By Chris Bennett
Last June, Chris Bennett addressed the issue of cannabis in the Bible. This month, he concludes his investigation with a more detailed examination of the cannabis-enriched anointing oil used by Jesus and his followers. "Christ" is the Greek translation of the Hebrew "Messiah." In modern English, this term would be translated as the "anointed one." The title "Christ" was only placed upon he who had "God’s unction upon him."
This holy anointing oil, as described in the original Hebrew version of the recipe in Exodus (30:22-23), contained over six pounds of kaneh-bosem, a substance identified by respected etymologists, linguists, anthropologists, botanists and other researchers as cannabis, extracted into about six quarts of olive oil, along with a variety of other fragrant herbs. The ancient anointed ones were literally drenched in this potent mixture.
Carl P. Ruck, the scholar who coined the term "entheogen," is a professor of classical mythology at Boston University, and has researched the history of psychoactive substances in religion for over three decades, working with such luminaries as the father of LSD, Albert Hoffman; entheobotanist Richard Evans Schultes, and mycologist R. Gordon Wasson. On the subject of Old Testament cannabis use he explains:
"There can be little doubt about a role for cannabis in Judaic religion…. There is no way that so important a plant as a fiber source for textiles and nutritive oils and one so easy to grow would have gone unnoticed… the mere harvesting of it would have induced an entheogenic reaction."
Ruck comments further on the continuation of this practice into the early Christian period: "Obviously the easy availability and long-established tradition of cannabis in early Judaism… would inevitably have included it in the [Christian] mixtures."
Although most modern people choose to smoke or eat pot, when its active ingredients are transferred into an oil-based carrier, it can also be absorbed through the skin, which is in fact one big organ. In the Bible’s New Testament, Jesus baptized none of his disciples, as is practiced by the Catholic church, but instead anointed them with this potent entheogenic oil, sending out the 12 apostles to do the same. "And they cast out many devils, and anointed with oil many that were sick, and healed them" (Mark 6:13).
Likewise, after Jesus’ passing, James suggests that anyone of the Christian community who was sick should call to the elders to anoint him with oil in the name of Jesus (James 5:14).
It should be understood that in the ancient world, diseases such as epilepsy were attributed to demonic possession, and to cure somebody of such an illness, even with the aid of certain herbs, was the same as exorcism, or miraculously healing them. Interestingly, cannabis has been shown to be effective in the treatment of not only epilepsy, but many of the other ailments that Jesus and the disciples healed people of, such as skin diseases (Matthew 8, 10, 11; Mark 1; Luke 5, 7, 17), eye problems (John 9:6-15), and menstrual problems (Luke 8:43-48).
According to ancient Christian documents, even the healing of cripples could be attributed to the use of the holy oil. "Thou holy oil given unto us for sanctification… thou art the straightener of the crooked limbs" (The Acts of Thomas).
One ancient Christian text, The Acts of Peter and the Twelve Apostles, which is older than the New Testament, estimated to have been recorded in the second century AD, has Jesus giving the disciples an "unguent box" and a "pouch full of medicine" with instructions for them to go into the city and heal the sick. Jesus explains that you must heal "the bodies first" before you can "heal the heart."
These findings shouldn’t really be all that surprising, as the medical use of cannabis during that time is supported by the archeological record, and the ailments described above had been treated with cannabis preparations throughout the area for many centuries prior to the Christian era.
As Jesus and his followers began to spread the healing knowledge of cannabis around the ancient world, the singular Christ became the plural term "Christians," that is, those who had been smeared or anointed with the holy oil. As the New Testament explains: "The anointing you received from him remains in you, and you do not need anyone to teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about all things and as that anointing is real, not counterfeit—just as it has taught you, remain in him" (1 John 2:27).
The Christians, the "smeared or anointed ones," received "knowledge of all things" by this "anointing from the Holy One" (1 John 2:20). Thereafter, they needed no other teacher, and were endowed with their own spiritual knowledge. Indeed, from Jesus’ own words after his initiation by John, it would appear his own spiritual power came through the anointing:
The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me,
because the Lord has anointed me
to bring good tidings to the afflicted;
he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
and the opening of the prison
to those who are bound;
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor,
and the day of vengeance of our God;
to comfort all who mourn.
Although the Biblical story of Jesus’ initiation by John describes it as the classic Catholic baptism, taking place in a form of submersion in water, the term "baptism" itself can be seen to have connotations of "initiation," and likely there was more to the story than is described in the Bible.
