Friday, June 22, 2012

Seshat's Secret

Solving the mystery of what the ancient Egyptian goddess of wisdom was all about brings to light the true nature of the world’s favorite forbidden flower

I am not an Egyptologist, but I played one as a boy in the late 60s.  Attracted by the art, the mythology and the unsolved mysteries, I spent enough time in the Egyptian collection at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston to recognize when objects were moved around or rotated off the floor.  One unsolved mystery is the meaning of the emblem symbolizing Seshat, the sexy and mysterious goddess of wisdom, writing and measurement.
I never paid the question much mind as a kid, but recently I stumbled on an image of a Seshat carving sporting what looked like a 5-point cannabis sun leaf; Northern Lights to be exact.  My work with legal cannabis patients and care growers in New England gives me access to such leaves, so I scanned a few and chose point counts to correspond with Seshat emblem silhouettes I made from online photos (see below). 
The notion that Seshat is the patron goddess of cannabis is not so far-fetched.  Her symbol is among the oldest hieroglyphs, and although cannabis is not native to North Africa, it would have grown well there—and been available through trade routes.  Indications for use of cannabis and instructions for preparation are in some of the oldest medical texts in existence.[i]

Temple walls depict festive royal spirituals featuring beer, wine, psychoactive concoctions[ii], ceremonial sacrifices, and exotic dancers including the Seshat priestess herself—turning heads in a dazzling leopard-skin number favored by funerary priests.  Lotus buds soaked in wine produced a spiritual effect of such importance that much of their art and architecture was devoted to the flower.

No temples to Seshat have ever been found, and the psychoactive use of cannabis in ancient Egypt is thought to be less well documented—or maybe the truth is all over the walls and we just can’t see it through the haze of drug war propaganda. 

Prohibition did not start with the banning of cannabis in the 1930s.  It began many centuries earlier with religious edicts that forbid—on pain of death—the use of psychoactive plants as spiritual sacraments.  The industrial revolution went even further by creating a propaganda campaign that turned the world against natural medicines, and by outlawing plants that could deliver euphoric and/or spiritual sensations. 

That’s where Seshat comes in.  We know the ancient Egyptians were intelligent, spiritual, and as a culture, very successful (For the United States to be half as long-lived, our Constitution would have had to date back to the mid-700s AD).  If cannabis was revered in those ancient times the way it is today (mostly in the shadows by people you’d never think…) that’s one more body slam against the crumbling walls of prohibition.

Establishing the Proof

Here are six Seshat emblems from their golden age; The New Kingdom (c.1550-c.1069)[1]

Artistic interpretations and dynastic variations are an excellent measure for eliminating popular guesses.  For example, if the top piece looks like a bow at Luxor and like horns at Karnak, it probably isn't representating either one; the explanation must work across all variations. (Condition 1) 

Since the two parts of the emblem never appear separately, the explanation must describe how the images work together to symbolize one concept. (Condition 2)

Seshat was the deification of wisdom; the goddess of writing, astronomy, architecture, and mathematics.  She was an exotic dancer with spirit-realm connections.  In the Coffin Texts, a collection of funerary spells written beginning in the First Intermediate Period (c.2181-c.2055), spell 10 states:  Seshat opens the door of heaven for you. [iii] The explanation for the symbol must reflect the whole of Seshat’s complex character. (Condition 3)

The human embodiment of the goddess was a royal priestess—a smart, creative and powerful top advisor to the king; the keeper of records and chief architect responsible for laying down measurements for royal projects.  The explanation must plausibly reflect the life and duties of an actual Seshat priestess. (Condition 4)  

First Inquiry:  What is that star-shaped thing?

It’s not a star because the base of the emblem is often not star-shaped at all.  Same for palm leaves.  As for papyrus, that is the least likely candidate since the hieroglyph for that sacred plant is everywhere and it looks nothing like the Seshat symbol. 

Cannabis hemp leaves have been called a match, but that food and fiber cultivar cannot begin to capture the full color spectrum of this goddess and her earth-bound representative.

Cannabis leaves vary greatly between strains, but point counts of 5, 7 and 9 are common.  Here are three representatives collected at legal grows in New England.[3]

Although the emblem renderings above differ widely in shape and artistic style, cannabis is a perfect match for every image in the set.  This satisfies the first condition of the proof.

Second inquiry:  How does the cannabis leaf work with the image above?

