If you were thinking about checking out the very rare total solar eclipse next month, and you haven’t yet booked a flight or hotel accommodations for destinations like Oregon, Tennessee or points in between where the sun’s temporary concealment behind the moon will be visible on Aug. 21, sorry: you’re a few years too late. Better luck next century.
But if you did have such unrealized designs, and you’re in the Washington, D.C. area on that fateful day, take heart! You can celebrate this celestial milestone with the peculiar sect of Christians convinced the Bible is full of marijuana—and burn some cannabis oil inside the country’s largest Roman Catholic church.
Based in Rhode Island, the Healing Church and its adherents believe that cannabis is central to the Christian Bible. Jesus was anointed with marijuana oil, and on the cloak of the Virgin Mary, visible anywhere the Lady of Guadalupe can be seen, there’s a four-pointed flower—a cannabis flower.
As the church’s founder and main spiritual guide Anne Armstrong told U.S. News & World Report, on eclipse day, she plans to consecrate the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception by marching in and burning cannabis oil inside as part of a religious ceremony.
Over the last year, Armstrong has built a reputation as a zealous marijuana activist. Though she has some questionable beliefs, such as marijuana’s efficacy in treating the Zika virus, nobody can doubt her follow-through. Last summer, she ruffled feathers by borrowing a blessed icon of the Virgin Mary and using it in ceremonies in Washington, including an illegal smoke-out on Pennsylvania Avenue. That led to a raid of the church’s compound and resulting federal charges. Undaunted, Armstrong filed a federal lawsuit of her own, seeking legal protection for her cannabis use and activism under religious freedom laws.
At the basilica next month, Armstrong plans to fill a metal censer—Catholics will recognize the egg-shaped devices as the incense-dispensers used during extra-special Masses—with THC-infused olive oil. THC is a necessity; “The holy chrism must have THC in it to be effective,” she told U.S. News.
Since no church is a church without witnesses, Armstrong said she will extend formal invitations to the fete to both First Lady Melania Trump and Ivanka Trump. Lest you think the Trumps aren’t marijuana people, get wise: For reasons best pondered by higher powers, one of Armstrong’s co-organizers, Thomas Venditti, is founder of a group called “Catholics for Trump,” and apparently sees no conflict between support for the president and the president’s erstwhile support for a Justice Department who believes otherwise.
After that, Armstrong will lead celebrants outside, where they’ll “exhale cannabis smoke through a large ceremonial horn,” in mimicry of ceremonies described in the Bible. In all, Armstrong plans to lead a group of about 75 people through this ritual.
If she does do it—and there’s little doubt that she’ll at least try—Armstrong will have to defy church leadership, who flat-out rejected a request to reserve space in the basilica for the ritual.
In a statement to U.S. News, a spokesperson for the basilica declared that it “and its grounds are private property. Unapproved, unsanctioned or illicit events and activities are not allowed.”
But can they hope to stop her—and how far are they willing to go?
As Venditti pointed out, the basilica is “open to the public—anyone can go there,” he told U.S. News. “It’s like a museum, really.”
And Adam Eidinger—the D.C.-based activist vital in the district’s legalization campaign and the organizer of several marijuana-themed protests, including the joint-rolling session in Jeff Sessions’s old Senate office last December—vouches for Armstrong’s determination.
“Unless she’s ill or something, she’s going to show up and do it,” he told U.S. News.
If she does—what would the harm be?
It remains to be seen whether the church will up the ante by throwing her out or by calling police to intervene. Considering how hard-pressed as the church has been to lure Catholics inside a place of worship—millions of former worshipers have left the church over the last decade—it might do better to consider making cannabis part of the official liturgy.
As it is, according to Armstrong, there’s already marijuana in the basilica.
An olive branch, or a pot leaf? Like most miracles, it’s in the eye of the beholder.