Ancient Christian scriptures indicate originally the rite was performed in conjunction with the kaneh-bosem anointing rite, "the anointing taking place either before or after the baptismal ceremony." Certain Christian texts that didn’t make it into the official canon specifically state that Jesus received the title "Christ… because of the anointing" not because of a water baptism.
The controversy over baptism versus anointing with oil is apparently as old as Christianity itself. The New Testament, from where we get our image of the classical Jesus, was not selected as such until about 350 AD. The Roman Catholic church fathers who put it together selected these writings from a larger selection of texts that were collected from the numerous schools of Christian thought that had developed over the first few centuries. Anything that contradicted their official view of the life of Jesus was labeled heresy and destined for the editorial flames.
By taking these outlawed Christian texts and other historical finds into account, we can begin to separate the man Jesus from the myth. Indeed, our modern concepts of Jesus, such as the virgin birth and the Resurrection, fall away, and the man known to his followers as Yehowshua (a common Jewish name meaning Jehovah-Saved) re-emerges with a wholly new message of love, light and personal liberty.
The branches of Christianity that the outlawed texts belonged to are now known under the collective title of Gnostics. These outlawed sects worshipped a Jesus radically different than the one that came down to us through the Roman Catholic church, the branch of early Christianity that rose to prominence by force, suppressing all conflicting Christian and pagan sects and eventually leading to the Dark Ages.
Luckily, one of these ancient Gnostics had the foresight to hide some of these forbidden scriptures from their suppressors, and they were rediscovered in 1945. As these Gnostic texts are just as old and in some cases older than the New Testament, unless we are to consider that might is right, then it is not so easy to discard the revelations about Jesus and early Christianity that they contain.
One of the most pronounced differences between the doctrines of the Roman Catholic church and those belonging to the Gnostic Christians is "faith" versus "knowledge." The term "Gnosis" itself is Greek for "knowledge," and Gnostic religious practices focused on the development of spiritual knowledge in each individual member. Alternatively, the practice of the Catholic church emphasizes "faith"; the individual never knows God themselves, but is limited to the descriptions and religious edicts proposed by the church and administered at a painful cost by the hierarchy of various priests, bishops and popes.
From the rediscovered Gnostic texts, we can see that they believed much of their own spiritual experience came through the use of the holy oil. The Gnostics openly criticized the Roman Catholic church for the placebo act of baptism, which apparently had no spiritual effect. Indeed the Gnostic tractate the Gospel of Philip records that, "The anointing (chrisma) is superior to baptism. For from the anointing we were called ‘anointed ones’ [Christians], not because of the baptism. And Christ also was [so] named because of the anointing, for the Father anointed the son, and the son anointed the apostles, and the apostles anointed us. He [therefore’ who has been anointed has the All. He has… the Holy Spirit." "In some [Gnostic] texts… the ‘spiritual ointment’ is a prerequisite for entry into… the highest ‘mystery’" (Rudolph 1987). Likewise, the Naasenes "claimed to be the true Christians because they were anointed with the ‘ineffable chrism’" (Mead 1900).
In the Gnostic viewpoint, as recorded in the Gospel of Philip, the pseudoinitiates of the empty rite of baptism "go down into the water and come up without having received anything…. There is water in water, there is fire in chrism" (Gospel of Philip). "The anointing with oil was the introduction of the candidate into unfading bliss, thus becoming a Christ" (Mead 1900). "The oil as a sign of the gift of the Spirit was quite natural within a Semitic framework, and therefore the ceremony is probably very early…. In time the Biblical meaning became obscured" (Chadwick 1967). The surviving Gnostic descriptions of the effects of the anointing rite make it very clear that the holy oil had intense psychoactive properties that prepared the recipient for entrance into "unfading bliss."
Further, it is stated that if "one receives this unction… this person is no longer a Christian but a Christ" (Gospel of Philip). Similarly, the Gospel of Truth records that Jesus specifically came into their midst so that he "might anoint them with the ointment. The ointment is the mercy of the Father… those whom he has anointed are the ones who have become perfect."
The importance of the holy ointment amongst the early Christians is also attested to in the apocryphal book, The Acts of Thomas, which refers to "Indian Leaves" and equates the power of the holy oil to the "plant of kindness": "Holy oil, given us for sanctification, hidden mystery in which the cross was shown us, you are the unfolder of the hidden parts. You are the humiliator of stubborn deeds. You are the one who shows the hidden treasures. You are the plant of kindness. Let your power come… by this [unction]."
