In many religions, notably Zoroastrianism, Judaism, Christianity and Islam, there are prophecies of the “end of the world,” or at least an end of history. Moslem prophecy held that Islam would last until man walked on the moon. The Buddhist religion has prophecies which state their religion will last 2,500 years, a period now coming to a close. In the Hindu cosmology, we are in the final age of the Kali Yuga. Many believe that Nostradamus predicted catastrophic events for the end of the second millennium, and Black Elk’s Great Vision could certainly be considered a Native American apocalypse.
Considering that Christianity now holds the most popular version of this ancient scenario, and that over a billion people strongly believe that the Bible’s final Book of Revelation contains valid prophecies about current events, it couldn’t hurt to look at this issue more deeply. This is especially true when we discover the importance that biblical prophets placed upon the “tree of life,” a term which many believe refers to cannabis.
Although the Book of Revelation was almost certainly meant to describe events that were to take place around the time of its composition, who are we to say that a higher power with its own agenda was not working through the ancient prophet? The cannabis that was used by the early Jews, Zoroastrians, Christians and later Gnostics has a long tradition of providing prophetic powers. The similarities between many myths could be accounted for through similar visions of the same Omega date scenario obtained through the use of the same magical plant, as could many analogous visions from other cultures.
Most biblical scholars agree that the term “Babylon” used in Revelation was originally a reference to Rome. It was a pseudonym used to avoid censorship and persecution by the government which the Christians opposed.
There is only one modern analogy to that ancient imperialist power ? the United States of America. From its Imperial Eagle to its God-like monuments to former Presidents, America is rife with the symbolism of ancient Rome. Is not the professional sports scene played in the same arenas that the ancient Romans built to distract their own bloodthirsty populace?
In her 1987 book The Chalice and the Blade, renowned social scientist Riane Eisler outlines some of the interesting similarities between our time “and those turbulent years when the mighty Roman Empire ? one of the most powerful dominator societies of all time ? began to break down.”
Eisler explains that both historical periods are “what ‘chaos’ theorists call states of increasing systems disequilibrium, times when unprecedented and unpredictable systems changes can come about?” It is during such periods of disruption that “initially small ‘fluctuations’ can lead to systems transformation. If we look at early Christianity as an initially small fluctuation that first appeared on the fringes of the Roman Empire (in the little province of Judea), its potential for our cultural evolution acquires new meaning, and its failure an even greater poignancy.”
To this I add, when we consider the history of cannabis, even within the short period of the last century, we can see its catalytic potential for social change, equal in both its power and its persecution to the early Christian movement within the Roman Empire.
The time bomb of the bible
In drawing analogies between modern historical events and the Book of Revelation we risk ranting like so many modern Christians fueled by the visions of the apocalypse. Yet the true danger in the Book of Revelation and other Biblical apocalyptic models is that they could literally manifest themselves through the fact that tens of millions of Christians and Jews earnestly believe and have faith that they will, just as their Moslem brothers and sisters pray for the jihad.
Our future is literally in our hands, and our best chance at terminating this collective death-trip and defusing the time-bomb of the Bible is to analyze its contents and reevaluate its meaning. Hopefully the end of this mythic scenario can be transformed into something other than apocalyptic destruction? perhaps the resurrection of the Christ-spirit in the form of the oppressed cannabis plant, its healing powers and the expanded awareness it can provide.
During the first few centuries of the Christian era, different groups formed around the teachings delivered to them by Jesus’ apostles. Not surprisingly, variations and conflicts arose almost immediately. The extent of these differences ranged from ascetic celibate schools all the way to ancient Christian sex cults which taught that sexual fluids were eucharistic sacraments.
Through acceptance by the Roman elite, who saw the popular Christian cults as a way to political power, one of the less tolerant sects became the Roman Catholic Church and rose to prominence. During the fourth century, the leaders of the Catholic Church held a council, agreeing to prohibit and destroy all documents conflicting with their particular account of Jesus and his teachings, as now collected in the Bible’s New Testament.
During the acts of censorship and terror that led to the rise of the Catholic Church and the onset of the Dark Ages, a clever Gnostic initiate decided to hide some of the forbidden Christian texts. It could conceivably have been with a more liberal time in mind that the texts which make up the Nag Hamadi codexes were originally hidden from the editorial flames of the Roman Church.
These Gnostic scriptures themselves make clear that the ancient initiate who hid them believed that their rediscovery would aid those who understood their meaning to overcome the tyranny of the authorities. Seth, the ancient author of The Gospel of the Egyptians, indicates that it was inhaling certain fumes which gave him the foreknowledge to hide the sacred texts where they remained for well over a millennia:
“Therefore the incense of life is in me… in order that I may live with thee in the peace of the saints, thou who existeth really truly for ever.”
