The Scythians were a barbaric group of pre-Common Era nomadic tribes who are a fascinating example of an ancient cannabis using group. The Scythians played a very important part in the Ancient World from the seventh to first century BC. They were expert horsemen, and were one of the earliest peoples to master the art of riding and using horse-drawn covered wagons. This early high mobility is probably why most scholars credit them with the spread of cannabis knowledge throughout the ancient world. Indeed, the Scythian people travelled and settled extensively throughout Europe, the Mediterranean, Central Asia, and Russia, bringing their knowledge of the spiritual and practical uses for cannabis with them.
The Scythians had no written language, so much of what is known about them has been derived from the many precious and exquisitely crafted artifacts found in their frozen tombs in Russia, Kazyktstan and the Eurasian plains. These precious items included weapons, jewelry and clothing, and were meant to follow the deceased into the afterlife. They can be viewed in Russian museums, well preserved from their long stay in the frozen tombs.
The Encyclopedia Britannica describes the Scythian wardrobe as follows:
Many Royal Scyths wore bronze helmets and chain-mail jerkins of the Greek type, lined with red felt. Their shields were generally round and made of leather, wood, or iron, and were often decorated with a central gold ornament in the form of an animal, but other tribesmen carried square or rectangular ones.
The Scythian's horses were also outfitted in beautiful and ornate costumes, and were seen ridden for the first time among many of the peoples they descended upon.
Many of the Scythians had full body tattoos with extremely intricate tribal designs, depicting both real and imaginary beasts as well as events from their mythology. Looking like the forerunners of modern-day Hell's Angels, the fierce appearance of the Scythian nomads had a formidably terrifying effect on the people whose lands they invaded.
The astonishing victories of the Scythians brought them a great deal of fame, and much of Western Persia fell under the rule of Scythian chieftains. It has been recorded that they invaded Syria and Judea around 625 BC, and even reached the borders of Egypt where peace terms were reached with them by the intimidated rulers of that kingdom.
It has been recorded that Scythian women had to kill three enemies in battle before marrying, and that a mastectomy of the right breast was performed on female infants so that their pectoral muscle wouldn't weaken and they would be able to brandish a sword better!
Most readers will probably be familiar with the Cimmerians as the people who were later popularized in the famous fictional tales of the displaced Hyperborean Era warrior, Conan the Cimmerian, by Robert E. Howard and later L. Sprague DeCamp. The fierce horseback-riding raiders in the scene at the beginning of macho director John Milius', Conan the Barbarian, who rape and pillage the young Conan's tribe, are meant to depict the ancient Scythians.
In a famous passage written in about 450 B.C., Herodotus describes these funeral rites as follows:
...when, therefore, the Scythians have taken some seed of this hemp, they creep under the cloths and put the seeds on the red hot stones; but this being put on smokes, and produces such a steam, that no Grecian vapour-bath would surpass it. The Scythians, transported by the vapour, shout aloud.
It is most likely the seeds described by Herodotus were seeded buds, and that the charred seeds found by archeologists are what was left over from the burnt buds.
Digging into some ancient ruins near the Altai Mountains on the border between Siberia and Outer Mongolia, Rudenko found a trench about 160 feet square and about 20 feet deep. On the perimeter of the trench were the skeletons of a number of horses. Inside the trench was the embalmed body of a man and a bronze cauldron filled with burnt marihuana seeds!
The Encyclopedia Brittanica describes the cauldrons found at these Scythian burial sites as follows:
These cauldrons varied in size from quite small examples to others weighing as much as 75 pounds. An overwhelming majority have a solid base, shaped like a truncated cone, around which the fire was heaped. The upper section is a hemispherical bowl... with handles (shaped like animals) fixed to the rim opposite each other... at Pazyryk, small cauldrons filled with stones and hemp seeds were found standing beneath leather or felt tentlets with three or six supports.
It is known that sacrifices took place with the death of a Scythian king, as the physical evidence collected by archeologists can attest to. For 40 days after the death of a king, the mourners would travel the country conducting the king's dead body through the lands he had ruled in life. After this the body was taken to a tomb for burial, where a massive sacrifice took place, not only of horses, but of humans as well. The king's wives, cupbearers and principal servants were destined to join him, willingly or not, in the afterworld.
Tabiti-Hestia is the only deity who figures in Scythian art. Considering the barbaric nature of these people it is interesting that she is a female, but perhaps really not all that surprising, as many of the peaceful goddesses became more fierce in the transition from matriarchy to patriarchy.
In The Woman's Book of Myths and Secrets, Barbara Walker writes about the Scythian religion.
The only deity shown in Scythian art was the Great Goddess, whom the Greeks called Artemis, or Hestia or Gaea (The Earth)... Scythians were governed by Priestess-Queens, usually buried alone in richly furnished Kurgans (queen graves)...
In the 1994 November issue of High Times, staff reporter Bill Weinberg reported on a more recent Scythian discovery:
The newest find is from the remote Altai mountains of Siberia- specifically, from the archeological dig at Ukok, near where the borders of Russia, China, Mongolia, and Kazakhstan meet. Russian scientists found the 2,000-year-old mummified remains of a Scythian queen elegantly laid out in white silk alongside horse harnesses, a mirror, dishes- and a small ceremonial container of cannabis. The July 13 New York Times report on the find says archeologists believe Scythian pot "was smoked for pleasure and used in pagan rituals..."
Herodotus wrote of the Thracian's ability at working hemp fibres, and claimed that their clothes "were so like linen that none but a very experienced person could tell whether they were of hemp or flax; one who had never seen hemp would certainly suppose them to be linen."
Like the Scythian shamans, the Thracians used cannabis in a similar manner. Dr Sumach explains in A Treasury of Hashish that:
The sorcerers of these Thracian tribes were known to have burned female cannabis flowers (and other psychoactive plants) as a mystical incense to induce trances. Their special talents were attributed to the "magical heat" produced from burning the cannabis and other herbs, believing that the plants dissolved in the flames, then reassembled themselves inside the person who inhaled the vapors.
Prophecy in Thrace was connected with the cult of Dionysus. A certain tribe managed the oracle of Dionysus, the temple was on a high mountain, and the prophetess predicted the future in 'ecstacy', like the Pythia at Delphi.
In a foot note to dried herbs, Eliade commented on the use of "Hemp seeds among the Thracians... and among the Scythians", and refers to some of the ancient shamans as "those who walk in smoke" or Kapnobatai. The Kapnobatai would be dancers and Shamans who used the smoke of hemp to bring ecstatic trances.
The messages from the other world brought back by these ancient Shamans was taken as authoritative advice by the ancient chieftains and their tribes. In this sense, the Shamans acted as the conscience or mind of the whole group.