|| Cannabis: Some History
Mel C Siff
While recently investigating
qi, ki, mystical powers and such phenomena, I came across many
references which showed
some link between "mind-altering" plants and mystical
powers, unusual capabilities and altered states in all countries
of the world,
including China, India and the East. Of course, this is fairly
well known to anyone who has researched the philosophies, religions
healing systems of these countries, and I will not repeat it here.
What I would like to share with you is this information about the lesser
known use of cannabis in the Middle East and in Biblical times. Here
are some excerpts from the following website (yes, this site has a hidden
agenda to extol some of the virtues of this weed, but the information,
nevertheless is worthy of analytical consideration):
THE ROOTS OF KANEH-BOSM
The first solid evidence of the Hebrew use of cannabis was established
in 1936 by Sula Benet, a little known Polish etymologist from the Institute
of Anthropological Sciences in Warsaw (1).
The word cannabis was generally thought to be of Scythian origin, but
Benet showed that it has a much earlier origin in Semitic languages
like Hebrew, and that it appears several times throughout the Old Testament.
Benet explained that "in the original Hebrew text of the Old Testament
there are references to hemp, both as incense, which was an integral
part of religious celebration, and as an intoxicant (2)."
Benet demonstrated that the word for cannabis is kaneh-bosm, also rendered
in traditional Hebrew as kaneh or kannabus. The root 'kan' in this
construction means "reed" or "hemp", while bosm means "aromatic".
This word appears five times in the Old Testament; in the books of
Exodus, the Song of Songs, Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel.
The word kaneh-bosm has been mistranslated as calamus, a common marsh
plant with little monetary value that does not have the qualities or
value ascribed to kaneh-bosm. The error occurred in the oldest Greek
translation of the H ebrew Bible, the Septuagint in the third century
BC, and was repeated in the many translations that followed (3).
THE HIDDEN STORY
When we take a chronological look at biblical references to kaneh-bosm,
we reveal more than just the story of cannabis in the Old Testament.
Another exciting and concealed story emerges as well, that of the suppression
of the worship of Astarte, also called Ashera, known to the ancient Semites
as the Queen of Heaven.
The First Reference to Kaneh-Bosm
MOSES & MARIJUANA
The first mention of kaneh-bosm in the Old Testament appears with
the prophet-shaman Moses. At the beginning of his shamanic career,
discovered the angel of the Lord in flames of fire from within a
bush. It is later in his life however, that a definite reference
is made. Sula Benet explains this reference as follows: The sacred
character of hemp in biblical times is evident from Exodus 30:22-33,
was instructed by God to anoint the meeting tent and all its furnishings
with specially prepared oil, containing hemp.
Anointing set sacred things apart from secular. The anointment of
sacred objects was an ancient tradition in Israel: holy oil was not
to be used
for secular purposes...
Above all, the anointing oil was used for the installation rites
of all Hebrew kings and priests.
This first reference to kaneh-bosm is the only that describes it
as an ointment to be applied externally. However, anointing oils
cannabis are indeed psychoactive and have been used by such seemingly
diverse groups as 19th century occultists and medieval witches (4).
Closer to Moses' own time, cannabis was used as a topical hallucinogen
ancient worshippers of Asherah, the Queen of Heaven. Asherah has
also been referred to as the Hebrew Goddess (5).
The shamanistic Ashera priestesses of pre-reformation Jerusalem mixed
cannabis resins with those from myrrh, balsam, frankincense, and
perfumes, and then anointed their skins with the mixture as well
as burned it (6).
Then the Lord said to Moses, "take the following fine spices:
500 shekels of liquid myrrh, half as much of fragrant cinnamon, 250
of kannabosm, 500 shekels of cassia - all according to the sanctuary
shekel - and a hind of olive oil. Make these into make these into a
sacred annoiting oil, a fragrant blend, the work of a perfumer. It
will be the
sacred annointing oil.
Then use it to anoint the tent of the meeting, the ark of the testimony,
the table and all its articles, the lampstand and its accessories,
the altar of incense, the altar of burnt offering and all its utensils,
the basin with its stand. You shall consecrate them so they will
be most holy, and whatever touches them will be holy.
Anoint Aaron and his sons and consecrate them so they may serve me
as preists. Say to the Israelites, "this is to be my sacred anointing
oil for the generations to come. Do not pour it on men's bodies and do
not make any oil with the same formula. It is sacred, and you are to
consider it sacred. Whoever makes perfume like it and whoever puts it
on anyone other than a priest must be cut off from his people." (Exodus
THE PRIESTS OF POT
The above Old testament passage makes the sacredness of this ointment
quite clear. Moses and the Levite priesthood jealously guarded
its use, and enforced this discriminatory prohibition with God's
any transgressors be 'cut off from his people'. This law amounted
to a death sentence in the ancient world.
