Dank Magic: How Witches Use Weed in Their Craft
For most people, the most quintessential image of a witch is a figure in silhouette, perched on a broomstick and flying in front of the moon. I don’t know about you, but the closest I’ve ever come to feeling like I’m flying across the moon has been when I’m stoned out of my mind.
As it turns out, this may not be a total coincidence: The history of magic and witchcraft is full of orgies, drinking, and entheogens, all used as a way to achieve a magical, transitional state of mind—one where your body may still be in the physical realm but your spirit is elsewhere, free to roam “between the worlds.”
One of the oldest, and most notable, examples of using altered states in magic is the Oracle of Delphi: For centuries, ancient priestesses of the Greek god Apollo, stationed at a temple built around a sacred spring at Delphi, would divine the future for visitors from all over the ancient world; so significant was their influence that kings would consult with them about whether they should go to war. It was generally understood that Apollo’s spirit would enter each priestess, enabling her to see the future. According to Uses and Abuses of Plant Derived Smoke, an ethnobotanical compendium on the use of smoke throughout the world, the priestess would sit on a tripod above a hole through which vapors arose, and these vapors were thought to induce her visions.
Though many researchers believe the vapors contained “a variety of potentially toxic natural gases” emanating from the ground, some hypothesize that hallucinogenic plants were burned beneath the temple and vented up towards the smoke-shrouded seer, or that the priestesses would smoke or eat hallucinogens in addition to inhaling the fumes from the earth. While many scholars theorize the Oracle burned bay leaves, since they were sacred to Apollo, others have taken it a step farther. Dr. DCA Hillman, a bacteriologist and classicist who has written about drug use in the ancient world, argues that there is evidence cannabis was traditionally burned to induce the Oracle’s trance state since bay leaves are not known to have psychoactive properties, and marijuana was already introduced to Greece from central Asian tribes who knew of the herb’s potent psychotropic powers.
The Oracle of Delphi was far from the only ancient magic practitioner to utilize marijuana in her craft: As noted in Uses and Abuses of Plant-Derived Smoke, “Members of the Gaddi tribe of India’s Himachal Pradesh State in the western Himalayas, for example, smoked the resin of female [cannabis] plants, called sulpha, for the hallucinations it induced.” Shamans and nobles from China to Russia have also been found buried with marijuana plants, denoting its sacred role.
The Oracle of Delphi. Image via Wikipedia Commons
There isn’t much evidence that marijuana was used widely during the Middle Ages in Europe—other than the fact that Pope Innocent VIII explicitly banned it—but European witches still found ways to get high. During this period, they would rub entheogens such as belladonna, henbane, datura, and mandrake on their bodies (some theorize they rubbed these substances on the broomsticks and inserted them vaginally) in order to loosen their spirits from their physical form. In the resulting hallucinations, witches were said to fly to The Sabbath, the supposed time each month when witches, demons, and even the devil himself would come together to share magical secrets, sign evil pacts, and have wild, orgiastic parties.
It’s likely that the use of these herbs in a ritual context points back to ancient cults like the Oracle of Delphi, and are one of the clearest links to witchcraft’s primordial past. As witch, historian, and teacher at Colorado State University Chas Clifton writes in the famous essay If Witches No Longer Fly, “I would argue that the danger of these recipes, combined with the centuries-long tradition of their use, is the best argument for any ‘Old Religion’ surviving from pre- Christian times. Without some sort of oral tradition of preparation and dosage, similar to that of the ayahuasca shamans of South America, the risks would be too great.” The danger he cites is real: Modern witches and non-magical people alike have been sent to the hospital—or have even died, as in the case of the English witch Robert Cochrane—from taking too much belladonna and other witchcraft-related herbs.
Magical publishing in the last thirty years has been significantly hamstrung by the way psychedelics have been used as geopolitical footballs.
So why is herbal magic—the use of weed, most notably, but also other hallucinogens—less prevalent in modern witchcraft? After all, the occult revival of the 19th century revolved around absinthe and opium dens, and the second big occult revival happened during the drug-crazed days of the 1960s and 70s. It seems like magic and getting high go pretty hand in hand.
One obvious answer is because marijuana is still illegal, even for medical use, in many states and countries. This makes it nearly impossible for occult book publishers to let authors recommend using weed as a method to achieve trance states and soul flight, even if that is their preferred method. As Gordon White laments in The Chaos Protocols, “Magical publishing in the last thirty years has been significantly hamstrung by the way psychedelics have been used as geopolitical footballs. As an author, I cannot legally advocate a reader break any laws, and publishers can, in theory, be held liable for damages arising from actions taken as described in their books.”