Unlike the leaf, the upper shape is portrayed in a variety of ways.  In the hieroglyph and in the emblem from the Red Chapel of Queen Hatshepsut (B) the top piece appears to be flowing down and around the leaf.  When the top is closed, either with a point (A & F) or a cap (C), the image still seems to be coming down from above, like a falling veil. 

Given that the message must be evident in all cases, this wide range of interpretations suggests that the image on top is symbolic rather than physical.  It also suggests that the answer lies in what the designs have in common.

In every carving the upper shape flows down from above and around an image that always looks like a cannabis leaf.  That leaf always rises straight from the crown of Seshat’s head, and always stands at attention under the veil.

The leaf is cannabis, and the veil is the wisdom it bestows.  Taken together the two images represent the source of Seshat’s creative ideas, cosmic intuition and spiritual connection.  This satisfies the second condition.

Third inquiry: Does this explanation reflect the whole of the Seshat mythology?

This might be a hard pill to swallow for nations of people raised to just say no, but nothing about this smart, colorful and spirited multi-tasker is inconsistent with cannabis use. 

This ancient truth is reflected in the lives of creative thinkers and people of action like Steve Jobs, John Lennon, and in the words of the late astronomer, mathematician, philosopher and novelist Carl Sagan.  Writing anonymously as Mr. X in the groundbreaking 1969 book Marijuana Reconsidered, Sagan described cannabis as a spiritual conduit for ideas and creative expression:

"I do not consider myself a religious person in the usual sense, but there is a religious aspect to some highs. The heightened sensitivity in all areas gives me a feeling of communion with my surroundings, both animate and inanimate…Many but not all my cannabis trips have somewhere in them a symbolism significant to me…a kind of mandala embossed on the high. Free-associating to this mandala, both visually and as plays on words, has produced a very rich array of insights.”[iv]

People who use cannabis to spark insights and creativity (artists, professionals, clergy, teachers…mostly all in hiding) would agree that the whole of Seshat—the writer, the spiritualist, the dirty dancer, as well as the no-nonsense nail-the-numbers professional getting baked on the job—are all well within the lifestyles and possibilities of people who use cannabis.  This satisfies the third condition.

Final inquiry: Does this explanation relate to real life in ancient Egypt?

Yes.  Cannabis was known as medicine and would have been available to people with resources and trade connections.  The famously fertile delta would have supported local cultivation, and the variety of point configurations in the drawings supports the notion of favored strains.  The notion of a private palace home grow is also consistent with the mythology; Seshat was known as a secretive goddess who preferred the company of royals.[v]  This satisfies the final condition.

Why this matters

This is more than an academic exercise.  Cannabis prohibition is a war of words and images, and until quite recently our government was in total control.  History will record the irony; the very communication system that was being used to broadcast lies about this so-called recreational drug was suddenly the means by which the people could learn and share the truth about what cannabis really is.

As we head into this new century, few things represent the future better than cannabis, an ancient plant that can deliver food, fiber, fuel, medicine, inspiration, and an occasional laugh.  Seshat reminds us that sometimes the best way forward is to look back and learn from the wise ones who came before.

Carl Hedberg is a writer, speaker and medicinal use explorer in Colorado working with filmmakers to bring the truth about cannabis to the big screen. (see )

From the lecture; Cannabis Rising: Truth and healing on the front lines of the battle to restore our right to choose.  Twitter @cannabisrising 

CHORD PLAY PRIMER; A gift that gives the gift of skill

[1] A. Temple complex at Karnak/18th dynasty,  B. Red Chapel of Queen Hatshepsut (1473-1458)/18th dynasty,  C. Luxor Temple; Ramesses II (1279-1213)/18th dynasty,  D. Medinet Habu mortuary of Ramesses III (1184-1153)/18th dynasty,  E. Temple complex at Karnak/18th dynasty,  F. Temple of Osiris, Abydos; King Seti I (1294-1279)/19th dynasty

[2] Comparison images (l-r):  Seshat emblem and papyrus hieroglyphs, 2 palm leaves, papyrus stem
[3] Cannabis sun leaves (l-r): Northern Lights (5 points), OG Kush (7), Jack Herer (9).  Not in relative scale to each other.

[v]'s_emblem (Note that the word "sesheta" means hidden things, mysteries, secrets, and through Seshat the Pharaoh was given access to the power of those mysteries).

