Bringing a new meaning to the term High Priest, Chris Bennett’s Liber 420: Cannabis, Magical Herbs and the Occult reveals a world of lost knowledge about the origins and practices of mainstream religions and underground spirituality. Bennett makes great use of the massive migration of books and manuscripts online. The words for cannabis in Latin, Greek and other languages have remained remarkably consistent. For instance, the ancient Greek κάνναβις would be transliterated into English as kannabis. That makes the search much easier. As a result, a vast treasury of previously forgotten or ignored primary sources reveal a history more familiar than most might suspect.

Bennett reminds us this territory is not new. Madame Blavatsky could be the logo for hash in esoterically inclined circles. Manly Palmer Hall wrote about the use of mind altering substances in the mysteries in his classic The Secret Teachings of All Ages. Zanoni author and Rosicrucian mythologist Lord Bulwer-Lytton, no stranger to opium, was notorious for smoking from a six or seven foot pipe. The tragic lovers in the history of European alchemy, Thomas and Rebecca Vaughn, left a few recipes that seemed to have more to do with altered states of consciousness then making gold. Had the infamous Paschal Beverly Randolph lived now instead of then, he would most likely have been a prosperous business man providing his formulas to dispensaries in states where weed is now legal. And then there’s Crowley.

With legalization of cannabis a central theme in politics today, the timing could not be better for this information to reach the public. This book should be sold in every dispensary. The abundant proof from a wide variety of sources, and the internal consistency of the patterns revealed, leave little doubt that even the most illustrious among our spiritual ancestors knew not only the usefulness of hemp, and the healing qualities of cannabis, but also the entheogenic properties of THC.

Liber 420: Cannabis, Magical Herbs and the Occult was released today.

Ronnie Pontiac: A lifetime of exhaustive research went into this detailed survey of the apparently worldwide relationship between cannabis and religious experience, even in some of the most orthodox religions and sects. Were you looking for such connections all along, or were you surprised when you discovered so many of them? How did you first begin studying this subject?

Chris Bennett: This is my 4th book on the role of cannabis as an entheogen. I have been researching the historical role of cannabis in the spiritual life of humanity for more than a quarter century. I am the co-author of Green Gold the Tree of Life: Marijuana in Magic and Religion (1995); Sex, Drugs, Violence and the Bible (2001); and the author of Cannabis and the Soma Solution (2010); and now Liber 420: Cannabis, Magickal herbs and the Occult (2018). I have 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).

What really surprised me was the amount of material in the 12th-19th century regarding cannabis’ role in the occult. Initially I had thought I might be able to get a chapter or two out of the medieval and renaissance material, and that I would focus on the 19th-to early 20th century, where there is a plethora of material on this.

However, I found so much medieval and renaissance material about cannabis in alchemy and magick, and it dominated the book. I had to pull a large chapter from the book on Crowley and about 30,000 words just to get it down to the whopping 777 pages that it is. I had a lot of material translated from Latin, Old German, French and other languages for this project that will appear for the first time in English.

Have you seen patterns that link marijuana prohibition to certain historical trends?

It seems like its always about control, usually from a theocratic standpoint. Religions like Judaism, Christianity and Islam have viewed entheogens as a threat since they first took forms in books of orthodoxy. This is related to the direct experience entheogens can provide, rather than the purely literary accounts that are meant to suffice for the general believer.

Why has the extraordinary role of cannabis in sacred rites been ignored by mainstream historians and practitioners?

A lot of it was buried intentionally by the Church and other sources who wanted to prevent the spread of such practices and demonized them. I think cultural prejudice against these substances has resulted in a lack of understanding, and many scholars do not understand the significance of the role of such substances. Even modern translations of grimoires seldom dwell on or explain the references to drugs when they do occur, and just gloss over them. I think it helps to have some familiarity with the states that various entheogens can induce,when trying to understand their use in a historical context – this is lacking with many scholars. This is a major issue in ancient world studies of these substances as well.

What was the connection between Templars, Hashishin and the myth of the Old Man of the Mountain, and the artificial paradise of the Assassins?

There is a broad mix of speculation and fact in this regard. The Hashishin were reputed to use an elixir of hashish and likely other substances as part of a death and resurrection ceremony. This was in the Persian region and before the Islamic period, Zoroastrian figures were using cannabis infused wines for this same purpose. There have been various claims that the Templars had a cannabis infused wine known as the Elixir of Jerusalem, reported in books such as Heresy and Science in the Middle Ages (2015) by Prof. Camillo Di Cicco.

