CANNABIS CULTURE. References to cannabis appear in both alchemical and magical manuscripts tied to Jewish culture, and this use was likely an extension of the Hebrew’s much more ancient relationship with the plant. Excerpted from Liber 420.
Cannabis Magic in Ancient Israel?
The potential role of cannabis in the origins of the Jewish religion, is something I have proposed for close to 30 years, expanding on the work of the Polish Jewish etymologist and anthropologist Sula Benet’s work identifying the Hebrew ‘kaneh bosm’ with cannabis’. When understood in the context if the Biblical narrative, these references clearly indicate magical, or at least shamanic use of cannabis. The recent archeological evidence of cannabis resins found to have been burnt on an altar in 8th century BCE Jerusalem, take these references beyond the realm of pure speculation, and are rewriting our understanding of the techniques of religious worship in the ancient world.
In Exodus 30:23 Moses is commanded to make a holy oil that contained cannabis under the name kaneh bosm, and is advised to both anoint his body with it and burn it on the altar of incense. The resulting pillar of smoke that arose before Moses in the ‘Tent of the Meeting’, is referred to as the ‘Shekinah’ and is identified as the physical evidence of the Lord’s presence. None of the other Hebrews in the Exodus account either see or hear the Lord, they only know that Moses is talking to the Lord when the smoke is pouring forth from the Tent of the Meeting. It is hard not to see all the classical elements of shamanism at play in this description of Moses’ encounter with God, and like Zoroaster, Moses can be seen as a ecstatic shamanic figure who used cannabis as a a means of seeking celestial advice. Such techniques of invocation certainly occur in later magic.
The Magician Moses scryed his messages from the Lord in an act of Biblical capnomancy, and this was a traditional use of cannabis in magical rituals that has been carried on in occult circles into modern times. As Ernest Bosc De Veze, who also wrote a Treatise on Hashish, noted in Petite Encyclopedie Synthetique des Sciences Occultes, in reference to “capnomancy… for divination… the smoke obtained from psychic plants such as verbena, hashish or Indian hemp… [are]used” (Bosc, 1904). In cases like this, not only was there the psychoactive effects of the smoke used, but the smoke provided the partially material basis in which the invoked entity or vision might be viewed. “The magician… burned aromatic substances and anointed his/her body with perfumed ointments. The whole set-up for an epiphany was there: now all that was necessary was for the deity to appear” (Brashear, 1991).
As Prof. Georg Luck has noted: “The idea that Moses himself and the priests who succeeded him relied on ‘chemical aids’ in order to touch with the Lord must be disturbing or repugnant to many. It seems to degrade religion—any religion—when one associates it with shamanic practices…” (Luck, 1985/2006). Luck experienced these reactions himself, when his decades of research into magic rites in the ancient world, drew him to such a hypothesis. “As I was doing research on psychoactive substances used in magic and religion and magic in antiquity, I happened to come across chapter 30 in the Book of Exodus where Moses prescribes the composition of sacred incense and anointing oil. It occurred to me, judging from the ingredients, that… [these]substances might act as ‘entheogens,’ the incense more powerful than the oil. …” (Luck, 1985/2006)
…[T]he smoke itself was the epiphany. The smoke was inhaled by the magician and his client, and the vision came in trance. The smell of psychoactive substances… acts on the human brain in a very quick, very predictable way.
…[T]he inhalation of the sacred incense could create a powerful vision of the deity in the priest. Other factors were probably involved too, the smell of the holy oil with which the priest, the altar, and other sacred objects within the temple were anointed, the golden surface of the altar that reflected the shine of lamps…. The shiny surfaces, reflecting the sacral lamps nearby, could help induce trance in the priest as he was breathing smoke. (Luck, 1985/2006)
We see this same technique with cannabis resins, in the later 12th century Picatrix, where cannabis resin are used to invoke the ‘servant of the moon’ in a pillar of smoke that was fuelled by a combination that included over a pound of cannabis resin mixed with stag’s blood and other ingredients.
Just as Moses received his answers in a billowing cloud of cannabis resin infused smoke, we can see from a reference in Isaiah, that when the cannabis was lacking, the scryed answers were more difficult to bring forth! the Lord complains he has been shortchanged his offering of cannabis. When the prophet seeks advice the Lord complains:“Thou hast bought me no sweet [smelling]cane (kaneh) with money, neither hast thou filled me with the fat of thy sacrifices: but thou hast made me to serve with thy sins, thou hast wearied me with thine iniquities.”
Other textual evidence from Isaiah, gives clear indications that at times the Lord’s hunger for his favourite smoke was being appeased by the use of a shamanic incense inside the precincts of the temple, in elaborate shamanic ceremonies:
And the posts of the door moved at the voice of him that cried, and the temple was filled with smoke.
Then said I, “Woe is me, for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for mine eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts.”
Then flew one of the seraphims unto me, having a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with the tongs from off the altar, And he laid it upon my mouth and said, “”Lo, this hath touched thy lips; and thine iniquity is taken away, and thy sin purged.” (Isaiah 6:4-7)
Besides these indications of topical and inhaled use of cannabis, others have suggested that the Important Biblical and Apocrypha figure Ezra, consumed a cannabis infused wine. Ezra was a key figure of the Jewish monotheistic reformation after the Persians had returned them to their homeland. Interestingly, at least two researchers, living more than a century apart and from different parts of the world, have concluded that Ezra received his inspiration for this act, from the same source of inspiration as his Zoroastrian overlords did….. a cannabis infused wine! Here is Ezra’s own account of this. Ezra told the people not to seek him for forty days, and he left for the desert, taking with him five people who were to act as his scribes:
“The next day, behold a voice cried to me saying. Esdras open thy mouth, and drink what I give you thee to drink! Then opened I my mouth, and behold, he reached me a full cup, which is full as it were with water, but the color of it was like fire. I took it, and drank: and when I had drunk of it, my heart uttered understanding, and wisdom grew in my breast, for my spirit strengthened and my memory; and my mouth was opened and shut no more: and they sat forty days, and they wrote in the day, and at night they ate bread. As for me, I spake by the day, and I held not my tongue by the night. In forty days they wrote two hundred and four books” 2 Esdras 14:38 to 44.
