This post was already getting a little long (plus I wanted to begin it with fuck and end it with fuckers, so I had to stop where I did to preserve the ring composition) but it’s not just the Greeks, Mysians and Skythians who had a strong relationship with hemp.
Indeed the word itself comes from Old English hænep, from Proto-Germanic *hanapiz (also the source of Old Saxon hanap, Old Norse hampr, Old High German hanaf, German Hanf, etc.) which likely derives from the same Skythian loan that the Greek κάνναβις comes from. According to Wikipedia, “the etymology of this word follows Grimm’s Law by which Proto-Indo-European initial *k- becomes *h- in Germanic. The shift of *k→h indicates it entered into the Germanic parent language at a time depth no later than the separation of Common Germanic from Proto-Indo-European,” about 500 BCE or roughly contemporaneous with the ethnographic studies carried out by Herodotos.
But it was around long before then. According to Jane Renfrew’s Paleoethnobotany: The Prehistoric Food Plants of the Near East and Europe cultivated hemp seeds (Cannabis sativa) were found at the stratum of the “hand ceramics culture” in a dig at Eisenberg near Thuringia dating back nearly 7,500 years ago, representing some of the earliest evidence of agriculture in the region.
While hemp remained a staple crop in Germanic, Scandinavian, Baltic and Slavic lands through Christianization and beyond it was primarily used for making ropes, sails, textiles and linen-like clothing. The plant was so versatile and important to the country’s economy that King Christian V even included the duty of growing hemp in his Danish Law of 1683, which states:
Every farmer who holds a full farm, and does not sow a bushel of hemp seed should by his lord be charged and punished as an obstinate and reluctant servant, unless he proves that he has no suitable soil therefore.
It was also cultivated for its plentiful medicinal properties. Sula Benet notes in Early Diffusion and Folk Uses of Hemp:
In Russia and Eastern Europe hemp was widely used in folk medicine, and references can also be found to its use in Western Europe. In Germany for example, sprigs of hemp were placed over the stomach and ankles to prevent convulsions and difficult childbirth, and in Switzerland hemp was also used to treat convulsions. In Poland, Russia and Lithuania, hemp was used to alleviate toothache by inhaling the vapor from hemp seeds thrown on hot stones (Biegeleisen 1929). Szyman of Lowic (16th century) gives the following prescription: “For worms in the teeth, boil hemp seeds in a new pot and add heated stones. When this vapor is inhaled the worms will fall out.” This method is varied somewhat in Ukranian folk medicine, the fumes of cooked hemp porridge are believed to intoxicate the worms and cause them to fall out. In Czechoslovakia and Moravia, as in Poland, hemp was considered an effective treatment for fevers. In Poland, a mixture of hemp flowers, wax and olive oil was used to dress wounds. Oil from crushed hemp seeds is used as a treatment for jaundice and rheumatism in Russia. In Serbia, hemp is considered an aphrodisiac (Tschirch 1911). Hemp is also thought to increase a man’s strength. In the Ukraine there is a legend of a dragon who lived in Kiev, oppressing the people and demanding tribute. The dragon was killed and the city liberated by a man wearing a hemp shirt.
According to Jan Bojer Vindheim it has been utilized against snakebite, “heatedness of the heart” and for eye problems up to the present. (The History of Hemp in Norway)
Even with Christianization its inherent sacredness has not been forgotten, as Vindheim goes on to relate:
In the Norwegian valley of Gausdal, people in the nineteenth century would lift their hats in greeting as they approached a field of hemp. The plant was known to house a vette, a nature spirit best treated with respect. In Norwegian folklore hemp cloth symbolized the beginning and end, and it was the first as well as the last in which people were swathed in in this life. These traditions may be relics from a time when hemp had a religious function in the pre-Christian religion.
Which we see, for instance, in its possession by the Oseberg shaman (or queen or shaman-queen) as M. Michael Brady writes in Viking ship cannabis conundrum:
In 2007, some cannabis seeds were found in a small leather purse among the grave goods of two women buried for more than 11 centuries on a Viking ship. The ship was discovered in 1903 in a mound at the Oseberg Farm near Tønsberg on the west bank of the Oslofjord. The find raised new questions in the research on Viking uses of psychoactive agents as well as on the significance of the burial of the women.
