A cold wind was howling through the medieval streets of Rome during middle December. The days were real short. Darkness even shadowed the moon. This particular day was in the middle of the month, and the year was 1485. Christmas had its parties coming up, but the Pope Caesar had other nefarious plans tucked into his fat stomach. The sinister name of intolerance and hypocrisy was none other than Pope Innocent VIII, (the Eighth).
On this nefarious date he issued a strange papal bull against witchcraft and sorcery that seemed to infect the women of Europe, and especially the First Reich of Germany, bizarrely called, the Holy Roman Empire. This Empire was neither holy nor Roman.
Within this peculiar papal condemnation, he also cited the use of a demonic herb, called cannabis, often found, or imagined, in satanic religious rites. His informant-experts for these underground, conspiratorial satanic covens represented two German Dominican monks, Jakob Spengler and Heinrich Kramer. They would soon publish a nasty book, called ‘The Hammer of the Witches,’ which would help in the murder of close to 200,000 ‘witches,’ mostly marginalized women, during the next 250 years in Europe and in America.
Unfortunately for the plant ‘cannabis sativa,’ this strange and mystical herb from deep Asia, received the taint of evil with the papal stamp of approval. Yet, this same Pope Innocent the Eighth enjoyed some other mortal sins during his reign. He was obese and lived a life of extreme luxury inside the papal palace. He fathered two illegitimate children and had them married off into one of the strongest Families in Renaissance Italy, the Medici. He dipped some of the papal finances into the new Portuguese African Slave Trade. Meanwhile, he tried to revive the Papal Crusades of another Pope Innocent, in order to exterminate the Muslim Turks, the Protestant Waldensians in Northern Italy, and the Hussites in the Czech lands. All cannabis haters in history have shared three evil characteristics: intolerance, gross hypocrisy and state murder.
What is it about cannabis sativa that attracts such hatred and venom? The answer lies in its historical origins: the mystical rites for Lord Shiva and the Islamic Assassins in the medieval period. Cannabis still has these mystical, ‘orientalist’ associations to this actual day. Whether the foreign visitor enters the medinas of Morocco or the festivals dedicated to Shiva in India and Nepal, the scent of the cannabis herb inundates the consciousness.
From its evil oriental connections until its later appearances in the United States, cannabis would connect to a more infamous notoriety. African-American artists smoked the herb while they played their demonic, African sensualized beats, called jazz. Attractive white women even took off their shoes in the smoky clubs, and they danced with the demons. Mestizo, mixed race, Mexican fruit pickers and outlaws also smoked the leaf, called ‘mota,’ during their raucous partying. The dangerous, criminal classes, of course, used the oriental poison. The Amerikan Imperial thugs had taken notice. The historical hatred against cannabis has simply been another combined form of intolerance and murder.
Cannabis is actually a marvelous and natural soft drug. It relaxes and calms the mental nerves, and helps with bouts of nausea and gastrointestinal pains. Some doctors state that cannabis has other helpful healing properties. Cannabis can spark interior mental activity or engaging conversation. It stimulates the human appetites, both culinary and sexual. The drug goes perfectly with foods, entertainment, the arts and it especially compliments other natural drugs found on the Earth, such as alcohol, coffee and tea.
The only negatives to the drug are certain habitual users of it. It seems to have the similar effects of antidepressants on them, which produce lethargy, ego self-obsessions, or minor neuroses. But these are some excessive users. I have also personally met aggressive and successful attorneys that were avid smokers of the weed.
I return to cannabis’ ancient history and its orientalist associations. Lord Shiva, the God of both Creation and Destruction, the Cosmic Dance and the Holy Lingam, (phallic power), the revealer of mystical Tantra, patron of cows, yoga and the third sex, married to the goddess, Parvati, father to the god, Ganesh – also partook of the mystical drink, called ‘soma.’ Legend has it that the mystical drink was none other than ‘bhang,’ a milky concoction containing cannabis.
Shiva’s wandering followers called ‘sadhus,’ still partake of the magical perfumed medicine. During my travels around the world, I have seen these holy men, and some thieving-fakers claiming to exist as sadhus, smoking cannabis out of funnel type ceramic pipes called ‘chillum.’ Watching those holy men in action with their long dread locks, scruffy beards, blue and white-painted dyes, bodies smeared with cow dung, rope necklaces and bracelets, and dirty loin cloths, added to the whole Indian-Asian mystical effect.
