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August 2nd, 2012
08:20 AM ET

Snoop Dogg is a Rasta now, so what's Rastafari?

By Eric Marrapodi, CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

(CNN) - Rapper Snoop Dogg announced Monday that he's burying his name and old career, all because of a religious experience with Rastafari, an Afrocentric religion with origins in Jamaica. Snoop Dogg wants to be called Snoop Lion and instead of rapping on his latest album now he'll be singing reggae.

"I want to bury Snoop Dogg and become Snoop Lion," he said at a Monday press conference. "I didn't know that until I went to the temple, where the high priest asked me what my name was, and I said, 'Snoop Dogg.' And he looked me in my eyes and said, 'No more. You are the light; you are the lion.'

"From that moment on," Snoop said, "it's like I had started to understand why I was there."

Snoop Lion has a new single, "La la la," and a documentary "Reincarnated," which follows his recent trip to Jamaica and chronicles his conversion experience. It debuts at the Toronto Film Festival next month.

So what exactly is Rastafari? Here are some basic questions and answers:

1. How old is Rastafarianism?

The Rastafari movement began in Jamaica in 1930 and quickly spread.

"It's an Afrocentric faith that... focuses on the return to Africa of its members," says Richard Salter, a religious studies scholar from Hobart and William Smith Colleges in New York who studies the movement. "Sometimes that return is a return in body, actually going back to Ethiopia, and sometimes it's more of a spiritual return."

Nathaniel Murrell, a religion professor at the University of North Carolina Wilmington, said the movement Rastafari grows out of the Judeo-Christian tradition and out of the colonial experience. He says Jamaicans oppressed by colonial overlords saw the new faith as a means of liberation.

A key belief for Rastas is the notion of death to all white and black oppressors; the religion embodies a theological push for equality on all levels.

Salter points to Bob Marley's "Redemption Song," as a key to understanding that point.

"The line, 'emancipate yourself from mental slavery,' - if someone can convince you that you are inferior, then they have really oppressed you," Salter said. "So you can emancipate yourself from that and recognize the divine within you, your real value."

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2. So what do Rastafaris believe?

Rastas believe in God and use the term Jah, shorthand for Jehovah, a name for God that is common in the Jewish scriptures. Many Rastas see Halie Selassie I - the longest serving emperor of Ethiopia, who died in the 1970s - as a Christ-like figure.

Experts point to a wide diversity in the faith but say there are six key groups of Rastas, called mansions, that would be similar to denominations in other faiths.

Rastas hate "isms" and "ians" because of the value they place on all individuals. As a result, Rastas prefer the term Rastafari as opposed to Rastafarian or Rastafarianism to describe the movement.

Noel Leo Erskine, a professor of theology and ethics at Emory University in Atlanta, says it's nearly impossible to gauge how many people call themselves Rastas because there are no formal churches or membership structures and no hierarchy.

Erskine said that based on Jamaican migration and the prevalence of Rastas globally - he notes the presence of groups in Israel and Tokyo - his best guess is that there are around 1 million self-professing Rastas around the world.

3. How do Rastas practice their faith?

The most common outward expressions of Rastafari are Rastas' dreadlocks, penchant for smoking marijuana and vegetarian diets.

Rastas read the Bible and several other religious texts, though because the movement is so diverse there is no single canon.

Lifestyle choices are important for Rastas. Allowing one's hair to grow into long, matted dreadlocks serves as a reminder to practitioners that they have made a covenant to live naturally, Salter said.

Marijuana smoking is seen as sacramental to Rastas, who believe it brings clarity and strength (more on that below).

Another central practice is something called "reasoning." Rastas get together and smoke and have a "reasoning" session in which they hash out important spiritual ideas.

The practice of vegetarianism comes from Rastas "ital lifestyle" short, for vital, and according to Salter is intended to promote life in all its forms.

4. What's the Bob Marley connection?

Marley brought Rastafari to the American masses in the late 1970s and early 1980s through reggae music. It was massively popular and brought a watered-down version of the movement to the popular consciousnesses.

Snoop said this week that he had no plans on recording a reggae album in Jamaica but that, "When the spirit called me and basically told me to find something that is connected toward the Bob Marley spirit, because I've always said I was Bob Marley reincarnated."

Marley, the world's most famous reggae singer and practitioner of Rasta, died in 1981.

Emory's Erskine said that as Snoop moves forward with his music, he should look to the reggae star.

"Within Rasta there are guidelines, guidelines of dignity and songs of empowerment," he said. "I think Bob Marley provides a good guide for him in terms of the way forward and way not to belittle women and belittle others."

5. Is it a religion?

"[Rastas] are insistent that they don't see Rastafari as a religion because religion exposes itself to manipulation by people in power, so they see it as a lifestyle, as a way of life practiced by Rastas," Erskine said.

That said, there are many who practice the way of life with the same devotion found in other faiths. Religious scholars classify Rastafari as a religion.

Rastafari has provided sanctimonious cover for loads of college students more interested in the sacrament of ganja then the tenants of the faith. Remember that kid who lived on your dorm floor, grew dreadlocks, hung a lion flag, and smoked a lot of weed?