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Cannabis 451

Tincture boil in the shadows of prohibition. RI 20011
Ray Bradbury's great novel Fahrenheit 451 describes a hyper-controlling, fear-driven militaristic society hooked on pills and living vicariously through the lives of imaginary characters on big screens.  Substitute cannabis for books and it’s 2014 America in the waning years of prohibition.

Like Bradbury's book lovers, cannabis patients living under prohibition are fundamentally law-abiding citizens driven to secrecy by oppressive laws and social contracts that have neighbors watching neighbors for signs of moral decay.

The Tyranny of Prohibition

Washington has long operated on the assumption that what is good for big business will ultimately be good for the nation; jobs, revenue, growth, captive markets, and lots of consumer spending.  To make that work for big healthcare, they took away our right to grow our own medicine and created a farcical schedule of forbidden plants; don't even look.

At the heart of this global scheme to control for profit what we use for medicine is a deep-rooted propaganda campaign that has installed the societal impression that cannabis is a fringe issue; just pot, a smoked substance for slackers that crafty stoners are calling medicine in an effort to free up their favorite party drug. 

To keep the truth at bay and everyone in line, many doctors are forbidden by their insurance carriers to discuss cannabis options with their patients, and some willingly disavow their Hippocratic oath by refusing to treat patients who confess to using the banned flower for medicine. For proper New England Yankees, using weed is a fine practice for prep school and college, but if you’re a fifty-something professional with teens in the house, you’re probably tokin’ in the closet.

Cannabis the Exit Drug

The first generation of school children to go through the DARE program are now in college.  Given the popularity of the book Marijuana is Safer, and the proliferation of Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP) chapters around the world, it’s clear that younger generations are finally deciding to think for themselves—and fight for the right to add cannabis to the party mix.

Let’s be honest; consuming alcoholic beverages can be a fun way to celebrate, but let’s also cut the crap.  Alcohol kills; cannabis doesn’t.  Cannabis isn’t physically addictive; alcohol can be.  Cannabis-infused gatherings are famously peaceful, while alcohol-fueled celebrations are notoriously unstable. 

In 2009 researchers at the School of Social Welfare, University of California, Berkeley found that “medical cannabis patients have been engaging in substitution by using cannabis as an alternative to alcohol, prescription and illicit drugs []  

In late 2011, Maia Szalavitz reported for Time Magazine that “states that legalize medical marijuana see fewer fatal car accidents, in part because people may be substituting marijuana smoking for drinking alcohol.” []

These findings are hopeful news for heavy drinkers and the people trying to help them—but many will first need to shake the notion that the only cure for alcoholism is sobriety.  Here’s an example from a prohibition state on the east coast:

An elderly Purple Heart veteran is dying of cancer; cared for by his daughter and her husband—in a cramped two-bedroom apartment.  For too long her old man has been dealing with his pain with a volatile mix of prescribed meds and Stoli shots, which he loudly raves for all day long. 

The weary couple can usually hold him to four or five, but every night he’s bitter, loud, and abusive.   Three months before her father dies, his daughter begins coloring his Stoli shots with a solid dose of alcohol-based cannabis tincture she found at a local freedom festival.

The change is miraculous.  The old guy is suddenly talkative, relaxed, and down to three shots a day.  In those final weeks he took a renewed interest in watching his favorite old war movie s.  He got some rest, and died in his sleep.

Truth, Healing and Enterprise

With no danger of a lethal overdose or physical addiction, cannabis is well-suited to personal exploration, including strains, edibles, raw juice, extracts, salves; whatever works.  Seeds, clones, home remedies and care strategies are being shared, sold and bartered through a cautious and well-hidden community of growers, patients, healers, and practitioners.  Weekend freedom festivals are the market square of the movement; a place to connect, toke, brag, haggle and sample kitchen creations made from flowers lovingly grown in private. 

The cannabis frontier, which Washington is simultaneously attempting to deny and crush, are nevertheless delivering jobs and opportunity to recession-weary carpenters, electricians, plumbers, practitioners, care growers, vendors, inventors, publishers, promoters, educators, online enterprisers…and a few are already making a very good living in the cannabis trades. 

Well aware that legalization is inevitable now that the truth can be found online, industrialists who have long benefited from prohibition are no doubt horrified to see how healthcare customer counts fall wherever cannabis freedom is restored. In Colorado, forty percent of the weed produced in the state is grown in private; not packaged, not regulated, not taxed. Ancient, non-toxic medicine freely produced at home and in private. What a concept.