History of 420: Bob Marley, Numerology, & Honoring Weed
Jah man, rasta. Whenever April 20th rolls along, it’s time for sales at your favorite dispensary and obligatory smoke seshes galore. It’s Bob Marley’s birthday, right? The only guy… who ever liked weed? And, duh, it’s Earth Day. So, 4/20, yeah?
You might have been seeing it through a cloud of smoke up until now, but by the end of this article, it will be clear as day that there’s far more to 420 than first meets the eye. Get ready to tumble into a rabbit hole of occult significance and numerological magic.
What is the meaning behind 420?
Two notable figures were born on April 20th: George Takei and Adolf Hitler. Say hello to the mother and father of weed, everyone.
Aside from indirectly celebrating the famed author of Mein Kampf, what does 420 really honor? Before we get into the truth of the matter, let’s pick apart some of the more harebrained theories that have been submitted to date:
Half-baked theory #1: It celebrates Bob Marley’s birthday
Sorry, friends, Bob Marley wasn’t born on 4/20 (April 20th). He was born on February 6th, 1945. He didn’t die on 4/20, either: The father of reggae and over 9,000 children actually passed on May 11th, 1981.
So, that one is debunked. How did anyone ever think Bob Marley’s birthday was April 20th, anyway? Pretty weird.
The smell test? FAILED. Not even his birthday.
Half-baked theory #2: Some high schoolers got high once
Okay, this one’s pretty good. It involves Louis Pasteur, true Cali homegrown, and some high school kids straight out of Dazed and Confused.
In cannabis historian Ratso Sloman’s seminal Reefer Madness, he recounts the tale of “some high school kids” in the 1970s who agreed to meet at 4:20 PM every day next to a Louis Pasteur statue outside their school in San Rafael, CA.
The goal? “Smoking herb, brah!” Our only question is, how in the blazes did a catchphrase used among a few random California high-schoolers evolve into a number synonymous with cannabis the world over? In that regard, Ratso leaves us hanging.
The smell test? FAILED. Are you thinking straight?
Half-baked theory #3: It’s super-secret police code
Here’s our personal favorite. Some stoners are convinced that 420 is police code for “marijuana smoking in progress.” So, essentially, cops would call out, “We have a 420 on South Main Street,” or something, and over time, cannabis users started using this discriminatory law-enforcement language to self-describe their behavior…?
This seriously makes no sense. How would cannabis users find out that the “420 police code” existed in the first place? Where was the code used? Why is there no record of police ever using the callout “420” to refer to cannabis use?
The smell test? FAILED. Bro, you’re just being paranoid.
Half-baked theory #4: … Earth Day?
Earth Day is also celebrated near April 20th every year, so it’s natural to suspect there might be a connection to 420. There’s just one thing wrong with this theory, though.
Instead of April 20th, Earth Day is actually celebrated on April 22nd — as it has been since the inception of the international holiday in 1970. The source of the confusion appears to be the fact that many states and local governments start celebrating the holiday on or around April 20th, leading to the common misconception that Earth Day and 420 coincide.
There’s no real reason you shouldn’t celebrate the holidays together, but when it comes to the origins of 420, we’ll have to look elsewhere.
The smell test? FAILED. There aren’t enough hippies in the world to pull it off.
The secret history of 420
While most theories regarding the origins of 420 are useless except for comedic value, a considerable amount of scholarly work has, nevertheless, been committed to the subject. In his book Liber 420, Chris Bennett points out the various ways that cannabis has been celebrated as a magical or alchemical substance over the years, and he even suggests that the significance of the number “420” in the context of cannabis may be numerological in its origins.
According to Bennett and associated scholars, the use of cannabis-infused beverages has been an integral component of the rituals of clandestine groups like the Knights Templar and Freemasons since time immemorial. Often referred to as the “Elixir of Jerusalem,” this cannabis drink was believed to have both medicinal and magical properties.
Over the years, cannabis has even been associated with the Holy Grail or Elixir of Life, concepts that are tangential to the Philosopher’s Stone. All three terms refer to the same substance: some sort of mystical drink that heals all disease and makes the imbiber immortal.
