How pagans used hashish at Christmas time
Long before Christmas revolved around the birth of Jesus Christ, it was a celebration of the winter solstice, the longest night of the year, which falls between December 21 and 22. The pre-Christian people of Europe, often referred to as pagans, were closely related to the seasons and dependent on the return of the sun – and plants – to survive. Though harsh winter months lay ahead, the old Europeans turned the long, dark nights of late December into a party known as Yule.
“Christmas is the Germanic name for winter solstice,” explained Dr. Chris Klassen, Professor of Religion and Culture at Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, Ontario. (“Germanic” is a loose term that in the past encompassed most people in Europe).
With the days getting longer after the winter solstice, the old Christmas celebrations were all about the returning sun. “Evergreen trees, branches, and wreaths were all about bringing green – a symbol of spring and summer – into the home as a reminder that life is being reborn,” Klassen said. “And, of course, Christmas logs, which to old pagans were real logs that burned in the fireplace during the longest night instead of cake.”
While belief systems have changed over the centuries, plants continue to play a central role at Christmas time: evergreens, holly, mistletoe, cinnamon, cloves, oranges, nuts, gingerbread, potpourri – and even cannabis – are all lore from ancient traditions. Here are some of the historical ways cannabis brought symbolic green, good vibes, and festive amusement to the darkest days of the year.
The Wild Hunt of Wotan, whose army could kidnap you in the night. (Peter Nicolai Arbo, public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)
Before the 12 days of Christmas – December 25th to January 6th – there were twelve “rough nights” when the pre-Christian god Wotan (Odin or Wodan) and his wild army galloped across the sky and waged a battle between light and darkness also known as the Wild Hunt.
Not only have Wotan and his legion torn unsuspecting people off the ground, but other lurking demons may also appear on those long winter nights. To soothe the gods and ward off evil before bedtime, pagans and early Christians smeared their homes and stables with an auspicious number of nine herbs like juniper, evergreen resins, milk thistle, mugwort and probably cannabis, wrote Christian Rästch in Pagan Christmas.
Today, Catholic crowds continue to burn terpene-rich incense on Christmas Eve, and some speculate that the wild hunt is a fundamental story about Santa Claus and his reindeer flying through the sky.
Jolly Old St. Nick and his tobacco pipe. (Thomas Nast, public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)
“The stump of a pipe that he held firmly in his teeth / And the smoke that surrounded his head like a wreath,” wrote Clement Clarke Moore in his 1823 poem, A Visit from St. Nicholas (also known as “Twas the Night Before Christmas “). .
The funny, pipe-smoking Santa icon is reminiscent of a bygone era of smoking not only tobacco, but also tobacco: a spicy mixture of forest and meadow herbs that were smoked at Christmas time and, according to Rästch, often contained cannabis. in the Pagan Christmashe wrote that the Germans had a special word for the pop of cannabis seeds in their Christmas baccy, which they called Knastert.
Rästch speculates about the pipe-smoking, pagan mountain spirit Rübezahl was a forerunner of the benevolent Nikolaus, who later became the punishing Ru-klaus (“Rauer Nikolaus”) and the terrible Krampus. Thanks to the creative work of American poets of the 19th century such as Moore, children today look forward to visits from a very cheerful Santa Claus, who may be in a good mood from the contents of his pipe.
Many craft brewers today brew a limited edition Christmas beer or winter beer with herbs and spices, a centuries-old tradition tied to Yule. The North Germanic cultures were particularly fond of Julbeers – Norway even passed a law in the 10th century that stipulated that every household had to brew its own beer for Christmas or face large fines.
According to Rästch, Julbeers and Wodelbeers (Wodel = Wotan) could ignore strict laws governing the purity of brewing
Julbeers contained a little more than wheat, hops and yeast. (Carlsberg Archives, public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)
and throw in extra intoxicants for the warm fuzzies at Yuletide: cannabis, wormwood and black henbane, as well as fir green and wild rosemary for the flavor.
Hemp seed soup
Santa Claus rides a goat. (Robert Seymour (1798–1836), public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)
in the The big book hempRowan Robinson writes about an old Christmas Eve tradition that can still be found today in Poland and Lithuania: Semieniatka, or hemp seed soup, is offered to deceased family members who come back over the holidays to visit their families.
Robinson speculates that the custom dates back to ancient Scythian culture, when cannabis was inextricably linked to rituals surrounding death and burial.
Note: Scythians can also be summarized as pagans, which according to classes means “people in the countryside” and is used by Roman Christians to describe anyone who has not converted.
Special mention: fly agaric
A Christmas gnome pulling a giant toadstool through the snow. (anonymous, public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)
Have you ever noticed red and white mushrooms on old Christmas illustrations? This is the fly agaric or Amanita muscaria, a psychedelic mushroom with ancient associations with the winter solstice. Many iterations of the Wild Hunt describe toadstools that grow wherever Wotan rode through the clouds, which magically sprout nine months later from the autumn equinox (September 21) through late December.
In the northernmost regions of Europe and Siberia, shamans are said to have eaten toadstools at the winter solstice. Until recently, scholars said that the indigenous Sami people of Lapland waited in their tents on the longest night for a shaman to arrive on a sleigh pulled by reindeer. Inside he would be eating toadstools
and give the family “gifts” of healing and advice from another area which would then nourish the holy man for his ministry. These well-fed shamans in red and white to honor the power and magic of these mushrooms that supposedly made people feel like they were flying through the sky.
Colleen Fisher Tully
Colleen Fisher Tully is a freelance writer and editor with recent work in Clean Eating, Today’s Parent, The Walrus, and Local Love. She posts random thoughts on Twitter @colleenftully
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