However, as I found, none of these sources cite any time period material on this subject. I was able to find records of cannabis being seized from two Templar locations at the times of raids. Records show how the Templars had a contract with Saracens to grow cannabis alongside other rare herbs, like saffron, for them in Spain. As the Saracens were not known for growing the industrial varieties of cannabis, this is intriguing. Also, a Pope who was friendly with the Templars before they ran afoul of the Church, Pope John XXI (1215-1277), included cannabis infused wines in the remedies he provided in A Treasury of Health [era 1277]. A Master Mason who spent time in the Holy Land in this same period, returned to Europe and recorded a similar infusion in The Portfolio of Villard de Honnecourt, a 13th century Masonic Lodge book.

I have an article online that explores some of these themes.

Herodotus mentions κάνναβις fumigation in a tent when he writes about the Scythians. How does this relate to the prehistoric connection between horses, hemp and cannabis?

By the time Herodotus recorded that passage the Scyths had already been practicing hemp fumigations for generations, and had already spread cannabis use throughout much of the ancient world through their high mobility technology of horseback riding. It is thought that this technique and the domestication of the horse, and even the root word for cannabis ‘kanna’, goes back to the Scyth’s distant ancestors, the proto-Indo European group known as the Sredni Stog (who I discuss in much more detail in my 2010 book, Cannabis and the Soma Solution). Evidence of this group’s use of cannabis for fumigation go back to 5,500 years ago in the Ukraine region. Instead of a tent to capture the fumes of smouldering cannabis, they used a small cave. This same group is believed to have been the first to domesticate the horse, an act of animal husbandry that first came about through the development of hemp ropes, which allowed for their capture, training and domestication. An incredible human achievement.

Read about scythians and cannabis here.

What does the Philosopher’s Stone of Paracelsus have to do with opium, and with his early death?

Some medieval and renaissance alchemists used various plants in their various extractions known as quintessences and arcanums, as well as in their production of the Philosopher’s Stone. For Paracelsus, who included cannabis, opium and other narcotic herbs in his various recipes, the premier substance was opium. He is largely credited with bringing its medicinal qualities to European medicine. As we read in Davies’ 1657 Old English translation of Naude’s work, The History of Magick By Way of Apology For all the Wise Men who have have unjustly been reputed Magicians from the Creation to the Present Age:

“…Johanes Oporinus, who was his fervant a long time, and having made firft difcovery of what is now objected to him… who having ftayd twenty feven months with him, fayes… that, when he was drunk, he would threaten to bring millions of Devils, to fhew what power he had over them, not to take any notice of what many fay of the familiar Daemon which lock’d up within the pommel of his fword. For, not to bring upon the ftage the opinion of the Alchymifts who maintaine, it was the fecret of the Philofophers ftone, it were more rationall to believe, that, if there were anything within it, it was certainly two or three dofes of his Laudanum, which he never went without, because he did ftrange things with it and uf’d it as a univerfall medicine to cure all manner of difeafes” (Davies/Naude, 1657)

This last comment indicates that opium was used for “strange things” as well as a medicine by Paracelsus. Naude also gives us the likely origins for the often quoted claim that opium was the basis for Paracelsus’ version of the ‘Philosopher’s Stone’. Paracelsus’ philosopher’s stone seems to be a solid form of his elixir Laudanum. Paracelsus’ servant, Johanes Oporinus, claimed that when Paracelsus “was drunk, he would threaten to bring millions of Devils, to fhew [show] what power he had over them, not to take any notice of what many fay of the familiar Daemon which lock’d up within the pommel of his fword [sword]” (Naude, 1625/1657). This shows that Paracelsus did make reference to his knowledge and practice of magic. It has been a longstanding view that besides his interest in alchemy and medicine that Paracelsus was also a practicing magician. “He not only told fortunes and interpreted dreams, but even ventured upon summoning spirits from the cast deep” (Maxwell, 1865). The two arts really went hand in hand at this time.

Paracelsus is alleged to have died at 47 through poisoned wine, although others have suggested the results of lifetime of drug addiction and withdrawal, along with ingestion of mercury and other toxic substances in various alchemical elixirs. The facts vs. myth of his death are as hard to sort out as the various romantic details of Paracelsus’ fascinating life.

I suspect that one of the reasons Paracelsus is more remembered for his advocacy of opium based products, and not cannabis ones, is the element of dependence that the former invokes in its users. There is little to no historical record of addiction issues until these more concentrated extracts of the poppy were produced, and the use of raw opium goes back thousands of years. One could speculate that the renaissance alchemist, not being aware of the basics of “addiction” in the way it is known in our own time period, may have imagined when not having it his powers were waning. Upon ingesting one of his mouse size turds of laudanum, or drinking it in a tincture, he imagined his powers were miraculously restored. 

