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Michael Aldrich, "Classics of Cannabis Culture Collected"

"Classics of Cannabis Culture Collected"

Michael R. Aldrich, Ph.D., O'Shaughnessy's

Reviewing:

Orgies of the Hemp Eaters

Cuisine, Slang, Literature and Ritual of Cannabis Culture


Hakim Bey & Abel Zug (eds.)

Brooklyn, NY: Autonomedia. 694 pages, $24.95.


Despite its provocative title, this book focuses on the religious use of cannabis in India (Vedic, Hindu, Buddhist and Tantric) and in the Muslim traditions from Afghanistan across the Middle East to North Africa. Since most religious use of cannabis historically has been with edibles and drinkables rather than smokables, a chapter is devoted to ancient and modern recipes for bhang, majoun, dawamesk, syrups, tinctures, extracts, and high-potency cuisine.


Rounding out the collection are scientific and literary commentaries, mostly 19th century, on the subject of hashish-eating, glossaries of slang for cannabis products in a dozen cultures, an amazing set of illustrations, and perhaps the best bibliography/netography of 2,000+ citations on religious cannabis ever compiled. It's a superb anthology! "Orgies of the Hemp Eaters" was the headline of an 1895 news article about the monthly hashish festival of an order of Turkish dervishes in Syria who had survived since the 16th century. The sensationalist article — how shocking it was that female dancers actually attended these monthly hash parties — disguises the depth of religious cannabis use in the Middle East. The dervishes called hashish Homa, suggesting a relationship with the mysterious Haoma of ancient Persia and Soma of the Vedas — an explicit connection to the oldest religious texts in the world.


Indeed, the oldest religion on earth for which we have the complete texts — the four Vedas of ancient India — was based on ritual ingestion of psychotropic drugs. The major sacrifices of the Veda involved Soma, identified as Amanita muscaria mushrooms by R. Gordon Wasson and Wendy O'Flaherty in 1968. But as the Vedic worshippers moved down out of the Himalayas into the Indian plains, the original Soma was lost and substitutes had to be sought. Chief among these substitutes was Bhang, identified in the Atharva Veda (c. 1500 BC) as one of five sacred plants used "for freedom from distress."


Bhang is of course cannabis, usually in the form of a milkshake, used ubiquitously by the wandering saddhus of India to this day.


Bey and Zug compile essays from the best sources — particularly the Indian Hemp Drugs Commission report of 1894, including the hard-to-find Campbell appendix on the religion of hemp — to show the progression of this historical tradition in India. My own research on Tantric cannabis use in India (1977), and Patricia Morningstar's elegant "Thandai and Chilam: Traditional Hindu Beliefs About the Proper Uses of Cannabis" (1985) are included along with European travellers' tales about cannabis in India.


There are also four interviews with Ganesh Baba, head of a Naga order of Shaivite monks in India, Nepal and the U.S., who attracted enthusiastic disciples as "the dope guru" in the 1970s. Some of Shri Ganesh's pronouncements were remarkably prescient, as in a 1982 interview in High Times: "Now is the time to revive these things (religious cannabis use). Otherwise it will be a continuation of Vietnam. It is continuing in Lebanon, and in Iraq. Every day in Pakistan and India. It's a worldwide trip. And once there is a mischance by these maniacs who are ruling the roost, it will end up in a terrific holocaust."


In the Islamic tradition, Bey and Zug start with the discovery of hashish by Sheikh Haydar (a Sufi monk of the 12th century) and the legend of the Old Man of The Mountain, Hasan-I-Sabbah, and the "Haschischin" (Assassin) cult of ancient Persia and Syria. The development of the 19th-century literary "Club des Haschichins" in Paris is presented by the poets themselves. Paul Bowles' acerbic commentary on Kif in Morocco in the 1950s, and excerpts from great 19th and early 20th century literary giants who took hashish themselves and described their experiences in the most florid terms, give a modern reader both a chuckle and a thought — a hundred years ago these folks like Ludlow, Alcott, Baudelaire, Dumas, Sir Richard Burton, Isabel Eberhardt, Henri Michaux, J.J Moreau, and Aleister Crowley, were taking huge doses of cannabis and having psychedelic illuminations!


In his brilliant introductory essay, "The Bhang Nama: Hemp as A Sacrament," Hakim Bey notes the connections between social, religious and medical use of cannabis as it flourished since the time of the Vedas in India and since at Ieast the 12th century in Muslim cultures, leading right up to modern times with the Moorish Orthodox Church and other psychedelic religious groups.


Bey points up the historical divisions in cannabis use between smokers and those who use oral preparations, potions and edibles for ritual purposes.


The latter tradition is more ancient and shows, overall, that high-dose oral preparations have been commonly used for psychedelic religious experiences, while low-dose products are used primarily for medical reasons. In fact, in both the Hindu and Muslim traditions, medical and religious use of cannabis are joined at the hip.


This may prove to be a legal difficulty in the future as medical use of marijuana continues on its way toward legalization, while psychedelics and high-dose cannabis preparations are still demonized.


Future prohibitionists, clinging to straws, may try to drive a wedge between medical patients and ritual users over the issues of dosage, as well as the distinction between preparations that are smoked versus those that are not. They may argue that although there may be medical uses for low doses — and if you've ever smoked government pot, you know that current government policy is to push schwag on the most seriously ill patients — but we can't legalize high doses because it would cause some patients to freak out — have psychedelic experiences — "go insane." And high-dose
religious use — forget it!


That would be a mistake. Who gets to define dosage levels, for either medical or religious purposes? Patients often require high dose products taken daily, especially for pain control and appetite stimulation, and to counter the disastrous effects of cancer chemotherapy and AIDS "drug cocktails." The government has no business setting dose levels for medical practice — bureaucrats are not well educated on cannabis therapy, and the patients are the best source for the dosage level appropriate for them — and why on earth would any religion allow governments to set their religious protocols for them?


Spiritual use of cannabis has survived for millenia, despite fanatical opposition from governments and Christian cultists who would allow only alcohol as a sacrament.


Order this book from Autonomedia, eat a brownie,
get in a hot bath, and immerse yourself in this fascinating collection of the wisdom of religious cannabis use since the dawn of time.