Ave Maria: cannabis as a sacrament

I learned to smoke weed in church. I know it’s rather uncommon, but I did.

During my fieldwork studies in a Dutch Santo Daime church I found out that ‘Daime’ – their ritual name for ayahuasca – is not their only sacrament. In some parishes of the church ‘Santa Maria’ is consecrated as well. It’s called ‘Santa Maria’ as the church members equate the cannabis plant with the holy Virgin Mary.

I tried to smoke weed before, but I never particularly liked it. However, in this context and in combination with the Daime, Santa Maria had really profound effects on me. I experienced this several times, however, the first time stays most clearly in my mind.

A ritual in a ritual

During the ceremony the way is paved by Daime and the mantra-like singing, dancing and shaking with maracas (a Brazilian shake-instrument). By engaging with the music, you’re continuously invited to stay present in the moment. Over the course of one or two hours I experienced my consciousness slowly opening up.

Then a second cup of Daime is served, almost immediately followed by Santa Maria. The sacred herb is grown and harvested by the church members themselves. All the steps in the process – even the rolling of the joints – take place in an atmosphere of ritual devotion.

Smoking is a ritual in itself: first a hymn is sung to invite St. Mary to join the ceremony. Then the joints are lit. The one who holds it takes three puffs: one devoted to the sun, the second to the moon, and the third to the stars. The joints are passed and the next person inhales three times as well. While it circles, the participants keep singing songs for St. Mary.


I inhale… and let go. A deep sigh of relaxation. Not just me, the whole church seems to sighs deeply. I notice how wonderful and delightful it is to breathe. In and out: a miracle. With every breath complete worlds rise up in my minds’ eye. I pass the joint and start singing again. Everything is open and empty now, no thoughts. Only being itself.

And then.. it breaks through. A buzz in my head. The world starts spinning. Colours. I elevate to a higher dimension. I become one big, happy smile. This is what we’re after! Every time again, along countless pathways: they all end up here. I am bliss, ecstasy, the most amazing beauty. My heart is not empty any more, it is full.

I breathe in deeply. And I breathe out deeply. This is what I was longing for: it does exist, it is real. Even better: it is always here! And we’re able to discover it again and again.

Holy = becoming whole?

I’ve met Santa Maria in many other contexts since and I know she’s ingested with a wide variety of intentions. Maybe not all of them could be considered ‘holy’, though it might be a matter of definition. Nowadays medical and therapeutic applications of the plant are rediscovered and promoted. And aren’t ‘healing’ and ‘holy’ both related to ‘becoming whole’?

Ganja smoking sadhu in Kolkata

Sacred herb

Ganja is also sacred to the sadhus (holy men) of India, who pray, chant mantras and meditate while sharing a chillum (or enjoy a cup of bhang!). Quite similar to the Rastafaris who use cannabis to get closer to Jah (God).

The plant has been used ritually by indigenous people from Tibet to Mexico. And they all discovered the same thing: in the right set and setting the herb will elevate you into extraordinary states of consciousness.


How to develop your own spiritual practice with Santa Maria?

  • Grow your own herbs! (Or get a trustworthy connection). Cannabis is a plant, a natural substance. Anything you put in there (fertile soil, sunlight, peace and tranquillity, songs, prayer, intentions) will come out. Of course the strain is relevant, but the circumstances in which she’s grown matter quite as much.
  • Find your preferred way of consumption. You like to smoke together with tobacco? Know that tobacco is a powerful medicine plant as well! Treat it with respect. You don’t like to smoke? There’s other options, like vaporising or processing it into food or drinks.
  • Whatever method you choose, make it a ritual: a conscious act.
  • Provide a good set & setting, whether alone or together. Put some awareness to your surroundings: light a candle, clean the dirt, grab some flowers or play a nice tune. It will definitely improve your experience. Prepare your body and mind before consecrating the sacrament.
  • Put an intention or prayer. Before you start or for example with every puff you take. In the church they concentrate subsequently on the sun, moon and stars. Personally I developed a preference for the Buddhist trinity of buddha-dharma-sangha. But likely you can find your own. Obviously you can adept your prayer to the circumstances.
  • Communicate and commune with Santa Maria. Address her as an entity that is merging with you. It’s a sacred, almost sexual act.
  • Know when it’s the right moment and what’s the right dosage. It’s different for everyone and you can learn this by consciously getting to know the plant.
  • It’s all about building a good relationship with Santa Maria. That isn’t a relationship built on dependence, but a respectful relationship. When you stay true to your heart you know when is the moment to consecrate, and when it’s not.



Picture header by Ubirajara Ferreira
Picture in the text by Biswarup Ganguly

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