SMOKE IN THE TENT
Lacking the invention of pipes, it was the practice of some ancient
peoples to burn cannabis and other herbs in tents, so that more
smoke could be
captured and inhaled. In the last installment of this column we
discussed such a group, the ancient Scythians. The Scythians were
a nomadic people
who travelled and settled extensively throughout Europe, the Mediterranean,
Central Asia, and Russia. They burned cannabis inside small tents
and inhaled the fumes for ritualistic and recreational purposes.
Moses and his priests burned incense and used the holy ointment
in a portable 'tent of meeting', the famous Tent of the Tabernacle.
is listed directly as an incense later in the Bible, it seems likely
that Moses and the Levite priesthood would have burned cannabis
flowers and pollen along with the ointment and incense which God
them to make.
And Aaron shall burn incense every morning: when he dresseth the
lamps, he shall burn incense upon it. And when aaron lighteth the
even, he shall burn incense upon it, a perpetual incense before
the lord throughout
your generations. (Exodus 30:8-10)
THE SCYTHIAN CONNECTION
Given that the Scythians and Israelites were involved in a trade
of goods and knowledge, it is not surprising to find the similar
using tents to retain smoke. Benet commented on the often overlooked
connections between these two groups.
The Scythians participated in both trade and wars alongside the ancient
Semites for at least one millennium before Herodotus encountered them
in the fifth century BC. The reason for the confusion and relative
obscurity of the role played by the Scythians in world history is the
they were known to the Greeks as Scythians but to the Semites as Ashkenaz.
The earliest reference to the Ashkenaz people appears in the Bible
in Genesis 10:3, where Ashkenaz, their progenitor, is named the son
the great-grandson of Noah.
GOD WITHIN A CLOUD
A reading of the Old Testament reveals that Yahweh "came to Moses
out of the midst of the cloud" and that this cloud came from smoke
produced by the burning of incense. As scholar Ralph Patai commented
in his book The Hebrew Goddess, "Yahweh merely put in temporary
appearances in the tent of meeting. He was a visiting deity whose appearance
in or departure from the tent was used for oracular purposes."
One is reminded of the ancient Persian sage Zoroaster, another monotheist
like Moses, who heard the voice of his god, Ahura Mazda, while in a state
of shamanistic ecstasy produced by cannabis. The Greek oracle of Delphi
also reve aled her prophecies from behind a veil of intoxicating smoke.
The insights achieved from the use of cannabis, whether inhaled in the
Tent of the Tabernacle or applied topically, could have been interpreted
by Moses as messages from God. This is similar to modern shamans who
interpret their experiences with plant hallucinogens as containing divine
revelations......The Second Appearance of Cannabis
The next Biblical account of cannabis comes under the name kaneh and
appears in relation to King Solomon. In Solomon's Song of Songs, one
of the most beautifully written pieces in the Old Testament, Solomon
mentions kaneh in describing his bride:
Come with me from Lebanon, my bride, come with me from lebanon. Descend
from the crest of amana, from the top of senir, the summit of hermon.....
How delightful is your love, my sister, my bride! How much more pleasing
is your love than wine, and the fragrance of your ointment than any spice!.
The fragrance of your garments is like that of Lebanon..... Your plants
are an orchard of pomegranates with choice fruits, with henna and nard,
nard and saffron, kaneh and cinnamon, with every kind of incense tree.....
SOLOMON AND THE QUEEN OF HEAVEN
In The Temple and the Lodge by Baigent and Leigh, the authors state
that Solomon's 'Song of Songs' is a hymn and invocation to the
mother goddess Astarte. Astarte was known as "Queen of Heaven", "Star
of the Sea" and "Stella Marris".
The authors show us that Astarte was conventionally worshipped on mountains
and hilltops, and then point to a quote from I Kings 3:3.
Solomon loved Yahweh; he followed the precepts of David his father, except
that he offered sacrifice and incense on the high places.
I Kings 11:4-5 offers an even more explicit example of Solomon's ties
When Solomon grew old his wives swayed his heart to other gods; and his
heart was not wholly with Yahweh his god as his father David's had been.
Solomon became a follower of Astarte, the goddess of the Sidonians.