Still, modern witches are continuing to use marijuana in their practices, most often in solitary meditation or to help them access the spirit realm. Elizabeth DeCoursey, owner of Antidote Apothecary and Tea Bar in Brooklyn, says she typically uses weed as a meditative aid. “When I want to thin the veil and access ancient knowledge and the collective consciousness of water, the total, deep, and cellular calm I can achieve with an edible in deep trance is pretty profound,” she tells Broadly. There’s a reason weed has historical ties to magic: Having a safe, reliable way to enter altered states of consciousness can be an amazing tool in witchcraft.
Melissa Madara, a witch and co-owner of Catland Books in Brooklyn, uses weed to help focus herself during meditation, and to stop “questioning what she sees” during spirit contact. She recommends using this simple visualization as a good place to start: “You should lie on your back, focus on your deep breathing, and push your mind’s eye deep, deep into your body,” she says. “Each new breath brings in fresh air, white light, and healing energy, and each exhale expels tension, old emotions, and stress from the body.”
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Happy 4/20! For millennia, witches have been getting high to access the spirit realm and/or have orgies with the devil.
How To Fly Without A Broom: Sex, Sexism, Witches & Weed
“Banish therefore these pernicious plants out of your gardens, and all places neere to your houses, where children or women with child do resort, which do often times long and lust after things most vile and filthie…” — John Gerard, 16th-century English herbalist
What is a witch but a poorly-behaved woman? Or sometimes a poorly-behaved man – men have also been burned as witches. But when we think of witches, we’re probably thinking of women – flying on broomsticks across the face of a big ol’ uterine moon.
The “witch” slam has been used for centuries to stifle women who refuse to do as they’re told, who operate outside the boundaries of the commonly acceptable. That wasn’t always the case, however.
Before the ubiquity of top-down establishment social structures, which required that the people accept the authority of the classes who Knew Best (usually powerful men), a witch was just a woman who used her wisdom and esoteric knowledge to heal, provide spiritual insight, and counsel members of her community. The Venn diagram consisting of witches, midwives and healers overlapped substantially for a very long period of human history…
. until the advent of monotheistic religion and a profit-focused economic mode. Gradually, women’s once-diverse roles narrowed. Women who hung onto their power, who refused to be limited by society’s expectations, were viewed with increasing — and sometimes deadly — suspicion.
What’s All This Have to Do with Weed?
For centuries, cannabis was an essential component of the wise-woman’s toolbox.
Female deities, like the Mesopotamian Ishtar and the Chinese Taoist Magu , have often been associated with cannabis in both symbolism and documented practice. In 1904 two holy women, probably priestesses of the goddess Freya, were found buried in a Viking ship dating to 850 BC, and the older of the two bore a leather pouch containing cannabis traces. And o ne of the most famous mummies ever discovered, the “Princess of Ukok” — a Scytho-Siberian woman of the fifth century BC, thought to be a shaman, healer and/or storyteller of her people — was found buried in the permafrost of the Eurasian steppe alongside a bowl of cannabis seeds.
In addition to its spiritual and healing qualities, cannabis was also well-known as an aphrodisiac. The Tantrics of India and Nepal use hemp preparations in erotic couples’ rituals, in which lovers took on the forms of the gods Shiva and Parvati . (One Nepalese myth features Parvati slipping cannabis flowers to Shiva, to prevent him from straying.) And back in Europe, an old German love charm (to be recited over the plant) goes “Hemp, I sow you, hemp, I reap you, and my heart’s love shall come behind me and harvest me.” Spicy stuff.
For a very long time, much of the world was well-acquainted with cannabis’ spiritual, medicinal and aphrodisiac value. And if you needed to ease your pain, talk to your gods, or get in the mood, there was a good chance you’d be getting weed from a woman who acted as a keeper of tribal wisdom and a respected conduit to the natural world.
Bad Girls & The Devil’s Herb
By the mid-15th century the Western world was in pretty rough shape, with climate disasters, famines, ugly wars and an assortment of plagues. “Witches” got blamed for a lot of it, and thousands of people (80% of them women) were tortured and murdered.
In 1484, in one of his first acts as Pope, Innocent VIII issued an edict that (among other things) explicitly banned the use of cannabis and called it an unholy sacrament — likely because of its association with the village midwives and other healers who were especially targeted for persecution.
But that’s all ancient history, right?
Not so much… As recently as the 1920s in the good old US of A, the push to ban cannabis was accompanied by a lot of alarmism about sexuality and women – specifically white women, who supposedly might be tempted to consort with “undesirables” while under the influence, sullying their sexual purity. This campaign added flagrant racism to the time-honored stew of sexism and the demonization of useful plants.
Looking at the historical record of Western civilization, it sure seems like the subjugation of women and their sexuality often coincides with the demonization of cannabis. This is speculative territory, of course — correlation doesn’t always equal causation — but….
There are several possible explanations for the suppression of wild women & wild weed.
