From the rediscovered Gnostic texts, we can see that they believed much of their own spiritual experience came through the use of the holy oil. The Gnostics openly criticized the Roman Catholic church for the placebo act of baptism, which apparently had no spiritual effect. Indeed the Gnostic tractate the Gospel of Philip records that, “The anointing (chrisma) is superior to baptism. For from the anointing we were called ‘anointed ones’ [Christians], not because of the baptism. And Christ also was [so] named because of the anointing, for the Father anointed the son, and the son anointed the apostles, and the apostles anointed us. He [therefore’ who has been anointed has the All. He has… the Holy Spirit.” “In some [Gnostic] texts… the ‘spiritual ointment’ is a prerequisite for entry into… the highest ‘mystery’” (Rudolph 1987). Likewise, the Naasenes “claimed to be the true Christians because they were anointed with the ‘ineffable chrism’” (Mead 1900).
In the Gnostic viewpoint, as recorded in the Gospel of Philip, the pseudoinitiates of the empty rite of baptism “go down into the water and come up without having received anything…. There is water in water, there is fire in chrism” (Gospel of Philip). “The anointing with oil was the introduction of the candidate into unfading bliss, thus becoming a Christ” (Mead 1900). “The oil as a sign of the gift of the Spirit was quite natural within a Semitic framework, and therefore the ceremony is probably very early…. In time the Biblical meaning became obscured” (Chadwick 1967). The surviving Gnostic descriptions of the effects of the anointing rite make it very clear that the holy oil had intense psychoactive properties that prepared the recipient for entrance into “unfading bliss.”
Further, it is stated that if “one receives this unction… this person is no longer a Christian but a Christ” (Gospel of Philip). Similarly, the Gospel of Truth records that Jesus specifically came into their midst so that he “might anoint them with the ointment. The ointment is the mercy of the Father… those whom he has anointed are the ones who have become perfect.”
The importance of the holy ointment amongst the early Christians is also attested to in the apocryphal book, The Acts of Thomas, which refers to “Indian Leaves” and equates the power of the holy oil to the “plant of kindness”: “Holy oil, given us for sanctification, hidden mystery in which the cross was shown us, you are the unfolder of the hidden parts. You are the humiliator of stubborn deeds. You are the one who shows the hidden treasures. You are the plant of kindness. Let your power come… by this [unction].”
Interestingly, Gnostic texts give indications that cannabis was also burned as incense, and used by Jesus, along with the cannabis-enriched anointing oil and other entheogens, in complicated shamanic ceremonies.