THE SPIRIT OF THE SCYTHIANS
Solomon's practice of burning incense on high to the Queen of Heaven
may have been a custom done in the same spirit as that of the Scythians,
who burned cannabis in mountain caves and consecrated the act to their
version of the Great Goddess, Tabiti-Hestia (9).
Archeological finds show that the worship of the old Canaanite gods was
an integral part of the religion of the Hebrews, through to the very
end of Hebrew monarchy. The worship of the Goddess played a much more
important role in this popular religion than that of the gods.
The Third Reference to Cannabis
GOD WANTS HERB
The next direct reference to kaneh-bosm appears in Isaiah, where God
is reprimanding the Israelites for, among other things, not supplying
him with his due of the Holy Herb.
You have not brought any kaneh for me, or lavished on me the fat of your
sacrifices. But you have burdened me with your sins and wearied me with
your offences. (Isaiah 43:23-24)
The Fourth Reference to Cannabis
KANEH FROM A DISTANT LAND
The fourth appearance of cannabis in the Old Testament is in Jeremiah,
by which time it seems that Yahweh's taste for the herb had declined.
In the same way that God rejected Cain's offering of grain in favour
of Abel's blood sacrifice, the cannabis also is rejected.
What do I care about incense from sheba or kaneh from a distant land?
Your burnt offerings are not acceptable; your sacrifices do not please
(Jeremiah 6: 20) ...............
The Final Reference to Cannabis
TRADING WITH TYRE
The final Biblical reference to kaneh appears in Ezekiel 27, in a passage
called A Lament for Tyre. The kingdom of Tyre had fallen into disfavor
with Yahweh, and cannabis appears as just one of many of the wares received
by Tyre, the merchant of peoples on many coasts.
Both of these passages refer obliquely back to the story of King Solomon.
The mention of Sheba brings to mind Solomon's love affair with the Queen
of Sheba, and the King of Tyre played a pivotal role in Solomon's building
of the temple.
Danites and Greeks from Uzal bought your merchandise; they exchanged
wrought iron, cassia and kaneh for your wares.
FROM FAVOUR TO DISFAVOUR
Of these five references to kaneh and kaneh-bosm, the first three have
cannabis appear in Yahweh's favour, the fourth definitely in his disfavour,
and the fifth on a list from a kingdom that had fallen from grace in
the eyes of the Israelite God. One might wonder at the reason for these
apparent contradictions, and the answer can be found within the story
of the suppression of the cult of Ashera, or Astarte, the ancient Queen
In "The Chalice and the Blade", Riane Eisler explains this
There are of course some allusions to this in the Bible itself. The
prophets Ezra, Hosea, Nehemiah, and Jeremiah constantly rail against
the "abomination" of
worshipping other gods. They are particularly outraged at those who still
worship the "Queen of Heaven". And their greatest wrath is
against the "unfaithfulness of the daughters of Jerusalem," who
were understandably "backsliding" to beliefs in which all
temporal and spiritual authority was not monopolized by men. But other
occasional, and always pejorative, passages, there is no hint that
there ever was - or could be - a deity that is not male.
The ties between cannabis and the Queen of Heaven are probably most
apparent in Jeremiah 44, where the ancient patriarch seems to be concerned
the people's continuing worship of the Queen of Heaven, especially
by the burning of incense in her honour.
Keep in mind the documented use of cannabis by the shamanistic Ashera
priestesses of pre-reformation Jerusalem, who anointed their skins
with cannabis mixtures as well as burning it as incense....
Thus saith the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel; ye have seen all the
evil that I have brought upon Jerusalem, and upon all the cities of
Judah; and behold, this day they are a desolation. . .
Because of their wickedness which they have committed to provoke me
to anger, in that they wanted to burn incense, and to serve other gods.....
Therefore now..... Wherefore commit ye this great evil against your
In that ye provoke me to wrath with the works of your hands, burning
incense unto other gods in the land of Egypt?
Then all the men which knew that their wives had burned incense unto
other gods, and all the women that stood by, a great multitude, even
all the people that dwelt in the land of Egypt, answered Jeremiah,
saying, as for the word that thou hast spoken unto us in the name of
we will not hearken unto thee.
But we will certainly do whatsoever thing goeth forth out of our own
mouth, to burn incense unto the queen of heaven, and to pour drink
offerings unto her, as we have done. We, and our fathers, our kings,
and our princes,
in the city of Judah, and in the streets of Jerusalem: for then we
had plenty of victuals, and were well, and saw no evil.
(Jeremiah 44:15-23) ......
Dr Mel C Siff