The find of the cannabis seeds deepened the mystery of their burial. Two explanations of the new mystery suggested themselves, practical and ritual. The practical explanation was that the Vikings needed cordage for their ships. The best cordage was made from hemp. In 2012, archaeologists found that hemp had been grown from as early as 650 to 800 at Stosteli, an Iron Age farmstead in Vest-Agder County. This implied that the cannabis seeds found on the Oseberg burial ship were intended to enable the women to cultivate it upon their arrival in the next world.
But none of the ropes or textiles found on board the Oseberg ship were made from hemp. Likewise, the two women had clothing made from flax, nettle, silk, and wool, but not from hemp. This suggests that the cannabis seeds were intended for ritual use.
One or both of the women may have been a Völva (“priestess” or “seeress”), a high position in Viking society, as implied by the ship being moored to a large stone. Such ritual mooring may well have been reassuring to a Völva, who on her voyage after death wished to be tethered to this world.
Völvas are presumed to have employed psychoactive substances, as in burning cannabis seeds to induce a trance. Moreover, a metal rattle of the sort that a Völva could have used in rituals was found on the ship, fixed to a post topped by a carved animal head and covered with sinuous knotwork.
The divinity most often associated with hemp among the Norse is the Goddess Freyja (and I don’t just mean under her guise of Kírkē, mistress of magical potions and brews.) According to The Sacred Plants of Our Ancestors by Christian Rätsch:
The workings of the love goddess Freya were recognized in hemp. Sowing and harvest were conducted in her honor with an erotic ritual, a Hochzeit—a “high time.” In the feminine flowers lay the eroticizing and love-generating power of Freya (Neményi 1988). Those who became intoxicated from them experienced the sensual joy and aphrodisiac ecstasies of the love goddess. From archaeological digs it has been discovered that the Germanic and Celtic tribes were already placing female hemp flowers (marijuana) in the graves of their dead 2,500 years ago (Kessler 1985).
Hemp never lost its connection with the cult of the dead, as Sula Benet relates:
Even today in Poland and Lithuania, and in former times also in Russia, on Christmas Eve when it is believed that the dead visit their families, a soup made of hemp seeds, called semieniatka, is served for the dead souls to savor. In Latvia and the Ukraine, a dish made of hemp was prepared for Three Kings Day.
This should hardly be surprising since Freyja is considerably more than just a Marilyn Monroesque “love Goddess,” as reflected in her heiti Eidandi Valfalls “Possessor of the Slain” (Skaldskaparmal) and Valfreya “Mistress of the Chosen” (Njals saga) and the fact that an army of the dead dwell with her in Folkvangr:
And Freyja is the most excellent of the Ásynjur, she has that homestead in heaven which is called Fólkvangar, and wherever she rides to battle she has half of the slain, but the other half belongs to Óðinn, as is said here:
Fólkvangr is called where Freyja decides the seat choices in the hall. Every day she chooses half the slain but half belongs to Óðinn.
Her hall Sessrúmnir is large and beautiful. (Grimnismal 14)
Even her hall Sessrúmnir is suggestive of the burial mound and funerary ships:
One very widespread phenomenon in the archaeological record of the Northern Germanic peoples is the ship motif. There are numerous ship images on rune stones, ornamental stones and coins, but most intriguing is the connection of boats with burials. Not only are there hundreds of burials with real boats deposited in graves, but also many stone ships: burial sites with lines of stones erected in the shape of a boat. Naturally enough, scholars have sought to throw light on the ship burial custom by referring to Icelandic literary records of Norse paganism. It is tempting to think of the buried boats as vehicles for the voyage of dead warriors to the afterlife in Valhǫll with Óðinn. However, the mythological record does not contain any tales of the dead travelling to Valhǫll by boat. Nor is Óðinn strongly associated with boats or the sea. Another, perhaps more promising, idea is to connect the ship motif with the Vanir gods, who certainly do have associations with seafaring. […] Perhaps Sessrúmnir was conceived of as both a ship and an afterlife location in Fólkvangr. ‘A ship in a field’ is a somewhat unexpected idea, but it is strongly reminiscent of the stone ships in Scandinavian burial sites. ‘A ship in the field’ in the mythical realm may have been conceived as a reflection of actual burial customs and vice versa. It is possible that the symbolic ship was thought of as providing some sort of beneficial property to the land, such as the good seasons and peace brought on by Freyr’s mound burial in Yinglinga Saga. (Joseph S Hopkins,
The Ship in the Field)
Many Vanic-style fertility rites were associated with the cultivation of hemp, as reported by Sula Benet:
Since the plant was associated with religious ritual and the power of healing, magical practices were connected with its cultivation. In Europe, peasants generally believed that planting hemp should take place on the days of saints who were known to be tall in order to encourage the plant’s growth. In Germany, long steps are taken while sowing the seed which is thrown high into the air. In Baden the planting is done during the “high” hours, between 11:00 a.m. and noon. Cakes baked to stimulate hemp growth are known as ‘hanfeier.’
