As noted by Joseph Campbell over a century ago, in his epic 1894 study for the Indian Hemp Drugs Commission, On The Religion of Hemp: “To the follower of Islam the holy spirit in bhang… is the spirit of the great prophet Khizr, or Elijah.” That bhang should be sacred to Khizr is natural, as Khizr means green, the revered color of the cooling water of bhang. So the Urdu poet sings “When I quaff fresh bhang I liken its color to the fresh light down of thy youthful beard.”
Islam inherited Khizr from many earlier myths, as can be seen from stories that associate him with such luminary figures as Moses and Alexander the Great. By medieval times he came to represent the type of esoteric knowledge which breaks the trance of everyday existence through shock, usually in the form of outrage, laughter, or both at once.
Wilson explains that Khizr was seen as “the initiator of Sufis who have no human master.” In the 1990 book Green Man, William Anderson describes Khizr as “the voice of inspiration to the true aspirant and committed artist. He can come as a white light or the gleam of a blade of grass, but more often as an inner mood. The sign of his presence is the ability to work or experience with tireless enthusiasm beyond one’s normal capacities.”
In his 1993 book Sacred Drift, Essays on the Margins of Islam, Peter Wilson writes “When you say the name of Khezr in company you should always add the greeting Salām aliekum! since he may be there… immortal and anonymous, engaged on some karmic errand. Perhaps he’ll hint of his identity by wearing green, or by revealing knowledge of the occult and hidden. But he’s something of a spy, and if you have no need to know he’s unlikely to tell you. Still, one of his functions is to convince skeptics of the existence of the Marvelous, to rescue those who are lost in deserts of doubt and dryness. So he’s needed now more than ever, and surely still moves among us playing his great game.”
Originally a sort of vegetation spirit in whose footprints plants and flowers were said to magically sprout, Wilson explains that “nowadays Khezr might well be induced to reappear as the patron of modern militant eco-environmentalism… Khadirian Environmentalism would rejoice simultaneously both in [Nature’s] utter wildness and its ‘meaningfulness.’ Nature as tajalli (the ‘shining through’ of the divine into creation; the manifestation of each thing as divine light), Nature as an aesthetic of realization.”
With the wealth of esoteric lore, environmental products and medicines sprouting from the renaissance of his beloved cannabis, it seems that Khizr is once again trying to communicate to humanity through his most holy of plants.
Interestingly, there are legends of Khizr in which he is dismembered and reborn. As well, certain prophecies connect him with the end of time and the revealing of esoteric truths.