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Ancient Egypt & Cannabis: Cannabis and Ancient God Shu of Egypt

Updated: May 19, 2023

The ancient civilization of Egypt and its gods and goddesses have been the subject of great fascination and study. In ancient Egypt, Cannabis (Cannabis sativa) was cultivated and used in various ways. The plant was primarily grown for its fibrous properties and was used to produce ropes, textiles, and other materials. Cannabis seeds were also consumed as food, and there is evidence of cannabis being used for medicinal purposes.

In Egypt, cannabis was utilized for its practical applications, and even though there is limited evidence remaining that suggest its psychoactive properties were known and used recreationally during that time, those evidences do exist. it wouldn't take a culture as advanced as Egypt to figure out how to burn or consume the plant for psychoactive and spiritual benefit. It is true to make this statement, however, it is still difficult to determine the extent of cannabis' cultural and social significance through such limited textual reference.

There are though, also references to cannabis in ancient Egyptian mythology. The most remarkable of these would be the god Shu, who was associated with air and light. Shu was often depicted holding a cannabis plant leading many scholars to speculate that cannabis may have been used in ancient Egyptian religious rituals.

Above, Famous Artifact of Ancient Egypt Depicting Shu

Since plant medicines are often associated with powerful Gods or Goddesses of native culture, this is an interesting pattern. Also, seeing that Shu is a key God of the Egyptian deity, and is depicted holding a cannabis leaf, leads to the concept of what the two together could resemble.

Being one of the important deities in the ancient Egyptian pantheon, he is typically depicted as a man wearing feathers or an ostrich plume on his head, representing air and light. Shu was considered the god of the air and the atmosphere; associated with wind, breath, and life-giving air. Shu played a crucial role in Egyptian mythology by separating the sky goddess Nut from the earth god Geb, thus creating the space for life to flourish. He was also believed to support the solar barque of the sun god Ra during his daily journey through the sky.

The ancient Egyptians also had a hieroglyph for the plant, known as "shemshemet." Since most of history associated with use of plant medicines is controversial and lost, most often during times of war, historians can only go off of surviving artifacts left in the dust. While there is no directly written explanation about the relationship between cannabis and Shu, it is worth noting that ancient Egyptian religion involved various gods and goddesses, each with their own distinct characteristic and areas of influence. Shu depicted holding a cannabis plant is not unintentional. Cannabis also has distinct characteristics and is associated to various areas of influence in ancient Egyptian society, primarily as a utilitarian plant and occasionally as a source of food and medicine.

One of the earliest references to cannabis in ancient Egypt can be found in the Ebers Papyrus, a medical text dating back to around 1550 BCE. The papyrus contains several references to cannabis, including a recipe for a topical ointment made from cannabis and other herbs, which was used to relieve pain and inflammation.

The Greek historian Herodotus, who visited Egypt in the 5th century BCE, wrote about the use of a plant called "kannabis" by the ancient Egyptians. His description of the plant's effects on the mind and body suggests that if it wasn’t cannabis, then it was a plant with a very similar psychoactive substance. Not to mention the implications of how similar the names are to each other.

The use of cannabis in ancient Egypt still remains shrouded in some mystery, even though there are several references to the plant in ancient texts and artifacts.

-Sean Despain

New Earth Integration and Plant Medicine

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