By Jessie Macpherson
Women in cannabis culture may seem like a modern development, but women and weed have been an unbeatable combination since the ancient world.
In the ancient world, women used cannabis in religion. It has been suggested that the sacred tree used in the Hebrew goddess Asherah’s sacred rites was cannabis. Remains of cannabis resin have even been found in incense burners of the period.
In ancient Egypt, the goddess Seshat has connections to0, and her starry crown resembles a cannabis leaf. The hieroglyph shemshemet describing “the plant from which ropes are made” likely refers to cannabis. The Ebers papyrus, a compendium of Egyptian medicine from 1500 BCE recommends hemp to “cool the uterus” referring to gynecological care.
In the ancient Greek world, the goddess Hera had a sacred plant called asterion or “little star” which some scientists view as cannabis. Priestesses of Aphrodite Urania used cannabis for fumigation and incense. Cannabis was likely used in mystery religions. During these ceremonies, women took intoxicants to help them reach spiritual experiences. Around the same time, Scythian warrior women used cannabis in their tents after battle, in what we now call “hotboxing.” They even buried their dead with cannabis.
In the Middle Ages, women used cannabis for its medical and magical properties. Saint Hildegarde von Bingen, born in 1098, wrote on its medical usage in her book Physica. She described hemp being used topically to heal and internally to counteract pain. Bingen also referred to the plant’s viriditas or “green power.” Cannabis appears in recipes for witches’ flying ointment, a balm applied to the body in order to simulate flight.
Hundreds of years later, cannabis reappeared in the Western medical world after the British invasion of India. As early as 1839, doctors used it to treat women’s medical issues including painful menstruation. Queen Victoria supposedly used it on orders of her personal physician. Other women shattering the taboo on cannabis use included the spiritual leader of Theosophy, Helena Petrova Blavatsky, known as a “holy roller” for her taste for hashish cigarettes.
In the 20th century, 1920s artists like painter Tamara de Lempicka used hashish to create their artistic visions. Blues singers like Bessie Smith sang about cannabis in their music. Flappers smoked “jazz cigarettes” or joints.
Today, we’re lucky to have these women’s stories to add to our own herstory. When you have a toke or an edible, thank these women of weed.
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