As Georg W Brown recorded of this more than a century ago:
“A voice bid him open his mouth, he—the voice, of course—reached Esdras a full cup. It would be interesting to know whose voice it was which possessed such unnatural powers; yet we apprehend the reader is much more anxious to know the contents of the cup… which possessed such wondrous ability, probably the same possessed by the ‘fruit of the tree’ which grew ‘in the midst of the garden,’ the eating of which opened the eyes of our first parents, and enabled them to see ‘as Gods knowing good and evil.’ We think we can furnish this desired information, to do which we are compelled to anticipate some facts existing among Zoroastrian worshippers; many centuries before the date religionists ascribe to Abraham, and which was practiced in Persia, Assyria and Babylonia at the very time Ezra was writing Jewish history under the influence of the ‘fiery cup.’
Among other duties required on occasional sacrifices of animals to Ahura-Mazda, additional to prayers, praises, thanksgiving, and the recitation of hymns, was the performance…of a curious ceremony known as that of the Haoma or Homa. This consisted of the extraction of the juice of the Homa plant by the priests during the recitation of prayers, the formal presentation of the liquid extracted to the sacrificial fire,… the consumption of a small portion of it by one of the officiating ministers, and the division of the remainder among the worshippers…
What was the Haoma or Homa, the production of the moon-plant, growing in those regions of Asia to far north for the successful growing of the grape, and yet yielding such intoxicating properties? It is known in the medical books as Apocynum Cannabinum, and belongs to the Indian Hemp family, Cannabis Indica being an official preparation from it. It is now known in India as bhang, and is popularly known with us as hashish, the stimulating and intoxicating effects of which are well known to physicians.(Brown, 1890)
I have discussed the case for cannabis as haoma at length in another article. More than a century after Brown, Vicente Dobroruka also noted a comparison between the Persian technique of shamanic ecstasy and that of Ezra in his essay Preparation for Visions in Second Temple Jewish Apocalyptic Literature,: “Similar drinks appear in Persian literature…Vishtapa has an experience quite equivalent in the Dinkard … where mention is made to a mixture of wine (or haoma) and hemp with henbane… The Book of Artay Viraz also mentions visions obtained from wine mixed with hemp, and for the preparations of the seer…”(Dobroruka, 2002). I have discussed these Zoroastrian accounts elsewhere.
Dobroruka revisited this theme in more detail in his later 2006 article, Chemically-induced visions in the Fourth Book of Ezra in light of comparative Persian material, and again draws direct comparisons between Ezra’s cup of fire, and the mang mixed infused beverages of the Zoroastrian psychonauts. Interestingly, Rabbi Immanuel Löw, referred to a later Jewish recipe (Sabb. 14. 3 ed. Urbach, 9th-11th century) that called for wine to be mixed with ground up saffron, Arabic gum and hasisat surur, “I know ‘surur’ solely as a alias for the resin the Cannabis sativa” (Low, 1924).
Low made no comment on the word “hasisat” which is very reminiscent of the name for cannabis resins in the medieval Arabic world “hasis” (hashish), and the term is generally thought to have been derived at in that period. However, the 19th century scholar John Kitto also put forth two different potential Hebrew word candidates for the origins of the term “hashish” in A Cyclopaedia of Biblical Literature. Kitto pointed to the Hebrew terms Shesh, which originates in reference to some sort of “fibre plant”, and the possibly related word, Eshishah (E-shesh-ah?) which holds a wide variety of somewhat contradictory translations such as “flagon” “sweet cakes”, “syrup”, and also “unguent.” This last reference is interesting in relation to what we have already seen in regards to the cannabis infused Holy Oil, which was basically an unguent. According to Kitto, this Eshishah was mixed with wine. “Hebrew eshishah… is by others called hashish…. this substance, in course of time, was converted into a medium of intoxication by means of drugs” (Kitto 1845:1856). With the cognate pronunciation similarities found between the Hebrew Shesh and Eshishah one can only speculate on the possibility of two ancient Hebrew references to one plant that held both fibrous and intoxicating properties. It seems likely that what is referred to is hashish resin, with the addition of the word “surur” indicating the possibility of hashish oil, (which the Arabs prepared by boiling the tops of the plant, and collecting the drops of oil that formed on top of the water). A very potent preparation. “The palm wine of the East… is made intoxicating… by an admixture of stupefying ingredients, of which there was an abundance… Such a practice seems to have existed amongst the ancient Jews…” (Kitto, 1861)
Talmudic reference indicate this use as well: “The one on his way to execution was given a piece of incense in a cup of wine, to help him fall asleep” (Sanh. 43a). Such preparations were used by the ancient Jews, for ritual intoxication, and for easing pain. A Reverend E. A Lawrence, in an essay on ‘The wine of the Bible’ in a 19th century edition of The Princeton Review noted that:
It appears to have been an ancient custom to give medicated or drugged wine to criminals condemned to death, to blunt their senses, and so lessen the pains of execution. To this custom there is supposed to be an allusion, Prov. xxxi. 6, ‘Give strong drink unto him that is ready to perish,’ …To the same custom some suppose there is a reference in Amos 8, where the ‘ wine of the condemned’ is spoken of… The wicked here described, in addition to other evil practices, imposed unjust fines upon the innocent, and spent the money thus unjustly obtained upon wine, which they quaffed in the house of their gods…
Mixed wine is often spoken of in Scripture. This was of different kinds… sometimes, by lovers of strong drink, with spices of various kinds, to give it a richer flavor and greater potency (ls. v. 22; Ps. lxxv. 8). The ‘ royal wine,’ literally wine of the kingdom… Esther i. 7), denotes most probably the best wine, such as the king of Persia himself was accustomed to drink. (Lawrence, 1871)
Thus, this infused wine, not only had pain numbing qualities, but was also “quaffed in the house of their gods” giving clear indication it was sought after for entheogenic effects as well. That it is compared to the wines of the Kind of persia, also brings us back to the cannabis infused wines of the Zoroastrian period, such as that taken by King Vishtaspa. In reference to “unguents” such as the Holy oil, placing “incense” into wine, we are reminded of the cannabis infused incenses and anointing oils referred to earlier, indicating these substances may have come to have been placed directly into wine. In regards to myrrhed wine, it is worth noting that Dr. David Hillman, who holds combined degrees in Classics and Bacteriology, has suggested that ancient myrrh was often doctored with cannabis resins “The [ancient]Arabs… will take the rub, basically the hashish… they adulterate it with myrrh, so you end up with these combinations of plants that actually end up together… myrrh and cannabis, you see them associated… often” (Hillman, 2015).