"That's been something the movement has had to struggle with," Salter said. "They have to define who a Rasta is. Is it a 21-year-old sitting in a drum circle out in the woods in some Northeastern liberal college taking bong hits, or does it require something else?"

6. So do they really smoke a lot of weed?

Yes. A lot.

Sometimes called the wisdom weed, Rastas believe the marijuana plant first grew from the grave of King Solomon, who the Bible calls one of the wisest men ever to walk the planet.

Salter notes Rastas believe smoking the herb is biblically sanctioned, though he points out they believe "it is not for recreation, but a food that feeds their spirit.”

“I bet Snoop Dogg, excuse me Snoop Lion, is particularly interested in that,” he added, noting the musician's advocacy for supporting the legalization of marijuana and his frequent use of it in music videos.

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7. So is the Snoop thing a gimmick to sell records?

It's too early to tell whether Snoop will stick with his awakening as a Rasta. Rastas don't convert; rather, they "awaken" to the faith they see as always having been there.

- CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

Filed under: Americas • Culture & Science • Media • Music • Race

soundoff (906 Responses)
  1. doctore0

    Hey dog, it was the pot... stupid :)

    August 2, 2012 at 10:56 am |
    • Voice of Reason

      Are you one of those that toke and freak? Give me a break, weed doesn't create such profound alterations.

      August 2, 2012 at 12:44 pm |
  2. drew

    duh-umb!!!!

    August 2, 2012 at 10:55 am |
  3. New Gawker

    Man he must have smoked sooo much weed.

    August 2, 2012 at 10:55 am |
  4. David

    I like didy's philosohpy about removing the P. Snoopy ought to do the same with dog and lion.

    August 2, 2012 at 10:54 am |
  5. nelbod021@comcast.net

    WHY IS THIS NEWS

    August 2, 2012 at 10:50 am |
    • saywhat?

      WHY DO YOU CARE? CNN reports entertainment news, and to some of us, when an entertainer changes his or her name and religion, it's news. It's also categorized in their Belief Blog and YOU are here. Duh. And way to give us all your email address, Einstein. Can't you follow simple instructions or see that everyone else gave names, not email addresses? Expect lots and lots of fan mail...

      August 2, 2012 at 1:23 pm |
  6. clubschadenfreude

    one more silly religion. Yep, all of them are ridculous. Let's see, we got men coming from the dead, magical boats hauling animals, weed is a sacrement, human flesh is (see transubstantiation), gatherings to determine what God/Jah "really meant" by Rastas, pastors, priests and rabbis, hating various things because the believers are *sure* that their god agrees with them, etc. And not a one with any evidence that it's any better than the rest.

    August 2, 2012 at 10:49 am |
    • derp

      Yup, rastifari's = christians with weed.

      August 2, 2012 at 11:35 am |
    • k lion

      actually rastafari is different to religoins in that it acknowledges what it is. which is a way of life that emphasizes nature as the guiding force and naturalness but you are free to make your decisions. all religions are a way of life but they omit saying this and therefore do not change. we could say science is a religion as well or we could say its a way of understanding life. i hope you get my drift. that one thing makes it different. i think rasta is somehwere between scinece and religion.

      August 2, 2012 at 9:58 pm |
  7. Edgar Friendly

    So it makes the same amount of sense as other religions *AND* I get to smoke a whole lot of weed? Sign me up.

    August 2, 2012 at 10:48 am |
  8. HashinOut

    They smoke marijuana and "hash out important spiritual ideas." Ha! I see what you did there.

    August 2, 2012 at 10:47 am |
    • drew

      hahdats funny cos im high

      August 2, 2012 at 10:57 am |
  9. Eric

    "Dude, you can get past a dog, but no one f*&ks with a lion" -Dante

    August 2, 2012 at 10:45 am |
  10. citizenUSA

    It may be hard for Snoop to convert. It's one thing to believe and know about Rastafari but it's another to have lived the life.

    August 2, 2012 at 10:45 am |
  11. Jahfree

    I doubt Snoop is gonna sell more records. If you havent noticed reggae doent sell.

    I think is very interesting though. Always liked Snoop but Ive been heavy on the reggae since way back.

    Funny to see Rastafari hit CNN. Gotta break it down for those who dont get it.

    One love. Ras Ta Far I.

    Good luck Snoop. Jah Guide.

    August 2, 2012 at 10:34 am |
  12. sally

    Shouldn't that be Snoop Lionn?

    August 2, 2012 at 10:08 am |
    • CR

      More like Snoop Lyin'

      August 2, 2012 at 10:46 am |
  13. Voice of Reason

    I would invite all christians to partake in consuming some LSD followed by a gram of Red Lebanese hash and sit on the beach. A good bottle of chilled wine and some fruit and cheese will sustain you throughout your trip. Once your trip has been completed, let's have that conversation about your god.

    August 2, 2012 at 10:06 am |
    • NoSign4U

      Matthew 16:4 A wicked and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign; and there shall no sign be given unto it, but the sign of the prophet Jonas. And he left them, and departed.

