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Hemp in Religion

See also:
See also: Fibre, food, fuel, Marijuana, Medicine, Law
See also: "Hempen Culture in Japan".
See also: "Hempen Culture in Japan": Religion.
See also: Hemp in Japanese History and Culture.

See also: Overview
See also: Ise Jingu in Mie prefecture
See also: "Religions of Japan"
See also: "Liberation from Occupation!"
See also: Hemp and Sumo
See also: Islam, Hinduism, Christianity, Rastafarianism

Hemp Hempen paper and fibre

1. Overview

Hemp has an important function in the mythology of Shinto, the "Way of the Gods", as the ancient indigenous religion of Japan is known. Hemp was used to purify, to drive out evil (exorcism). Hemp seeds were used in Shinto marriage ceremonies. In some ceremonies hemp leaves were burnt as an "invitation to the spirits". (Moore) Even today there are shinto ceremonies at major shrines such as Ise Jingu in Mie prefecture and other shrines that involve the burning of taima (marijuana).

The priests' clothes were made from hemp linen and and bell ropes in shrines (see image to the right) were made from hemp too. Hemp for bell ropes is still grown in Nagano prefecture today. Several hemp fields are cultivated on Shikoku (one of the four main islands of Japan) to make ceremonial linen clothes for the Imperial family and for Shinto priests.

Hempen bell rope
Hempen bell rope

Hempen rope, fibre and paper 
in oldest shrine in Saitama (1999)
Hempen rope, fibre and paper in oldest shrine in Saitama
Hempen paper and raw fibre

Hemp fibre attached to a wooden stick called a gohei is used in Shinto cleansing ceremonies, such as Shichigosan. Hemp ropes and hemp paper are often seen as decorations in shrines as they are believed to keep away evil.

At Japanese weddings so called Shishimai dragon dances are sometimes performed. The thick white "hair" of these dragons is hemp fibre, and so is the "hair" of fox masks and other costumes worn at o-matsuri (festivals). The heavy carts pulled trough villages in o-matsuri are pulled on hemp ropes.

Believers in Shinto sought the protection of a certain group of gods, the Sahe no Kami: "Travellers prayed to them before setting out on a journey and made a little offering of hemp leaves and rice to each one they passed." (Moore) We are not surprised that rice was a standard travel fare, but this passage tells us that medieval Japanese used to travel carrying hemp leaves, nowadays called marijuana. If travellers were to practice their religion this way today they could face as much as 5 years in prison.

"Another Shinto tale tells that every October, all the dieties from around Japan gather at a sacred site in rural Shimane prefecture (Sea of Japan side of Honshu, south of Tottori) at Japan's largest jinja (shrine) called Iizumo taisha. During this month, the rest of the nation is left unprotected from calamity while the Gods hold a harvest and match-making ritual celebration. Shimane-ken is far out of the way of any urban center and, besides being "Home of the Gods," it was the home to bounteous hemp harvests up until about 50 years ago."

Dave Olson

See also:
See also: An Overview of Shinto
See also: "Jinja Matsuri in ****-machi"

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2. Liberation from Occupation!
From an interview with Pon (Yamada Kaiya)

"Well, the prayer given at the Ise Jingu, which is the shrine to Amaterasu, the founding god of the imperial family, is called taima, or marijuana. Hemp and rice are two sacred things which are part and parcel of the rites conducted at Ise Jingu. This is because hemp and rice were the staple products of the Jomon and Yayoi cultures, respectively. This means they were the most sacred things to these people. The imperial tribe, which was an invading people, took possession of these two sacred things and made them into instruments of control."