Interestingly, Gnostic texts give indications that cannabis was also burned as incense, and used by Jesus, along with the cannabis-enriched anointing oil and other entheogens, in complicated shamanic ceremonies.
Jesus the Initiator
In the Second Book of Ieou, Jesus tells his followers that amongst the secrets they shall be shown is the mystery of the Five Trees, which in this case, likely meant gaining knowledge of certain magical plants that were used as a shamanistic catalyst in the ceremony. These same five trees were referred to in what is possibly the oldest Christian text in existence, the Gospel of Thomas: "There are five trees for you in Paradise… Whoever becomes acquainted with them will not experience death." In the Gnostic view, "not experiencing death" meant reaching a certain state of interior purification or enlightenment, at which point the initiate would "rise from the dead," meaning ignorance and blindness, and "never grew old and became immortal." That is to say, he gained possession of the unbroken consciousness of his spiritual ego, and as such realized that he was a part of the larger cosmic whole that continued on long after the disappearance of the material body.
The Second Book of Ieou gives us a profound description of the shamanistic ceremony that led to this higher state, through the ingestion of the "five trees":
"The Master sets forth a place of offering… placing one wine jar on the right and on the left, and strews certain berries and spices round the vessels; He then… puts a certain plant in their mouths… and also another plant in their hands, and ranges them in order round the sacrifice" (Mead 1900).
Continuing with the ritual, as in shamanistic and magical ceremonies throughout the history and around the globe, Jesus turns his disciples to the four corners of the world. "He then offers a prayer… [and] we are… given a description of the Baptism of Fire. In this rite… vine-branches are used; they are strewn with various materials of incense… A wonder is asked for in "the fire of this fragrant incense." The nature of the wonder is not stated. Jesus baptizes the disciples and gives them of the Eucharist sacrifice.
Next follows the Baptism of the Holy Spirit. "In this rite both the wine-jars and vine-branches are used…. A wonder again takes place, but is not further specified…. After this we have the Mystery of Withdrawing the Evil of the Rulers… and [it] consists of an elaborate incense-offering… At the end of it the disciples… have now become immortal and can follow Jesus into all spaces whither they would go (Mead 1900).
The "wonder" contained in the incense used by Jesus in the ceremony, which so perplexed Professor Mead more than a century ago, was presumably a reference to its indescribable entheogenic effects. The other undefined "wonder" also likely indicated the magical properties of the different plants used in the ceremony and which were identified to the participants as the Mystery of the Five Trees. (In relation to incense, it is interesting to note that according to the rediscovered Gnostic documents themselves, the ancient initiate who hid them, Seth, received the inspiration for doing so after inhaling fumes from "the incense of life").
According to Professor Ruck, even the wine used in such ceremonies was likely far more psychoactive than mere table wine" "Ancient wines were always fortified, like the ‘strong wine’ of the Old Testament, with various herbal additives, opium, the Solanaceae (datura, belladonna), mandrake, etc." In these botanical references we can likely find some further candidates for the Gnostic Christians’ "five trees."
The accounts of mandrake in Genesis and in Solomon’s Song of Songs clearly document the long-term interest the Hebrews had with these seemingly magical plants. That the use and knowledge of such plants were passed down by certain branches of the faith, such as the Gnostics, is self-evident. Mandrake had been used magically throughout the ancient world, and in "Roman times that magic began extensively to be associated with the psychoactive properties of the plant" (Schultes & Hofmann 1979/1992).
The addition of a powerful hallucinatory drug such as mandrake would help to explain some of the more extreme experiences related to the holy anointings and different baptisms described above. Some later recipes for witches’ ointments do contain both cannabis and mandrake in them, and the out-of-body experiences attributed to the Gnostics, as well as aspects of their cosmology, can be compared to the witches’ sabat (the different visions attained attributable to the cultural set and setting of the ingestors).
One of the more significant and widespread Gnostic sects, the Manicheans, performed ceremonies similar to the one that Jesus is described as presiding over. They were condemned by the Catholic church for using "secret sacraments." The seminal Catholic philosopher St. Augustine, a renounced Manichean, "bitterly censured the heretic Manicheans of the Old Religion for their fungus eating" (La Barre 1980). A number of Manicheans escaped the persecution of the Catholic church, and the sect survived into the 12th century in parts of Europe, where they were finally slaughtered by the armies of the Catholic church. Quite curiously, Manicheans also lasted until the 17th century in China, where they finally succumbed to indigenous elements of that culture.
