Sam Redman's Musings

Random thoughts on a variety of subjects

The Manhattan catacombs

Many times during the sixties, I observed quite the similarity to religious services in the truly ceremonial procedures of smoking weed.  The nature of its illegality created a necessary secrecy, which made the group have those certain elements of a cult-like gathering to which a surrender of your will and rejection of adherence to conventional beliefs was necessary to join. 

So many things about it (especially in those days) gave it the nature of a prohibited religious practice, right down to clandestine meeting cells like those of the early days of Christianity. There was the commonality of the “believers,” made apparent by the distinction of those gathering for the ceremony from anyone else who wasn’t a follower.  A non-believer in your midst could cause the “service” to be delayed until they were, in effect, cast out… or brought into the fold by gentle initiation. In fact, every single participant has a story to tell about the time they were first told the “good news” and first participated in the ritual.  Even the unique  “hippie” clothing made us all somewhat like monks or nuns in their robes. But, just wearing the “outfits” didn’t do it…  those who were the true participants could recognize a real stoner on the street (sort of like the biblical, “by their countenance you shall know them.”)

Often there was an initiate being brought into the fold.  I saw many skeptics, ardent non-believers, who only reluctantly would participate and then become virtual evangelists after they had their first consciousness expanding experience.  But, then a few others went away sorrowful… because they felt nothing.  It was so similar to “let he who has ears let him hear.”

And most apparent to anyone realizing the religious nature to all of this was the ritual of the partaking of the “holy” (just kidding) weed itself. Like the liturgy of a communion service, involving the preparation of the bread and wine, the steps were well laid out (one person assuming a sort of priestly role) with selection, preparation of the “smoke”  (separating  leaves from stems and seeds),  the technique with the rolling paper and the lighting,  explanation to the newly converted of exactly how the inhalation is done, with the culmination of the passing of the joint from one to another, like the sharing of the liturgical cup. Could those early Christian followers meeting in the catacombs passing the wine and the unleavened bread have looked much different?

After the burning joint  (the specially rolled paper made it so different than a cigarette) or pipe made its passage around the group  (most only once, but others taking additional turns) then what transpired was very much like a revival service with enthusiastic spiritual and intellectual conversations.  Some of those lively late night sessions changed lives and let people explore their beliefs in ways most had never done before (the term mind expansion was truly apropos).  Often that expanded consciousness (eventually) brought  the participants to a level of awareness that they had learned all they could from this journey, coming to the conclusion (yes, in an epiphany) to never smoke again (I think that was most of us).

Forty years later, sometimes while sharing a great 12 year single malt Scotch with a select group of friends, as the glasses are raised, I think of those long ago times in various Manhattan apartments and Brooklyn lofts.  I can suddenly feel the mood change,  the camaraderie deepen and for a while I can experience again that certain feeling reminiscent of  those communal “spiritual” gatherings way back then.

— Sam


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This entry was posted on January 9, 2009 by .