In The A to Z of Prophets in Islam and Judaism, Scott B. Noegel, Brannon M. Wheeler “The use of drugs, especially alcohol… as a means of inducing or enhancing the prophetic experience is attested periodically throughout the ancient Near East, and is probably related to the mantic’s role as an herbalist and medical practitioner” (Noegel & Wheeler, 2010).
Evidence for opium use has been found throughout the ancient Near East, especially on Cyprus, thought its connection to Cypriot cults has been questioned. The practice of inhaling intoxicating substances like cannabis and incense also appear… Texts from Mari demonstrate that at least some prophets partook in excessive wine drinking as a means of accessing the divine. Ugartic tablets also detail the events of the marzeah feast, a repast in which… dead kings were summoned to wine and dine with the living… (Noegel & Wheeler, 2010)
Like Amos’ condemnation of those who quaffed such mixtures in the House of the gods, Isaiah condemned those who seek oracles from the dead through inebriation (Isaiah 28:7-22).
And these also stagger from wine
and reel from beer:
Priests and prophets stagger from beer
and are befuddled with wine;
they reel from beer,
they stagger when seeing visions,
they stumble when rendering decisions.
All the tables are covered with vomit
and there is not a spot without filth.
You boast, “We have entered into a covenant with death,
with the realm of the dead we have made an agreement.
When an overwhelming scourge sweeps by,
it cannot touch us,
for we have made a lie our refuge
and falsehood[b]our hiding place.”
These references show, even though in a negative light, that such cultic practices were both known and taking place in the region. Indeed, the use of infused wines for ecstatic purposes seems to have been so prevalent that at times there was an overlap between the worship of Yahweh and the Greek God of Intoxication, Dionysus, as i have noted elsewhere.
Cannabis in later Jewish Magic
Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan has noted of early Kabbalistic schools who used magic and other means of communion for mystic exploration, that “some practices include the use of ‘grasses,’ which were possibly psychedelic drugs” (Kaplan, 1982). Kaplan’s The Living Torah includes cannabis as a possible candidate for the Hebrew kaneh bosem, “due to cognate pronunciation” (Kaplan, 1981). The Kabbalistic text the Zohar records:
“There is no grass or herb that grows in which G-d’s wisdom is not greatly manifested and which cannot exert great influence in heaven” and “If men but knew the wisdom of all the Holy One, blessed be He, has planted in the earth, and the power of all that is to be found in the world, they would proclaim the power of their L-rd in His great wisdom.” (Zohar.2,80B)
Prof. Benny Shannon, who has speculated about ancient jewish use of psychoactive substances, felt somewhat vindicated when he was directed by the works of the medieval Kabbalist and scholar Rabbi Jacob Ben Asher (Rabbeinu Be’cha’yei ben Asher),(1255–1340). “Rabbeinu Be’cha’yei writes that the purest of foods were created at the very beginning of Creation in order to allow for the attainment of higher knowledge. He explicitly relates this to the biblical tree of knowledge, and comments further that such higher knowledge can also be gained through the use of drugs and medicines available at his time. In addition he notes that the Manna had such qualities as well” (Shannon, 2008). Clearly cannabis and its various preparations, along with opium and other psychoactives, were well known for its mystical properties at Ben Asher’s time.
In his De Occulta Philosophia (1651) Agrippa refers to how “Rabbi Israel made certain cakes, writ upon with certain divine and angelicall names, and so consecrated, which they that did eat with faith, hope, and charitie [charity], did presently break forth with a spirit of prophecie [prophecy]. We read in the same place that Rabbi Johena the son of Jochahad, did after that manner enlighten a certain rude countryman, called Eleazar, being altogether illiterate, that being compassed about with a sudden brightness, did unexpectedly preach such high mysteries of the Law to an assembly of wise men, that he did even astonish all that were neer him” (Agrippa, 1651). A description that indicates more than sigils on cakes in use, although the ingredients of said cakes are not included.
Like the Zoroastrian royalty and priesthood, as well as the Levites, there are indications that early Kabbalists enjoyed the use of the herb, but prevented its consumption by the common people. In the P’sachim, “Rav Yehudah says it is good to eat… the essence of hemp seed in Babylonian broth; but it is not lawful to mention this in the presence of an illiterate man, because he might derive a benefit from the knowledge not meant for him.- Nedarim, fol. 49, col. 1” (Harris, et al., 2004). Other sources have noted a Kabbalistic comparison to the effects of cannabis with divine perception, noting an “intriguing reference to cannabis in the context of a fleeting knowledge of God: Zohar Hadash, Bereshit, 16a (Midrash ha-Ne’elam)” (Matt, 1983).
