A Wealth of Testimony
“Is there a spirit of cannabis?” It’s an interesting question. First a disclaimer. Although there have been numerous hints, signs, messages and unusual occurrences in my encounters with the herb, I still wouldn’t feel right in making the claim that I’ve personally experienced anything I would definitively describe as a spirit or deity associated with cannabis.
But that’s just me. Many others have indeed said they have had such encounters. For starters, there is a wealth of testimony from traditional communities the world over, past and present, claiming direct experience of spirit beings in altered states of consciousness, both with and without the inclusion of a psychotropic plant.
I’ve come across many such testimonials in my research. Just this morning I read a fascinating enthnographic account by anthropologist Dr. Johannes Wilbert in Cannabis and Culture (Rubin ed. 1975) of the widespread use of tobacco for spiritual and healing purposes in South America. Among many examples in his paper, Dr. Wilbert quotes a description (Elick, 1969, 206-207) of a practice among the Campa for initiating novice shamans into the company of spirits. One apparently not uncommon experience involved an encounter with a jaguar spirit that morphed into the “Mother of Tobacco,” who then taught the novice a shamanic song by repeating it over and over until he had memorized it. There are innumerable accounts of this nature.
The ‘Green’ Lady?
Getting back to cannabis itself, I found in the same book Cannabis and Culture, in an essay titled “The ‘Ganja Vision’ in Jamaica,” a description of novices’ experiences of encountering a “little lady” of congenial nature who invites them in. This is said to typically happen on the novice’s first experience with the herb and is believed to indicate the novice is simpatico with ganja.
Reading that description led me to wonder if I might not be as lug-headed as I thought. I’ve always loved to dance, free-style, and when doing meditative quasi-ceremonies alone at home with cannabis I’ll occasionally get up and dance. On a number of those occasions, with eyes closed, I’ve had a vision—palpable, if perhaps not as highly defined as might occur with high doses of certain plant sacraments—of a Native woman dancing in front of me. In those encounters I’ve fallen effortlessly into sync with her movements.
As Within So Without
The issue of the existence of a spirit of cannabis or of any other visionary plant medicine also begs the question, at least for some of us, of what is external and what is internal. In Singing to the Plants, author Stephan Beyer writes that the mestizo shamans and others of the Upper Amazon talk about non-embodied beings as “other than human persons.” And then there was Carlos Castaneda’s (perhaps fictional) Don Juan, who just laughed when asked by Carlos if the intensely vivid and all-encompassing visionary experiences he was having with Don Juan’s psychotropic plants were real.
I had a somewhat similar experience the first time I drank ayahuasca. The medicine came on like a hurricane. The shaman sang an ícaro for me and waved his healing shacapa around my head and shoulders. While crawling back to my mattress shakily and still afraid, a large cat of some kind took possession of my body—my whole being really—and delivered me gracefully and safely back to my spot, where I spent the remaining hours in a state of joy and apparently in communication with some great and kindly beings.
In the morning I asked the shaman if there really were beings there or if it was just me and my own mind and he said something like, “Ah, that’s a question you’ll have to answer for yourself.”
An Honored Guest
Regardless of the “reality” of what you might call an independent, non-material spirit entity accessed through cannabis, behaving “as if” there is a spirit of the plant is very likely to produce deeper and more beneficial experiences. In her chapter in Cannabis and Spirituality, Kathleen Harrison writes beautifully and sensitively of the spirit of cannabis. In her words:
“The plant is your honored guest too. You may be pleasing yourself, or your close friends, but you are also pleasing the spirit of cannabis when you slip into a more conscious and attentive frame of mind in order to invite her into your body and your consciousness, into your ceremony of awareness. In this way of thinking, she responds more fully if invited in a respectful way.”
Note to readers: Many people have had powerful spiritual, sometimes visual/visionary experiences with cannabis, including contact with a spirit being or beings. I encourage you to share such experiences with me for the benefit of other readers.