Read bout Paracelsus’ cannabis arcanum here.

Do most grimoires contain cannabis recipes? How does this relate to esotericists like Frederick Hockley and Emma Hardinge Britten using mirrors for skrying? How far back do you think the practice goes?

It appears in a number of well known magical texts, such as the 13th century Picatrix and 16th century Sepher Raziel: Liber Salomonis (1564) and the Book of Magic, with instructions for invoking spirits, etc. (ca. (1577-1583). The later two texts record recipes with cannabis for mirror scrying.

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).

“Anoint thee with the Joice of Canabus & the Joice of Archangell & before a mirrour of steele call spirits, & thoue shalt see them & have power to binde & to loose them” (Book of magic, with instructions for invoking spirits, etc., 1577-1583)

I would suggest that such techniques are quite ancient and indications of this can be found in the cup of Jamashid and other accounts. Moreover, it carried on for centuries after. Emma Hardinge Britten, well known for mirror skrying, wrote:

“…in order to profit by my mirror, I would advise the ceremony to be performed with a certain dignity, and to have recourse only to what may act on the imagination or nerves, as much by a normal or spiritual magnetism as by the assistance of perfumes. All those that bear or shed a sweet, pleasant smell, are suitable for the good spirits ; such as incense, musk, gum-lac, etc.; and for evil spirits, the seeds of henbane, hemp, belladonna, anise, or coriander, etc. Each seeks his own atmosphere, or one akin to it” (Britten, 1876).

Elsewhere she referred to a variety of other substances to induce the trance state: “The Soma juice, hasheesh, opium, the napellus, and distillations procured from two or three species of acrid fungi*, are considered the most effective narcotics appropriate for inducing the trance condition” (Britten, 1876).

Hockley, who was a Freemason Grand Steward, and member of the Royal Arch, in his youth had been a pupil of Francis Barrett, author of the celebrated grimoire The Magus, and himself the author of Invocating by Magic Crystals and Mirrors (1869/2010). Hockley, who had used magic mirrors since he was a teenager, likely learned about them, as well as the occult use of drugs from Barrett. In 1886, Hockley released The Offices and Order of Spirits: The Occult Virtues of Plants & Some rare Magical Charms & Spells, which is basically his transliteration of the first half of Book of magic, with instructions for invoking spirits, etc. (ca. (1577-1583). The Offices and Order of Spirits included the cannabis mirror scrying recipe, as well as directions for fumigation opium. “Apium [Opium]* hath great power upon winds and devils and phantasies” (Hockley, 1886/2011). In this respect it should be noted that Herbert Irwin, who was one of the teenaged scryers Hockley was known to have used (because they thought virginity was an important factor in psychic powers) is known to have come to his demise from an opium overdose taken during a scrying session. This may have led to more caution from Hockley in discussing this aspect of his techniques, and is the reason so little has been written about this in reference to him.

The use of mirrors and various narcotics was extremely popular in the 19th century and the works of notable occult figures such as Dr. Paschal Beverly Randolph, and L. A. Cahagnet have various instructions and recipes in this regard.

I discuss the potential role of cannabis and other narcotics in the magic of the Renaissance magician and mirror devotee Dr. John Dee here.

Where did you find a recipe for writing on a cannabis leaf and burning it? What can we learn from that?

This comes from the 13th century grimoire the Picatrix which was translated into Latin in the 13th century from the 10th century Arabic magical grimoire The Ghayat al Hakim. The Picatrix is a testament to the pivotal role of drugs in magic, and is full of references, to opium, cannabis, mandrake and various other narcotic plants. The inscribed cannabis recipe is likely a form of contagious magick, the effects of cannabis were thought to be magical, so by association so was the plant. This leads to the use of cannabis in ways that are not only associated with its ingestions and psychological effects. However, the Picatrix does refer to incense to invoke a “servant of the moon” that included stag blood, amber, camphor and over a pound of cannabis resin! Such ritual suffumigations often culminated in the magician seeing the invoked deity within the smoke of the offering itself.

This is a great presentation on the use of drugs in the magic of the Picatrix:

What was the importance of opium in the alchemical work of Thomas and Rebecca Vaughn?