This brings us into the era of Merkavah Mysticism, (100-1000 AD), which is centred on the sort of visionary experience of Ezekiel, who as we saw earlier, came to his experience through eating a “scroll”. Modern magician Aaron Leitch believes Merkavah Mysticism held a strong influence over the later western magical tradition. “The Merkavah’s use of ritual drugs, its focus upon talismans and seals, the summoning forth of Angelic gatekeepers, and the gaining of mystical visions are elements that run throughout the grimoiric spells” (Leitch, 2005).
That cannabis might have played a role in such forms of Jewish mysticism, is indicated by references to it well into the late medieval period. in Another interesting reference can be found with Rabbi Berel Wein, who has written and lectured extensively on Jewish history, has connected the use of hashish with the Kabbalistic inspired Jewish messianic movement of the 17th century. Wein refers to the Morrocan Jew, Joseph ben Zur, who was popularly identified with the prophesied messianic figure Messiah ben Joseph, a claim that was propped up by Rabbi Elisha Ashkenazi and thousands of Jews in Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia believed this and followed Joseph ben Zur as a result. According to Wein:
Joseph ben Zur was probably mentally unstable. At the very least, though, he was guilty of a very prevalent habit in the Middle East: smoking hashish. Now, smoking hashish in the 17th century was not seen in the same negative light as the modern world views it. Nevertheless, Joseph ben Zur was both slightly touched and usually high, which together is a lethal combination. He claimed he saw a vision when an angel came to him and said that he was the Messiah ben Joseph… (Wein, 2013).
This scenario of scrying under the influence of cannabis, fits with both the suggestion of cannabis in the Kabbalistic writing referred too, as well as the confirmed use of cannabis for scrying in the Kabbalistic inspired Sepher Raziel, Liber Salomonis, which was composed in this same time period.
In regards to Solomonic magic, and the role of the Kabbalah, there may have been some survival of the ancient cannabis use among later Jewish Kabbalists and Alchemists. The Kabbalah is a system of mysticism considered by many to be the secret teachings of the Jews, and which holds a number of parallels with the Jewish and Christian Gnostic sects of the 1st-4th century AD, as well as with the sort of astral magic contained in the Ghayat AlHakim and the Picatrix, which also survives in Hebrew translations, some taken directly from the original Arabic.
In reference to what we have stated about ancient and medieval use of topical preparations of cannabis and other drugs for magical and religious purposes, one of the most interesting references occurs in the 16th century Grimoire, Sepher Raziel: Liber Salomonis, where it is used for seeing spirits and devils in a magic mirror. Often “referred to as “Sepher Raziel”, and also known as “Liber Salomonis”, this grimoire has 7 known surviving versions in manuscript form. It should be noted that Sepher Raziel: Liber Salomonis, is also referred to under its library catalog names, Sloane MS 3846, and Sloane MS 3826 were particularly looked at for this study, and these catalog names are used to distinguish it from a variety of similarly named grimoires. Sepher Raziel: Liber Salomonis was transcribed in 1564, by a William Parry of London at the bequest of one John Gwyne. It is seen as a “Christian product, though one which borrowed from Jewish, Arabic, and Græco-Roman scholastic and folk sources” (Karr, 2007).
Solomon has often been associated with magic, and this is particularly true of medieval European magical traditions where grimoires like, Clavicula Salomonis, ‘The Key of Solomon’ (14th-15th century) and the 17th-century Clavicula Salomonis Regis, ‘The Lesser Key of Solomon’ both of which represents a typical example of Renaissance magic.
However, Solomon’s reputation for magic, goes back much further than this. The Testament of Solomon, thought to date from sometime between the first and third century AD, is one of the oldest magical texts concerning the ancient Jewish king. This text is pseudepigraphic catalog of demons summoned by King Solomon, and how they can be countered by invoking angels and other magical techniques. The Testament of Solomon refers to a story where the magician-king forces a demon to spin hemp! “So I commanded her to spin the hemp for the ropes used in the building of the house of God; and accordingly, when I had sealed and bound her, she was so overcome and brought to naught as to stand night and day spinning the hemp” (The Testament of Solomon, 100-300 AD). In this regard, it should be noted that it was claimed by the etymologist Sula Benet that Solomon’s Song of Songs’4.14 made reference to cannabis along with other ‘incense trees’.
Sepher Raziel: Liber Salomonis was written in the Solomonic tradition, which also brought us the still popular The Keys of Solomon, and both texts, which come from the same period, have been attributed to the ancient Hebrew King, in an attempt to give them more authority. Even in the ancient world, Solomon was highly regarded for his knowledge of magic. In his excellent overview of the subject, Secrets of the Magical Grimoires (2005) Aaron Leitch identifies a number of potent fumigations, and recipes that contained a variety of psychoactive plants. He noted are passages from The Key of Solomon that give instructions for a “Magic Carpet” that is “proper for interrogation.” As The Key of Solomon (14th-15th century) describes: “Taking thy carpet, thou shalt cover they head and body therewith” and then hovering over a bowl of burning incense. Through this method “thou shalt hear distinctly the answer which though shalt have sought.” Although the ingredients for the incense fumigated in The Key of Solomon are not clear, the recipes of the Sepher Raziel: Liber Salomonis are more clear.
Images from Jewish Magical texts.
