Chris Bennett’s Liber 420: Cannabis, Magickal Herbs and the Occult

Although not widely recognised, cannabis and other psychoactive plants have played a role in magic since ancient times; for who is the primitive shaman but the ancient counterpart of the medieval and renaissance era magician? In the case of cannabis, we know from archeological records that its ritual relationship with humanity goes back at least 5,500 years when remnants of evidence in a forgotten cave in Ukraine revealed its use for ritual fumigation in the Stone Age. Although such ancient archeological finds are covered in the first two chapters of Liber 420, the book is focused on 10th-19th century Europe and the occult Hermetic traditions.

Few books on the history of magic detail the role of psychoactive substances, and the editors of and commentators on modern translations of medieval and renaissance era grimoires seldom discuss the relevance of entries that contain recipes containing cannabis, opium, various nightshades and other psychoactive preparations. Notable in this category are grimoires like the 13th century Picatrix, along with the 16th century works, Sepher Raziel: Liber Salomonis (1564) and the Book of Magic, With Instructions for Invoking Spirits, etc. (ca. 1577-1583).

Cannabis in high magick

Picatrix is considered one of the founding documents of the Western magical tradition. Originally translated into Latin in the 13th century from the 10th century Arabic magical grimoire The Ghayat al Hakim, on the bequest of the Spanish King Alfonso X, Picatrix is a testament to the pivotal role of drugs in magic. The astrological magic of Picatrix is loaded with references to opium, henbane, mandrake, datura and other potent psychoactive plants. It also contains a recipe for incense to invoke a “servant of the moon” that included stag blood, amber, camphor and over a pound of cannabis resin!

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Chris Bennett
Chris Bennett

Chris Bennett has been researching the historical role of cannabis in the spiritual life of humanity for more than a quarter of a century. He is co-author of Green Gold the Tree of Life: Marijuana in Magic and Religion (1995); Sex, Drugs, Violence and the Bible (2001); and author of Cannabis and the Soma Solution (2010); and Liber 420: Cannabis, Magickal herbs and the Occult (2018) . He has also contributed chapters on the the historical role of cannabis in spiritual practices in books such as The Pot Book (2010), Entheogens and the Development of Culture (2013), Seeking the Sacred with Psychoactive Substances (2014), One Toke Closer to God (2017), Cannabis and Spirituality (2016) and Psychedelics Reimagined (1999). Bennett’s research has received international attention from the BBC , Guardian, Sunday Times, Washington Post, Vice and other media sources. He currently resides in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.