Sacramental cannabis sects
In unholy, bloody purgings, ancient kings turned their temples to dust, sacrificed their priests on their own altars and scattered their followers. Still, their teachings remained. The inherent impulse to ingest psychedelics for spiritual illumination survived, as have the prohibitions of governments desperately grasping to limit the definitions of human consciousness.
The secret, revolutionary truth of psychedelic spirituality is that the divine exists in each of us, that no one has to show it to us, and that we don't have to follow any one else's rules to get there. In the 60's, hippie folk turned on to the possibilities of psychedelic union with God, and communities advocating sacramental use of cannabis and other entheogens sprang up all over North America.
In the US, Stephen Gaskin led the largest-ever hippie caravan across the country to Tennessee, where he founded "The Farm" in 1972. "There are spiritual levels of experience that people are heir to," writes Gaskin in his book, Cannabis Spirituality. "If you touch that spiritual vibration, it will touch you back. There isn't supposed to be an intermediary between you and God."
The Church of the Universe, whose members believe that marijuana is the tree of life, was created around the same type of community-living model as The Farm. One day in 1969, standing on the ice of a spring-fed quarry in Puslinch County, Ontario, Walter Tucker had a vision of an alternative community, living in harmony with each other and the land. He quickly arranged to lease the land for a small monthly rate, called it "Clearwater Abbey," and founded a new religion based on a philosophy of community living, inward searching and sacramental cannabis.
In a recent conversation with Reverend Tucker, he theologized that "When you join your spirit to the spirit of the plant world, marijuana especially, it brings you into connection with God."
Jeff Brown joined the Ethiopian Zion Coptic Church in the 70's, when he was about twenty, and learned about the mysteries of cannabis spirituality.
"They taught us that marijuana is the body and blood of Christ and that it is a religious sacrament," Brown told Cannabis Culture. "One of the other things they taught us is that if you are looking for God you have to look for God within."
Reverend Rick Friesen, a priest of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (aka Mormons), says that the Mormon Doctrine of the Covenant, section 134, excludes outside interference in a person's direct relationship with the divine ? specifically government interference.
"I would like to draw your attention to verse 4," said Reverend Friesen, then he began reading the text: "'We believe that religion is instituted of God and that men are amenable to him and him only for the exercise of it? we do not believe that human law has a right to interfere in prescribing rules of worship to bind the consciences of men or dictate forms of public or private devotion. That the civil magistrate should restrain crime but never control conscience, that he should punish guilt, but never suppress the freedom of the soul.'"
Under Mormon law, cannabis is the sacrament of choice? if one believes that it is. Reverend Friesen, who is also a priest of the multi-denominational Church of the Universe, explains: "In Section 27, the question of sacrament is basically answered." He quotes again from the Doctrine of the Covenant: "'For behold, I say unto you, it matters not what ye shall eat or what ye shall drink when you partake of the sacrament, if it so be you do it with an eye to my glory.'"
Other faiths have similar passages and passageways to the divine. When the sacred text of OAHSPE was channeled by John Newbrough in 1881, it attracted a following of secret "faithist" lodges across North America. OAHSPE proclaimed an individual's right to direct contact with God. Phil Tarver, OAHSPE faithist, saw the same doctrine of herbal freedom in OAHSPE that Friesen had found in Mormon texts.
One day in 1988, Phil Tarver had a vision, to create the Children of the World Foundation. In his vision, the Lord spoke to Tarver and told him "my children are going to gather together and I want you to give them a drink." Tarver and eleven other believers took 1,450 pounds of ice, and served iced tea at the 1998 Rainbow Family of Living Light Gathering in East Texas. At the gathering, Tarver created the Children of the World Foundation, with seven degrees of initiation, in accordance with OAHSPE teachings. The first of these seven involved joining a "brotherhood of good works" and smoking from the "peace pipe", filled with cannabis.
Although not all OAHSPE faithists believe that cannabis is the sacrament smoked in the sacred peace pipe, Tarver says that each lodge follows a different tradition, and points to numerous references to industrial uses of hemp in the OAHSPE bible.
Purges and persecution
Where religion, temples and priests once dictated and upheld law, now there are legislatures, courts and police. Constitutions supposedly protect our religious freedoms, but today's maddened, sacrocidal rulers continue religious persecution by raiding temples with SWAT teams, burying believers in inhumane prisons designed to replace faith with fear.
The police dragged them naked from their holy grounds, refused them their clothes, chained them, wrapped them in orange blankets, and brought them to jail. It was June 17, 1986, the first police eviction of Church of the Universe members from their holy grounds at Clearwater Abbey.
Church of the Universe leaders Reverend Walter Tucker and Reverend Michael Baldasaro are appealing to the constitution to address over three decades of religious persecution, and are setting a date in Canada's Supreme Court. Since 1969 they have faced evictions from three separate locations, been repeatedly raided, imprisoned and even beaten by police for their beliefs (see CC#9 & #10). Most recently, they were arrested for sending cannabis to the Canadian Minister of Health in response to the ministry's request for applications for clinical medical trials (see p.24).
"I think in some ways it makes the spirit stronger. The strongest people are the ones that have had to face trial," said Tucker in a recent interview.