Following the planting, magical means are applied to make the hemp grow tall and straight. The custom of dancing or jumping to promote the growth of the plant is known throughout Europe. In Poland, married women dance “the hemp dance” on Shrove Tuesday, leaping high into the air. The hemp dance (‘for hemp’s sake’) is also danced at weddings by the young bride with the ‘raiko,’ the master of ceremonies (Kolberg 1899). In the wedding rituals of the Southern Slavs, hemp is a symbol of wealth and a talisman for happiness. When the bride enters her new home after the wedding ceremony, she strokes the four walls of her new home with a bunch of hemp. She is herself sprinkled with hemp seeds to bring good luck. In Estonia, the young bride visits her neighbors in the company of older women asking for gifts of hemp. She is thus “showered” with hemp.
Women play a leading role in the festivities. In Poland, initiation ceremonies are held during the harvest. Young brides are admitted into the circle of older married women on payment of a token fee. Since the Catholic Church never deemed it necessary to interfere with these festivals, it must have regarded them as harmless and perhaps even socially benevolent. In Eastern Europe hemp is evidently not considered addictive and no case of solitary use among the peasants has been reported: it is always used in a context of group participation. In many countries, hemp gathering is an occasion for socializing. The Swiss call it ‘stelg’ (Hager 1919). Young men come to the gathering wearing carnival masks and offer gifts to the girls.
Hemp gathering rituals also reveal the sacred character of the plant. In certain areas of Poland, at midnight, a chalk ring is drawn around the plant which is then sprinkled with holy water. The person collecting the plant hopes that part of the flower will fall into his boots and bring him good fortune. The flower of a hemp plant gathered on St. John’s Eve in the Ukraine is thought to counteract witchcraft and protect farm animals from the evil eye.
You can easily see why this most important of plants was associated with Freyja and that it has uses far beyond just getting high. It is the key that opens up the Green Way, and the ship we use to travel to other worlds, especially that of the dead. This ship is full of Nature’s bounty and blessings, like the Black Ship of Dionysos at Anthesteria.
Timaeus of Tauromenium relates that there was a certain house at Akragas called the Trireme, on this account:— At a festival of Dionysos once a group of young men were drinking and became so wild when overheated by the liquor that they imagined they were sailing in a trireme, and that they were in a bad storm on the ocean. Finally they completely lost their senses, and tossed all the furniture and bedding out of the house as though upon the waters, convinced that the pilot directed them to lighten the ship because of the raging storm. Well, a great crowd gathered and began to carry off the jetsam, but even then the youngsters did not cease from their mad actions. The next day the military authorities appeared at the house and made a complaint against the young men when they were still half-seas over. To the questions of the magistrates they answered that they had been much put to it by a storm and had been compelled to throw into the sea the superfluous cargo. When the authorities expressed surprise at their insanity, one of the young men, though he appeared to be the eldest of the company, said to them: ‘Ye Tritons, I was so frightened that I threw myself into the lowest possible place in the hold and lay there.’ The magistrates, therefore, pardoned their delirium, but sentenced them never to drink too much and let them go. (Athenaios, Deipnosophistai 2.37)