Rastafari

10 November 2021 – Posted in: Cannabis and Culture, Cannabis Education, Cannabis in History

For many, smoking cannabis can be a spiritual experience, a way to commune with the natural world around us.  In this blog post, we at TOKE Cannabis honour the Rastafari, a spiritual community which emerged in the 1930s in Jamaica, for whom cannabis plays a central role in their practices.

There are an estimated 700,000-1,000,000 Rastafari across the world – mostly living in Jamaica, but also in diaspora communities around the world, including here in Canada. Cannabis plays an important role in Rastafari spiritual practices, world view and belief systems.  Rastafari believe the weed brings them closer to the one God, called Jah, who they see both as a greater power, and as living within each individual.  Rastafari consider cannabis a sacrament, which allows smokers to discover their inner divinity.  They use marijuana to see the world’s truth clearly. Rastafari typically meet in a Rasta’s house or in a community building for Reasoning sessions called “groundings”  – where members chant, pray, sing, and discuss communal issues, while smoking marijuana, which they call ganja.  Cannabis is smoked to reach a heightened spiritual state, to promote feelings of group unity and to encourage soothing visions.  The group meditates and tries to help each member to enter a trance-like state.  Rastafari usually smoke a spliff or use a “chalice” (water pipe). This is to be passed in a counter clockwise direction.  Rastafari always say a prayer before imbibing.  At the groundings Rastafari inform each other about the revelations that have come to them during meditation or dreams, on the topic under discussion.  Some Rastafari smoke cannabis only at the groundings, whereas others smoke it almost constantly.  They call the cannabis plant callie, “the holy herb”, “the grass” and “the weed”. 

It has been said that there is no one single set of Rastafari beliefs, but a myriad of beliefs.  The Rastafari have no central authority, but rather there are many separate denominations called “Mansions of Rastafari,” each of which has its own divergent points of view.  All groups place a great importance on personal experience and intuitive understanding, as each Rasta determines the truth or validity of beliefs and practices.   According to the Rastafari, no one individual has the authority to declare which beliefs are the one truth – it is something each person must find within oneself.  There is no priest needed to act as mediator between the individual Rasta and God.  Rastafari revere the Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie, known as Ras Tafari. Haile Selassie is seen by some as Jah incarnate, and is seen by others as a prophet who recognized Jah’s presence in all people.

Rastafari traditionally used weed to establish a sense of freedom from the oppressive establishment of Western society – ie:  capitalism and European colonialism – known to them as Babylon (which they contrast against Zion – the promised land, Africa).  Historically, many Rastafari focused on literally physically relocating to Africa , and thus “returning to Zion”; more recently, most have focussed on returning to Zion through restoring pride and self-confidence as black people of African descent.  Rastafari historically rejected colonial culture, and they continue to reject neo-colonialism, believing that Babylon and westerners have detached themselves too far from nature though technological development, and have become slothful and decadent, and lacking in spirituality.  They see slavery, racism, capitalism, exploitation, the police, and politicians as characteristic of Babylon. 

Rastafari are Millenarians.  They believe the apocalypse is coming, Babylon will be overthrown, and Rastas will be the chosen few who survive.  Rastafari use the Bible, but also other texts.  They believe the Bible promotes the use of cannabis, often citing: “The herb is the healing of the nation” (Revelation 22:2) and “He causeth the grass for the cattle, and herb for the services of man” (Psalms 104:14).  They interpret the cannabis plant as the Tree of Life.  They do not believe in the afterlife, but believe in the possibility of eternal life.  If you are righteous, according to many Rastafari, you can live forever;  some interpret this literally, while others believe eternal life is achieved through reincarnation.  Rastafari as a general rule avoid funerals, and do not focus on the dead through ancestor veneration which is common in many traditional African, and world, religions. 

Rastafari are concerned with black consciousness – rediscovering the identity of black people, both in terms of personal identity, and racial identity.  Most are of Black African descent.  Rastafari believe Black Africans are Jah’s chosen people.  They believe that the Bible was warped, mistranslated and deliberately manipulated to deny black Africans their history.  Rastafari believe Jesus was a black African, and that they, as Africans in exile, are the reincarnation of the Israelites of the Old Testament.  Many consider the God worshiped by white Christians as the devil, and that the Pope is Satan or the Antichrist. Rastafari believe words have power – they seek to avoid words that contribute to servility, self degradation and objectification of the person.  Make wide use of the pronoun I : use “I” instead of “me”, say “I and I” in place of “we.”

For Rastafari, living in harmony with the environment and following the laws of nature are Important concept to Rastafari is livity – the realization that an energy or life force given by Jah exists within, and flows through, all people and all living things.  The Rasta reverence for nature is thought to have derived from traditional African religions, including the Kumina beliefs of the Ashanti people, who believed that all things had a soul – including rocks, trees, plants and rivers. Rastas want to expand their livity by eating an ital diet, through intense meditation and prayer, and most importantly, through loving behaviour toward others.  An important aspect of livity is embracing an “all natural” lifestyle – including eating all natural foods, and growing natural hair, resulting in dreadlocks.  Many eat only vegetarian, organic and locally grown foods – and consider meat “dead.”  Some Rastafari will eat fish, but only those smaller than 12 inches in length. Living naturally means growing one’s own food, and respecting the earth’s sacredness by refusing to use it commercially or sell it for profit. Rural life is idealized, and an older, simpler form of country life is yearned for.  Many Rastafari avoid additives like sugar and salt, and drink no alcohol, (although some will have a moderate amount of alcohol as long as it isn’t enough to cloud their mind or reduce their livity).  Typically, in addition to drinking no alcohol, Rastafari smoke no cigarettes, and use no hard drugs such as heroin or cocaine.  Rastafari often reject mainstream medicine, and don’t trust it, instead focusing on herbal medicine, including teas, juices, roots, leaves, and grasses, including ganja which is made into tea.

According to Rastafari, when deciding if you will do an act or not, you must consult the inner Jah inside you.

Something to ponder the next time you partake 😉