The reference to “the incense of life” and “the peace of the saints” is most interesting when compared to quotes taken from the prophecies of Revelation, referring to “golden vials full of odors, which are the prayers of saints,” and “the smoke of the incense, which came with the prayers of the saints.” These verses could well be a reference to cannabis incense, which has a long history of use for providing insight and prophetic powers.
The tree of life
Besides the use of entheogens and predictions of an apocalyptic “consummation of the age,” many Gnostic texts and the Book of Revelation are similar in that both make reference to the rediscovery of a certain long forbidden tree. In both cases this is one of the key issues of the ancient prophecies. The Gnostic author’s reference to “the incense of life,” certainly brings to mind Revelation’s description of the “tree of life.” Similarly, another Gnostic text, The Hypostasis of the Archon, refers to the “unction of life.”
The oldest of the Gnostic sects, the pre-Christian Ophites, refer distinctly to their anointing oil as coming from the Tree of Life itself. Not surprisingly, the use of cannabis in the Jewish and Christian holy oils and incense has been documented (CC#05, Kaneh Bosm; CC#11, Cannabis and the Christ), giving clearer indications that cannabis was the Tree of Life of the ancient Jews and first Christians.
Gnostic references to “the true vine,” “the plant of kindness,” “the incense of life,” “the unction of life,” and “the anointing from the tree of life,” all point to evidence of a “botanical Messiah.” An even more descriptive portrayal is given at the end of the Book of Revelation: “On either side of the River of Life stood the Tree of Life, which bare twelve manner of fruits, and yielded her fruit every month, and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.”
It is this “healing” aspect, present in both the “holy oil” which contained the “plant of kindness,” and in the leaves of the Tree of Life, which further unites symbol and plant. This also helps us identify the plant as cannabis, for it has been used from ancient times until the present as a most valuable medicine and healing unguent, as well as for its spiritual and prophetic aspects.
Like the Book of Revelation, Gnostic scriptures give prophecies of the sacred Tree’s eventual re-appearance, only they take this a step further, stating the location where the Tree of Life will one day be found. The almost two millennia-old gnostic document On the Origins of the World states: “And the tree of eternal life is as it appeared by God’s will, to the North of Paradise, so that it might make eternal the souls of the pure, who shall come forth from the modeled forms of poverty at the consummation of the age?”
Sex & drugs savior
In both the Gospel of John and many Gnostic texts, Jesus Christ was the Logos, the “Word,” and it was what he said that established him in the minds of those who knew him. In a sense, the rediscovery of the “word” of Jesus, as contained in the Nag Hamadi Library and other surviving Gnostic documents, marks the resurrection of a more historical Jesus.
This Jesus is an ecstatic rebel sage who preached enlightenment through rituals involving sex and drugs, and who threatened the violent overthrow of the status-quo of the time. This figure is more analogous to the Indian Shiva or the Greek Dionysus, than the pious ascetic that has come down to us through the Bible’s New Testament. Certainly, the reintroduction of such an archetypal character threatens the very power and sanctity of established states and religions, as he always has.
Curiously, the rediscovery of the ancient Gnostic teachings in our own century has also coincided with the widespread reintroduction into the typically Christian West of the ancient entheogenic sacraments the Gnostics used, particularly cannabis.
Even from an atheistic point of view, cannabis is certainly a “miracle plant” that could help solve many of the ecological and environmental concerns of modern times. Cannabis offers an eco-friendly alternative to products which now come from our vanishing forests and the highly polluting petro-chemical industry. Amongst the many applications for this miracle plant are high quality paper, fiberboard, fabrics, plastics, as well as bio-mass, foods, fuels, paints and varnishes. Also, a variety of remarkable medicinal benefits can be derived from its leaves and flowers.
Interestingly, cannabis is one of the crops which is expected to increase in productivity from the extra ultraviolet light emitted because of the hole in the ozone. Cannabis plants will produce more sticky resins in order to protect themselves from the sun’s rays, and create more oxygen to replenish the atmosphere and reverse the greenhouse effect. Also, cannabis has recently been planted around the site of the nuclear catastrophe Chernobyl, because it has shown itself to be one of the most effective plants for removing toxic contaminants from the soil (CC#18, Hemp helps Chernobyl).
Members of the “Christian Right” are going to have a difficult time accepting the cannabis revelation. Many will probably point to the words of popular Christian millennialist Hal Lindsey, in his 1970 book The Late Great Planet Earth, concerning comments made in Revelation 18:23 and the reference to the word “sorceries”.
