Hemp Plant in History and Culture: Part I

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It’s weird to think about. An entire civilization with modern amenities like running water, a thriving marketplace, and a political system not much unlike many current governments.

Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither was its downfall. Living in Rome during the end of the empire was bleak.

Post-apocalyptic isn’t an exaggeration. Anyone with money had left for more stable city-states.

Those left behind were left to fend for themselves. Pillagers, thieves, and murderers ran wild. It was like watching evolution in reverse.

But one civilization’s downfall can be another’s greatest resource.

Modern-day countries like Syria, Jordan, and Israel, as well as other countries, made up the territory Arab rulers called “Bilad el-Sham”.

Islamic scholars in the Arabic world gobbled up every Roman text they could find.

Many of the most important Roman documents were now guiding the way Arabic communities ran their governments.

Like the journey of the Monarch butterfly, each generation traveling a little farther than the previous, Arab scholars were expanding on the teachings of Roman thought gods.

Diet and exercise were suddenly on the minds of thousands of Arab citizens. Imagine the confidence the average person must have gained knowing their health was something they could actually control.

hemp history

It wasn’t solely left to fate or circumstances. This realization made scholars naturally curious about what other keys nature offered in understanding their bodies.

And so began the exploration into the deep, dark, and unknown world of herbal.

The Birth of Pharmacies

Today’s world has specialized professionals whose job was to find the best herbs and botanicals.

Synthetic pharmaceuticals are a modern phenomenon only present in the last hundred years or so.

Up until then, these compounds came straight from plant or animal sources. Even today, while synthetic compounds can be fruitful, most medications are based on compounds found in nature.

Cannabis Use in India

The year is 1244 B.C. You make your way down a bustling city street. Street vendors stocking all your favorite foods.

The smell is almost as intoxicating as the beverage you’re about to consume. You’ve been feeling lethargic lately and your friend recommended you make a visit to the local Brahmin, a holy man.

After what feels like a never-ending walk through the sweaty downtown streets, you reach the simple cottage.

A small elderly man is outside in the garden smoking something out of what looks like a wooden flute. It looks like he could bust out a melodious tune any moment.

He is smoking weed. The sweet and skunky odor greets you like a doorman on the upper east side.

You can smell the beverage stewing on the fire. A simmering mixture of milk and chai spices mix with the earthy odors.

When the Brahmin strains out the plant matter he’s left with a beverage whose roots are steeped deep within Indian spirituality.

This milky beverage is known and recognized nationwide as “bhang”. It’s still common to refer to cannabis as bhang, even in the U.S.

Bhang is the preferred drink of the god of destruction, Shiva. But destruction in this context isn’t negative.

Like the fable of the phoenix rising from the ashes, Shiva cleared the way for a fresh beginning.

Bhang cleared the mind and refocused it on what matters most.

Cannabis Use is as Old as Civilization Itself

Hemp Healing Herbs

In ancient Egypt, a young mother in labor swabs cannabis infused oil on the flesh inner side of her cheek. The acrid taste is a little off putting, but considering the pain, she’s about to be in, she doesn’t even notice.

Although it’s not certain why new mothers and their children were given oral cannabis, historians think ancient people thought it could prevent hemorrhaging during and after birth.

The Scythians, an ancient tribe of nomadic people whose kingdom once stretched all the way to the outskirts of Egypt used hemp seed in their funeral ceremonies.

When a tribe member passed, their family would light a large bonfire. They’d throw in hand full of hemp seeds and other parts of the cannabis plant, inhaling the fumes and howling in celebration of their loved one’s life.

Ancient Greece & Rome

Ancient Greece and Rome were fond of hemp as fiber for paper and cloth, but little is said about how they used the plant.

Pliny the Elder was the Roman scholar who wrote of cannabis’ medicinal properties.

Magic Mushroom Cults

When British archaeologist John Marco Allegro published his book The Sacred Mushroom and the Cross he knew he was gambling with his career.

Allegro theorized that the earliest, most primitive religions were born from hallucinations caused by psychedelic mushrooms.

Religious rituals revolved around recreating the reproductive process, often times through sex.

Fueled by mushroom-induced visions, these early religions would, later on, become the basis of Christianity.

Allegro believed much of what was known about ancient mushroom cults and their influence on Christianity had been censored.

After all, both sex and drugs are considered taboo in modern culture, even outside of religion.

These cults were also very secretive, hiding their teachings with metaphorical fables that could only be deciphered by students of their religion.

Through his research, he believed these early worshippers saw psychedelic mushrooms as the only way to speak to their gods.

You’re probably thinking this guy was just a conspiracy theorist with no real evidence to back up his outlandish claims.

One of the most concrete examples of what led to Allegro’s theory was an artwork found in the 13th-century chapel of Plaincouralt in France.

The artwork very clearly shows Adam and Eve eating not from an apple tree, but a giant mushroom. This, of course, is speculation on the part of the artist. But it’s interesting that they held this assumption.

Just One Piece of the Puzzle

Allegro knew he was onto something once he found that portrait of Adam and Eve.

And while it’s hard to know what really went on in prehistoric times, there are many written records of plant use long before the A.D. years.