Thomas and Rebecca Vaughan’s Aqua Vitae:Non Vitis (Vaughan & Vaughan, 1741), contains a number of recipes with veiled over references to narcotic ingredients, such as opium:

“Certain Notes on the Spirit of Vitriol For Making Medicine”

“Antimony can be set right with that if the antimony is first purged by resin… And… all narcotics, and especially opium. The amended matter can in fact be dissolved in our burning spirits, etc.” (Vaughan, 1741)*
As translated in (Dickson, 2001)

Under the title “Extraction of Tinctures from… Opium…” Vaughan advises:

“Mix together equal parts distilled water and vitriol. Then put in the matter and decoct, until the water is tinged. Pour spirit of wine into the tinged water, and it will draw the tincture to itself, et….. If they are heated with the required weight of nitre, then the tincture can be extracted with aqua vitae alone” (Vaugan, 1741).

As translated in Dickson, Donald and Vaughan, Thomas, Thomas and Rebecca Vaughan’s Aqua Vitae:NonVitis (Vaughan, 1741); (2001).

What is the connection between cannabis, the Tent of the Meeting, Moses, and speaking to the angel in the pillar of smoke?

Of the historical material indicating the Hebraic use of cannabis, the strongest and most profound piece of evidence was established by Sula Benet (a.k.a. Sara Benetowa), a Polish etymologist from the Institute of Anthropological Sciences in Warsaw. Creating a controversy that has increased ever since, Benet claimed that “In the original Hebrew text of the Old Testament there are references to hemp, both as incense, which was an integral part of religious celebration, and as an intoxicant” (Benet 1975: 1936).

Through comparative etymological study, Benet documented that in the Old Testament and in its Aramaic translation, the Targum Onculos, hemp is referred to as keneh bosem (variously translated as kaneh bosem, kaniebosm, q’neh bosm) and is also rendered in traditional Hebrew as kannabos or kannabus. The root “kana” in this construction means “cane~reed” or “hemp”, while “bosm” means “aromatic.” This Hebrew word “kaneh” occurs many times in the Bible, and in some instances, it can simply mean “reed”, “cane”, or “stalk”, but Benet stated that in certain Biblical passages such as Exodus 30:23, Song of Songs 4:14, Isaiah 43:24, Jeremiah 6:20, Ezekiel 27:19, the word specifically refers to cannabis.

Benet believed that the word keneh-bosm was mistranslated as calamus, a common marsh plant with little monetary value that does not have the qualities or value ascribed to kaneh or kaneh-bosm. The error occurred in the oldest Greek translation of the Hebrew Torah, the Septuagint in the third century BC, and was repeated in the many translations that followed such as the Vulgate.

I have a no-budget documentary on YouTube that features Prof. Carl Ruck, Dr. Ethan and others discussing this increasingly popular theory and what is behind it, for those interested in understanding the depth of this (see below).

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Can you explain the connection between Rabelais, A.E. Waite and cannabis infused wine?

Liber 420 is dedicated to Francois Rabelais, a 15th century monk, bachelor of medicine and alchemist, who filled his parody of the grail mythos, Gargantua and Pantagruel, with all sorts of esoteric lore, including coded references to cannabis as the herb pantagruelion in 3 chapters, which were prohibited by the church for some centuries and were still omitted from some versions well into the 20th century. In Liber 420 I make as case for Rabelais preparation of cannabis infused wines, and this was apparently the view of earlier writers, such as A. E. Waite. In his Devil-Worship in France, with Diana Vaughn and The Question of Modern Palladism (1887), he describes an alleged initiation into a form of Luciferian Freemasonry and makes reference to “the drink of rare old Rabelais”:

“Miss Vaughan began her preparations by a triduum, taking one meal daily of black bread, fritters of high-spiced blood, a salad of milky herbs, and the drink of rare old Rabelais. The preparations in detail are scarcely worth recording as they merely vary the directions in the popular chap-books of magic which abound in foolish France. At the appointed time she passed through the iron doors of the Sanctum Regnum. “Fear not!” said Albert Pike, and she advanced remplie d’une ardente allegresse, was greeted by the eleven prime chiefs, who presently retired, possibly for prayer or refreshments, possibly for operations in wire-pulling. Diana Vaughan remained alone, in the presence of the Palladium, namely, our poor old friend Baphomet, whom his admirers persist in representing with a goat’s head, whereas he is the archetype of the ass.” (Waite, 1887)

We can be sure that Waite’s reference to “the drink of rare old Rabelais” is a reference to a cannabis infused wine, as the regime given of “fritters of high-spiced blood” and “salad of milky herbs” is the exact same as that given by Eliphas Levi in Dogme et Rituel de la Haute Magie (1856), which Waite had translated the year before.

From it, a description of a ritual for invoking the devil: “this repast must be made off black bread and blood seasoned with unsalted spices, or off black beans, and milky, narcotic herbs ; every five days, after sunset, one must get drunk on wine in which five heads of black poppies and five ounces of bruised hemp have been steeped…” (Levi/Waite, 1886).

