The Scythians and Cannabis

Sythia was an ancient country which occupied parts of Europe and Asia in the region north and northeast of Black Sea and east of Aral Sea. Herodotus, a Greek historian and ethnographer of the 5th century BC, gave a detailed account of the Scythian life and history. Subsequently, modern archeology of the area both confirmed and supplemented his account. Of particular relevance for our discussion is a royal grave where researchers found a fur pouch which contained hemp seed, a censer for burning them and a tent in which to inhale their fumes. Herodotus described all these items as part of the rituals surrounding a burial. This and other ancient accounts would indicate that use of cannabis was both ubiquitous and sanctioned in the Scythian culture.

Both Herodotus and Hippocrates described the Scythian tribes as nomads, who had shamans or seers, (called in Greek enareis), who engaged in divination facilitated by the use of psychoactive plants. The enareis appear to have occupied a special position in the community. Herodotus describe the enareis as being androgynous, which can be explained by the practice in other cultures of having both male and female shamans, with transvestite males dressed as women.

Another Greek writer, Glaukos, describes a beverage he called melugion (= 'mead'), which he says is more intoxicating than wine. It is made of honey boiled with water into which "a certain herb" is added. Other cultures have added cannabis to beverages and, remembering that the Scythians were fond of hemp, it is quite possible that the herb was cannabis.

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