As the Sepher Raziel: Liber Salomonis records “I Salomon put such a knowledge & such a distinction, & explanation in this booke to evry man that readeth or studieth it, that he know whereof he was and from whence he came” (Sepher Raziel, 1564)
“Most sixteenth-century manuscripts of magic remain unedited and unpublished, perhaps because the majority of them… are dominated by liturgical conjuration. This is a style of magic that has attracted less academic attention than Solomonic magic and Renaissance theurgy, perhaps because it is perceived as a hangover of the medieval period. However, liturgical demon conjuring is every bit as typical of early modern magic. Copiers of Solomonic magical texts like the Sepher Raziel sought to return to purified form of conjuration drawn from Kabbalistic Jewish traditions supposedly passed down from Solomon himself, at a time when Renaissance humanists were interested in recovering the Kabbalistic tradition” (Foreman, 2015).
As the occult writer A. E Waite explained of Sepher Raziel, Liber Salomonis: “It is an English translation of a Latin original… and purports to have been sent to Solomon by a prince of Babylon, who was greater and more worshipful than all men of his time… The Latin title of the the treatise is said to be Angelus Magnus Secreti Creatoris; it was the first book after Adam, was written in the language of Chaldea and afterwards translated into Hebrew” (Waite, 1911). (There are no known surviving copies of the Latin original refried too.) Stephen Skinner, in a recent published translation of Sepher Raziel: Liber Salomonis suggests the roots “were probably a Hebrew original, filtered though a Latin intermediary, to the present Middle English version” (Karr & Skinner, 2013).
Julia Cresswell, who has written extensively on British myth and magic, suggest “that although the manuscript may be sixteenth century, some of the language is rather old-fashioned for that date, except perhaps for an old person writing in the early sixteenth century. I would guess that the text is a reworking if an earlier one, pushing the origin of the material back into the Middle Ages” (Cresswell, 2006). Occult writer Damon Lycourinos, agrees with this, suggesting Sepher Raziel, Liber Salomonis is “derived from thirteenth century Latin sources” (Lycourinos, 2012).
The text itself tells us, that prior to this, it had been passed down through the hands of figures like Adam and Solomon, and it reveals the ultimate author as the Angel Raziel. A number of other medieval magical texts, claim this authorship as well, and this seems to have been away as describing a document that was in part scryed or channelled. “The most explicit transmission of Jewish magical material into the Christian Latin tradition of magic was the translation of works associated with the name ―Raziel an angel present in Jewish angelology and Arabic astrological texts who was said to have revealed a book of secrets to Adam” (Page, 2012). The name Raziel itself means ‘secrets of God’ , and this is a fitting title for the Promethium transmitter of secrets that the figure represents in the magical tradition.
The Judeo-Christian mystic origins are obvious, as Sepher Raziel, Liber Salomonis, is clearly reminiscent of the planetary accession based magic of Gnosticism, Merkavah and the Kabbalah. “The text is divided into seven sections, covering different topics including the use of astrology, incense, timings, purity, and the seven heavens and their angels. As can be seen from the sevenfold emphasis, this is another essentially planetary grimoire” (Lycourinos, 2012).
The area of interest in relation to this study, lays in the second book, which details the virtues of stones, herbs and beasts. Plants play an important role in the magic of Sepher Raziel, Liber Salomonis. For as the grimoire explains, it was by Adam and Eve’s sin of eating the forbidden fruit that they were expelled from Eden and the company of God. The Angel Raziel, feeling empathy for lost humanity, in a sense played the role of Prometheus, and shares the secret knowledge of plants so that the descendants of the first couple, might be restored to their former place of Glory. As the Grimoire records of this:
“Know thou that in herbs is vertue of the most that may be… Know thou that among herbs there be some with which thou may do good & euill. As to heale & make sicke. And so understand thou in these that shall be said furthermore. And Adam said by a tree came wretchednes into the world that is by the tree I sinned in it. And Raziel said, An herbe shall be thy life. And Salomon said, A tree shall be & shall wexe of which the leaues shall not fall. And it shall be medicyne of men.” (Sepher Raziel, 1564)
Apparently cannabis was held in high regard in the search for knowledge. In the Sepher Raziel, cannabis is combined with artemisia, also known as wormwood, an ingredient in the famous 19th century liqueur of the poets. Wormwood contains thujone, a psychoactive chemical, that attaches itself to the same receptor sites. in the brain that THC, the active chemical of cannabis, does. As the Sepher Raziel instructs of the use of these combined plants for magical invocation:
The third herbe is Canabus [cannabis]& it is long in shafte & clothes be made of it. The vertue of the Juse [juice]of it is to anoynt thee with it & with the juse of arthemesy & ordyne thee before a mirrour of stele [steel]& clepe thou spiritts & thou shallt see them & thou shalt haue might of binding & of loosing deuills [devils]& other things.” (Sepher Raziel, 1564).
There are two act of magic taking being combined here, katapharmakeuo which means “to dose (or anoint) with drugs” and katoptromanteria, “divination by means of mirrors”. *
*definition from Vocabula Magica, (Luck, 2006).
In regards to katoptromanteria, also referred to as captromany it has long been known that trance states “could be induced by gazing at polished or shiny surfaces illuminated by lamps, through a kind of self-hypnosis” (Luck, 2006). “Mirrors… [have]long been part of shamanic paraphernalia. As a receptacle of for souls, the mirror often served as a means for entering the trance state” (Flaherty, 1992). This of course is the magic “mirror, mirror on the wall” that survives in fairy tales. “All ancient civilizations had such things (crystals, pools of water or ink, silver or glass mirrors) and the magical literature abounds in directions for their manufacture and use” (Deveney, 1997).
