4/20 Vision: Weed Magic and Social Justice
Native to China and central Asia then brought to the rest of the world through trade and colonial conquest, Weed is a plant that tons of witches (and normies) enjoy for ritual and recreation… especially in these days of “social distancing”. For some, being high is a state of openness that can help psychic waves flow. For others, it can be relaxing enough to turn off brain-chatter and get some damn sleep. There are also plenty of folks who don't use Pot to get high: the topical healing properties are still out of this world. Weed is known as “the people’s plant” for its versatility and easy cultivation, but these days the Cannabis Industry is really appropriating that narrative. Pot consumption for recreation and healing has been co-opted by the so-called “ruling” class as a means of economic and racial control (another ceremony stubbed out by capitalism), and I think it's time that the witches and herbalists put up a big ol' stink about it!
Truthfully I’m by no means a Plant Witch... but I *do* love Weed. I’m also learning more about the intersections of Weed + racism + capitalism, so on this 4/20/20, I thought maybe you’d like to join me! We’ll of course explore some of the magical properties of Weed, but particularly the social conditions that keep it accessible for those whom Euro-capitalism has deemed worthy, and how witches can responsibly connect with the plant by making offerings of activism and advocacy (and yeah, smoke).
The Hazy History
As far as historians can tell, Weed has been around since… well, always! Probably since way before humans figured shit out, but there's evidence of cultivation starting about 12,000 years back. Ancient peoples worked with hemp to build basically everything, and as far as we can tell they also got high as ceremony. Graverobbers found burned Cannabis seeds in the resting places of Chinese Shamans from over 2,500 years ago (it should go without saying: as revealing as that knowledge is, those graves should have been left there in peace). The theory is that during funerals, mourners would light it as incense to guide the spirit of the dead to the other side.
The entire Cannabis plant was even associated with goddesses like Magu, Kali, Bast, and Aphrodite for its healing and practical properties. Most offerings to these goddesses were in the form of incense, or worshippers would drink a sort of Weed-tea to achieve an elevated spiritual state. In Germanic societies, harvesting hemp was part of a fertility festival to honor Freya.
And then came the colonizers.
Colonial cultures recognized the value of Weed and brought it everywhere to be cultivated by their Slaves, particularly the Americas. Farmers in the Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Virginia colonies were actually required to grow hemp on their farms for use in fibrous materials like rope and thatching. Doctors in the newly-formed US almost always had "Cannabis oil" in their cases up until (and after) its criminalization.
The Buzz Kill
So how did we go from funeral rituals and goddess worship and literally requiring farmers to grow cannabis hemp to outlawing dirty scary "Marijuana" and taking voting rights away from folks who get caught? You guessed it: Racism! To make a very long story short, after the Mexican revolution against Spain of 1910 the European colonizers of North America and their descendants decided that Mexican "immigrants" were BAD and NOT ALLOWED HERE (remember that pretty much everyone was an immigrant back then, and many of these Mexican folks were actually Indigenous to this Land). This targeting re-surged during the Depression of the 1930’s, when anti-Mexican rhetoric reached a similar cadence that it’s still singing today: “Mexicans are stealing jobs. You’re not poor because of capitalism, you’re poor because of the Mexicans”. Combine that with the recreational Pot-smoking that Mexican immigrants gifted to the US, and bam, you've found an easy method of scapegoating and social control. By 1931, 29 states had outlawed Pot.
To re-emphasize: It was European colonizers who introduced Cannabis to Mexico.
Anyways, opponents really leaned into the anti-Mexican rhetoric, re-labeling the Mexican marihuana as “marijuana” (which is how we now know it as Mary Jane even though the original spelling probably translated to something like "oregano"). This stigmatizing naturally seeped into the targeting and incarceration of Black folks as well, and laws just kept getting harsher from there thanks in particular to Presidents Reagan, Bush Senior, and Clinton.
These days, pot is only totally illegal in eight states. But so many people are still sitting in jail for even just simple possession. Nearly half of those are Black and Latinx, despite making up barely 30% of the general population. But we're not just talking about the jail time (which is barbaric in itself). Folks convicted of Weed crimes can lose their voting rights, parental custody, and food stamp eligibility among tons of other consequences designed to keep marginalized communities... well, marginalized.
So here's where "The People's Plant" narrative gets SUPER twisted. It's easy to feel like Weed is widely available; I’ve been buying pot for a long time now, and never once have I been concerned for my legal safety. I’ve always been able to buy from a dispensary, or people that I knew in some capacity. All of those people were white people like me. And they’re all professionals, too. All of them sold or sell pot as their side hustle. They live in safe, middle-class neighborhoods that the cops don’t patrol, hunting for easy arrests. The class divide between "Cannabis enthusiasts" and "Pot smokers" has never been clearer; I saw a Tweet once that said “When your dispensaries look like an Apple store it’s time to release a lot of incarcerated people”. It’s so true. Ditto for the CBD shops popping up on every corner. So even though I’m not the one locking folks up for smoking or selling (or even just holding) Pot, it is still pretty gross that I can buy a ticket to a Weed Yoga Class while others have been totally ruined by drug policy.
How to Get High Responsibly
I’m by no means an expert, and there are many many other answers to this query, but here are just a few suggestions:
-If you buy Weed, try to factor in some extra money each time to donate to bail funds or other orgs that directly help people incarcerated for "Pot crimes". Last Prisoner Project is a great place to start.
-Use your high to advocate for restorative justice by bugging your Reps about the RESPECT Resolution, which has been bouncing around in sub-committee for over a year
-Grow your own! What better way to be fully connected to the Plant than by tending and caring for it yourself? I'll be honest, I haven't attempted it myself because I'm a serial plant killer, but a wise friend told me "Trust me, you're more invested in growing when it's Weed". That sounds right.
-Support your local dealer before heading straight for the dispensary. As with all things, ask yourself "Who's benefitting from this?"
-Be mindful of where you get your paraphernalia too, again asking ourselves "Who's making the money?" Lots of the cheap pipes and bongs out there are mass-produced in a factory, but there are tons of very talented artists making smokeware too (like our dear friend Christina Kosinski who just listed some ceramic pipes in her online shop). Check out @cannaclusive on Instagram for tons of suggestions for supporting POC-led Pot and CBD businesses.
The Magic Part
Okay, I did promise Weed Magic, right? Thanks for hanging in there. I just think that before we engage with Weed in ritual it's really important to understand the social context it's in, especially given the rampant appropriation of other ceremonial herbs like White Sage. So although there are definitely next-level love spells and manifestation spells and inspiration spells that can be done while high, I'd like to look more at how Pot smoking can be an offering instead of an instrument. Like, remember all those goddesses associated with the Cannabis plant? It's almost like there's a deity from every culture who would appreciate you blowing a cloud of smoke their way. Ditto with ancestors and faeries.
-A quick spell for offering Pot smoke is to exhale while you say "From Earth to ether, you deserve a breather!" and then stay open to messages and requests from whomever you're connecting with.
-You can also offer the actual bud on your altar. Offerings of something truly valuable, like Weed that you could otherwise be smoking, are really powerful for showing your appreciation. Maybe set aside a nug from each purchase or harvest, and burn it on an incense dish while you do your spellwork.
-Like Tarot or Pendulums, Weed Divination can be a great way to look for messages and instructions from guides. You can look for images in your smoke exhalations, check out the burn-pattern of a joint or bowl, or even give yourself a tea-leaf reading with Weed tea.
Well that's all for now, Witches! Happy 4/20
Cannabis and Spirituality by Julie Holland and Stephen Gray
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