Similarly, police stormed into the Children of the World Foundation's sacramental pot grow-op and began ripping up plants, stealing equipment, and seizing a reputed 2,000 pounds of sacramental bud on March 23, 1998. In 1997, Tarver had sued the state for special permission to grow cannabis for the foundation by a Texan Court, but the police that tore apart Tarver's grow either didn't know or didn't care. Tarver has provided Cannabis Culture with extensive and convincing court documentation to prove the details of his case.
According to this documentation, Judge Means of the US federal court, Northern District of Texas, granted Tarver's request and Tarver dropped his civil suit. But when the courts conveniently forgot about Tarver's permission, and Tarver's lawyer, James Neel, clammed up and ? according to Tarver ? "missed at least twenty appointments," he was forced to take a deal over the 1998 marijuana charges. The 2,000 pounds of marijuana was reduced to a few ounces, and Tarver was given one and a half years, time served. A suspiciously light sentence.
Yet the police had set loose a demon of fear among Tarver's congregation, and many fled. "We have eight members right now," Tarver said. "We had initiated 20 or 30. Now some have moved off, some don't come much. It is hard to initiate someone, because it might be the next raid. What happens if a trigger happy cop breaks in and shoots you?"
Fearing police attack, many cannabis believers hide their religious practices in closets, hold their services in dark basements, with the understanding that every service might be their last, that it might cost them their families, their homes and their lives. When Reverend Rick Friesen's 15-year-old son, Sheldon, was arrested for cannabis use, it forever changed his family.
"We have no idea whether the police are surveilling our house right now," said Friesen. "We used to have people coming and going for worship. Now we are afraid of getting arrested. They can come busting through our door at any time with a warrant for whatever. I have heard enough horror stories about what they will try to do to our family, tear it apart by playing head games with us all in the name of getting a conviction."
Friesen lives in Winnipeg, Manitoba, and his son was arrested in school in December of 1998 for using cannabis to control attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). The principal searched Sheldon despite the police's refusal to do so themselves, says Reverend Friesen, and despite his own objection to the principal's search. The principal found less than a joint worth of cannabis in Sheldon's pocket and suspended him, causing Sheldon to miss exams and fail the entire school year.
Jeff Brown, of the Coptic Church in Florida, has also seen his congregation split apart by police harassment. After a multi-million dollar sacramental pot bust in 1981, for which Brown served five years in a federal pen, the church disintegrated.
Brown's most recent arrest was for smoking cannabis in the park last year during a Florida hemp rally. Earlier this year, a Tampa judge refused Brown's motion to dismiss the case under the new Religious Freedoms Restoration Act. Brown is now appealing.
"The judge said that I had to put on an evidentiary hearing [to prove] that I was actually practicing my religion when I was arrested and the state was substantially burdening my religion. But I spelled the facts in my motion to dismiss with a sworn statement. I think the judge made a bad decision."
Freedom vs control
"I think it is all money," said Brown. "I think big corporations will lose money were cannabis legalized, because of its many uses."
Among those who believe marijuana is sacred, there is a general suspicion that corporate greed and government control are behind the religious persecutions that they suffer.
"When you connect with God you ring a bell in your soul," Reverend Tucker said. "People who believe in God don't necessarily believe in money, and they don't believe in enslavement and violence and all the other things that society has to run by. So society is threatened by that. If they can't rule you by a gun or a club, they are very afraid of you. If you can't rule a person with religion, if you don't feel guilty, they are very afraid of you."
Unearthed evidence proves a recurrent theme in religious cannabis persecutions: centralized governments seeking to consolidate their power versus religious groups that promote higher values and laws. Community living and the inward tradition promoted by psychedelics involve a redefinition of values and laws that have always threatened the commercial value culture of a centralized society. It was so in the time of Solomon, and it is so today.
Modern Dark Ages
Today's prohibition reflects that of darker periods, with modern twists on the age-old theme of religious persecution. The push for world-wide centralization ? known ideologically as "globalism", in practice as "free trade", and by those in the know as "corporate rule" ? is served by the continued prohibition of cannabis. While prohibition seeks to destroy our connection with the earth, multinational corporations strive to replace it with synthetic and patented medicines, foods and other products.
In contrast, the competing ideologies of plant-based religions emphasize connection with mother earth. Cannabis-loving worshippers of Ashera, the Queen of Heaven shared their pot practices with some of the the Gnostics, who believed Mary was the true inheritress of Jesus' ministry after his death. The early Essenes ? who, like the Gnostics, were wiped out by the exclusively Father-worshipping Catholic Church ? report in their gospels that Jesus gave not just an "Our Father," but an "Our Mother" which emphasizes health and connection with the earth. The Essenes believed that Jesus healed using techniques that might best be described as naturopathy.
Today, sacramental cannabis users are environmentalists, medical marijuana providers, and human rights activists. And their freedoms and values are threatened the same way the freedoms of the Essenes, the Gnostics and the worshipers of Ashera were threatened so long ago. The war on cannabis is not new, it is an ancient battle between those who wish to explore the full dimensions of human consciousness, and those who want to control and limit the minds of others.
"Our Mother which art upon earth, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, and thy will be done in us, as it is in thee. As thou sendest every day thy angels, send them to us also. Forgive us our sins, as we atone all our sins against thee. And lead us not into sickness, but deliver us from all evil, for thine is the earth, the body, and the health. Amen."
Gospel of Thomas