One may get some idea of the influence of the Sepher Raziel‘s method of drug induced mirror scrying on magic, by looking at the contemporary accounts of Dr John Dee and Edward Kelly. When we consider the role of the cannabis anointing oil at the time of Moses to invoke the ‘spirit of the Lord’ to the recipe for a cannabis ointment to scry visions of spirits in the mirror, one can only wonder if this was some sort of continuous tradition among the more esoterically minded Jews.
Solomon’s “legend figures into late traditions of Freemasons. Rumours which suggest the wise king left secret books of magic seem never to have died — nor have slumbered —since ancient times” (Karr, 2013). And indeed, as I have noted a number of well known Freemasons were in possession of Sepher Raziel, Liber Salomonis.
Another important figure in the rituals of Freemasonry, is a character named Hiram Abiff, said to be the architect and builder of Solomon’s Temple. Also known as the Widow’s son, Hiram Abiff is the central character of an allegory presented to all candidates during the third degree in Freemasonry. In the mythology of the story Abiff is murdered by three ruffians, who want him to reveal the secret signs and passwords of the higher degrees of masonry, which were used in receiving payment for work on the temple. Some of the central initiations of Masonry, are death and rebirth ceremonies based on this particular story.
Interestingly, the first public retelling of this mythos, had the tale tied up with the occult use of hashish, as well as the first Western reference to its use in the Bible. The French poet, Gérard De Nerval (1808 – 1855) included what has been suggested as the first published account of the Masonic story of Hiram Abiff. As the authors of The Temple and the Lodge noted of this:
Nerval not only recited the basic narrative. He also divulged — for the first time, to our knowledge — a skein of eerie mystical traditions associated in Freemasonry with Hiram’s background and pedigree. What is particularly curious is that Nerval makes no mention of Freemasonry whatsoever. Pretending that his narrative is a species of regional folk-tale, never known in the West before, he claims to have heard it orally recited by a Persian raconteur, in a Constantinople coffee-house. (Baigent & Leigh, 1988).
In the story there is an account of an asylum being paid a visit by the great Arab alchemist Ebn-Sina (Avicenna), and he is overheard saying “The word hachichot appears in the Song of Songs, and the inebriating properties of this mixture….” (Nerval, 1851/1972). The narration breaks on that point, but it is worth noting that Nerval’s account is the first known written reference which refers openly to cannabis in the Bible that I am aware of, and interestingly it also ties it with a noted alchemist.
Cannabis in Jewish Alchemy
The use of cannabis infused wines goes back to ancient times in the Mid East. References from the 3-4th century alchemist, Zosimos to cannabis infused wines, who was heavily influenced by Jewish sources in his writing on alchemy, as well as the saffron and cannabis resin combination used in wine referred to by Rabbi Immanuel Low in the 9th century [(Sabb. 14. 3 ed. Urbach; Low, 1924)] indicate Jewish use in this context. This use continued into the medieval period and such infusions of cannabis and other substances were used in Quintessences and other forms by Jewish alchemists and mystics.
In regards to alchemy, there may have been some cross pollination between medieval Jews and Arabs. The 11th-century Byzantine Jewish Doctor, Simeon Sethus wrote “the dried leaf, when drunk, as meal, or rath- er [as dried meal for a drink]produces a hospitable drunkenness and lack of sensation by the eater. For it is crushed or kneaded among the Arabs for wine, and it inebriates.” As Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan, has noted, a number of medieval Kabbalists, refer to a technique of philosophical meditation, that included drinking a cup of “strong wine of Avicenna”, that induced a trance in order to aid the adept in pondering difficult philosophical questions (Kaplan, 1985). Unfortunately no recipe for this remains, but the medieval Islamic alchemist and physician, Avicenna, refers in his works to the effects of hashish, opium and datura extracts, and he was familiar with the infusion of these drugs into wine. Moreover, it has long been suggested that cannabis infused wines were used by the Ismai’li with whom Avicenna has long been associated. Simeon Sethus, an 11th century Byzantine Jewish doctor wrote of “cannabis as follows: Arabs will squeeze [the oils?]into wine to intoxicate’” (Gruner, 1814). Charles Dickens annual 19th weekly journal, ‘All the Year Round’, noted such combinations, in use well into the 19th century by Jews and Moslems alike. “Pure wine, however, is not for the topers of Ispahan and Teheran, the Jewish and Armenian dealers ministering to that fondness for narcotics which tend so greatly to enervate the East, by mixing myrrh, incense, and the juice of the Indian hemp with the finest growths.” (Dickens, 1862)
In this regard, some references to alchemical recipes that call for cannabis and other psychoactive plants to be infused into wine or other more potent alcoholic preparations, come to mind. In an earlier article I discussed references from the 4th century alchemist Zosimos, to cannabis and darnel infused in wines or beers for magical purposes, and Zosimos himself was said to have gathered much of his own knowledge from a female Alchemist known as ‘Mary the Jewess’ (Mary Hebraea). “The first nonfictious alchemists of the Western world, lived… in Hellensitic Egypt. And the earliest among them was Maria… the Jewess, for whom are chief source was Zosimos…” (Patai, 1994).
Mary the Jewess is credited with the invention of several kinds of chemical apparatus and is considered to be the first true alchemist of the Western world. Her works are often referred to by later alchemists. Carl jung, who studied both alchemy and Gnosticism, believed her work “may go back to very early times and thus to Gnostic societies” (Jung, 1970). Plants seem to have been involved in her alchemical processes as well. “Maria the Jewess was said to have identified the philosophers’s stone with a mysterious ‘white herb of the mountain’” (Patai, 1994).
