By Shannon Kari
The use of cannabis as a sacrament dates back thousands of years, in many different religions and possibly even during the anointing of Jesus Christ, according to expert testimony in an ongoing criminal court proceeding in Toronto.
Psychoactive substances and the use in religious rituals was outlined by Boston University classics professor Carl Ruck, in testimony this week that was more history class than traditional evidence in a criminal trial.
“It was at the beginning of religious experience,” that cannabis and mushroom-like substances were first consumed as part of “mystical communion,” said Prof. Ruck.
He was testifying at the trial of two members of the Church of the Universe, Peter Styrsky and Shahrooz Kharaghani, who run the G13 Mission branch of the church in the Beaches section of Toronto. They are both charges of street-level marijuana trafficking.
They are asking Ontario Superior Court Justice Thea Herman to dismiss the charges on the grounds that the country’s marijuana laws violate their freedom of religion under the Charter of Rights.
Marijuana is a sacrament and its use brings about a “connection to God,” testified Mr. Styrsky earlier this month.
Judge Herman must decide whether the church, which advocates marijuana use, personal autonomy and an edict not to harm others, qualifies for religious protection under the Charter.
Federal prosecutor Nick Devlin has suggested in court that the Church of the Universe is an “inside joke” among people who like to smoke marijuana and not a religion.
Prof. Ruck was not called to testify about the legitimacy of the Church of the Universe, but instead provide historical context on the use of psychoactive substances in religious ceremonies.
Providing answers that were often detailed and lengthy, he explained, “I am a teacher. I am used to talking. I see that some of the students are leaving,” he joked, in reference to high school students in the public gallery of the courtroom as part of a law class field trip.
Visionary sacraments have been observed in rock paintings from North Africa that date back to 6000 BC, noted Prof. Ruck. The witness also testified about the Eleusinian Mystery initiation, first celebrated in a village near Athens in about 1500 BC.
“They drank a potion and believed they were entering the otherworld.” It was not until the last century that scholars discovered that a substance in the potion was likely similar to LSD. Even philosophers such as Socrates may have used cannabis, which was known as “smoke” by the Greeks, said Prof. Ruck in a written report filed with the court.
The court hearing is scheduled to resume on Thursday.
[Photo: Professor Carl Ruck, centre, talks to members of the Church of the Universe outside the court house. Brett Gundlock / National Post]
Historically documented uses of cannabis in religious rituals
• archaeological evidence documents use of cannabis in a ritual ceremony as early as 2000 BC, in a sanctuary in east Turkmenistan
• an initiation ceremony known as the Eleusinian Mysteries, which began about 1500BC in ancient Greece, involved the use of psychoactive sacrament. A communal visionary event that was supposed to be a journey to the otherworld, stemmed from consumption of a sacred potion with an agent extracted from a fungus that was likely LSD.
• the use of cannabis by the Scythians as a ritual sacrament for funerals was documented in fifth century BC.
• the cult of Mithras was assimilated in the Greco-Roman world in first century BC. Groups of men met in confined subterranean sanctuaries and celebrated their God with a seven-fold sequence of psychoactive sacraments.
• Philo of Alexandria, who was born in 20BC, detailed a ceremony in the temple of Jerusalem where a Jewish High Priest would burn cannabis-like incense, in an enclosed space, so he could speak to Yahweh (God).
• while there were some psychoactive communion rites in early Christianity, they were condemned as heretical in the Church established by Paul. There is evidence that as late as the Renaissance, some elite in the Church reserved psychoactive Eucharist for themselves.
Source: Ontario Superior Court exhibit. Report of Professor Carl Ruck, Boston University.
The Book Of Exodus and Cannabis:
Marijuana proponents suggest that the recipe for the anointing oil passed from God to Moses included cannabis, or kaneh-bosm in Hebrew. They point to versions calling for fragrant cane, which they say was mistakenly changed to the plant calamus in the King James version of the Bible.
From Exodus 30:22-25:
22, Then the LORD said to Moses, 23 “Take the following fine spices: 500 shekels of liquid myrrh, half as much (that is, 250 shekels) of fragrant cinnamon, 250 shekels of fragrant cane, 24 500 shekels of cassia–all according to the sanctuary shekel–and a hint of olive oil. 25 Make these into a sacred anointing oil, a fragrant blend, the work of a perfumer. It will be the sacred anointing oil.