Yamada Kaiya
in the December 1995 issue of Jiyu Ishi
translated version in Tokyo Observer 15

Emperor (left), priest, hemp fibre (right)
at funeral of Emperor's mother

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3. Ise Shrine (ise jingu) in Mie prefecture
This is the main shrine of the the Amaterasu, the Sun Goddess. Since the Japanese emperors claim to be her descendants it is also the main shrine of Japanese Imperial family.

taima ceremony in Ise Jingu

Five times a year so called "taima" (marijuana) ceremonies are conducted at the shrine:

January 8:taima reki hôsei hajime sai
March 1:taima reki hampu chûryû sai
Mid April:taima reki yôzai kiri hajime sai
September 17:taima reki hampu hajime sai
December 20:taima reki hosei chûryû sai

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4. Religions Of Japan
by George Foot Moore (1913)

Shinto hemp ceremony in Shikoku (1990)
Shinto priests carrying cannabis plants in the mountains of Gunma prefecture (1990)

Chapter I: Part II

To ward off ills caused by demons, especially the demons of disease, the ancient Japanese sought the protection of a particular group of gods, the Sahe no Kami, or "preventive deities", who are invoked in an old liturgical text to defend the worshippers against the "hostile and savage beings of the root country," such as the "hags of Hades" who pursued Izanagi.

These deities were represented by phalli, often of gigantic size, which were set up along highways and especially at cross-roads to bar the passage against malignant beings who sought to pass. In the liturgy referred to, one of these gods is called "No Thoroughfare" (Kunado, or Funado), the name of the staff which Izanagi threw down to prevent his pursuing spouse from breaking out from Hades into the world above; two others are the prince and princess of the eight cross-roads. They had no temples, and were worshipped at the end of the sixth and twelfth months - the time of the semiannual lustration - and on occasion at other times, for example, on the outbreak of a pestilence.

The phallic form of the end post of a balustrade or a bridge has a similar meaning; it keeps evil influence from passing. The apotropaic virtue of this symbol - a virtue which it has in many other countries, notably among the ancient Greeks - is due to the association of virility with manly strength, power to overcome invisible foes as well as visible, and to protect those in need of help. Standing as they did on the roadside and at cross-roads, these gods became the protectors of the wayfarers; travellers prayed to them before setting out on a journey and made a little offering of hemp leaves and rice to each one they passed.

These gods had nothing to do, so far as the evidence shows, with fertility or the reproductive functions; no peculiar rites were observed in their worship, and however objectionable to the taste of a more refined age, the cult was in no sense immoral or conducive to immorality. In modern times, out of regard to the prejudices of Europeans who connected obscene notions with them, they have been generally removed from the roads, remaining only in out-of-the-way corners of the empire.


Chapter II: Part II

From the 13th to the 15th of July an All-Souls feast is kept, at which time it is believed that the souls are permitted to return to their kindred and be entertained by them. A staging of bamboo canes is erected in one of the rooms of the house, on which food and lanterns are placed for the spirits, and a Buddhist priest reads a mass before them.

On the first evening fires of hemp leaves are lighted before the entrance of the house, and incense strewed on the coals, as an invitation to the spirits. At the end of the three days the food that has been set out for the spirits is wrapped up in mats and thrown into a river. Dances of a peculiar kind are a conspicuous feature of the celebration, which is evidently an old Japanese custom; the Buddhist elements are adscititious.

At this season the graves are decorated, and frequent visits are paid by the kinsfolk. For those who have no relatives living a mass is said in all the temples for "the hungry devils."

Quoted from: taima CD-ROM

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5. Hemp in Sumo

Yokozuna Akebono performing ancient ceremony 
wearing a heavy hemp belt

During the sumo ritual of dôyo-iri a yokozuna, the highest ranking sumo wrestler, will ritually cleanse the dôyo (sumo ring) to exorcise evil, wearing a hemp rope weighing several kg around his belly.

The choice of material is no coincidence. The reason for it is hemp's association with purity, with driving out evil spirits. One such hemp belt was presented by Japanese prime minister Obuchi to French President Chirac, a sumo fan and, ironically, a staunch supporter of marijuana prohibition.