In Better Living Through Alchemy Vol. I: Origins of Alchemy, Lynn Osburn, who has been researching alchemical texts for decades, and who has written about quintessences, suggests that Mary the Jewess may have also made a veiled reference to cannabis, (Osburn seems to have been unaware of the direct references to cannabis is the surviving writings attributed to Zosimos):
Unfortunately the alchemical writings of Maria Prophetissa are incomplete, surviving only in fragments copied by later writers. In one treatise ascribed to her, ―Practica Mariae Prophetissae in artem alchemicam,… she discusses matrimonium alchymicum (alchemical wedding) with the philosopher Aros. From it comes the oft repeated alchemical dictum “Marry gum with gum in true marriage.” …, C. G. Jung, wrote concerning the nature of that alchemical gum, “Originally it was ‘gum arabic’, and it is used here as a secret name for the transforming substance, on account of its adhesive quality.Thus Kunrath declares that the ‘red’ gum is the ‘resin of the wise’—a synonym for the transforming substance.” Had Jung been an initiate of alchemy he would have known that gum arabic was itself a pseudonym for the true transforming substance—the red resin of the wise—a gum gathered from the resinous flower clusters of female Cannabis sativa plants.That highly fragrant reddish resin has been produced in India since time immemorial and carried to the west by Arab traders. (Osburn, 2008)
Zosimos testified that the “true teachings about the Great Art” were to be found… in “the writings and books of the Jews” (Encylopedia Judaica, 2008). “Azulai speaks of the philosopher’s stone in his Midbar Kedemot (Lemberg, 1869, fol. 19), and calls it esev (‘weed’) as it was also called by the alchemists (and as it is called in other kabbalistic writings as well as in Hebrew manuscripts dealing with alchemy)” (Encylopedia Judaica, 2008). The Hebrew term ‘esev’ “weed”, has in modern times been used to designate cannabis and its products (Ben Israel, 2011), however it is not clear how far back this association can be dated. Although, as ‘hashish’, meaning ‘herb’ goes back to the early islamic period, that such an association may have been used in medieval times with ‘esev’ deserves at least some consideration.
As a result of this Jewish influence, numbers of Old Testament figures, such as Moses, Isaiah, Ezra, and most notably Isaiah, were deemed medieval practitioneers of alchemy, by later medieval and renaissance alchemists. “Several of the biblical prophets were considered adepts in alchemy. The prophet Elijah was often referred to by Christian alchemists, several of whose work carry the name Elijah in their title. In some of these treatises Jewish influence is evident…” (Patai, 1994)*.
Elijah, in this respect, is an interesting choice, for in the Islamic world Elijah, has been identified with the Green one, Khidr, seen as the patron saint of cannabis. And in that respect, it is important to note of the Jewish and Gnostic influences, all of this came to European alchemists after it had been filtered by Islamic ones.
The techniques of preparation of disease fighting, life preserving elixirs was the core of alchemy for many medieval and renaissance alchemists, and this again was an adaption from middle eastern influences that came into Europe following the Crusades. In references to figures such as “Lully, Paracelsus, Jerome Cardan, etc” Albert G. Mackey in his Encyclopedia of Freemasonry, wrote that these figures were not “occultists…They had been physicians and chemists; the ‘alchemy’ they studied was chemistry, and they studied it for medical uses… (along with botany, etc.)” (Mackey, 1873). Interestingly, as discussed in Liber 420, all 3 of the figures mentioned by name have associations with cannabis elixirs, Cardano and Paracelsus both left recipes for cannabis preparations, and cannabis appears in a number of Llullian texts.
These attempts to assuage human physical suffering were manifested in the utilization of the sacred narcotic herbs; the extraction of the sedative qualities of mandragora and Indian hemp; the concoctions of the alchemist; the magical powers of alleviating pain by a resignation transcending even the powers of potentates or priests. (Gies, 1948)
These preparations came under various names such as arcanums, tinctures, and quintessences (fifth essence), and all were equated with having the same sort of life preserving effects and qualities as the Philosopher’s stone by their adherents. From the very beginning “quintessence became linked to the Arab elixir—a substance that could prolong life” (Ball, 2006)
The elixir holds a similar position in the alchemical tradition to the philosopher’s stone; indeed, the two are sometimes interchangeable. Zoismos… wrote a… encyclopedia of alchemy, the Cheirokmeta, in which he mentioned a potent alchemical preparation called the Xerion, a word derived from the Greek for “dry.” It seems to allude to a dry powder, but in its Arabic form of al-iksir it became later identified as a miraculous potion. (Ball, 2006)
It is in the branch of alchemy known as Spagyrics from Ancient Greek σπάω spao “I collect” and ἀγείρω ageiro “I extract”, a name thought to have been coined by the European alchemist Paracelsus. And refers to extraction processes involving fermentation, distillation, tincturing, as well as extraction of essential oils with vapours and extraction of mineral elements from the ash of plants through calcination.
Tincturing, was one of the major arts of alchemy, since the time of Zosimos, and this included tinctures of plants, animals, stones and metals. One of Zosimos’ own surviving works, the Final Quittance, is devoted to this art. and he discusses the “differences between ‘opportune tinctures’, which are astrologic and daimonic in origin, and ‘natural tinctures’, which are grounded in a more empirical methodology and technique” (Fraser, 2004). Comments which reveal the combination of magic and science at work in alchemy.
It was in his excellent essay and accompanying translation, An Unknown Hebrew Medical Alchemist: A Medeival Treatise on the Qunita Essentia (1984) that the respected scholar of Jewish history, Raphael Patai first discussed a number of alchemical texts devoted to the Quintessence, and particularly identifies preparations containing cannabis, opium and other psychoactive plants. Patai returned to this topic in his pivotal work The Jewish Alchemists (Patai, 1994). He noted that “among the many Latin writings published by Ramon Lull there are several that deal with the fabulous quinta essentia. the purest of essences, which was supposed to rejuvenate the old and cure all kinds of diseases including mental aberrations” (Patai, 1994).