      August 2, 2012 at 10:29 am |
    • Voice of Reason

      @NoSign4U

      Interstate 95:S Take exit number 7a bear left towards highway 63, continue for 8.3 miles, follow signs to turnpike, advance to pay toll, make sharp right towards exit 4b, continue to the end of the off ramp, at bottom look straight ahead, see sign, f*uck you!

      August 2, 2012 at 10:44 am |
    • Huebert

      That sounds like a great afternoon/evening, though I wouldn't recommend the wine. I've never found alcohol to mix well with hallucinogens.

      August 2, 2012 at 10:48 am |
    • clubschadenfreude

      so, nosign4u, what of teh claims of signs by Christians all over the place. All of the supposed "miracles", the seeing of Jese in a cheese sandwich, the claims of dire events happening when some idiot Christian doesnt' get his way, etc. Are those Christians lying? Please do demonstrate just how you can tell who the "true Christians" are. Or is it that you realize that your religon is nonsense and have to excuse the utter lack of evidence for your god by hidign behind claims that there will be no "signs"?

      August 2, 2012 at 10:52 am |
    • jwk

      We Christians do all that. And more. :)

      August 2, 2012 at 10:53 am |
    • citizenUSA

      When and where? Red Lebanese hash? Do they still make that anymore? You must be old school like me.

      August 2, 2012 at 11:01 am |
    • William Demuth

      Reason

      We doing Sugar Cube or Window Pane?

      I will bring the Boones Farm Apple Zapple, and some Qualudes for the crash.

      August 2, 2012 at 11:14 am |
    • cjm71

      Very solid advice. I truely believe that there can be a type of awakening by taking such a trip. They have done some very interesting work at Johns Hopkins and other medical universities about the medicinal use of both magic psilocybin and lsd as a way of helping terminally ill patients come to grips with their situation and the results have been very positive from what I have read. It can be a very eye opening experince.

      Thanks for your post

      August 2, 2012 at 11:16 am |
    • cjm71

      Additionally, I would recommend a vegi burritto as a great food for such a picinic.

      August 2, 2012 at 11:19 am |
    • Voice of Reason

      I think everyone should do it at least once in their life as it is truly an awakening. As a disclaimer I do not recommend it to people that are susceptible to paranoia. If planned correctly, with reasonable forethought, and you surround yourself in a natural environment without a lot of static distraction or negative influences and have company that is understanding of the experience, you will experience the most incredible mind-blowing events. That's why it is called tripping, you actually leave the world they you know and enter into another dimension, or so you think.
      If the religious understood the power of this drug they might understand the hallucinations their so called prophets experienced under the influence of either a mental condition or drug related exposure.

      August 2, 2012 at 12:42 pm |
    • Voice of Reason

      @William Demuth

      Pure lysergic, not cut with speed, in either form will work just fine. Oh that peak!

      August 2, 2012 at 12:52 pm |
  14. William Demuth

    Rasta's are old school, almost like old testament!

    Today's hipsters are PASTAFARIAN, who realize Jah is actually the Flying Spaghetti Monster.

    After we blaze a blunt, we gorge of the Holiest of Holies, Tortellini!

    August 2, 2012 at 10:05 am |
  15. Doc Vestibule

    Jah's love also extends to the bit/ches and hos that Snoop don't love, yo.
    I dunno about the rest of you, but I've never heard a misogynistic Reggae song.

    August 2, 2012 at 10:03 am |
    • derp

      "but I've never heard a misogynistic Reggae song"

      Then you ain't been listnin' Doc. Reggae is enormously misogynistic and ho moph obic.

      August 2, 2012 at 11:38 am |
  16. Clyde

    “I think Bob Marley provides a good guide for him in terms of the way forward and way not to belittle women and belittle others.”
    FWIW, Bob Marley converted to the Ethiopian Orthodox Church and was baptized in 1980. Something not many people know.

    August 2, 2012 at 9:27 am |
    • Mariam

      I thought polygamy was widely practiced how is this respecting women?

      August 2, 2012 at 10:56 am |
    • Barney

      Exactly. Marley loved Christ, and loved everything natural. Nothing wrong with that.

      August 2, 2012 at 11:22 am |
  17. derp

    Leave him alone, he's high.

    August 2, 2012 at 9:27 am |
  18. Jay

    And people say weed isnt dangerous.. LOL!!!!!!

    August 2, 2012 at 9:05 am |
    • sam stone

      why do you feel it is?

      August 2, 2012 at 9:27 am |
    • NoSign4U

      Revelation 21:8

      August 2, 2012 at 10:42 am |
    • Eric

      Where is the danger?

      August 2, 2012 at 10:44 am |
  19. Which God??

    This article provided a needed laugh for today. Gonna have some rasta-pasta and cheese, with my wisdom weed cookies. I wonder what type of lion...sea lion?

    August 2, 2012 at 8:40 am |
  20. Michael Holmes

    Wow! You have to wonder is it just a publicity stunt. If not, more power to him!

    August 2, 2012 at 8:37 am |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.