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.
Me, Marijuana and Magic: A 25-Year Love Story
Most people go to Ireland to drink Guinness, listen to music and explore their ancestral roots. Me? I’m gonna kick my weed addiction with magic.
Aug 3, 2018 · 6 min read
I’ve smoked weed almost every day since I was 15. Often compulsively. At times with sacredness and ritual. Sometimes with control and thoughtfulness. But ALWAYS, always pining for that burst of turned-on aliveness that seems nearly impossible to access on my own.
I’m almost 40, and I’ve tried to quit a million times since then. What stops me? I’m afraid I can’t access that tingly, awakened state without it. At least, not on demand.
Now, maybe for you, weed makes you sleepy or paranoid. But I know some of y’all know what I mean, right?
When y ou smoke that highly energetic, creative, psychoactive, THC-laden weed? How it makes you all lit up with magic and mischievousness? Where your body feels active, energized, dance-y? Where the natural world pulses toward you, where plants and animals have secret messages and divine guidance to deliver?
When I think about quitting weed forever, I’m afraid I won’t be able to access immanence—that known feeling of the sacred, the divine, living HERE, NOW— without it. And, DAMN I need that presence. I’d die without it.
I’ve learned to access this state in meditation. And sometimes sex. And sometimes with ritual and magic. But damn, psychoactive substances just know how to kick ‘ya right in that zone.
Except — it’s not consistent. And it’s not entirely predictable. At best, I have a stop smoking for a little while so I can come back and get that brand-new-to-weed feeling, where my heart explodes and the birds are insistently delivering me important messages.
So — you might ask how I got here? Why is it so hard for me to access life energy? Why’d I start getting high at 15? You might even think, what’s WRONG with you??
Nothing. I make perfect sense, and so do you.
No matter how flawed your strategies are for regulating your emotional experience — whether you use weed, alcohol, cigarettes, work, sex, TV, social media distraction or something else — these are all perfectly reasonable attempts to find peace and a little bit of calm in this world.
If you sense your self-regulation strategies are creating side-effects that are not desirable — which is the case for me and weed — and you want to understand why and how you might begin to heal and transform your brain, then read on.
How Childhood Attachment Disruption Can Lead to Diminished Life Energy
Ok, this is a more complex topic than I can address in this little piece and I’m dashing to catch a plane to Ireland, but here’s the gist: mounting scientific research in the field of interpersonal neurobiology shows that folks who struggle with life-long depression and flatness (sometimes called anhedonia) often share a common early-childhood experience of learning to limit their own life-energy.
When we do not have a sense of being deeply accompanied in our emotions, or when our emotional landscape is too vast and intense to be caught by our care-giver’s emotional window of tolerance, we learn that we are “too much” and we begin to self-diminish, to discount or sublimate our own emotions and needs.
No surprise, then that our bodies begin to have trouble accessing joy and aliveness later on! Weed = perfectly reasonable strategy.
I’ve spent the last 6+ years studying the neurobiology of addiction and attachment theory, learning meditation and other embodied self-connection techniques, getting off tons of psychiatric psychotropic medication, and building new neural fibers of self-regulation and resiliency, and I now help others do the same.
Getting rid of weed as a strategy for aliveness is next on my to-do list, and my plan is to do it with magic and the support of my healed ancestors.
(PS — sometimes you gotta go way back to find the resourced ones who aren’t starving of famine, impoverished and traumatized with no support to give you. Systemic Constellations work can help, maybe I’ll tackle that in another medium story some other time.)
So — Whaddya Mean “Magic”?
I love how Starhawk writes, in Dreaming the Dark, that “magic is the art of changing consciousness at will.” Yes.
Tapping into the frequency, the consciousness itself, of magic in the natural world helps me access my inner guidance and intuition, and makes the world of my brain a helluvalot more inhabitable.
Magic to me is a natural aspect of reality, a technology for both perceiving AND affecting the world by merging our own individual consciousness with the larger oneness of spirit.
Think about it: why is it that smoking a super sour, 29.9% THC content, limonene-terpene-laced pre-roll causes me to walk by the neighbor’s Lamb’s Ear plant and become convinced that it has a message for me? When that same cute, soft little shrub acts all demure and standoffish when I’m sober?
If my brain has the capacity (when tickled by endocannabinoids) to meet that Lamb’s Ear as a living, breathing manifestation of the wise, loving spirit of the universe , then why can’t I tune into that at will?
Because I’m not consciously attuning to the magic when I’m sober. I’m not tuned in to the frequency of immanence. I’m too scattered, to left-hemisphere-inhabited, too busy, too depressed, and: dammit, I want a quick fix!
After years of working with the amazing Sarah Peyton (a neurobiology educator and practitioner of a type of magic called Resonant Language), I’ve finally integrated my right hemisphere enough to sit and be with my own feeling self… which is the first step to access the magic.
Quieting the left-hemisphere, living in the body using language and somatic empathy, and adding a little ritual when needed, are the 3 tools I’ve found that most consistently lead to the magical experience of spirit-on-earth.
But still — I struggle to get there. Sometimes I forget how to pray. Other times my brain’s critical loop is so loud and lacerating, I can’t hear the quiet. Still other times I long to know more clearly and consistently how to access the divine.
This is where Ireland comes in.
Creating a Context for Play, Curiosity and Aliveness
What I’ve learned, in 3 years of studying with Sarah Peyton, about the healing potential of neuroplasticity, ancestral connection, and nervous system resiliency is profound, especially for those of us who have struggled with addiction and accessing life energy.
I’ll write sometime soon about the nucleus accumbens, which is a dopamine-driven points system the brain uses to rate substances. For now I’ll just say that the more you use a particular substance (like, e.g. for TWENTY-FIVE fucking years), the higher the permanent score becomes for that substance.
This understanding helps curb my impulse to self-shame, so I can access more gentleness when I seen to prefer weed’s WOW over sweet, seemingly more real things like deep human connection and spontaneous joy.
Maybe this understanding helps some of you, too?
Understanding the brain’s reward system is only a small piece of this puzzle, and there’s a ton more:
The latest discoveries in relational neuroscience show us that our brains can heal and change (including learning how to play and access gratitude and aliveness!) no matter what age, no matter our genetic predisposition, and no matter what adverse childhood experiences we’ve endured.
AND — connecting to a well of sustainable accompaniment and support (whether through building a compassionate witness consciousness or by tapping into the deep resilience of those that came before) is a huge step in fortifying our own nervous system resilience.
Magic is the technology I long for on this Ireland trip, to access the divine through the body of the earth, through the neolithic passage tombs and sacred holy water, and through prayer and ritual.
My intention is to feel and see the magic of the natural world AT WILL; not just while in Ireland but after. I long to abandon my 25-year crutch of using weed as a short-cut to presence and accessing divine power.
I pray to feel and intuit and see my way inside, supported by my Irish ancestors and the living, breathing divine sprit I hope to meet there.
I’m SO grateful for the spirit of cannabis. Without weed, I may not have gotten all those precious glimpses of the divine aliveness immanent in the natural world…
But I’m ready now to learn the way to walk that path without mediation. And I need help, because sometimes I forget what to do when I’m sober.
Here’s to aliveness, and here’s to seeing the sacred that is available and offering itself to us always.
I’ve smoked weed almost every day since I was 15. Often compulsively. At times with sacredness and ritual. Sometimes with control and thoughtfulness. But ALWAYS, always pining for that burst of…