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Sacred Bliss

A Spiritual History of Cannabis

Mark S. Ferrara

One of the most important relationships that human beings have with plants is changing our consciousness—consider the plants that give us coffee, tea, chocolate, and nicotine. Sacred Bliss challenges traditional attitudes about cannabis by tracing its essential role in the spiritual and curative traditions in Asia, the Middle East, Africa, Europe, and the Americas from prehistory to the present day. In highlighting the continued use of cannabis around the globe, Sacred Bliss offers compelling evidence of cannabis as an entheogen used for thousands of years to evoke peak-experiences, or moments of expanded perception or spiritual awareness.

Today, the growing utilization of medical cannabis to alleviate the pain and symptoms of physical illness raises the possibility of using cannabis to treat the mind along with the body. By engaging sacred and secular texts from around the world, Sacred Bliss demonstrates that throughout religious history, cannabis has offered access to increased imagination and creativity, heightened perspective and insight, and deeper levels of thought.
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Rowman & Littlefield Publishers
Pages: 194Size: 6 1/4 x 9 1/2
978-1-4422-7191-3 • Hardback • October 2016 • $34.00 • (£23.95)
978-1-4422-7192-0 • eBook • October 2016 • $33.99 • (£23.95)
Mark Ferrara is associate professor of English at SUNY Oneonta. He is the author of several books, including Palace of Ashes: China and the Decline of American Higher Education.
Ferrara examines how cannabis has informed the history of religions, tracing this history geographically to show the ways that Indians, Middle Easterners, Chinese, Africans, and Native Americans have variously incorporated cannabis as a psychoactive, medicinal, or textile plant throughout most of human history. In addition to Rastafarians, religious users include Zoroastrian mystics, Muslim Sufis, and Native American shamans, who relied on the drug to achieve experiences that blurred distinctions between self and other. Casting such experiences as central to religious expression, Ferrara suggests that cannabis can provide mystical experiences for many who cannot achieve them otherwise. He provides significant context to understanding the religious traditions he discusses, a helpful move to ensure that cannabis appears as an ancillary rather than central component. His final chapter on the Euro-American literary connection to cannabis feels slightly out of place, but shows that experimentation with the substance has a long history in the West. The work remains mostly analytic, but his afterword moves slightly toward arguing for increased legalization of cannabis. After laying out the history of potential spiritual benefits, this convincing conclusion provides a quiet rationale for more openness and a return to cannabis use as a spiritual practice.
Publishers Weekly

The history of marijuana usage stretches far back beyond the era of hippies or reggae fans. According to
this book, humans have been consuming cannabis for various reasons since their earliest days. Far from being recreational, though, cannabis has been used in religions all across history and all around the world to dissolve the boundaries between the self and the divine and open the mind to ecstatic experiences. The author describes cannabis use from every continent and throughout most religions.... [I]t’s undeniable that worshippers have been using it for centuries. Ferrara urges abandoning marijuana fears and advocates for cannabis’ potential as a bringer of 'peak experiences,' which he speculates might lead to a kinder, more peaceful society.

Mark S. Ferrara is your affable liberal professor who is not so secretly known to take a puff or two. Sacred Bliss: A Spiritual History of Cannabis is a brief but scholarly history of the role of marijuana within spiritual and religions traditions from ancient India to modern Europe. Ferrara’s basic thesis is that humanity has for millennia used cannabis as an entheogen, or ritual drug, to stimulate what he calls 'peak experiences'— a term borrowed from psychologist Abraham Maslow that refers to brief moments of sudden spiritual insight, 'an important response to the panhuman yearning for paradise.' [Ferrara's message is] warmhearted and inviting.
The Washington Post

As it turns out, the hippies were right. More than a recreational drug, more than a tonic for physical ills, marijuana has always been medicine for the spirit. Mark Ferrara's Sacred Bliss is far and away the best available study of the drug’s neglected spiritual history. I recommend it highly.
John Charles Chasteen, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, author of Getting High: Marijuana through the Ages

With scholarly acumen and attunement to the pulses of social evolution, Mark Ferrara guides us through centuries of respectful cannabis use within diverse world religions, and he thoughtfully explores its potential to contribute to the spiritual awakening so urgently needed in the early twenty-first century. This book is a critical, invaluable, and timely "missing link" in the literature on marijuana and on how certain non-ordinary states of awareness may contribute to psychological and spiritual development.
William A. Richards, Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, author of Sacred Knowledge: Psychedelics and Religious Experiences

This book offers a concise, accessible history of the diverse spiritual contexts cannabis has occupied for millennia, from the ancient Indus Valley to the U.S. today. Many cultures have valued the plant as a pathway to heightened creativity and deeper self-awareness. Ferrara argues that knowledge of its spiritual history can help people who partake nowadays find greater meaning and insight in their experiences.
Chris Duvall, University of New Mexico

Ferrara takes us on a lucid, provocative, and engaging journey, demonstrating how cannabis has been used—over thousands of years and in an astonishing array of cultural settings—to open the mind to a realm of consciousness beyond the boundaries of the ego. This meticulously researched book will be of interest to anyone curious about how human beings have sought to discover a sacred dimension of reality in the midst of ordinary life. Readers will find here an entirely new perspective on the current debate over the pharmaceutical and recreational value of marijuana.
C. W. Huntington, Jr., Hartwick College, author of Maya: A Novel

Brings to light the clandestine history of marijuana as an entheogen—a substance that reveals divinity

Chronicles cannabis use in the religious and curative traditions of Asia, the Middle East, Africa, Europe, and the Americas

Traces the important role of cannabis in Vedic shamanism, Zoroastrianism, Islamic Sufism, Native American shamanism, the Rastafari movement, and other religious traditions

Provides a unique overview of the attributes that have made cannabis a part of medicine, ritual, and spiritual practice since prehistory

Highlights the continued use of cannabis around the globe as a vehicle for religious experience (as well as a pleasant relaxant, safe medicine, and nutritious foodstuff)

Includes comprehensive historical overviews of world cultures and religions

Offers a unique approach to cannabis culture

Engages legalization and decriminalization efforts in the United States and around the world