type of psychiatric problem, as well as in other medical contexts. Such treatments were often connected to alleged purifying and sanctifying qualities of the herb. It was also used as a kind of ‘miracle cure’ for a multitude of different ailments. This was mainly because of the powerful effects of the plant, which were easy to demonstrate;
- Ritual use as a funerary herb, to make the deceased rest in peace. People used cannabis in funeral rites, covering the entire body in cannabis leaves and branches like a shroud. This protected the dead, and perhaps granted them some sort of power in the netherworld. Cannabis was also discovered in small jars beside persons identified as shamans. Maybe it helped them carry on their work in the hereafter.
The Word ‘Shaman’
Right until this very day, cannabis is still a useful instrument for shamans. As described above, there are many different uses for the herb. Some of those options involve using weed along with hallucinogens such as peyote or mushrooms. That could make marijuana one of the safest psychoactive or mood-altering herbs still used by shamans on a large scale.
The word ‘shaman’ has deep and ancient roots. Some trace its origins back to old Siberian languages. In Tunguscan, for instance, shaman means something along the lines of “he (or she) who knows”. It’s like a seer, in a way. Others connect the word to Sanskrit, in which ‘śamana’ means a wandering holy person. The Arabic word ‘shaitan’, or “devil”, could also be an origin. Missionaries may have adopted this, partly to frame shamans in a negative context. Whatever the exact roots, the notion was introduced to Europe in the 17th century by Dutch explorer Nicolaes Witsen, who spent time among the tribes of Siberia. Interestingly, Witsen was mayor of Amsterdam up to 13 (!) times. Of course, that just goes to show that everything weedy ultimately comes back to Amsterdam – that old Dutch Connection is hard to miss…
Shamanism – Still Relevant Today
These days, traditional shamanism is on the decline in most of the world. Improved access to modern medicine is one of the main reasons. Still, the belief in spiritual forces and life energy is simply too old and too persistent to just vanish like that. Even today, the shaman is still relevant as a spiritual healer and voyager, even for the tribes of our post-industrial world.
The modern shaman is not so much a healer using hot magic rocks or willow bark extracts to treat the sick. He or she is more of an intermediary between humans and the planet, seeking balance through the spirit world. The close bond between shamans and nature still remains, including the use of leather strips, seashells, feathers, hand drums, and yes, cannabis. It would be interesting to know whether the huge changes in modern cannabis consumption have any effect on this old tradition.
Modern Shamans And Cannabis
Even today, shamans look up to the heavens or within to their spiritual being. They’re still looking for metaphysical answers to worldly questions. They still need to enter a state of trance to make these spiritual journeys. In a sense, cannabis and shamans are as interconnected today as they were thousands of years ago.
So whether you use cannabis for an evening on the couch or to combat spiritual problems, you’re in good company. It just puts smoking a joint in a new perspective. Age-old traditions, rituals, mysticism and shamans paved the way. That’s good to remember for anyone on the way to a coffeeshop for their next spiritual journey.