Night has fallen in Mongolian taiga near the Russian boarder, thousands of miles from the capital city of Ulaanbaatar. We wait around the bonfire for the ceremonial drum to dry out after a sudden rain storm has soaked it. The spirits will not come until the drum regains its proper sound. The touchier (translator) sits to the left of the shaman, ready to translate the language of the spirits.
When the drum finally dries, the shaman puts on the ceremonial coat and mask, shielding his vision of the mundane world. Vodka, nicotine, and the beating drum are preparing him to receive the spirits. One thing is missing from this traditional ritual: cannabis.
Mongolia is home to native wild hemp, and has a history of using it for shamanic rituals dating back to the 13th century, when Genghis Khan started worshipping Tengerism, a form of shamanism unique to the region. When disasters strike today, many Mongolians still consult a shaman to restore balance between the physical and the spiritual world.
Mongolia’s long and complex history has created a deeply rooted cultural crisis, which is enhanced by the increasing global ecological crisis. Both are having serious impacts on the lives of Mongolia’s nomads—not the least of which is the government’s outlawing of cannabis.
Though it is now illegal in Mongolia, and has therefore been replaced by alcohol and cigarettes, it was once key to the ceremony I now witness. But thanks to the work of one forward-thinking Mongolian entrepreneur, the plant could help solve the problems of a country beset by the ill effects of climate change.
Anar Artur, founder of Hemp Mongolia, hopes to use hemp to help his nation transition from a nomadic lifestyle to urban bliss, while tackling the air pollution crisis of Ulaanbaatar, the world’s dirtiest city. Hemp Mongolia received government permission to become the first—and only—hemp-growing site in the country, with plans to use its CBD as a treatment for respiratory diseases and its hemp as a building material for better insulation to reduce coal emissions. The company also hopes to build up a breeding program under governmental supervision.
Artur believes the search for identity as manifested in the rise of New Age Shamanism will reconnect the nation with the good spirits. Reestablishing harmony between humanity and the environment might lead the country back to an “eternal blue sky” (mönkh khökh tengeri), which, after all, gave the country its name.
About the photographer
Maren Krings is a German documentary photographer focusing on the social and environmental impact of the climate crisis. A graduate of Savannah College of Art and Design, her work has been published in Stern, The Outdoor Journal, SUSTON, Happinez, Outdoor, Runner’s World, and other international media. For the last four years, she has documented the worldwide rediscovery of industrial hemp, photographing more than 200 projects, interviewing more than 80 industry experts traveling 26 countries. Currently, she is working on a book about hemp‘s potential to mitigate the ecological crisis.