The account of Vaughn, who was claimed as a descendant of Thomas Vaughn, was itself part of an elaborate fraud known as The Taxil Hoax, which I discuss here.

Would Randolph’s patented aphrodisiac and medicinal cannabis formulas find a place in today’s dispensaries?

Dr. Paschal Beverly Randolph is the forefather of all cannabis tinctures in American medical marijuana dispensaries, and his important historical role in the occult, cannabis history and even the history of the American negro has been largely ignored. He described the medicinal quality of his Miracle remedy, the “Oriental Hemp” as the “grand secret.”

From page 67 his The Unveiling: Or What I Think of Spiritualism [With] Medicinal Formulas (1860):

The Only True Method of Curing Disease.

There is no “guess work” or “perhaps” about the matter. We know what will cure and what won’t.

I have satisfied myself that no one article of the Materia Medica is more worthy of regard than ORIENTAL HEMP.

An extract of which I imported and keep on hand. 48 grains thereof, mixed with 100 of sugar of milk, divided into 128 equal parts, one to be taken every six hours, will cure the most inveterate STRICTURE, PILES, PROSTATIC and FEMALE DIFFICULTY. I have made arrangements with an importer to furnish me the very best Oriental Hemp, upon whose genuineness my correspondents may place implicit reliance. Persons who use this herb in medicated baths, as a poultice, or in any way, should beware of the miserable trash usually sold under its name. Above all, should they avoid the so-called “Extracts.” The medicinal properties of this remarkable plant are absolutely destroyed by heat and Alcohol. They are literally worthless, for they are all prepared by heat. Procure the French or Egyptian extracts. I am the only person in this country possessed of the Egyptian formula for the extraction of the medicinal properties of this plant, and I will impart it to those who want it, if paid for my time in writing it out.
While investigating, and searching for a cure for the diseases named above, I also searched for their causes, and the means of their prevention. I found both; and also made what I believe to be the most important discovery of the last 25 years, in a physiological point of view; I have caused this to be printed in a form compact and simple. No man, no woman, whether married or single, young or old, who values health, strength, beauty and long life, should be without that, which, from its peculiar nature, and inestimable value, is called “The Grand Secret.”

Here let it be distinctly and forever understood, that the information alluded to, and constituting it, is of a high, a noble, pure and philanthropic, as well as a medicinal and physiological character. It is sacred, and will yet save millions from misery, early death, and ruin. There is nothing morbid about it, nor is it intended to gratify—but it is intended to cure those who are. Why? Because it is the keystone of the arch of health, social, moral, mental, and physical; and from its study, naught but manly, womanly, holy and serene purity, good, and excellence can come, Its cost is one dollar, and 3 red stamps, —a trifle,—while the secrets disclosed are well worth thous-‘ ands to any sensible human being — and to such only will it, knowingly, be sent.

I have also written about Randolph here.

What are some of the most notable healing properties of cannabis various cultures in history have prized?

Cannabis was used as a medicine for many of the same things it is today. Paraclesus cannabis arcanum was proscribed for epilepsy, Pope John XXI’s A Treasury of Health (1277) records “The ioyce of Hempe, afore the fyt taketh away the feuer” in a “remedy against a carbuncle”, Pope John XXI also recommends a cannabis infused wine:

Remedies – Agaynst the scabe and french pokes cap. LXII

. . . Take of red colewortes, fengreke Percely, sothernewod, tansey, strawbery leaues, and suet, brere leaues, plantayn leaues, hempe, redmadder smallage, cransebill, Alam, nuttes, before al thynges let them be sodde~ together in pure whyte wyne, & put therto a lytle hony, giue it vnto the pacient early & late, and anoynte ye wound wtout when he hath dronke of ye sayd potion, & lay theron a lefe of red colewortes & keape the same co~tynually ouer it, it openeth it and hath ben often prouyd.

Pope John XXI’s comments came from a time when the Papacy did not consider the art of healing the body as distracting away from the churches directive of the salvation of the soul, a view the Vatican would take in later times. Interestingly after his death, rumors about Pope John XXI being a necromancer began to appear, and that his death was punishment from God for composing a heretical treatise.

One of the more well known things I have suggested is that many of the miracles of Christ might be explained by the use of cannabis in a holy ointment, and this idea has received international attention with stories in the BBC , Guardian, Sunday Times, Washington Post, Vice and other media sources. Readers interested in this can check this out.

Order Liber 420: Cannabis, Magickal Herbs and the Occult here.

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