Of such texts, Patai’s work was directed at a Hebrew alchemical text devoted to the Quintessence, attributed to an anonymous author who claimed it was a copy of a text written by “a great sage whose name is Raimon”, a name believed to have been used in hopes of of associating it with the works of Ramon Llull. This centuries old text, written in Hebrew, appeared in a medieval manuscript alongside selections from the works of Avicenna. It was likely a copy of an even earlier lost Latin manuscript that did not survive, and may have been destroyed in the Church’s 14th century purge of such documents.
The 14th-15th century Hebrew manuscript opens with the words “And now I shall copy for you a great secret of the fifth essence, which is called in their language [Spanish] qinta esensia…. It was written by a great sage whose name Raimon…” Raphael Patai notes that as “for the identity of the author, all that can be said was that he was a Jewish physician whom lived in Spain in the fourteenth or fifteenth century, and knew, in addition to Hebrew, Latin, Spanish, Arabic, Persian, Turkish and Sanskrit” (Patai, 1984). Like the English The Book of Quintessence, with which it holds some strong comparisons, the author “influenced by the alchemical teachings of his time in which the quinta essentia occupied a prominent place. He repeats again and again that the admixture of the quinta essentia will increase the effectiveness of drugs” (Patai, 1984). As the Hebrew text records:
…if you want to prepare a potion for a disease… place those drugs which are appropriate for that potion into our Fifth Essence, and it will become like the potion, and it will be more effective, one part of it to a hundred. And likewise… the fragrant drugs, and thus all things of this kind, and thus all the cordial drugs must be pounded to utter thinness, until one cannot feel it by palpitation…
The author of the 14th century Hebrew text, goes onto give a variety of medicinal plants to be infused into the Fifth Essence and prescribes them for various ailments and conditions. Preparations of poppy, belladonna were also noted, via an infusion of ‘popillion ointment’, prepared opium, wolfsbane, henbane, monkshood, mandrake, and a variety of plants under foreign names which are not always clearly identifiable, as well as a preparation of “Pills… from India” so it is clear exotic imported ingredients were also in use. As the author of the tractate author states of such plants and preparations “apply these things to our heaven [quintessence]”. Patai notes of this in The Jewish Alchemists, where he also discusses this Hebrew alchemical text, “It should be noted that his instructions throughout the lists of his medicaments is to add them to ‘our heaven, that is, the fifth essence, whereby the original medicinal property and effectiveness of the substances in question will be maximized” (Patai, 1994/2014). It is clear, that the term ‘heaven’ was used in reference to this ethanol like preparation, the quintessence, that could absorb the ‘essence’ or ‘soul’ of the plant, and leave the material body behind, as with the concept of the human soul leaving the mortal body and ascending to Heaven.
Like Lull, he considers that the quinta essentia can cure almost anything, from melancholy, to pestilential fever, and from poisoning to demoniac possession… it can rejuvenate old men, renew the spirit of life, and endow women with beauty. Yet despite these clearly alchemical features, one gains the impression that the author relies more on the curative powers of the drugs themselves than on the quinta essentia added to them. Nowhere does he recommend the application of the quinta essentia by itself; he always suggests its use as an agent intensifying or augmenting the curative powers of drugs. (Patai, 1984)
I think Patai has it incorrect of his understanding of what has taken place. The quinta essentia was not “added” to the plants, the alchemical view was that the essence of the plant itself was extracted into the elixir, and the potion became the Quintessence of the plant or plants used. The anonymous author of the Hebrew treatise also refers to a mixture used both internally and topically that includes “chaff of hemp” for the treatment of “dropsy” and “Persian fire” which is thought to have been a form of venereal disease, and a variety of other ailments. Noting that the mixture is “also utterly effective against the illness of cancer if it is imbibed with sabar [aloe]” (Patai, 1994/2014). According to the anonymous Hebrew author of this 14th century tractate on the quintessence: “This medicine was invented by a great sage, and many old diseases came upon him, and he saw this in a dream, and made it, and was cured, and he put it in writing so as to help many people . And it helps internal [diseases]by drinking and external [diseases]by way of a plaster chaff of qanavos (hemp). And we have tried this medicine many times, and all those who take the above mentioned mixture will be saved form leprosy and perselia [palsy?], and from bad diseases which have no [other]cure.” Miraculous cures reminiscent of the tales of the Holy Grail.
In this respect, it should be remembered that even things like curing maladies, was considered miraculous, and the maladies themselves, as in ancient times, were often considered demonic in nature. As Raymond de Tarrega, recorded in De secrets naturae sive quinta essentia:
…The demons are attached to human bodies because of bad dispositions and corrupt humour, or because of melancholic infection which generates evil, black, and horrible images in fantasy, and disturbs the intellect, for the demons habitually take on such forms, and generally dwell in obscure and solitary places. When by virtue of the fifth essence [quintessence] and other things this humor, which is the reason they enter such a body, is expelled from it, then at the same time also the demons vanish at once altogether with the humor.
…And because of this there exists a revelation of how the sensate medicines have the effect of expelling demons from any body. Use, therefore that aforementioned medicine, and you will cure any demoniac…
This act of herbal healing is compared by de Tarrega to “Solomon’s act of necromancy, with which demons were forced to perform good works; or with evil virtue of words, stones, and plants. It is therefore clear how the demons are subject to the action of senate things.” Thus, to cure someone of disease, was equal to, control over demons, and even an exorcism, and herein may have laid the issues the Church had with the alchemists who were preparing the quintessence and writing about its various manifestations from different plant preparations. Indeed, the threat of persecution by the Church, was the force behind the need to keep their inner lives secretive was a reality shared by Jews, Alchemists and Magicians alike, so little wonder these avenues at times crossed paths.