Historic Women in Weed
By: DM BLUNTED
All throughout history and across cultures, women have healed themselves with cannabis. Being born biological women (whether you self-identify as a woman or not) you’ve probably suffered through one of many mostly-inevitable menstrual pains, among many other women-specific experiences. As women, our connection to cannabis is much deeper than most of us can imagine. From Aztec and Mayan women who steamed herbs such as cannabis to relieve menstrual pain to Queen Victoria who was prescribed cannabis by her physician to do the same — we have self- medicated and cared for ourselves and others for centuries.
According to the Hebrew and Christian Bibles, when Queen Sheba came to King Solomon, she brought along gold and spices. The exact spices she brought is disputed, but it is believed that she gifted the King kaneh-bosm, AKA cannabis.
[Due to mistranslations for hundreds of years, the Hebrew word for cannabis, kaneh-bosm, was first mistranslated as calamus, which referred to a common marsh plant.]
It would make sense that Sheba brought Solomon kaneh-bosm, especially since he had a temple built dedicated for burning sweet smelling spices. *Wink, wink.* When polytheist religions reigned, it wasn’t uncommon for worshippers to burn incense in their honor. The Christian Bible mentions that Solomon’s downfall was due to burning incense in honor of the Canaanite goddess, Asherah.
But the Sumerian goddess Ishtar truly reigns supreme. Ishtar was an extremely important Mesopotamian deity from around 3500 BC until the gradual growth of Christianity silenced her worshippers. Later called the Queen of the Universe, Ishtar’s name has gone through many changes, which have evolved alongside now-dead religions, but her presence in those was always powerful. She signified womanhood and embodied contradictions — a healer, but the Goddess of War; a thunderclap personified, yet a protector of prostitutes. Through Ishtar, women were encouraged to heal others with herbal medicines and many androgynous and hermaphroditic men were also heavily involved with Ishtar’s cult. As polytheist and monolithic religious wars raged, Ishtar’s image became a target for hyper-sexualization. Many scholars believe this was a ploy to undermine goddess worship. Even still, many women and men continued to burn incense in her honor. Oh, and btw, you can still visit the largest remaining reconstruction of the Gate of Ishtar in Berlin’s Pergamon Museum. The gate was built in her name at around 575 BC, in modern-day Hillah, Iraq. The historic site and gate were used as a base by US and Polish troops after the 2003 Iraq invasion, which resulted in a devastating amount of irreversible damage.
[Less depressing fact: Erica Reiner, a respected Assyriologist, found an interesting connection between Ishtar and qunnabu — which has been referred to as cannabis in several old Akkadian texts. The plant, sim ishara translates to “aromatic of the goddess Ishtar.” Today, this plant is considered the same as the Akkadian qunnabu!]
I wasn’t surprised to find that cannabis was so deeply intertwined with spirituality, but the tie between the plant and goddess worship has left me in awe. From the ancient Egyptian goddess of wisdom, Seshat — depicted with cannabis leaves over her head, to the world’s oldest worshipped goddess, Kali-Ma — whose followers use the herb to enhance sexuality, it almost seems like cannabis was a catalyst for ancient women’s liberation. The presence of female deities in polytheists religions, along with their powerful flower, suggests that perhaps cannabis influenced ancient societies in a way that we’d call “progressive” today. During the peak of this worship, there were doctors, scribes, chefs and so on.
In 1904, a Viking ship dating back to 850 BC was excavated from a field in Norway. In it, they found two women ceremonially buried. Alongside the horse bones and fine tapestries, archeologists found four cannabis sativa seeds. One of those seeds was found in a small leather pouch that was being held by the older of the two women. Like many others, archeologist Anne Stine Ingstad has a theory that the younger of the two women — often called The Oseberg Queen — was a priestess of the Norse goddess Freya. It is suspected that the pouch is a talisman, which would have been used in a religious setting with the cannabis seed. If true, this would prove the possibility of cannabis being used as in intoxicant for a pre-Christian Scandinavian ritual.
Even though we currently live in a world where women aren’t valued as we should be — which is heavily reflected in the cannabis industry —it’s nice to know that for centuries, many women deities were literally the embodiment of cannabis. Loved or feared, known and forgotten ancient goddesses have inspired women in cannabis for thousands of years.
From joints to bath bombs and other tinctures, womxn are now finding the same liberation and healing from cannabis, as the ones who came before us did. And as we re-enter this age of reclaiming our health and wellness, Iet us embrace and feel inspired by past goddesses and their worshippers. Because when taking space, it feels good to know about the powerful women who came before you - even in a smokey room, it’s clear womxn belong in cannabis.