One hinges on the idea of expertise — who has it, and who’s allowed to have it. Women’s wisdom has often been DIY, passed down via oral tradition and gleaned from observation of the world and of people. Often, this wisdom relied on tools, such as cannabis, that are (or should be) widely accessible. With the rise of more hierarchical systems of power, it became crucial for the Dudes In Charge to have their own dudes running things — approved and certified men who wouldn’t rock the boat, like priests, administrators, or doctors. It didn’t really matter that lay female practitioners were often a lot better at healing & spiritual counsel than the Dudes In Charge: they were a threat to structural power, so they were often brutally repressed, along with their favorite plants and techniques.
Another explanation may have to do with the plant’s aphrodisiac properties. Controlling women’s sexuality is a longstanding tradition when it comes to controlling women in general. If sex and fertility are viewed as resources for men to consume and benefit from — as opposed to integral components of a woman’s self & sources of her power — it makes an awful kind of sense to censure them, so any aphrodisiac (especially one as safe and effective as weed) starts looking like an excuse for women to misbehave.
And one more interesting link between the power of women & weed (if you want to get really woo-woo): the female cannabis plants are the ones with the most attractive aromas and medicinal magic to offer.
Hop on that Broom & Go for a Ride
The history of witches & weed contains a recurring motif: the idea of a “flying ointment,” a balm made with intoxicating entheogenic herbs that (alleged) witches would (allegedly) smear on those famous broomsticks in order to defy gravity and whiz through the night air sowing chaos and discord. Documentation of “flying ointments” exists throughout the historical record, often accompanied by hysterical (testerical?) commentary about abominable ingredients made from human sacrifices.
No herb on earth can make anyone, witch or otherwise, actually fly. But it’s very possible that a potent herbal balm, inserted where the stories imply it was being inserted (perhaps with the help of a phallic broomstick), could make a “witch” feel like she was flying, in defiance of everyone trying to keep her down — and by now it won’t surprise you that cannabis figures prominently in many early “recipes” for flying ointment.
Those recipes invoked some wicked thoughts here at Foria. Witches’ flying potions were actually the seed of the idea for Foria Pleasure , our legendary THC arousal oil. Inspired by the wisdom and wildness of nature, and humanity’s long-standing relationship with this extraordinary plant, we formulated a topical product — an intimate massage oil — ideally suited to the unique, absorptive anatomy of women (or anyone with a vulva. hello, trans community!). Pleasure is an ultra-pure blend of liquid coconut oil and THC, but because of the way it’s used, it isn’t so much psychoactive as it is sexually activating . Activating & reclaiming our sexuality is intrinsic to reclaiming our wild nature in general, unbound and unburdened — achieving liftoff through bliss.
Foria’s journey continued in other historically-resonant ways. Early testers described amazing orgasmic results (which we expected) but what we didn’t expect was their reports of potent pain relief — even for chronic conditions like vulvodynia and endometriosis, which are so often neglected by the medical establishment. We went back to the potion vault and came up with Relief , our vaginal suppositories with THC & CBD.
But women across the country & around the world began flooding our inbox, asking us if we could ship Foria to them, so we created our CBD-only Wellness line, available everywhere: Awaken Arousal Oil with CBD , Relief Suppositories with CBD , and Wellness Tonic with CBD , all featuring pristine broad-spectrum hemp extract in the grand historical tradition — wild and wonderful additions to any witchy pharmacopeia, for health and pleasure alike.
Fortunately, the scientific establishment has caught up with the wisdom of the early witches & village healers, providing plenty of research validating the beneficial effects of the once-vilified cannabis plant.
The Wheel Turns
We’re living in interesting times. While brutal racism, sexism and homophobia are, unfortunately, very much alive, people are pushing back – agitating for gay rights, women’s liberation, body positivity, a sex-positive culture in general, and social standards that insist every person deserves respect and autonomy. People, male, female and otherwise, are still in chains… and breaking them, embracing their own innate wisdom, free of shame.
Witchcraft has invaded the zeitgeist. Altars on Instagram, crystals in shop windows, otherwise sensible people admitting they don’t do anything without consulting the Tarot…
The time is right to reclaim the witches’ favorite herb. Decriminalizing cannabis was supported by decades of research, and driven by tireless activists who defied conventional “wisdom” regarding justice & truth. Our attitudes around gender, sex, and medicinal substances are shifting, and will continue to shift, supported by hard work and fierce joy.
As we continue to enjoy the benefits of a burgeoning movement, in this ancient season of fertility following Easter (formerly a pagan holiday) and before Beltane (the official, magical commencement of the fruitful summer), let’s celebrate the pioneers — the visionaries who showed the way for us, who survived, endured, and thrived. The wild woman, the medicine sage, the flying witch, the Scythian princess in us all….
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For centuries, cannabis was an essential component of the wise-woman’s toolbox. In addition to its spiritual and healing qualities, cannabis was also well-known as an aphrodisiac. And if you needed to ease your pain, talk to your gods, or get in the mood, you might get weed from a woman who acted as a keeper of tribal wisdom and a respected conduit to the natural world.