On a more common level, during the Hindu festival of Holi, which happens around springtime, young Indians and Nepalese drink the marvelous liquid ‘bhang’ shakes, or ‘lassies,’ and later, hit the public streets throwing brightly colored dyes on the surrounding partiers and walkers. They hit me too – which added to the great fun during that day. Shiva’s gift was a truly a wonderful act.
Islam conquered the northern regions of the Indian subcontinent in the middle of the eleventh century. The cannabis magic of Shiva would also influence the Sufi Muslim mystics that lived in those regions. Even the great Sufi poet and mystic, Rumi, praised the herb and the wine. Cannabis entered the Islamic world: it stayed and it prospered. Still today in the Islamic world from North Africa to Afghanistan, the traveler can spot old men sitting in cafes, wearing their ‘chalaba’ long outfits with hoods. They smoke the green and brown ‘kif’ in their long pipes, while they sip on herbal mint tea, Turkish coffee and chew on honey snacks. Religious controversies have continued between the Sunni, Shia and Sufi branches of Islam – but smoking the flowering buds united them all.
One of the truths of human history has been its reign of absurdity. Cannabis had attached itself to one of the Shia sects of medieval Islam – ‘the Assassins.’ The Assassins were part of the Ismaili sect or the ‘Seveners.’ They also drank the luscious wine and smoked the enchanting herb.
The medieval Japanese Shogunates had their ‘ninjas’; while Medieval Islamic World Culture had their assassins. The assassins lived outside of society. Those disciplined holy warriors squatted in abandoned, foreboding military castles in northern Syria, Iraq and Iran. Their founder, Hassan i Sabbah, or ‘The Old Man of the Mountain,’ organized this Shia sect military order into a hierarchical brotherhood. Inside the castle, the warriors studied religious and philosophical texts, scientific works, learned various languages, and most importantly, the arts of killing. Their three preferred methods moved towards the silent variety: the dagger, the poison and strangulation.
Their victims were always political leaders within the Islamic world. If the Islamic political hack instituted unjust acts, mandated cruel laws, oppressed the poor, allowed poverty to accumulate, or stole lots of money from the just – then the Assassins went on the attack.
The Assassins first left a note pinned with a small dagger within the confines of the caliph or sultan’s palace. If that didn’t work, then the spiritual leader picked an Assassin to fulfill the last deed – a violent death. The Assassins always reached their victims, and after killing the state bum, they would often let frightened onlookers see the terminating work. Many of the assassins never returned from their ultimate missions.
Only one Islamic political-military ruler survived them – Saladin the Great. He survived three attempts on his life. They aroused fear in both the Islamic potentates and the European royal Crusaders. One of the Crusader kings even used the Assassins as allies against his Islamic rivals. Their enemies called them, ‘hashasheen’ in Arabic, or the Troublemakers.
From this Arabic word, the European Crusaders, and especially the Venetian merchant, Marco Polo, tied some connections between the sinister Oriental herbal paste, ‘hashish,’ with Assassin lore. According to the ignorant Euro-experts, hash was the powerful ingredient that transformed the Assassins into fanatical killers. This corrupted link also transformed European languages on the continent.
Most European languages have a separate word for killing and for murder: ‘matar,’ in Spanish, ‘tuer,’ in French, and ‘uccidire,’ in Italian. But these three languages share the same original word for murder, ‘asesinar, assassiner, assassinare.’ This outrageous relation between cannabis and irrational violence even stayed well into the 1930s USA with crap movies such as ‘Reefer Madness.’
This marvelous soft drug of cannabis has had its absurd orientalist associations. The real issue of cannabis was not its properties, but the European hatred for ‘the other,’ which still fuels the sociopathology of the Amerikan Empire. The murderous and hateful world empire still hunts for its victims through its continuous War against Cannabis, and all other ‘illegal drugs.’ The CIA can deal whatever it wants, yet the same US government prefers smokers to rot inside its hundreds of overpopulated prisons. In spite of all of this hate, Lord Shiva’s precious gift still wafts its distinctive breeze throughout all the lands of the Earth.