In medieval China, the "general opinion of their religion was that it involved drug-induced ecstasy, for their leaders had titles like ‘spirit-king’ and ‘spirit-father’ and ‘spirit-mother,’ but the common folk deliberately mispronounced the word for ‘spirit’ (mo) as ‘ma,’ meaning ‘cannabis sativa’ (as if ‘Pater’ were changed phonetically to ‘pothead’)" (Ruck et al. 2001). "The Chinese also refer, in a twelfth-century text, to Manicheans who eat red mushrooms…. The Manicheans who ate mushrooms… also used urine for ritual water. This practice recalls that of agaric-using Paleo-Siberian tribes who still in the last century drank the urine of the original partaker of fly-agaric in order to extend its pharmacological action" (La Barre 1980). (The psychoactive chemical of Amanita muscaria, the fly-agaric mushroom, passes through the urine and can be reingested.)
In regards to the Christian use of the mushroom, Ruck explains, "The most compelling indication that the Amanita muscaria was the Eucharistic meal in certain early Christian agape halls comes from the mosaic fourth-century floor preserved beneath the later basilica at Aquileia in northern Italy. In a context of mystical Gnostic symbols, it depicts baskets of mushrooms…. This was not a restaurant and hence the fungi… are not there as culinary delicacies. Similarly, the well-known fondness of the Manicheans for ‘red mushrooms’ (as well as for ‘ablutions’ with urine, the characteristic second use of the muscaria as the metabolite) must be understood in terms of the role of fungi in Gnostic vegetarianism." Ruck comments further that "other more serviceable mushrooms, such as the psilocybe, could be substituted for Amanita."
Likewise, a medieval Manichean painting contains the image of a basket in its center, holding the "holy fruit." With its white speckles, this appears to be more strong evidence of the Christian use of the fly-agaric mushroom.
Of course, the ancient Christian psychonauts, who used entheogens to explore the realms of inner space, did so in a far different spirit from the majority of people who use them today. To the Gnostics, cannabis, mushrooms, and other substances were clearly high sacraments, a means of achieving spiritual gnosis, and thus treated with both respect and reverence. In contrast, today’s generally unstructured, chaotic, and unsacramental approach to "drugs" often results in burning out at least as many people as they turn on.
Dr. Richard Strassman, who has studied the use of modern psychedelics and their effects for almost two decades, has noted, "The problem with depending upon one or several transformative psychedelic experiences as a ‘religious practice’ is that there is no framework that suitably deals with everyday life between drug sessions. The introduction of certain Amazonian hallucinogenic plant-using churches in the West, with their sets of ritual and moral codes, may be a new model combining ethical and psychedelic practice" (Strassman 1995).
Alternatively, and likely with more appeal, the rediscovery of hidden aspects of early Christianity, through the study of the rediscovered Gnostic scriptures and an analysis of their initiatory system, could well provide the ideal basis for the ordered reintegration of these substances into the typically Christian West. It could also yield longer-lasting and more psychologically beneficial results for those people who choose to use them.
As for those who actively oppose them: If cannabis was one of the main ingredients of the ancient Christian anointing oil, as history now indicates, and receiving this oil is what made Jesus the Christ and his followers Christians, then to persecute those who use cannabis, could be considered anti-Christ. That revelation that is sure to come as a shock to pious right-wing Christians such as John Ashcroft, especially considering that America’s anti-marijuana attorney general is known to anoint himself in the style of Biblical kings before taking a new office—only Ashcroft, not wanting to bother to gather rare Biblical ingredients, uses Crisco cooking oil instead.
It is curious that the rediscovery of the ancient Gnostic documents, which have brought these revelations about Jesus and the early church to light, should have so closely coincided with Christian culture’s rediscovery of the plant entheogens they used. In many ways, the appearance of these ancient documents that represent the lost "word" of Jesus, coinciding with the cultural reintroduction of the sacraments they used, may represent a sort of resurrection of the Christ spirit: A spirit that contains the same power for revolution that Jesus and the high initiates that followed him demonstrated in the Middle East almost two millennia ago.