Article by Chris Bennett, Cannabis Culture
Lately I have been working on my new book, Liber 420: Cannabis Arcanum. This will be my 4th book detailing the fascinating history of cannabis in magic and religion. In this new book the focus will be on the use of cannabis in the occult traditions, such as alchemy and magic, from the medieval period into the early 20th century.
One of my favourite 19th century figures in this history is the African American, Paschal Beverly Randolph, (1825-1875) who was a major importer of hashish into North America. Randolph came into contact with the herb, in his adventures searching for occult knowledge. An important figure is the spiritualism movement, Randolph was also a Rosicrucian grandmaster, and a sex magician. Besides his interests in the occult, he was also a pioneer of both women’s rights and black rights, and a friend of Abraham Lincoln.
Randolph considered his use of cannabis products as part of a much older esoteric tradition. “…Randolph—as the French mesmerists before him—found that hashish constituted the perfect food for the soul… If… he had been searching for years to find the ‘wine of life,’ the elixir that would perfectly restore the depleted vital fluids that served to connect the soul to the body, he had found it in hashish, the real secret of the wisdom tradition” (Deveney, 1997). As Randolph himself explained:
“There is no doubt that Confucius, Pythagoras and his disciples, the Alchemists, Hermetists, Illuminati, and mystic bretheren of all ages used it to exalt them while making their researches for the Philosopher’s stone… Secret of Perpetual Youth… and the Elixir of Life… (Randolph, 1867)”
Randolph’s first experiences with cannabis preparations came through French occultists and Rosicrucians under the Arabic name dowam meskh, the “medicine of immortality,” a “pure” form of the drug said to have been prepared by adepts in the East. Randolph considered the plant to have both spiritual and medicinal properties. Randolph, and his first wife Mary-Jane Randolph, patented a variety of cannabis based aphrodisiacs and medicines, such as phymylle and amylle, and the differences he attributes to its effects, leaves one wondering if he had stumbled upon the opposing effects of CBD and THC. “He touted the first as especially suited for nervous exhaustion and the second as a panacea for ‘passional excess, onanism, etc’. Together they were the best ‘aphrodision” in the world’” (Deveney, 1997). John Patrick Deveney in his wonderful book Paschal Beverly Randolph; A Nineteenth-Century Black American Spiritualist, Rosicrucian and Sex Magicianwrites that at “one point before the Civil War he was probably the largest importer of hashish into the United States”`(Deveny, 1997).