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6. Hemp in other religions

The Koran prohibits Muslims from drinking wine but it does not specifically mention any other intoxicants. While some Muslim liberals say that what the prophet really objected to was drunkenness, i.e. excessive drinking, other, very conservative scholars claim that the prohibition encompasses various kinds of substances, from opium to coffee. Hemp was prohibited in Egypt on that basis, and so was coffee in the Ottoman Turkish empire (see A Chronology of Psychoactive Substance Use). In 1925 the Egyptian government asked England to support adding Indian hemp to an international list of substances to be controlled. The Egyptian government was opposed to alcohol too, but that was not made illegal in Western countries. Opposition to cannabis on religious grounds in Islamic countries has essentially been based on narrow-minded dogma that seeks to regulate all private pleasure in the name of religion.

Many Islamic societies were tolerant of cannabis until international politics forced them to copy western prohibition laws. In Morocco cannabis became illegal in 1960 because the government was bribed through large payments from foreign governments. The new law hasn't stopped the cultivation, it has simply allowed the government and its officials to accepts bribes from both sides. Cannabis from Morrocco, Egypt, Lebanon, Persia (Iran), Afghanistan and India was widely used in the Muslim world. Soldiers of Napoleon Bonaparte brought back hashish from a war in Egypt to 19th century France. The Mogul emperors of India who left us the beautiful Taj Mahal were cannabis smokers too.

Cannabis is still widely grown and used in Islamic countries, from the "kif" plantations of the Rif mountains in Morrocco to the jungles of Aceh in Indonesia. Even draconic laws at certain times and in certain countries have not been able to stamp out the custom.

There is so much to be said about Cannabis in Indian religion that we recommend studying the corresponding chapter of the Report of the Indian Hemp Drugs Comission, published by the British government when India was one of its colonies:

See also:
See also: Cannabis in Indian religion (

There are no prohibitions against cannabis stated in the Bible, the holy book of Christians. According to the Book of Genesis which describes the creation of the earth, God created all plants, which would include cannabis. It states specifically that God gave humans "all plants bearing seeds" for their use.

It is said that the Mexican word "marijuana" has a Christian origin. "Maria" (Mary) and "Juan" (John) are the names of the mother and of one disciple of Iesus. When he was crucified they were the only people not to desert him. I think the idea behind this is that marijuana has often been used by poor and disadvantaged people to make tolerable what is otherwise hard to bear. In many countries marijuana was a drug of the poor (e.g. Jamaica, South Africa, Egypt, USA before 1960s) while rich people drank alcohol. Rich and powerful people have always been suspicious of poor people and their habits.

See also:
See also: The War on Drugs is Un-Christian (
See also: Marijuana and the Bible (
See also: Cannabis and the Christ: Jesus used Marijuana (

Rastafarianism is a biblical religion originating from Jamaica and the Caribbean. It was popularized across the world by reggae musicians, including Bob Marley (1945-1981). Cannabis was introduced into Jamaica by Asian Indian plantation workers brought there to work the sugar plantations after the end of slavery. Marijuana is still known by it's Indian name "ganja" in Jamaica. Rastafarians consider smoking marijuana a sacrament, like eating bread and drinking wine is during mass in Christianity. As Rastafarianism has been more accepted into the mainstream of Jamaican culture and has gained respect, the push for legalisation of ganja in Jamaica has grown in strength.

A 1975 study by Rubin and Comitas, "Ganja in Jamaica" found no demonstratable negative effects of cannabis use in Jamaica. Users were socially well integrated, productive and healthy.

See also:

Ganja in Jamaica
1975 by Vera Rubin and Lambros Comitas
ISBN: 9027977313
7. Universal Declaration of Human Rights
Article 18.
"Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance."
Adopted and proclaimed by General Assembly
resolution 217 A (III) of 10 December 1948

See also:
See also: Hemp for fibre, food and fuel, as a "drug", as medicine.
See also: "Hempen Culture in Japan".
See also: "Hempen Culture in Japan": Religion.
See also: Hemp in Japanese History and Culture.

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