Chris Bennett recently posted a 30-minute documentary of Michael Horowitz describing the resurgence of cannabis use in Europe in the early 1800s, something sparked by Napoleon’s invasion of the Orient.
Horowitz brought up an illuminating point never mentioned in the history books. The spread of cannabis through Europe after Napoleon’s invasion helped spark a student revolt in central Europe. As evidence, The Club des Hashicians was formed in Paris in 1846 and included many who were about to become the leading artists and intellectuals of their time, a list that included Victor Hugo, Alexandre Dumas, and Honore de Balzac, among many others. Those widespread student revolts in Europe occurred two years later.
Shown above is a lithograph of marching students in Paris during the period. Notice one carries the banner: “Hatchish,” an obvious reference to the substance that probably helped spark their revolutionary fervor.
One hundred and nine years later, Jack Kerouac published On the Road (Viking Press, 1957), a book that sparked a similar social revolution, and although this one took a decade to manifest, Kerouac’s book planted the seed because the greatest mystical moment in that spiritual odyssey occurred late in the novel in Mexico under the influence of cannabis. After reading the book, obtaining cannabis became my primary mission in life until I located some because I was looking for a spiritual path I could trust, and I know this must have been the case for thousands of teens just like me.
All this makes me wonder if periodic awakenings that have taken place in art and culture under cannabis didn’t also contribute to political upheavals that accompanied those art movements. For example, we know that in the 1300s, a “Society of Smokers” was born in Northern Italy and Southern France, and they were the first people of their time to compose written music not associated with the Catholic church. Little is known about the society today, leading me to believe they were wiped out by soon-to-arrive Inquisition. They may have been the reason the Inquisition got started since the official book of the Inquisition indicated possession of cannabis was proof of witchcraft. Since the midwives of Europe had been using cannabis for centuries, a lot of women possessed cannabis, and countless thousands were soon murdered by the Church.
But then a few hundred years later, cannabis use was exploding across North America, spread by jazz musicians. Their use of cannabis stretched back to the early 1800s in New Orleans, when Congo Square became the only place where blacks and natives could play drums and dance in public. There’s a reason why blues, jazz and rock were born in New Orleans and cannabis played a role because it manifests improvisational creative energy wherever it appears.
Don’t you find it odd that the same year On the Road was published, a Vice President of J.P. Morgan Bank published an explosive cover story in Life magazine about magic mushrooms? Robert Gordon Wasson would go on to write a book claiming Soma of the Rig Veda was a mushroom, a huge blunder (unless it was an intentional bait-and-switch.) Soma is cannabis and always has been, although if you want to read the forensic evidence, Chris Bennett has an excellent and exhaustive book documenting Wasson’s many deceptions.
I suspect this diversion from revolution-making cannabis to the more unstable and mystical world of psychedelic mushrooms may have been part of a longstanding war against cannabis. And while Wasson may have delayed the Great Cannabis Awakening, he could not forestall it for very long.