“The word ‘sorceries'” writes Lindsey, “comes from the Greek word pharmakeia, which is the word from which we get our English word, pharmacy. It means a kind of occult worship or black magic associated with the use of drugs. This word is mentioned several times in the Book of Revelation. It is said of the great religious systems that ‘all the nations were deceived by your sorcery.'”
Lindsey pointed at the revelations experienced by the psychedelic-ingesting youth of the time, noting that “these drugs reduce a man’s thinking and mentality to a point where he is easily demon-possessed.”
Yet Jesus himself explained that “nothing that enters a man from outside can make him ‘unclean’ by going into him. Rather, it is what comes out of a man that makes him ‘unclean,'” (Mark 7:18). It was likely with such a view in mind that another Christian writer, Fredric Madeleine, in his 1988 book The drug controversy and the rise of Antichrist, saw the enforcers of prohibition as being the true practitioners of the “sorcery” referred to in Revelation.
Like Lindsey, Madeleine noted that the original Greek word for “sorcery” was pharmakeia, which was “an occult science involving secret knowledge about drugs and herbs,” but then differs on his interpretation of what this indicates.
“Although some have suggested that the use of illegal drugs is sorcery, I suggest instead that control of drugs is part of a system of sorcery, re-invented by the corrupt minds of men in high places.
“Sorcery is a religious system of control and exploitation which operates by restricting knowledge of and access to drugs to a ruling priesthood. This ruling class uses its secret knowledge not to protect the people and culture, as is supposed, but rather to maintain power and to exploit unwary believers. In order to maintain power they must institute certain laws, called taboos, which prevent the common people from gaining free access to certain herbs, drugs, and knowledge. In order to maintain power this ruling class must eliminate those who do not believe in their power or submit to their rules. It is this system of exploitation and control that is referred to in the Bible as sorcery.”
Indeed, the sorcery of American military/drug war complex, with its “guns for cocaine” dealings in the Iran-Contra scandal, as well as similar shady dealings for heroin during the Vietnam War, seems far more sinister than the counterculture’s use of mind expanding substances such as psychedelics and cannabis. Is it not sorcery for a nation to fight a self-righteous “drug war” where millions are pumped up on Valium, Halcion, Ritalin, Prozac and other mind-altering substances, but pot smokers and mushroom eaters are viciously hunted down and their lives destroyed?
The Christian Right’s particular focus on prohibiting this sacred tree is somewhat ironic when it is considered that it was through the dawning of Spirit, provided by the entheogenic and healing anointing oil, that the early followers of Jesus came to consider themselves “Christians,” meaning Anointed-Ones!
Almost no modern-day Christians are aware that the name of their faith makes reference to a psychoactive topical ointment that was rich in cannabis, or that many early Christians used a variety of other entheogens to achieve spiritual ecstasy.
Some fundamentalist Christians recognize the importance of the christening oil, but have perverted the ritual in strange ways. For example, US Attorney General John Ashcroft ritually anoints himself with Crisco oil whenever he receives a new political appointment!
Considering the importance of cannabis in the christening oil, the Christian Right, who are one of the main forces behind prohibition of the herb, could be considered anti-Christ, as could the Pope’s decree against soft drugs such as cannabis, and the Papacy’s former death penalty for cannabis use in medieval times.
Even government prohibition of this plant could be interpreted as being anti-Christ, as it places the laws of man above the laws of creation, and prevents true cannabis-using Christians from practicing their faith, going as far as to confiscate their possessions, sending them to prison, and potentially even killing them.
When one thinks of what the state has to offer a person, with its taxation, prohibition, and empty promises, and considering the dead spirituality of the modern church and the millions of tortured and burnt souls which it is built upon, what this natural plant can give us seems clear and simple in comparison.
When we were naked, hemp clothed us with the fibers of her stalk.
When we were hungry, hemp fed us with the protein and essential fatty acid rich oils of her seeds.
When we wanted to record our thoughts and share them with others, hemp offered us the paper to do it with.
When we wanted to explore the world, hemp offered us the sails and ropes for the ships as well as the caulking for the boats that made it possible.
When we were dying of AIDS, vomiting from chemotherapy, going blind from glaucoma, shaking from epilepsy, hemp offered us a natural medicine that eased our pain and treated our maladies.
And when we sought a means of communion, the joint was passed and the sacred circle formed.
In this time we can rally around the flag of the State, and praise the false faith of the Church, or we can return to the garden and pick up Nature’s flag, cannabis hemp, and recognize it for the holy sacrament that it is. Let us stand united around the once and future Tree of Life!
? Chris Bennett is the author of Green Gold: Marijuana in magic and religion, and Sex, drugs and violence in the Bible.
? Chris Bennett: email [email protected]; web www.forbiddenfruitpublishing.com
? For more on the Gnostic gospels: www.gnosis.org