The ancient queens of cannabis

the queen of sheba

5 legendary weed-loving women

Today, many women use cannabis for medicinal purposes, and others simply like to be "stoned" and we find in ancient times, the same phenomenon, explains Ellen Komp, author of Toki'n: A 4000- years Herstory of women and Marijuana and who is also the deputy director of the cannabis advocacy group, California NORML. “What has been recorded in history as healing was done in a more ritualistic way, linked to spiritual practices where a shaman or other shaman consumed cannabis and distributed it to their patients.

Although history has often left out tales of women, legends of some surviving goddesses and influential women reveal that cannabis was central to their powers, at least in theory. Here are a few of the greatest names that have crossed the maps and the millennia:

The Ancient Near East: Goddess Ishtar (2300 BCE, probably earlier)

cannabis goddess ishtar
Ancient Akkadian cylinder seal depicting Inanna resting her foot on the back of a lion while Ninshubur stands before her to pay homage, circa 2334 – circa 2154 BC (Public Domain)

For thousands of years, the goddess Ishtar (also Innana and Astarte) wielded spiritual power over Mesopotamia, the land that gave birth to mighty empires such as Akkadia, Babylon and Assyria, and which roughly constitutes Iraq, Kuwait and parts of today's Syria, Iran and Turkey.

Also revered in ancient Egypt, tributes to this "queen of heaven" and goddess of healing were widespread throughout the region, and an herb called Sim.Ishara was burned in her honor. Sim. Ishara translates to “Aromatic of the Goddess Ishtar,” which, according to Assyriologist Erica Reiner, is the same plant as the Akkadian herb “qunnabu,” or cannabis.

With the intensification of wars and battles (and patriarchy) in the region, Ishtar transformed from a compassionate healer into a goddess of war, becoming the representative lover of the ruling king. According to Mr. Komp, this cultural evolution “sexualized the goddesses [and holy women] by stripping them of their healing power. One of these powers was the knowledge of plants like cannabis. Later, the pyres of witches did the same”.

A likely precursor to the Greek Aphrodite, among others, Ishtar was also at the center of an ancient Babylonian spring solstice event celebrated with flowers, painted eggs and rabbits, much like the German goddess "Ostraa" and the " modern Easter. (So ​​don't hesitate to taste some cannabis-infused Easter eggs, in the name of Ishtar).

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South Arabia/North Africa: Queen of Sheba (950 BCE)

queen of sheba cannabis
The visit of the Queen of Sheba to Solomon by Tintoretto, around 1555 (Public domain)

"We don't know if she's mythical or real," Komp says of the legendary Queen of Sheba, who is said to have brought a treasure of gold and spices to Israelite King Solomon. “The spices she brought are not named, but cannabis was traded in her day along the trade routes she may have traveled.

The Queen of Sheba is mentioned for the first time in the Old Testament, then in the Aramaic Targum Sheni, in the Koran (where she is called Bilqis) and in the Ethiopian founding story, Kebra Nagast. His kingdom of Sheba, either present-day Yemen or Ethiopia, amassed impressive wealth by controlling trade routes. Although her legend grows more whimsical with each iteration (she notably had the legs of a donkey), the common thread is her journey north to pay homage to King Solomon, who had just seized power.

In the Testament of Solomon (written c. 100-300 CE), Komp indicates that there is mention of a woman named Onoskelis – meaning donkey-legged woman – who was close to King Solomon and the helped build the temple in Jerusalem using hemp cords. Ethiopian legend says that the Queen of Sheba returned home pregnant with Solomon's son, making her the founding mother of the Solomic dynasty, which lasted for three thousand years until 1975.

Ancient Israel: Goddess Asherah (c. 1800 BCE)

ancient israel asherah
Image on a pithos shard found at Kuntillet Ajrud under the inscription "Yahweh and his Asherah"

Sometimes considered the mother of Ishtar, the wife of the gods El and Baal, or the wife of Yahweh (later deleted from the Bible), the goddess Asherah/Athirat is associated with the tree of life, "bearing the fruit forbidden that allows men to think like gods,” writes Komp. The tributes paid to Asherah were objects of worship consisting of sacred poles or stylized trees, erected by the Israelites for most of their history and mentioned more than thirty times in the Hebrew Bible. King Solomon even built an entire temple in Asherah, which was later demolished by King Josiah.

" A ancient depiction of an Asherah tree from the palace of Ashurbanipal looks very much like a cannabis plant with a cola on top,” says Komp, noting that the leaves of the tree were inscribed with seven and nine dots. The Israelites were eventually banned from paying homage to Asherah, but many still continued to erect sacred poles/trees in her honor. Much later, in medieval times, Ms. Komp notes that some Islamic writers identified cannabis by the name asherah. She continues, “The identity of the tree of life is one of humanity's greatest mysteries. Why was only one plant banned?

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Siberia: Princess Ukok (aka The Ice Princess of Siberia, 1500 BCE)

princess ukok
princess ukok

Preserved by permafrost in the Altai Mountains, the mummified remains of a young woman with an ornamental tattoo were found in 1993 by Dr. Natalia Polosmak. Discovered with six saddled and bridled horses (possibly her spirit escorts), Princess Ukok was buried with bronze and gold ornaments, as well as a small container of cannabis. Due to her tattoos, Komp claims the "princess" was more likely a high priestess of the Pazyryk people, a tribe closely related to the nomadic Scythians known for their ritual cannabis use.

"Healing and spiritual practices were more linked in the past," she explains, referring to MRI evidence that the princess had cancer and may have been using cannabis for medical purposes. Also, the tall and elaborate headdress found with the remains of the woman is said to represent the Tree of Life (see Asherah, above). (see Asherah, above).

“Many other burial sites in the region have been discovered with traces hemp that have been identified as female, through DNA testing,” says Komp.

China: Magu, the Hemp Maiden (300 BCE, or earlier)

magu hemp maiden
Regarded in ancient East Asia as the equivalent of the divine ambrosia of the Greek gods, hemp has long been referred to as the "elixir of life".

“Some think she was real,” Komp says of the Taoist xian Magu, whose name roughly translates to “hemp maiden.” Although popular accounts vary, Magu is said to have been a benevolent young woman who attained immortality at Magu Shan, or Magu Mountain, which is China's two largest mountain.

Although hemp has been cultivated in the region since Neolithic times, it is mostly used for industrial purposes, with the exception of Taoists who hold Magu in high esteem. Komp cites a 570th century scholar, Joseph Needham, who described Magu as presiding over sacred Mount Tai in Shandong, where cannabis was harvested on the seventh day of the seventh lunar month. He also wrote, "There are many reasons to believe that the ancient Taoists systematically experimented with hallucinogenic smoke." Additionally, a Taoist encyclopedia from around XNUMX BCE mentions cannabis being added to ritual incense burners, or censers. Also known as Goddess Mago in Korea and Mako in Japan, many folk tales say "Magu scratches the itch".

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