The Pistis Sophia
Magic and alchemy play a major role in Gnosticism, especially Ophite (snake-worship) Gnosticism. The primary goddess of Ophite Gnosticism is Sophia, the divine entity embodying wisdom. In Pistis Sophia, the primary religious text of the Ophite Gnostics, the “four-and-twentieth mystery” is mentioned prominently in the second verse of the first chapter. Later in the text, we find reference to the “four-and-twenty invisibles,” spiritual powers that emanate from “the great Invisible.”
“Stone” and “Forty-Two”
Since the legendary disbandment of their order on Friday the 13th, 1307, the Knights Templar and their successors have seen this day as a sort of martyrdom — and as an opportunity to inflict “curses” on those who wronged them. One way in which the Templars were wronged was in the seizure of all their assets by the King of England on behalf of the Catholic church in January of the following year, 1308.
The King placed this task in the hands of one of his most trusted sheriffs, who was told to take a full inventory of the goods seized. Across all of Wales, England, Ireland, and Scotland, the Templars were found to be in possession of “three stone of hemp cannabis.”
What is a stone? A unit of measurement used in Medieval England equivalent to 14 pounds.
What is 14 times 3? Fourty-two, which everyone already knew was the meaning of life. Four-two; four-twenty.
Essentially, the Gnostics and the secret societies they created, such as the Knights Templar, have numerologically observed the number 420 in religious contexts for centuries. Modern offshoots of these orders, such as the Freemasons, either purposefully or accidentally seeded the number into conventional cannabis culture — apparently doing their best to erase all traces of the true origin of 420 in the process.
The only question we’re left with is: Why?
What does 420 actually mean?
If the explanation for 420 given above seems like a conspiracy theory, keep in mind that it’s actually based on evidence — something that cannot be said regarding any of the other theories provided regarding the origins of the number’s significance in association with cannabis. It could be wrong, but so far, no countervailing evidence or more-salient theories have been provided.
At present, we are faced with a somewhat unnerving yet unavoidable conclusion: There is no satisfying explanation for why the number 420 and the date of April 20 have become so inextricably associated with cannabis culture and the act of smoking weed. None of the explanations provided make any sense when held up to the light of skeptical inquiry, leading to the necessity of adopting alternative theories.
In this brief article, we have barely scratched the surface of the mysteries of numerology that appear to at least play some not-insignificant role in the true origins of 420. It’s also a fact that nearly all ancient cultures that had access to the plant revered cannabis as both a healing and shamanistic tool capable of connecting human spirits with the divine.
Over the centuries, it’s also undeniable that cannabis became associated with symbols and ideas relating to the fountain of youth, the philosopher’s stone, and immortality or resurrection. Cannabis is known to act as an aphrodisiac, enhancing the inbuilt generative powers of the male and female forms.
Long-term cannabis users also know that the plant has a way of impacting the way you see the world — if you choose to consciously enhance this change, it’s possible to observe the types of inner transformation described by mystics and initiates of secret societies in association with cannabis.
If there’s just one synthesis we wish to leave you with at the end of this analysis, it is simply this: the origins of 420 are ultimately a mystery: Not a fruitless mystery, but one well worthy of contemplation.
What about 7/10, Oil Day?
As adult-use and medical cannabis have caught on across the nation, 420 has spawned a sister number that is quite simple to decode. To figure out what 710 or “Oil Day” means, simply write the numbers 710 on a piece of paper, and then spin it around upside down. A digital calculator works for this as well, and while you’re at it, you may as well try typing 58008 and giving your poor calculator the same treatment.
Yes, 710 is a number that was selected simply because it visually resembles the word “oil.” On this day, cannabis concentrates and vape pens go on sale all across the nation, incentivizing shoppers to buy these particular types of products. It’s possible that there is some deep numerological significance to the number 710 as well, but unlike 420, we aren’t aware of this particular number cropping up in any ancient alchemical or Rosicrucian texts.