A Greek speaking nomadic tribe, the history of the Thracians is
closely tied to that of the Scythians, so that at times the two groups would
Herodotus wrote of the Thracian's
ability at working hemp fibres, and claimed that their clothes "were so like
linen that none but a very experienced person could tell whether they were of
hemp or flax; one who had never seen hemp would certainly suppose them to be
Like the Scythian shamans, the
Thracians used cannabis in a similar manner. Dr Sumach explains in A Treasury of
The sorcerers of these
Thracian tribes were known to have burned female cannabis flowers (and other
psychoactive plants) as a mystical incense to induce trances. Their special
talents were attributed to the "magical heat" produced from burning the
cannabis and other herbs, believing that the plants dissolved in the flames,
then reassembled themselves inside the person who inhaled the vapors.
Dionysus a Doper?
The majority of scholars are in agreement that
Dionysus, the famous Greek God of Intoxication, was originally a Thracian god.
Mircea Eliade, probably recognized as the foremost authority on the history of
religion, has commented on the Thracian cult of Dionysus, and further he has
connected this worship with the use of cannabis:
Prophecy in Thrace was
connected with the cult of Dionysus. A certain tribe managed the oracle of
Dionysus, the temple was on a high mountain, and the prophetess predicted the
future in 'ecstacy', like the Pythia at Delphi.
Ecstatic experiences strengthened the
conviction that the soul is not only autonomous, but that it is capable of
union mystica with the divinity. The separation of soul from body, determined
by ecstacy, revealed on the one hand the fundamental duality of man, on the
other, the possibility of a purely spiritual post-experience, the consequence
of 'divinization'. Ecstacy could ...be brought on by certain dried herbs or by
In a foot note to dried herbs, Eliade
commented on the use of "Hemp seeds among the Thracians... and among the
Scythians", and refers to some of the ancient shamans as "those who walk in
smoke" or Kapnobatai. The Kapnobatai would be dancers and Shamans who used the
smoke of hemp to bring ecstatic trances.
The messages from the other world
brought back by these ancient Shamans was taken as authoritative advice by the
ancient chieftains and their tribes. In this sense, the Shamans acted as the
conscience or mind of the whole group.
Mellowing with Time
It could well be that in later times the cannabis
smoke had somewhat mellowed the Scythians, and their spiritual leaders directed
them towards becoming a more civilized people. The ancient Greek historian
Ephorus wrote in the fourth century BC that the Scythians 'feed on mares milk
and excel all men in justice'. His comments were followed in the first century
BC by Strabo, who wrote that 'we regard the Scythians as the most just of men
and the least prone to mischief, as also far more frugal and independent of
others than we are.'
Next Issue: A Hemp Heresy
Probably the most famous of the ancient Shamans who
were directly influenced by the Scythian technique of ecstacy through cannabis
were Moses, Isaiah, Ezekeil, and some of the other Old Testament Prophets and
kings. A grandiose claim? Is the Philosopher stoned? A Hemp Heresy? Join 'When
Smoke Gets in My I' next month for an in depth look at cannabis in the Old